“The Fifth Gable,” by Kay Chronister

“The Fifth Gable,” by Kay Chronister.
Published in Shimmer #29, January 2016.

Content note: A deliberately disturbing story, focusing on the death of children and infants.


Recommended by Lady Business, where Ira writes:

This is a beautifully written and haunting and somewhat disturbing (I love it) story about creation and having children and loss. I’m not sure what more I can say about it that won’t spoil the reading experience, aside from that the language and imagery is lovely and haunting. Definitely worth a read.

Michael Kelly at @sfeditorspicks writes much the same:

Lyrical, melancholic, and moving story about parenting, loss, death, and sorrow.

Charles Paysuer writes:

The story does a great job of showing the darkness that the women live in, the world that is at war, the endless stretches of dead children, the suffering that is still somehow necessary to it all. (…) There is magic in the story but not a pretty kind. The magic is dark and springs from pain, and it sets the mood, dark and brooding and festering.


What did you think of “The Fifth Gable”? Read the story, and come discuss in the comments!

4 thoughts on ““The Fifth Gable,” by Kay Chronister”

  1. My tolerance for manipulative stories about parenthood dropped precipitously right around the time our daughter was born, and really hasn’t recovered. I’m honestly not sure I could enjoy “Story of Your Life” as much these days as before I had kids. And this isn’t anywhere near as good as that.

  2. So, some scattered thoughts:

    From the opening, I was strongly reminded of Lesley Nneka Armiah’s “Who Will Greet You At Home,” which we discussed last year. They both use the imagery of mothers constructing their children – which feels grotesque, but is also so easy to identify with, to see as representing the way mothers (and parents) care for their children.

    From that point on, though, the stories are so different. “Who Will Greet You” delves deeper and deeper into the metaphor, with a lot of attention to different approaches and realities of parenthood. “Fifth Gable” does practically the opposite — while there are differences between the women and the different materials they use, this is a story about the *people* that ache for children, and the differences between them.

    While I found the story compelling, what I’m most impressed by is that such a simple story turned out to be so multilayered. All through the story, you think you know what you’re seeing, what you’re getting — that these women are banded together in misery and sorry; and that those misery and sorrow are the only possible fate for Marigold as well. Everything points at it — even the title, “The Fifth Gable,” feels like a hint that Marigold will be broken, and join the women, taking up a new gable for herself.

    Then the story switches that around entirely, top to bottom. Suddenly, everything is deliberate, purposeful — miraculous, while still cruel as hell. The entire story needs to be reread and reinterpreted, with the new understanding that the four women have crafted a finely-tuned process, that actually can give mothers the children they long for. It’s pretty breathtaking when you go back, and realize how everything has been building up to that. Kudos.

    And lastly, there’s the thematic question: Virtue through suffering? Does pain make you deserving of a reward?

    The story doesn’t get into this, but its punch relies on this entirely — on the idea that building a baby from metal or mulch can’t give you true life, but pain, true sincere pain, that can birth miracles.

    It’s extremely effective, but that doesn’t mean it should go unexamined…

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