|Very Slight Stories | Like short stories, only shorter.||
Tuesday, April 29, 2008
Daphne sweeps her kitchen floor every day but she doesn't use a brush because her dog always attacks it. She uses her grandmother instead. Her grandmother's curly hair is ideal for collecting the dirt and dust on the floor. When the floor has been swept, her grandmother brushes her hair to remove the dirt and dust from it. She uses her cat to brush her hair, and then she puts the cat into the washing machine to clean it. Daphne and her grandmother enjoy watching the cat spin around in the washing machine, and the cat enjoys looking back out at them. When the cat comes out, Daphne sends in three mice to collect all the dirt, dust and fluff that would clog the washing machine. When they come out, the cat chases them all around the house, and the mice drop the dirt, dust and fluff as they run. The dirt and dust that would be noticeable on the kitchen floor is evenly deposited all over the house, where it's not so noticeable.
Tuesday, April 22, 2008
Bernard took a walk through the fields. He stood on a hilltop with his hands behind his back. He took a deep breath and he surveyed the scene before him. He listened to the songs of the birds and the sounds of bees, flies and a distant tractor. The sound of the tractor got louder, and the sight of it ruined the evening for him. The driver was his cousin, Paudie. Paudie would talk for hours without ever making sense. He'd spit out spit and words as he spoke. It was possible to say that most of the sounds he made were words, but it was impossible to identify them. You could study them very closely and take note of all their characteristics but you still wouldn't be able to put a name to them. The tractor stopped behind Bernard. He didn't turn around because he wanted to let Paudie know that he was there to admire the view and the birds, not the rare words that Paudie was planning on releasing into the wild.
He heard Paudie get down from the tractor and take something out of the trailer. He put something on the ground right behind Bernard. From the sound of steps that followed, Bernard guessed that this thing was a step-ladder and that Paudie had climbed it. He pictured Paudie standing over him, looking down at the top of his head, but this mental picture lacked one important detail: the huge wooden mallet in Paudie's hand.
This detail entered Bernard's mental picture when he was hit on the head with it. He was surprised to hear a 'boing' sound rather than the cracking of his skull. It was as if his head was made of rubber. His attention was focussed on the sound during subsequent blows to the head, and he didn't notice that his feet were sinking into the ground. Paudie stopped hammering when Bernard's knees had reached ground level.
Paudie descended from the step ladder and he walked around to the front of Bernard. He released a flow of words that Bernard identified as follows: "How are y' there now Bern' the owl basket window for the last rudder grand day for the socks."
"It is," Bernard said. "How's Eileen?"
"Ah sure y' know the way with the glass mountie they're all half lost and spiders."
"They are, they are. It's a grand evening, isn't it?"
"Ah sure yeah, yeah, the way the polar bears go I don't know. C' mere, would you hold this wire for me?"
"I will of course."
Paudie picked up a piece of wire from the ground and he gave it to Bernard, who held it in his hands.
"I'll see y' anyway with the sand castles and they're only ponies I don't know how many they'll have if they're sandwiches," Paudie said.
"Good luck, Paudie."
Paudie got into the tractor and drove away. It was only then that Bernard made this realisation: "This is a fence! I'm a fence post!"
He was furious. He was almost certain that the words 'fence post' were not amongst the words used by Paudie. He felt like releasing a word that would have to wear the trench coat of a bleep if young people were around, and only flashing in front of adults. But he thought of a more constructive way of expressing his anger. He remembered a conversation he'd had with his neighbour, Toby, a few weeks earlier. It was on a Sunday afternoon when he was walking the dog. Toby was trimming the hedge in his garden as Bernard was walking by. Toby asked him if he'd seen the letters section in The Sunday Independent. Bernard said he hadn't, and Toby said, "It's on page thirty-seven. I have a letter in it about litter. Complaining about litter."
