|Very Slight Stories | Like short stories, only shorter.||
Tuesday, June 26, 2007
Some people admired Jane's new hairstyle. Some people thought it looked ridiculous. Some of those people expressed their admiration, some remained silent, and one, Naomi, sprinkled water over Jane's hair and christened it 'The Wreck of the Hesperus'.
Here are two statements to consider:
(1) Jane sprinkled some water over Naomi.
(2) Jane threw a glass of water over Naomi.
Some people claimed that the first statement was true. Jane would be a prominent member of this group. Others, including Naomi, believed that the second statement was true.
Neither group would dispute the following statement: A dispute ensued, at the end of which, Jane and Naomi vowed never to talk to each other again.
Friends tried to bring about a reconciliation. Naomi responded to this suggestion by saying, "She called me a ___ ___." Jane's response was: "She called me a ___ ___." In both cases, the expletives have been deleted.
They met by chance at Chloe's house. Jane used the words 'you', 'the', 'and', 'your', 'I'm', 'my', 'I', 'mouse', 'wallpaper' and 'Bruce Springsteen'. These words were linked together to form a coherent sentence, but the chain was broken in numerous places by the removal of the expletives.
Naomi used words like 'kettle' and 'ostrich' along with her expletives.
An hour later, Jane said the following (the dots represent tears): "Because... I didn't know... he said he was from Longford... and... he broke the tap..."
Naomi struggled to say anything through the tears.
In the intervening hour, Chloe had managed to halt the flow of expletives by diverting their attention to Andy. She thought he was acting strangely. Other people interpreted his behaviour in the following way: he was strange. The latter option provided a more complete explanation, but Chloe stuck with her idea. She was determined to find out why he was behaving strangely, and she came up with the following idea (i.e. following him).
When she told Jane and Naomi about this, they forgot about their dispute. They went with her. They followed him to an old house outside the town. The place was in complete darkness. He knocked on the front door. The door opened a few seconds later and he disappeared into the darkness. Chloe considered accepting the 'Andy is strange' theory and going home, but her curiosity wouldn't let her take the easy way out. They went around the back of the house, and they saw the flickering light of a candle through a downstairs window.
They inched closer to the window and they looked in. They saw Andy sitting on a sofa with a woman. They were embracing and kissing, but not necessarily in that order. Chloe, Jane and Naomi all smiled at the scene. They were getting ready to leave when a door in the room burst open and a man wielding a knife entered. Andy and the woman both looked shocked. Andy stood up and he pleaded with the man, but the man advanced on Andy, ready to attack with the knife.
Chloe, Jane and Naomi looked on. Various explanations of the scene entered their minds.
Chloe's explanation: Andy was about to be murdered by the husband of the woman he was having an affair with.
Jane's explanation: Andy was about to be murdered by a man from Longford.
Naomi's explanation: They were performing a play. Andy had written a play.
All of these explanations were wrong, but Naomi was nearly right. They were actually performing a scene from a film. Andy had written a film.
The man with the knife halted his advance on Andy when he noticed the audience outside the window. Andy recognised them, and he invited them in. He said they could be in the film too. Jane and Naomi apologised to each other, which led to the tearful reconciliation described above. Andy heard one of them mention 'The Wreck of the Hesperus', and he asked about that. Chloe told him that it was the title of a poem by Longfellow. The main character in the film was called Derek, so he decided to call the film 'Derek of the Hesperus'.
Tuesday, June 19, 2007
The Butterfly Collector
Gary told Lucy about his butterfly collection. She said, "I think it's cruel, catching butterflies just so you can put pins into them and show them off."
"They'd only die anyway."
"Of natural causes, or whatever butterflies die of."
"If they die in the wild their beauty is lost forever. I'm preserving their beauty."
"Would you like it if you were put on display in a glass case after you die, without any clothes on?"
"No, but then, I wouldn't like to be on display before I die, and definitely not without my clothes. I'd rather not be looked at for very long at all."
"But you have no problem putting butterflies on display."
"They're like celebrities. Or models. They exist to be looked at. Butterflies even expect predators to look at them. When the butterfly spreads its wings, the predator will see two big eyes and it frightens them."
"It's still cruel."
She wasn't the only person who told him it was cruel. He knew other butterfly collectors who had been collecting for years without ever being accused of being cruel. He believed that people like her didn't really believe there was something wrong with collecting butterflies. She just didn't like him. She'd formed an impression of him based on his appearance, and this impression informed her opinion of his collecting and everything else he did. If he spent his time working with homeless children she'd find fault with it.
