Very Slight Stories | Like short stories, only shorter.

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


The Hole

   Sam dances at least twice a week. It stops him from falling into the hole. He fell into it once and he didn't see any way of getting out, so he started building a house, and he tried to convince himself that he could live comfortably in the hole. But the house didn't even qualify as a shack. He knew he had to find a way out.
   He met a man called Cecil who was working on a ladder. He'd assembled it from old pieces of timber and sticks he'd found, and it was all held together with string. It didn't look very safe, so before using it he got a priest to bless it. It was the same priest who pretended to be a chef when Cecil needed someone to identify a dead bird. When he wasn't pretending to be a chef he was pretending to be a priest.
   After the ladder was blessed, Cecil placed it against the side of the hole and started climbing. It swayed from side to side when he stepped on the first rung. He waited for a few seconds until it stopped moving, and then he carefully put his foot on the second rung, but the ladder fell to pieces. The priest cursed it.
   They needed a more solid structure. Sam came up with the idea of building scaffolding. If they took apart the things that served as houses, they might just have enough timber for the scaffolding. They needed the help of a woman called Yvonne. She'd been in the hole for nearly two years, and in that time she'd built a very solid shack. She had a garden with a small fence around it. They wanted to start building the scaffolding on her roof, but there was a chance that her house would fall down, so they needed to convince her to leave the hole with them.
   They went to see her one day and they explained their plan, but she said she was perfectly happy where she was.
   "How could anyone be happy down here?" Cecil said. "There's so much more of the world out there, so much we're cut off from. It's like living with your eyes closed."
   "I would live with my eyes closed if I was out there. It's my eyes that caused all my problems. From a young age, I discovered that I saw dogs in black-and-white. I could see everything else normally, but dogs were always various shades of grey. At first I thought it was the dogs, but I knew something was wrong when people talked about the lovely tan colours in our neighbour's dog. I pretended that I saw it too. I realised what was happening, and things started to make more sense. I used to think that the Kerry Blue terrier was just a name, and I thought it was an appropriate name for a grey dog. If you believe some people from Kerry, the sun is always shining there, but it's been raining every time I've been there."
   "Are you sure it's not a form of colour-blindness?" Sam said.
   "I've never heard of anyone being blind to the colour of dogs and to nothing else. And even colour-blind people don't see in black-and-white. No, this was definitely something out of the ordinary."
   "It might be out of the ordinary, but still, it's no reason to hide from the world."
   "No, it's not. I was able to live with it. I never told anyone about the way I saw dogs, and I tried not to think about it. I convinced myself it didn't matter. But then two years ago I saw a man in black-and-white. I stared at him, and I could see that he knew I saw something in him, as if I was seeing his secret. I was afraid of him. Something about the look in his eyes made me back away. I've felt like that around some dogs too. That fear stayed with me, even when I was far away from him. Only down here in the hole can I escape the fear."
   "You don't have to hide in a hole to escape the fear," Sam said. "It's like with dogs -- show them you're not afraid of them and they won't hurt you. If we all left, we could be there when you confront him. That's all you have to do. Just show him you're not afraid."
   "He's right," Cecil said. "As Rabelais once wrote: 'Keep running after a dog, and he will never bite you; drink always before the thirst, and it will never come upon you'."
   She imagined confronting the man. Thirst presented a different image for Sam's mind.
   "Okay," she said. "I'll leave."
   They built the scaffolding on top of her house. It didn't look completely secure, but it was a much better prospect than the ladder. Cecil climbed it first to prove it wouldn't fall down, and he made it out of the whole. Yvonne went next, followed by the priest and then Sam.
   The priest decided he was a photographer outside the hole. They went to see the man who appeared in black-and-white to Yvonne. They found him in a windswept field near the beach.
   The four of them stood about ten yards away from him. They looked at him without moving. The photographer was smiling, but the faces of the other three seemed to be devoid of life. Their lack of movement was made more noticeable by the strong wind, which brought life to their hair and clothes. They all looked as if they'd been living in a hole, like four stray dogs.
   They sensed his fear. He backed away slowly, and then he ran. Yvonne was no longer afraid of him, and he always kept his distance from her.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007


