Very Slight Stories | Like short stories, only shorter.

'Darcy and O'Mara' is a novel by Arthur Cronin.
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Tuesday, February 27, 2007


Roderick on a Ship

   I was on a ship. I heard the sound of seagulls. There was nothing unusual in that. I had to look elsewhere to find something painted unusual. When I first decided to look elsewhere I positioned my feet in such a way as to give my head the comfort it needed to face towards the west for a considerable period of time, and to give my eyes the comfort to focus on a woman who wore a brown hat with a purple feather. The stance I assumed didn't give my feet the comfort they desired to enable them to stand for a considerable period of time, as the positioning of my left foot was objected to by a small dog or a creature endowed with teeth and a hat. My eyes, being focussed on the woman, failed to identify the being whose object in life was to oppose the presence of my foot.
   I considered what would constitute a considerable period of time. When it comes to looking at a woman who's aware she's being observed, five seconds would be a considerable time. This is the conclusion I came to after playing volleyball with the idea in my brain for over five minutes as I looked at her. My brain, being fully engaged in the volleyball, failed to notice the discomfort my gaze was causing her, or the agitation of the dog/creature-with-teeth-and-hat, or the objection of my leg to its current position. Having completed the mental volleyball I directed my brain to survey the scene imparted to it by my eyes. The conclusion I came to was this: there was nothing unusual in that.
   I then commenced looking at the woman for a considerable time, which I had determined to be five seconds, but I had barely reached the 'consid' of my considerable time when she came over to me, her feet pointing east as mine were pointing west, her eyes copying the direction of her feet, as my eyes copied my feet. For a short period of time I considered directing my eyes to copy her feet, but this would have caused immense discomfort. The advantage of copying my own feet was that I was able to undertake a close examination of her face as she waited for what would certainly be regarded as a considerable time in a situation where the person who is expected to speak remains silent. After I had ascertained that the responsibility to break the silence did not rest with me (on the basis that she was the one who had journeyed to my vicinity to point her feet in an opposite direction to mine, when she could just as easily have done that behind me) I commenced examining her face. I identified an expression that displayed annoyance at being the object of a stranger's attention for considerably longer than deemed acceptable in polite society, but her politeness was restraining the annoyance from seeping into her speech. This explained the pause as she searched for words other than those presented for her with the help of her annoyance. She broke the silence with a variety of words used in the following order: "Do you know there's a small dog attached to your leg?"
   "No, I was not aware of that," were the words I used, though not necessarily in that order. I continued, "Has the dog attached himself or has someone else attached him to my leg?"
   "Who would attach a dog to your leg?"
   That sounded like a challenge. I was determined to solve this mystery she had presented for me, like a woman in distress presenting a case to a detective, but first I looked down at my leg. The information she had supplied was correct: a dog was attached to it. I told her I had been unsure if the being who was vying for position with my leg was a dog or some sort of a creature with teeth and a hat. The expression on her face changed. The annoyance diminished into insignificance, like winter melting into spring, allowing a smile to bloom.
   We walked along the deck. The decision of our feet to assume a common direction brought an air of cordiality to our relationship, and it was reflected in the common task we assigned to our minds: to identify the person who attached a small dog to my leg. We narrowed it down to three candidates.
   The first was a man of medium build whose left foot remained motionless, retaining its north-westerly direction throughout the considerable time we spent observing him (ten minutes would be a considerable time to observe a man who is unaware he's being watched) but his right foot never stopped moving, like a small dog running around the feet of its owner (the owner, in this case, being the left foot).
   The second candidate was a man who aroused our curiosity only because he appeared unremarkable in every respect.
   The third candidate was a woman who wore a white feather boa. We observed her as she leant against a grand piano later that night. Her high heels had the effect of disorienting her feet, and the secondary effect of making her taller. I failed to consider time on this occasion.
   In our solutions to the mystery of who attached the dog to my leg, she opted for the second candidate. I went for the first. She commented on how this reflected the differences in our natures, momentarily muting the cordiality established by our feet.
   I looked elsewhere. I saw a barometer. At one o' clock in the morning I looked elsewhere again. The scene presented for my perusal included a glass of water and an alarm clock. There was something unusual in that. It involved a man in a black suit who held a small bottle of cyanide. Although I didn't look down to verify this, I can state with near certainty that a small creature endowed with teeth was attached to my leg at the time, though whether he possessed a hat is a line of inquiry only speculation can advance.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007