He spent the next ten minutes complaining about litter. When Bernard got home he remembered the words Toby had used before the complaint began: 'It's on page thirty-seven'. This would imply that Toby believed that Bernard bought The Sunday Independent, and he just hadn't got around to reading the letters yet. Bernard cursed himself for not saying that he didn't read it, that he wouldn't be seen dead reading it, that he'd rather be found dead with prostitutes than be found dead with The Sunday Independent, although he'd surely be featured in that paper if he was found dead with prostitutes.
This was why he decided to complain about the fence in a letter to The Irish Times. He could kill two birds with one stone. He'd be able to express his anger about being a fence post and he'd also let Toby know that The Sunday Independent is litter from the moment it's printed.
He had a pen and a letter from the golf club in his pocket. He crossed out the writing on the sheet of paper and he wrote on the back of it. He expressed his disapproval of the practise of ordinary, hard-working people being used as fence posts. He said it was an indictment of the society we live in, and once again demonstrated the complete lack of standards that permeates life in the modern Ireland.
He crossed out the address on the envelope and he wrote the address of The Irish Times on it. There was a road about fifty yards away from where Bernard was situated. When he saw a boy on a bike struggling to cycle up the hill he shouted something about having a little job. The boy showed no intention of going to Bernard until the word 'money' was sent out.
"I have a very important job for you," Bernard said to the boy. "I need you to post this letter. It's to The Irish Times." Bernard paused to let the importance of those words sink in, but the boy just stared blankly back. "You'll need to buy a stamp first. And put the stamp on the envelope. And put it in the post box. Do you think you can manage that?" Still no reaction from the boy. "Here's two euros. Use this to buy the stamp, and you can keep the change to buy an ice cream for yourself." The boy took the money and the letter. He looked at both, and then he looked back at Bernard. He shrugged his shoulders and walked away.
Bernard smiled. "A job well done," he said, but only the birds heard it. He tried not to disturb the birds, especially the crows. He remained completely still every time the crows were around because he didn't want to be a scarecrow. At least being a fence post was a more honourable profession than being a scarecrow.
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
The Window Cleaner
As she cleaned the shop window she looked in at the blank faces of the staff as they looked out at her. She wasn't bothered by the fact that she was being watched. Her mind was occupied by the same thoughts that occupied her mind every time she cleaned windows. She said to herself, "Why am I cleaning windows? I'm an opera singer. I've performed in Covent Garden, The Met, La Scala. I move in social circles where billionaires are as common as commoners at a football match. I've performed in front of Prime Ministers, Presidents and Royalty. Why am I cleaning windows?"
This was a question she couldn't answer, but it didn't stop her cleaning windows. Every morning she left her house at seven o' clock and she started her rounds at a shoe shop. She finished at a fast food place, usually between ten and half-past. She could finish earlier if she tried, but the ever-present question 'Why am I cleaning windows?' tended to slow her down.
Shortly after ten o' clock she arrived at the fast food place and she started work. For the next ten minutes she became completely engrossed in her work and in her questioning of it. She took no notice of the staff and the customers inside, though she was aware they were looking out at her. She only became aware of the audience behind her when she finished her work and they applauded. She turned around and she was surprised to see a crowd of twenty people standing there. She bowed for them. The applause became louder and some of them cheered.
She appreciated their applause because for a while her mind ceased to be occupied by the constant questioning, but when she got home one of the messages on her phone was from her agent, who told her she'd been offered the role of Susanna in a production of 'The Marriage of Figaro'. The question returned.
On the following morning she noticed the crowd when she arrived at the shoe shop. They applauded as soon as she finished each window. By the time she got to the fast food place she estimated that there were over forty people behind her. She saw their reflection on the spotless window as she finished cleaning it. She saw them break into applause. She turned around and bowed. The ovation lasted for nearly five minutes. It couldn't have been anything other than a standing ovation because there was nowhere to sit. One man stood on a bin to underline the fact that he was standing.
