John and Lara’s daughter had up and married a perfect stranger. She’d met the fellow at a gallery opening only two weeks before. The nuptials had taken place in a courthouse. On the phone Liza told them sure, of…
I have always felt an eerie fascination with liminal spaces, the in-between places, where one is neither here nor there. Having left but not yet arrived makes me feel unsettled, discombobulated. The feeling is not always unpleasant, but it’s definitely “off.”
I conceived of the idea for “The Gateway” in a workshop with Emily Devane at the Flash Fiction Festival in the UK last summer. We explored the concept of liminal spaces and the unique energy they provide for storytelling. Emily showed us a series of photographs of such places and asked us to choose one that spoke to us the most strongly, then instructed us to draft our way into the beginnings of a story. I chose the photo of an empty hotel hallway.
I began with the idea of a travel-weary married couple wandering the halls, unable to find their room. I like putting my fictional couples into unsettling circumstances to see how they interact and what the unsettledness brings out in their relationship. I’d done this before, with my story “A Foreign Place,” published in Wigleaf. In that story, things grow increasingly tense as a couple navigates a European train station, unable to find the platform for their departure.
I’ve lately been reading Steven Millhauser’s short stories, which another writer described to me as “domestic surrealism.” In an interview, Millhauser described his process for these stories as beginning with a somewhat realistic scenario but introducing some strangeness into the mix. He then proceeds to go deeper and weirder. His stories are deliciously compelling and I’ve always wanted to do something similar.
I continued to work on this story off and on over a very busy and travel-heavy summer, then workshopped it in a class with the wonderful Sara Lippmann. I’d very much intended for the story to go much longer but was assured by Sara and my cohorts that the story worked quite well as it stood. At just under a thousand words, this piece may be closer to a short story than a proper flash fiction, and I could have made it shorter, but I wanted to take the reader along with this couple, to feel their weary discombobulation when they discovered an additional flight of stairs between two floors, to feel how their baggage wore them down. To wonder and worry over them a little. I hope I gave the story a resonant finish as well.
In all my recent writing, I have been taking creative risks and trying new approaches. I’m embracing the spirit of the kid in a sandbox. David Bowie said, “If you feel safe in the area that you’re working in, you’re not working in the right area. Always go a little further into the water than you feel you’re capable of being.” This story, this type of story, is a little out of my depth, but I had a ball writing it.
KATHY FISH’s stories have been widely published in journals, anthologies, and textbooks. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in Ploughshares, Copper Nickel, The Best American Nonrequired Reading, swamp pink, The Norton Reader, and Norton’s Flash Fiction America (2023). Honors include the Copper Nickel Editors’ Prize and a Ragdale Foundation Fellowship. The author of five short fiction collections, Fish teaches a variety of creative writing workshops online. She also publishes a popular monthly craft newsletter, The Art of Flash Fiction. Find her on Twitter @kathyfish.