The Budgie

   Barry and Keith were actors. Or at least they were in theory, but rarely in practise. Keith normally got the sort of roles where all he had to do was get shot. To avoid being evicted from their apartment, they needed another source of income. They could have got jobs in the fast-food place opposite their apartment, but that would have felt like taking one of those roles where they get shot without saying a word, and Barry wasn't prepared to stoop to that level. They'd get lines with the fast-food job, but 'do you want fries with that?' wasn't the sort of thing Barry imagined he'd be saying when he decided to become an actor, unless he got to shoot someone as well, and he wouldn't get to do that in the fast-food job.
   There was only one thing Barry was qualified for and prepared to stoop to, and that was crime. They got fake guns and disguises from a friend of theirs who worked in the costume department at a TV station. Their first job was a small off-licence, where they stole a few hundred euros and a bottle of whiskey to celebrate. They did a similar job on a supermarket, but Barry was on the lookout for something bigger. He found it one evening when he was watching a TV show that looked at the lives of one of the richest families in the country. Their lavish mansion was shown, but the only thing Barry took much notice of was the budgie. He thought of a plan, and he explained it to Keith. "We'll kidnap the budgie and demand a ransom. They'll pay because it'll be like small change to them, but to us it'll be a fortune. This would be like kidnapping the wife of a carpenter or a plumber, or the dog of a barrister. It's much easier to handle a budgie than a wife, and no one will think you're weird if you keep them in a cage."
   With the help of their friend in the costume department they disguised themselves as two old men. When he saw the TV show, Barry had noticed a piano in the room where the budgie was, so when they called to the house they told the maid that they were there to tune the piano. She knew that it shouldn't take two men to tune a piano, but she thought they were so old that opening doors would be a two man job. Barry pretended to tune the piano while Keith took the budgie and replaced it with a stuffed bird.
   Later that day they sent the family a letter demanding a ransom of ten thousand euros. They said not to go to the police or to the press, but the kidnap was all over the news because the family had gone to the police as soon as they found the stuffed bird where the real one should be. The police were looking for two old men posing as piano tuners. Barry and Keith were hiding the bird at an old house owned by Barry's aunt. She had recently inherited the place, and it was badly in need of renovation. They kept the bird in a room at the back of the house. Keith had a habit of leaving doors and windows open, so Barry nailed the window down just in case the bird escaped.
   They went out to the back garden to smoke and to think about how they were going to collect the money with all this attention on the case. They had locked the door to the budgie's room before they went out. The lock was old, and the key was too big to fit in their pockets. All of the keys for the house were attached to a horse shoe with pieces of string. They kept the keys in a toolbox in the shed.
   When they went back inside, Barry opened the door to the room and saw that the bidgie was no longer in his cage. "You forgot to close the cage again," he said to Keith.
   As they looked around the room, neither of them noticed the budgie leaving through the open door. "And close the door so he doesn't get out," Barry said.
   Keith closed the door. Barry had left the key in the lock. The key was horizontal, with the string at the right side of the bit sticking out. The mechanism of the lock was just about able to resist the downward pressure of the horse shoe and the other keys, until the budgie decided to perch on the horse shoe and provide the additional pressure.
   The door locked. Barry and Keith thought there must be someone outside. Keith looked under the door and saw the budgie. He had left the back door open, and the next time they saw the bird it was perched on a branch outside the window, looking in on them. They tried to lift the window but they couldn't get the nails out, and they were afraid to break the glass in case they scared the bird away.
   "Now we're trapped and he's looking in on us," Keith said. "He's probably thinking 'ha!'."
   "Let's hope the only justice we face is poetic."
   That didn't look likely when the police arrived. A bird-watcher had spotted the bird and recognised its distinctive markings from the photos in the newspapers (or at least he said he was photographing birds with his zoom lens focussed on windows). Barry and Keith claimed that they were just trying to rescue the bird. They had supposedly come to check on the house for Barry's aunt, and they found the bird. They were just about to take it to the police when one of the kidnappers returned. In the ensuing struggle the bird got away and the kinapper locked them in. He went to look for the bird.
   The police didn't seem entirely convinced of the story, but as Barry said, "Who else could have locked us in? The budgie?"
   So they got away with it, but they gave up on their life of crime. They went back to acting, and they got a few good parts out of their appearance in the press, where they were portrayed as the men who saved the budgie. Keith finally got to say something before being shot.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007