On the following morning the crowd was bigger, the ovation lasted longer and a young girl emerged from the crowd to present her with a bouquet of flowers. She signed some autographs, and she made her exit to another round of applause. A man walked away with her. He said he owned a bookshop and he wanted her to clean the windows. At first she said she didn't want to take on any more work, but he said he'd pay ten times as much as she was being paid by everyone else combined, and she couldn't refuse.
Over the following weeks the crowds kept growing and the offers kept coming in. A bank offered to pay her a thousand euros for every window pane she cleaned. The question 'Why am I cleaning windows?' no longer occupied her mind. When she was at a party one evening someone asked her what she did for a living and she said, "I'm a window cleaner." She hadn't put any thought into her answer but it felt right. She smiled when she heard herself say the words, and she looked forward to going to work on the following morning. She stopped wondering why she was doing what she was doing. Sometimes she said to herself, "I'm a window cleaner," and she smiled.
Tuesday, April 08, 2008
Delaney's brother was walking home from the pub one night with a bottle of something in his hand. He couldn't remember what was in the bottle. The label had been removed and the contents of the bottle had erased a lot of his mind. He could hardly see where he was going, and he fell into a water trough in a field. When he emerged from it his clothes were full of water, the bottle was empty and his mind was full of despair.
On the following morning Delaney's cow drank from the water trough. She drank it dry, and then she started walking away. She kept moving in a straight line. Delaney saw her go, and he got the impression that she was going somewhere with a sense of purpose. It reminded him of the time his brother had drunk from another bottle without a label, and something clicked into place in his mind. He tried to jump off a building because he thought he could fly. This was obviously a cow that had made a great revelation.
Delaney followed the cow to the other end of the field. The cow waited at the gate until Delaney opened it. She walked on, always moving in a straight line. When other people saw the cow leading Delaney away they also got the impression that the cow knew something, and they followed her as well. By mid-afternoon there were over thirty people walking behind her.
Not long after the sun went down, the cow came to a ditch, where she stopped and lay down. She went to sleep. The crowd behind her looked over the ditch and they saw the fairies singing and dancing in a fairy fort. Normally they'd run away from the fairies, but they believed that the cow had led them here for a reason, so they stayed. They were tired after their journey. They sat down in the long grass, and some of them went to sleep. One man started sleep-talking. He said, "Yeah, I invented this thing with the handles and the pressure gauge... Thank you very much. You can use it to kill horses... Thank you very much."
The fairies heard him, and they spotted their audience at the other side of the ditch. They went over to investigate. The followers of the cow were all terrified, but the fairies just smiled and played their music again. This made the followers get to their feet and dance. They were entranced by the sound. When the music stopped it was dawn and they found themselves in front of a half-built house. The fairies told them to finish the job.
The fairies had taken a man's house apart while he was at a cheese contest. The fact that he won the contest was some consolation for the loss of his house, but not much. It was only when he came back from the contest that they realised they got the wrong house. They wanted to get revenge on another man, who lived down the road. This man claimed to have a pipe that the fairies had given him when he met them late one night and he entertained them with the story of his levitating grandfather and the nurse. They gave him the pipe because the story was so good, or so he claimed. He said that when he smoked the pipe his head was filled with wisdom. He charged people for 'consultations', but it was just a scam.
The fairies were able to slow time, so they took the house apart in what seemed like a few hours. They weren't looking forward to putting it back together. They had made a start on it, but they found that it was much more difficult than taking it apart, so they enlisted the help of the cow-followers.
A man called Des was one of the followers. He wanted to get the job done as quickly as possible. He was desperate to get home because the woman who lived next door promised to play the cello for him that Saturday night. He didn't know if playing the cello was a euphemism. Either way, it would be worth his while to go there. So he appointed himself foreman and he hurried people along as they re-built the house. They had the job finished in three days, and Des was able to get home in time to visit his neighbour on Saturday night. As it turned out, she really did play the cello. He was glad he went.
