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News & Features » January 2014 » “Four and Thirty-Seven” by Katherine Forbes Riley

“Four and Thirty-Seven” by Katherine Forbes Riley

Are you a parent going through the Terrible Twos? Did you live through them and survive? Terrible Twosdays is a place to commiserate over the unending shenanigans of your Darling Children (as the online parenting communities say). Nonfiction stories will be considered, so long as names have been changed to protect the guilty. Inspired by our best-selling gift book for parents, Go the Fuck to Sleep, Terrible Twosdays joins the roster of our other online short fiction series. Unlike Mondays Are Murder and Thursdaze, we’re looking for stories with a light and mischievous feel, all about the day-to-day challenges of parenting. As with our other flash fiction series, stories must not exceed 750 words.

This week, Katherine Forbes Riley brings us a series of moments between a parent and a child.

Four and Thirty-Seven
by Katherine Forbes Riley
Child’s Age: Four

On Love

I love you so, so much.

So much that you would die without me?

Yes. Oh yes.

Mmm. Nose kiss. Eye kiss. Snuggle.


On Red

Mommy, I don’t like living on Earth.

Why not?

Because it’s not red here. Mars is red.

But here there are red flowers. And fire is red. And the sun is kind of reddish too.



On Shadows

Mommy, I hate shadows.


Because they’re scary.

Sometimes they are.

This shadow is . . . the comforter! And this one is . . . my ice cream pillow! And this one is . . . you!


On Time and Motion

Today was fun, wasn’t it?

It passed.


It passed.

Yes. Time passes.


Because everything is in motion. Maybe life is motion. If you’re alive, then you move, even if only to grow.

Like we are alive. And we grow.

Yes. And rocks don’t.

But wind moves. And water. And the Earth.

Hmm . . . so I guess not everything that moves is alive.


On Quantity (song version)

Oh, Mommy.

I love you more than anything.

I love you more than the whole wide world.

I love you more than how dark Pluto is.

I love you more than all the trees in the redwood forest—

That’s a lot! There’s a lot of trees in the redwood forest.


On Thinking

Ice cream is a bad thing to think about.


Because when you think about ice cream, you want to stick out your tongue.

. . .

Rats. Double rats. Did you hear me say double rats?


Do you know what I was thinking about?

Ice cream?



On the Mind/Body Connection

Alex doesn’t like tough or gristly or overly soft meat. Tonight, while chewing a piece of pork, he felt around in his mouth and pulled it out.

“That’s just the crusty top,” I said.

“After I feel scared in my mouth, my belly starts to hurt,” he said.


On Badness

Mommy, is it okay to pretend to be a bad guy?

I think so. Yes.


On Goodness

Mommy, will I be gooder when I am 8?

Do you think you’re bad now?

I just thought the bigger you get, the gooder you get.


On Thought Contagion

Sometimes Alex wakes in the night and says, “Mommy, I had a bad flying dream.”

“I love my flying dreams,” I say. “Now snuggle close and you’ll have good dreams.”


Last night I told Alex I had a flying dream.

He said, “I have those every night now. There are monsters in the sky and they eat everything. But they are good now. They clear the space so that people can fly.”


On Speech Confusion

Mommy, why is a saver-tooth tiger called a saver-tooth? Is it because it saves the food in its mouth?


Mommy, how do you spell ‘W’?

It’s a letter so it’s just spelled ‘W.’

No but how do you spell it?

I guess you could spell it ‘D O U B L E U.’

What about ‘Y’?

The word ‘why’ is spelled ‘W H Y.’

What about the letter ‘Y’?

That’s a letter so it’s just spelled ‘Y.’

No but how do you spell it?


On Strange Voices

We’re going to Grandmother’s and some people we don’t know will be there. If it’s not fun, we can leave.

I think it will be fun. But what will their voices sound like? Because if they sound weird and not good then it won’t be fun. And if they sound good and not weird than it will be fun.


On Presence

Mommy, at night I feel small. During the day I feel big, but at nighttime I feel very small. Mommy, I don’t like feeling small.

I think you feel small because your brain shuts down your body at night. During the day, you are using your legs and your arms and that makes you feel big, but at night all those things need to sleep so your brain shuts them down.

I can still use my fingers.

That’s because they aren’t asleep yet. I think your brain starts at your toes.


On Death

I don’t want you to die, Mommy.

When I’m very old, when I’m 99, I’ll be ready to die.

I don’t want you to ever die.

When I’m 99, you’ll be 66. You’ll have a baby, and that baby will have a baby. You’ll be a grandfather! You won’t mind so much if I die then.



KATHERINE FORBES RILEY is a linguist and a mother of two. She lives and works in northern New England. Her academic articles have appeared in numerous peer-reviewed journals and conference proceedings. This is her first published creative piece.


Do you have a story you’d like us to consider for online publication in the Terrible Twosdays flash fiction series? Here are the submission terms and guidelines:

—We are not offering payment, and are asking for first digital rights. The rights to the story revert to the author immediately upon publication.
—Your story should focus on the challenges of parenting. Ideally, stories should be about children aged 0 to 5, but any age (up to early teens) is acceptable. Stories may be fiction or nonfiction.
—Include the child’s age at the time of the story next to your byline.
—Your story should not exceed 750 words.
—E-mail your submission to info@akashicbooks.com. Please paste the story into the body of the email, and also attach it as a PDF file.

Posted: Jan 7, 2014

Category: Original Fiction, Terrible Twosdays | Tags: , , , ,