The Bronze Dog

   Laura went for a walk with her boyfriend, Dylan. As they looked down on a motorway from a bridge he made an insightful comment on the shortcomings in the transport infrastructure and she said that the curls in her hair felt curlier today.
   As soon as she said it she realised that it sounded stupid in the light of what he just said. Normally the things he said made the things she said sound intelligent. The things she said were getting stupider the longer they knew each other. On their first date she said she'd been thinking a lot about Wittgenstein's treatment of non-elementary propositions and he said he'd been thinking about a hole he had made in a wall with a screwdriver just to see if he could make a hole in a wall with a screwdriver. He could.
   After the comment on her curls she tried to think of something intelligent to say, but in her mind she just saw a monkey next to a blank blackboard. It was Dylan's fault that the monkey was in her mind. She knew that if she thought about it for long enough the monkey would write 'ding' on the blackboard, and that would be Dylan's fault as well.
   She decided she needed to spend some time with intelligent people, just to get her mind operating at full capacity again. So she went to visit her friend Annabelle on a Saturday. Annabelle lived in a town by the sea. She blew bubbles and thought. She drew thought bubbles above drawings of her face, and in the bubbles she wrote the things she'd never thought of until she wrote them. This is why she had a stamp on her forehead. She put it there after writing the idea in a bubble, and she forgot it was there. The stamp on her forehead was the origin of her reputation for being intelligent. People thought she was making a statement with the stamp, possibly an artistic statement, but it didn't matter what type it was. Her friends believed that making a statement without using words was on a higher level, in intellectual terms, than anything that could be said.
   When Laura went to visit her they went to the top of a hill overlooking the sea, just to feel the breeze on their faces. They looked at the white clouds passing by above. They looked at a horse for a while too, and he looked back at them. The monkey in her head didn't like the horse, but she often disregarded the opinions of the monkey.
   In the evening they were walking down a hill towards the town, and they met one of Annabelle's friends, Orla. She only had one shoe. Sometimes she hopped on one foot, and when she got tired of hopping she'd step lightly on her bare foot and say 'ow'. When she got tired of doing that she'd hop again. She told them she'd lost a shoe on the beach. She was going home to get another pair of shoes, and then she was going back to the beach to look for the lost shoe again. They said they'd help her look.
   It only took them ten minutes to find the shoe, but they kept looking because they enjoyed the search so much. It was just as good as looking at clouds.
   They ended their search for the shoe when they found a small bronze dog in the sand. The figurine was about four inches high.
   They sat on a bench overlooking the beach and the sea. Annabelle and Orla looked at the sky as the sun descended towards the horizon. Laura spent most of the time looking at the dog. A few passers-by asked about it, and she told them she found it on the beach.
   They went to a café, and they put the dog in the centre of the table as they drank their coffee. After they left the café they headed for Annabelle's house. As they were walking down a narrow alley they heard a voice behind them. A man said, "Stop walking and turn around slowly."
   They had done everything slowly that day, but they turned around quickly and saw a man pointing a gun at them. "Give me the bronze dog," he said.
   Laura had been developing an attachment to the dog, but she decided to comply with the man's request. She was just about to reach into her handbag to get the dog when they heard another voice behind them. A man said, "Not so fast."
   They turned around and saw another man with a gun at the other end of the alley. "Give me the dog," he said.
   The other man said, "I'd rather kill everyone and die myself than see you get the dog."
   His opposite number said, "My sentiments exactly."
   Laura looked back and forth between the two men pointing guns at each other. She thought they'd get on much better if they weren't so similar. But the phrase 'kill everyone' came to mind, and it focussed her attention on the danger they were in. Her brain found top gear again, and she came up with a solution in seconds.
   "Gentlemen," she said, "I think I know how to solve this impasse to everyone's satisfaction. My grandfather faced a similar problem once. It concerned the ownership of an antique watch. It caused months of unnecessary tension and threats before it was settled. My grandfather saw a way out of the difficulty when he was reading a book about Chinese history. He gathered all the interested parties in a room and he got an intermediary to hold the watch." At this point she reached into her handbag so she could hold the bronze dog. She moved her hand all around and she looked closely into the bag. "Damn!" she said. "I left it in the café!"
   The two men paused for a few seconds as the news sank in. They both ran away at the same time, presumably heading for the café.
   "I wonder who'll get it first," Annabelle said.
   "I will," Laura said. She smiled and took the bronze dog out of the bag.
   They went straight to the police station and handed the dog in. The two men were arrested.
   Laura's mind was clearer than ever. When she got home, Dylan was holding a sleeping rabbit while standing in a wheelbarrow, surrounded by a ring of fire, but with her re-sharpened mental faculties she was able to get him, the rabbit and the wheelbarrow out of it unscathed.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007