Aw Lelong

   Gary was suffering from writer's block. He spent hours looking at the blank page in his typewriter, but he couldn't come up with anything. He decided he needed to take his mind off writing for a while, so he took his typewriter apart.
   He spent a week cleaning every part and then putting them all back together. He felt refreshed when he'd finished the job, and he was satisfied because he'd actually finished something. He was full of enthusiasm for writing again. He put a page into the typewriter and wrote the word 'The'.
   His enthusiasm started to wane as he tried to think of what should follow the 'The'. A minute later he took the page out of the typewriter, rolled it into a ball and threw it into the bin. He put another page into it, but he still couldn't think of anything to write about, so he decided to use a little reverse psychology on the page: he'd say 'I don't want to type on you anyway'.
   He took the typewriter apart again, and this time he re-assembled it so that the metal levers with the letters would come back towards him instead of towards the paper when the keys were pressed. When it was finished, he put a page into the typewriter and started typing. He felt perfectly free to type whatever he wanted when the letters were moving away from the paper instead of leaving their mark on it. He put his head over the typewriter and he gently pressed the E key. When the metal letter touched his forehead he suddenly got an idea for a story about a man who buys a statue in an auction, and the statue keeps changing. He pressed other keys, and each time a letter touched his forehead he got an idea. He put tiny pieces of felt over the metal letters to protect his forehead. He put his head over the typewriter and typed away as normal. A succession of ideas and images flowed through his mind.
   He started to wonder what he was actually typing. He bought another typewriter, and he took the two machines apart. He was able to construct a typewriter with one set of keys that operated two sets of letters: one that moved towards him and another that moved towards the page. He put his head over it and typed, and each time he pressed a key a letter would touch his forehead and another would strike the ribbon and leave a mark on the page.
   It was thrilling to feel his mind illuminated by the stream of ideas and images. When he got to the end of the page he stopped to read what he had typed, but he only read these lines: "It's space, quite possibly. Shakespeare knew what I was talking about. Or he would have done if I'd said it a few centuries ago, and that's time."
   He took the paper out of the typewriter, rolled it into a ball and threw it into the bin, and then he kicked the bin away.
   Later that evening he remembered what he had written and he thought that it might not be so bad if it was read in the voice of a certain character. He retrieved the sheet of paper and he wrote an introduction for the piece. He explained that the man who wrote it invented a machine to hit himself on the head repeatedly just to see if he could do it. He decided to give the character a stupid name, and he came up with 'Aw Lelong'. He ended up writing over ten pages about Aw. The ideas flowed, stories about Aw's feud with a goose, or the time he handcuffed himself to the woman who wanted to hit him repeatedly with a rolling pin, the one who had a rolling pin in her other hand (it was dark and he thought he was handcuffing himself to the woman who wanted to 'do something with handcuffs).
   The piece was published in a magazine. It consisted almost entirely of the introduction, with a short extract of Aw's writing at the end. It was only as he was reading through the story in the magazine that he realised why it had come so easily to him. Most of stories about Aw's life had happened to Gary's brother, Lawrence.
   Lawrence was furious when he read the story. "From now on," he said to Gary, "your name will be 'Ow'. Think of me as your creation. I'm a machine for hitting you on the head."
   And a very effective machine he proved to be. He took every opportunity to hit his brother. He'd say, "What's your name?" and then hit him.
   After weeks of being hit on the head, Gary finally came up with a good idea: he'd write more stories about Aw Lelong, and in these ones Aw would be the hero. He'd drive fast cars and be surrounded by beautiful women. He'd be like a lazy James Bond. These stories came easily too because he just copied most of them from films. Lawrence stopped hitting him, and he started to think there was some truth to the stories. This belief wasn't shaken when women hit him with rolling pins or umbrellas.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007