To prove his theory, he asked his friend Jason to tell her that he collects butterflies too. She'd already formed a positive opinion of Jason. But Jason didn't want to go along with Gary's plan. He said, "I don't want her thinking I collect butterflies."
"She won't think it's cruel when you do it. I guarantee that."
"I don't care if she thinks I'm cruel. She's already seen me throw a turnip at her brother. But if I tell her I collect butterflies she'll think I'm a bit... not odd, but... different."
"What did she say when you threw a turnip at her brother?"
"Nothing. She just laughed."
"I knew it. If I had done it she'd have said I was evil."
"The reason she doesn't like you is probably because you said that if poodles were human beings they'd soil themselves on a regular basis."
"I was joking. If you had said that she would have laughed."
"But I wouldn't have said that. That's the point. And I wouldn't collect butterflies either. There's no point in seeing how she reacts after I tell her that I collect butterflies because that's just not who I am. Confusion would be her reaction."
"So I should stop collecting butterflies and making jokes about poodles and women tennis players?"
"No. It's who you are. You're doomed to all these expressions of who you are. There's nothing you can do about that."
"'Doomed'. That isn't very encouraging."
"We're all doomed. Like your butterflies."
"I'll always be a moth, never to become a butterfly."
"Do you think that butterflies are any happier than moths? Moths don't look at their reflections in windows and think they need a new look. They just fly around and get on with it. They're oblivious to the fact that people would rather look at butterflies. If she doesn't like you, that's her problem. You should throw a turnip at her. I'd laugh."
"I'm not going to throw a turnip at a woman."
"Something softer then. A cabbage."
"Or a head of lettuce."
"No. I'm going to rise above people like her. Like any good moth I'll only be attracted to the lights and ignore the black holes like her."
"Or a parsnip."
The next time he met her he told her he'd started collecting mice. "I have to put a pin into their mouths," he said. "I do this after they're dead. Because it'd be cruel to do it when they're still alive. The pin comes out the other end. Sometimes I put the pin in the other end, but it's difficult to get it to come out the mouth. There's nothing worse than having the pin come out through an eye, especially if it's after coming from the other end. No one wants to look at that. Sometimes I have them on their backs, with their paws sticking up in the air. And sometimes they're facing down. They're funnier when their paws are in the air..."
He kept talking about his fictional mouse collection. She didn't say a word. The longer he went on, the more she struggled to hold back a smile.
Tuesday, June 12, 2007
Diarmuid was always known as 'Shiny'. It proved to be a very effective brand name in his political career. Everyone seemed to enjoy calling him 'Shiny'. Everywhere he went, people would shake his hand and say 'Hello, Shiny' or 'How are you, Shiny?'. His surname was a more significant factor in his success. His father and grandfather had both been members of parliament, and Shiny topped the poll in his constituency in his first election.
After topping the poll again in his fifth election he decided it was time to get his portrait painted so he could hang it on the wall of his office, next to the portraits of his father and grandfather. He hired an artist called Jonathon to paint it. Jonathon didn't say much when he arrived at Shiny's office. He didn't say a word while he worked on the painting, and he glared in response to anything Shiny said.
What he lacked in amiability, he made up for in artistic ability. Shiny was delighted with the portrait. He hung it in his office, but a few days later he noticed something odd. The windows were in the background of the painting, and there was a face in one of the windows. A man was looking in, smiling and waving.
Shiny went to see Jonathon. He said, "Why did you paint a man at the window?"
"I paint what I see."
"And you saw a man at the window?"
"What else would he be doing at the window?"
"How long was he there for?"
"All the time."
"There was a man looking in the window all the time you were painting?"
"Am I going to have to keep explaining this to you over and over again?"
"Why didn't you say something?"
"I paint what I see."
"It was supposed to be a portrait of me, and you painted a man at the window."
"I paint what I see."
He tried to get another artist to paint over the man in the window, but no one would dare alter one of Jonathon's paintings. He was famous for getting revenge. Revenge was the one thing that separated him from the animals, according to a journalist in a local newspaper.
Shiny hired a woman called Grace to do another portrait. She was much more friendly than Jonathon, and she was a very talented artist too, judging by some of her past work.
He wanted to find out more about the man at the window. He spoke to a woman who worked in a shop at the other side of the street. She said she saw a man on a step-ladder outside the window, looking in. At first she thought he was cleaning the window, but he was there for a very long time.
He cut the window out of the first painting and he showed it to people around the town. He asked if they knew who this man was. A few people thought he looked familiar, and one woman said she saw someone like him getting off the bus on a street at the edge of town.