The Table Quiz

   Miriam often tried to give up smoking, but it was difficult because she kept thinking about cigarettes. As her uncle used to say, "If you keep thinking about writing your name on a bull's back, it's only a matter of time before you do it." He had the scars to prove it, and the bull had the first letter of his name.
   So she needed something to take her mind off the cigarettes. A friend of hers, Sonia, suggested a table quiz in the local pub. She wouldn't see anyone smoking there.
   They formed a team with two of their friends and they entered the quiz. The bar man, Owen, was the quiz master. He had come up with the questions himself, and most of them required little or no thought. 'How many fingers am I holding up?' would have been difficult if it had been asked later in the night after a few rounds of drinks, but it was asked in the first round of questions. The answer was five and only one team got it wrong.
   Two teams got all of the questions right. One was Miriam's, and the other was led by a man called Eddie. Twenty-two tie breaker questions were asked, but these failed to separate the teams. The questions were either so easy that they were impossible to get wrong, or so difficult that the teams could only guess at the answer. An example of the latter type would be 'I have ten toes, but how many toenails do I have?'.
   Owen used to have buzzers for this situation. He made the buzzers himself. The team who buzzed in first with the right answer would win. That was the theory anyway, but in practise, the person who buzzed in first wouldn't be able to answer anything for a few days. One of them answered the question months later in the middle of a wedding. He would have won a foot spa if he had got it right.
   So they needed some other way of deciding the winner, and Owen suggested going to see Gordon and getting him to come up with a question. Gordon had a reputation for being the smartest man in the area. Whenever people wanted to know something they went to see him, whether it was the capital of Poland or why fate keeps dropping metaphorical empty beer cans on their heads. He was stronger on captial cities than on the vagaries of fate, although there was often a simple answer to the questions of fate, like 'It's because you're not wearing trousers'.
   Owen, the two teams and most of the people in the pub went to Gordon's house. He got a shock when he opened the door and saw everyone there, but he relaxed when Owen told him they just needed a question.
   But the questions he came up with were too difficult for the teams. He tried a few easy ones (like 'What is the capital of Poland?') but they both answered those questions correctly. As he was trying to think of a question with the appropriate level of difficulty, they heard a woman's voice from inside the house. She said, "Gordon, will I open another bottle of wine?"
   A man called Larry stepped out of the crowd and said, "Was that my wife?"
   "Now there's a question," Owen said.
   Both teams looked at Gordon's face to see if they could get a clue to the answer in his expression. Miriam conferred with her team, and she wrote 'yes' on the answer sheet. Eddie's team went for 'no'. When Owen looked at the two answer sheets he said, "Right. It'll all be decided on this. Is it Larry's wife?"
   "No it's not," Gordon said.
   "So who is it?"
   "Leave me alone." Gordon went inside and closed the door.
   "I think he's lying," Owen said.
   Larry started pounding on the door, and demanding to know if his wife was inside. The crowd stayed where they were. Under normal circumstances they'd realise that it wasn't their business and leave, but this was their business with the outcome of the quiz still hanging in the balance. Even if it wasn't their business they'd just wait on the footpath outside.
   Someone from the crowd said, "Look, they're getting away around the back."
   The crowd ran around the house. They chased Gordon and the woman down a narrow road, and Larry caught up with them at the top of a hill. He was delighted to see that it wasn't his wife at all. It was Owen's wife.
   Owen said to her, "What were you doing with him?"
   She said, "I was just... helping him rehearse for a part in a play."
   "Fair enough. Well, we have a winner, and it's Eddie's team."
   Miriam was disappointed at first, but the prize was four-hundred cigarettes, so she felt as if she'd won.

The Tree and the Horse
Henry Seaward-Shannon
A Walk in the Rain
The East Cork Patents Office
Words are my favourite noises




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very slight stories

They Met a Bear
  They stopped in a small seaside town and they went for a walk. They met a bear.
  This is one version of the story. In another version, they met a sailor, and in this one they ended up being held at gunpoint on a speedboat and becoming unwilling participants in a diamond robbery while disguised as a cow, and sharing in the proceeds of that crime.
  So when they tell the story they just say, "We met a bear. He waved at us."

The Story of the Fortune Teller and the Alarm Clock
  A fortune teller threw an alarm clock at me. This story is deliberately lacking in details to mock the predictions of the fortune teller. Although she was right when she said she'd throw an alarm clock at me.

  One. Two. Three, the study. Four, a candle stick. Five. Six...
  Seven is missing, presumed dead. One has taken up the case, and two is helping him in his investigations. They both suspect six. Seven was last seen next to six in the garden.
  But seven isn't really dead. He's consumed half a bottle of whiskey and he's currently in the orchard, talking to a rabbit. "One of us is as boring as a gate post," he says, "and it's not..." He stops to count on his fingers. "No, actually it is me."
  Eight nine ten.

Debbie and his dog
  Debbie was sick of people mistaking her for a man.
  "Is your dog my parole officer?"
  She was sick of people asking her that too.

Very Slight Stories: like short stories, only shorter

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