Enrick Mortigon

   Enrick Mortigon was one of Ireland's finest basketball players in 1963, but it was a time when basketball was a very minor minority sport. Within a hundred mile radius of Enrick, you could probably have counted the number of basketball players on one hand, and you needed a full hand to make up a team. Two of them to make a game of it. And if you did manage to fill the two hands, there was every chance that some of the players would be missing hands or legs or parts of their heads. If you had retained all the physical implements needed to play a physical sport, you would have played Gaelic football or hurling. Enrick was perfectly capable of playing either of those sports, and he was good at them too, but he excelled at basketball, and something in his nature always made him strive to do the opposite of what society told him to do. It was a time when society had a long list of instructions.
   Enrick's basketball playing days seemed to have come to an end after an unfortunate encounter with the fairies one night. When he woke up on the following morning, one of his legs was longer than the other. He had met the fairies when he was walking home through the fields. They told him to make sure not to walk into their fort. He would have made sure to avoid it if they hadn't said that, but he hated being told what to do, so he put his right foot into the fort and walked on. The moral that most people would take from this is 'Don't set foot in a fairy fort', but he went for the less catchy 'Don't start a conversation with the fairies with the words "Are ye having a little picnic?"'.
   He couldn't run properly because of his long right leg. He had to stand with his left foot on a wooden box, and he dug holes around his garden to put his right foot into.
   A total of seven bishops considered the problem of Enrick's leg. He met the first one by chance at the seaside. He explained the reason for his lop-sided stance, and the bishop sent him to a priest called Father Nolan who was used to coming across unexplained phenomena in his parish. Half of his parishioners had things growing on their heads or in their back gardens or on someone else's head. But Father Nolan didn't know what to do about Enrick's leg. He sent him to his own bishop, who sent him to the bishop in the next diocese. This one didn't know what to do either, and he thought that if three bishops couldn't do anything about it, the only other thing to do was to have four bishops consider the problem.
   So Enrick ended up standing in a huge room, facing four bishops, who sat behind a long table. They believed that his foot should either be cut off for being evil or else declared a miracle. Enrick wasn't too keen on either course of action. "I want two equally long legs," he said. "I want to play basketball."
   The bishops wondered what sort of a heartless man would want to play basketball. One of them said, "If you're going to take that attitude, we'll cut off your hands as well."
   "I'll have to take up soccer then."
   The bishops stared at him in horror. They were all trying to think of the best man to perform an exorcism at short notice. One of them said to him, "You should think very carefully about what you say and what you do. We're giving you a simple choice, and a beautiful choice. Either have your foot cut off or praise it as the work of God. I suggest you go away and pray before deciding which option you'll take."
   Enrick's hatred of being told what to do meant he was reluctant to choose either option. A friend of his suggested that all of his problems would be solved if his left leg was longer. He'd be even better at basketball then. And all he needs to do to get the left one to grow would be to put it into the fairy fort.
   But the fairies wouldn't make it grow if they thought they'd be doing him a favour, so he had to pretend to be someone else. He came up with a brilliant disguise. Even his own mother didn't recognise him. He went to the fairy fort late one night. He said 'how are y' doin' there?' in a Waterford accent, and one of the fairies said, "Did you think we wouldn't recognise the man with one leg longer than the other?"
   Enrick told them about his love of basketball, and how the two options offered by the bishops. The fairies had pity on him. They said they'd return his leg to its normal size if he did a favour for them. They wanted him to use his disguise to distract the publican while they did a bit of 'shopping' in the pub.
   The pub was closed for the night, but the owner was still inside, washing the glasses. He opened the door when he heard a knock. Enrick said 'hello' in his Waterford, and he started telling a story about a calf he was worried about. He saw the fairies doing their shopping behind the bar.
   The publican realised what was going on just as it was coming to an end. He knew he couldn't do anything about the fairies, but he could kill a man from Waterford and no one would ever know. He went to get his gun, and Enrick ran away. When he looked back he saw the publican loading his gun at the door. He saw some woodland ahead. If he could make it to the trees he'd be safe, and he'd easily make it there in time if it weren't for his leg.
   But as he ran he felt his leg returning to its normal size. He was able to run at full speed again. The exultation of reaching the woodland with two legs of equal length made him jump as high as he could and let out a shout of joy, which morphed into a scream of pain when he hit his head off a branch, and then silence as he lay unconscious on the ground.
   He woke there in the morning, and he didn't mind the pain in his head because his leg was back to normal. He was able to play basketball again. He just needed to find another two players to form a team.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007


A Simple Story

   It ends with a middle-aged man sitting at a white plastic table, holding a small glass full of a bright red drink that should make him forget the past for a few hours. But he wants to remember. He slowly pours the drink on the table and watches it spread over the white surface. That seems to represent how she entered his life.
   Before the end, after the start, there's a man sitting in the sun, drawing a murder scene on the back of a letter with a black pen. He makes himself look tall.
   There's a small seaside town.
   There's a couple dancing in a pub. A world-weary band are playing to forget about the world. She dances and gives them a sight to help them forget everything outside this place, this time. He only drinks to forget himself.
   There's a man on the sea front; half human, half shadow.
   There's a flower in a vase on the windowsill in a café.
   There's a summer night, a flickering fluorescent light, undecided about whether or not it should light up this room. It shouldn't. The white walls are dirty. The window overlooking the street allows people to look in. The street outside shouldn't be lit up either.
   There's a young man dressed in black, shooting into the air as he falls backwards, his back arched.
   There's a policeman hiding beneath his hat until he lights a cigarette with a match and his face flickers out of the darkness. People decide it's time to leave the pub.
   There's a light in a window over a restaurant.
   There's a meeting on a dark street. She smiles, a smile more deadly than the knife she expects to find in his pocket. The smile becomes sharper when he says, "You were supposed to meet me on the train."
   There's a policeman shooting a man just before he shoots into a dark room.
   There's a middle-aged man with a woman in a red dress. He leads her by the hand, making their way through the trees. She tries not to laugh.
   There's an old wooden chair in the room. Sometimes the flickering light illuminates an empty chair. Sometimes it illuminates a man lighting his pipe, ignoring the younger man standing at the door. "Stay away from her or say goodbye to this rut you've settled in." The man on the chair doesn't respond, focussing his attention on the pipe.
   There's a small garden surrounded by ivy-covered walls.
   There's a man and a woman hiding in a dark room. He tells her he can't leave town with her. He's been here too long. He knows he'll be here forever, however long that is.
   It starts with the following lines: It was neither a big town nor a small town. It was a horse.

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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