Shiny went to this street. He met a man who said, "It's Shiny! Hello, Shiny. Is it yourself, Shiny?"
"It is. How are you?"
"Will you come in for a cup of tea, Shiny?"
"I'd love to, but I'm in a bit of a rush. I'm trying to locate someone."
Shiny showed the man the extract from the painting. He put on his glasses to look at it, and he said, "That looks like Mark. He lives at the end of the street. Are you sure you won't have a cup of tea, Shiny?"
"Some other time. Thanks a million for your help."
"It's no problem at all, Shiny."
Shiny went to the house at the end of the street and he rang the doorbell. He saw a familiar face when the door opened. He held up the extract of the painting and said, "You have some explaining to do."
"Not half as much explaining as you'll be doing, Dad."
Shiny had been canvassing since he was ten and he was used to hearing abuse on people's doorsteps. He always retained his composure no matter how bad the language, but the word 'Dad' left him speechless.
He had met Mark's mother when he was twenty, and he'd only known her for five months. When she became pregnant, his father paid her ten thousand pounds to leave the country. He wanted to protect his son's future political career. She left because it was a lot of money, and Ireland at that time wasn't the best place to be if you were a single mother.
All of these memories came flooding back as Shiny stood on the doorstep, looking at his son, who was smiling and waving at him. But the only thing Shiny could think of saying was, "Why did you have to ruin my portrait?"
"I heard you were having it done so you could hang it on the wall next to your father and grandfather, and I thought it was only right that the next generation be included too."
"This is what became of that portrait." He held up the bit he cut out. "I'm getting another one done."
"You can't take a scissors to this problem and cut me out of your life. The press would love to hear my story. You could try cutting my picture out of the newspapers, but it won't do you much good at the next election."
Shiny said, "Thank you for your time," and he walked away.
At first he found it difficult to keep the smile in place while he sat for the latest portrait, but Grace kept talking, and she helped him relax.
As she walked away from his office that evening, Mark approached her on the street. He told her his story, and he asked her to include him in the portrait. He said he'd pay whatever she asked.
"I'm sorry, but I can't do that," she said. "It just wouldn't be right."
"Do you think it was right of him to cut me out of his life?"
"Obviously that's wrong too, but that's none of my business.
"You have a chance to right a wrong, or partially right it. You can include me in his life."
"You just want to annoy him."
"I suppose that's one way of looking at it. If I can't annoy him by appearing in his portrait and reminding him of his neglect, then I'll have to annoy him by going to the press."
Shiny was delighted with Grace's portrait. He hung it on the wall in his office, and he didn't notice anything odd about it until a few days later when his wife looked at it and said, "That was very clever of her to include this very painting on the wall in this painting."
Shiny looked at it. There were three portraits on the wall in the background of the painting. He looked closely at the third one. He knew that despite the resemblance, it wasn't his own face.
He went to see Mark and said, "How did you manage to weasel your way into this one?"
"I presented her with a simple choice: either include me in the portrait or I'll go to the press. And it's symbolic of the choice you're faced with. Either include me in your life or I'll include myself."
Shiny remembered what his grandfather always said: "Keep your friends close and your enemies on a boat to Australia." This reminded him of the alternative version of that saying: "Keep your friends close and your enemies even closer." He said to Mark, "How would you like to be my new assistant."
"Yeah. I used to have the same assistant who worked for my father, but she retired two years ago. I didn't get anyone else because I was hoping one of my own kids would fill the post. But they're showing no interest in politics. And of course, you're one of my own kids too, so you'd be the next best thing. Or the equal best thing. I've always wanted to be able to pass the baton down to the next generation. I don't know if you'll be able to use the family name, but..."
A vast array of future problems opened up in Shiny's mind, and they were beginning to outweigh the benefits, but Mark said, "I'll do it."
After a long pause, Shiny said, "That's grand," and he shook Mark's hand. Whatever problems lay ahead, he'd cross those bridges when he comes to them, or sweep them under the carpet again.
Tuesday, June 05, 2007
Daly and Jens
Julia went to a party at a friend's house, where she met a man called Paul. She said to him, "Aren't you the man who does the comic strip in the paper?"
"Yeah. 'Does' doesn't really sum up what I do."
"I can imagine."
"Something like 'murder' would be more appropriate. I murder the comic strip in the paper."
"I really like it."
"I don't. I used to think it was the greatest thing ever, but that's a long time ago now."
"I thought the one where he fell off the tractor was hilarious."
