Thanks to free holiday wifi, this week’s Fictionaut nugget of fiction is coming to you from the sky somewhere between Virginia and Massachusetts.
“Repair Man” by Kathy Fish is spare in length but big in its heartbreak. The story’s biggest success is in its ability to capture the minutiae of a life heading some place slowly. There is a sense of simultaneous urgency and patience, a combination both familiar and frustrating. There is always something to be done, never an adequate amount of resources – like time or money. Fish’s story focuses on one of the few saviors in a bleak existence: The comfort of camaraderie. No matter how the bills pile up or how dire the title character’s situation is, he has Mattie there when he is frightened. Fish does a great job of presenting the stark difference between having someone to give you the gumption you need to pull yourself up out of where you’re buried. When the repair man’s other half dies – whether actually or only in the part of his imagination and expectation worn down by his circumstances is unclear – he is unable to continue plodding forward. He sees himself unable to open the books he needs to study, the same books Mattie read aloud to him at the kitchen table.
What I found most interesting, and perhaps confusing, about the story was the ambiguity of whether or not Mattie actually dies. The repair man seems to predict that someday she will board a train with a flaw that will result in her death, a cruelly ironic death because of his occupation. I chose to read the mention of Mattie’s death as the tone of the repair man’s predictions for his life rather than an accurate foreshadowing of events to come. Though he works hard, he feels that it is in vain, demonstrated most effectively in the manner in which Mattie dies in his fantasies. It is also clear that he is very aware of his dependence on Mattie, of the precariousness of his situation and progress forward. While at first this can pass off as disturbingly bleak, it is also a testament to the incredible power of relationships and the frightening nature of allowing them to define your future, let alone of understanding their power in determining your happiness. There is no happiness without unhappiness, and accepting a current state of contentment can sometimes mean resigning yourself to a future of discontent and loneliness.