"When I started out I'd just say to myself, 'What'll I do this week? What about Daly falling off a tractor?' It was as simple as that. But now it's like hitting my head off a wall."
A woman came over to him and said, "Cynthia was telling me that you do 'Daly and Jens'."
"I love it. I always read it."
"If 'read' is the right word."
"I 'murder' it. That's the word I'd use."
"Yeah. I just think it's so funny." After a few seconds of silence she said, "Do you know any good jokes?"
"What's the difference between Sean Boylan and Anne Boleyn?"
"I don't know."
"They both managed the Meath senior football team."
"Anne Boleyn didn't."
"Well then Sean Boylan was one of Henry the Eighth's wives."
"That's not true for about... a million different reasons."
"And you said what's the difference, not what they have in common."
"And now you have a million different differences, so what are you complaining about?"
She walked away. Paul said to Julia, "People expect me to be a bloody comedian."
"Someone told me that joke once. I can't remember how it goes."
"I thought it was funny anyway."
"I think you have to be from Meath to get it."
He told her he'd been doing 'Daly and Jens' for seven years. Daly was Irish and Jens was his German sidekick. Jens only ever said 'ja' or 'nein'. When they started out, they stole biscuits every week. Jens always said 'ja' when Daly asked him if he wanted to steal biscuits. Paul was often accused of being anti-German because he portrayed Jens as someone who wanted to steal biscuits. He went out with a German woman for a few months, and she said to him, "Wouldn't it be nice if Jens didn't want to steal the biscuits?"
So he got Jens to say 'nein' the next time Daly asked if he wanted to steal biscuits. After a period of silence (shown with a scene where they looked at a dog), Daly said, "Do you want to buy some biscuits?"
"Ja," Jens said.
Buying biscuits wasn't as exciting as stealing them, but people loved it. Every week he came up with a different story about them buying biscuits. People no longer accused him of being anti-German, and his relationship with the German woman ended shortly afterwards. She said it was exciting at first, but it started to feel like going to the shop to buy biscuits, and the biscuits they bought were plain. He began to realise that he only went out with her because of a subconscious need to show he wasn't anti-German.
He became disillusioned with the comic strip. It was difficult to find new ways for the characters to buy biscuits, and he got hundreds of complaints when Daly and Jens went back to stealing biscuits.
A few weeks after the party, Julia was walking over a foot bridge in the city when she saw Paul walking towards her. He seemed to be lost in a world of his own. He would have walked past her if she hadn't said hello. She asked him how the comic strip was going, and he said it was worse than ever. It felt like torture to produce each one, and yet people still liked it.
She told him he shouldn't keep doing it if it makes him unhappy. "You've got to do what you want to do," she said. "If you like it, it doesn't mean everyone is going to like it, but some people will."
This idea struck a chord with him. He seemed happy when she left him. She remembered his broad smile a few days later when she saw the comic strip. Daly and Jens got into a fight, and it ended with them pointing guns at each other. In her mind she saw the smile of a madman holding a gun.
She went to see him. He said he wanted to kill off one of them, but he didn't know which one. He said, "If Daly shot Jens, would that be anti-Irish or anti-German? I could also kill both of them."
"You don't need to kill them at all. You just need to look at the characters from a fresh angle, and it'll be like a completely new start. And I think I know just the way to do it. I want you to meet two friends of mine. They could provide you with new versions of Daly and Jens. They're always known as Rick and O'Malley, but for a while we used to call them Daly and Jens because they accidentally set a piano on fire, just like once Daly did. It wasn't quite as funny as in the comic strip. The woman who owned the piano started crying."
She phoned Rick and he said they were fishing at the river. Julia and Paul went there. She said to them, "I didn't know ye fished."
"We don't," Rick said. "We 'borrowed' the rod from O'Malley's uncle. He recently returned from France with a car full of wine, so you could borrow the shirt from his back and he wouldn't notice."
She said to O'Malley, "Do you remember the time you asked a woman for a shovel in exchange for a pair of jeans, and she said she'd have to see the jeans first, so you took them off to let her have a closer look."
"I could show ye the scar from where she hit me with the shovel, but I'd have to take my trousers off."
Paul spent the evening listening to Rick and O'Malley's stories, and on the following morning he woke up with a different version of Daly and Jens in his mind.
Daly and Jens both survived. Jens put the gun down and said, "Do you want to buy some biscuits?"
Daly said, "Ja. I mean, yes. I do want to buy some biscuits." For Paul, it felt as fresh and easy as when he first started the comic strip.
The Tree and the Horse
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.
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