He woke up in the middle of Sunday night when he heard the sound of hammering. The fairies were doing a job on his house. When he asked them to stop, one of them took a cat out of a bag. The cat sat on the ground in front of Des and stared at him. He stared back at the cat. He couldn't take his eyes off the cat because he was convinced it was going to do something. It didn't do anything for another eight hours, and neither did Des. When the cat ran away he looked around him in the light of day he saw that his house had been reduced to a shell. All of the windows and doors had been removed. Most of the floorboards had been taken out, and there were holes in the roof.
The fairies visited him again that night and one of them said, "The house that you and your friends worked on fell down, and it's your fault because you rushed the job. The man who owns it did nothing wrong. You should see him now. He's crying and eating cheese. It's a pitiful sight. And it's your fault."
"I did nothing wrong. Ye were the ones who hired amateurs to re-build his house. It's going to cost me a fortune to repair my house."
"We've prepared a quote for you. We can start work next month. And don't try getting anyone else to do the job, or you'll only make things worse."
He had little choice, so he hired the fairies to do the job. They didn't start it for another six months. They kept coming up with excuses to put it off. After working on it for a few days they said they had to leave for a while to do another job. When Des complained, one of them said, "Do you want it done quickly or do you want it done properly?"
"The two aren't mutually exclusive."
"You yourself demonstrated that they are."
"Just because you don't do it quickly it doesn't mean you have to do it slowly."
"But if you do it slowly you're never going to do it too quickly."
They've been working on it for over five years now and the job still isn't finished. At least they've repaired the holes in the roof, so he doesn't have to go to bed with an umbrella.
Tuesday, April 01, 2008
Noel was upstairs when the electricity went. He stood in the darkness for a while and he listened to the sound of the wind and rain outside. He lit a match and the room flickered into view again. He looked around. There were paintings on the walls, and a mirror over the fireplace. There was a fireplace in almost every room in this house. This used to be a bedroom, but it had been used as a store room more recently. Years worth of junk had piled up on the floor. The carpet was almost hidden.
He thought he saw something moving out of the corner of his eye. He looked in that direction, and he kept looking until he had to either blow out the match or burn his fingers. He went for the former. He lit another match, and the room re-appeared once more, but something seemed different, as if the thing that had moved had taken its chance and escaped before Noel lit the second match.
He went downstairs. Debbie, Marian and Adam had lit the fire. This house was owned by Marian's aunt, until she died a few months earlier. He told them about what had happened upstairs. Adam suggested it was a rat. He changed his mind and said it must have been a mouse after seeing the way Debbie and Marian reacted to the word 'rat'. They weren't over the moon about the mouse either, so he said to Noel, "You probably just imagined it. Remember the horse with the side-burns?"
Debbie poured four glasses of whiskey and they started to forget about mice, rats and the creatures of Noel's imagination. Sometime around eleven o' clock there was a knock on the door of the room they were in, and then it opened. A man stepped inside. He wore a dark grey suit and a blue tie. He smiled and said hello.
"Who are you?" Marian said.
The man said, "There's a short answer and a long answer to that question. I don't like the short answer. It's little more than an annoying sound, whereas the long answer is a symphony."
"Why don't you give us the long answer so."
"Those words are music to my ears," he said.
Debbie poured him a glass of whiskey. He sat on an armchair by the fireplace and he told them his life story. His father was a glass-blower and his mother was a dress-maker. He had two brothers and two sisters. He spoke about his youth, the lazy summer days spent fishing at a river or building rafts or digging tunnels to spy on people. Tunnels proved to be an ineffective way of spying on people. He told them about how he met Marian's aunt in a theatre and about his on/off relationship with her.
The fire had been reduced to red embers by the time he started telling them about his career in the music business. He was the manager of a singer called Delia. "Some people believed she was every bit as good as Edith Piaf," he said. "She could have been as successful as Edith Piaf, but her temper prevented that from happening. It didn't take much to make her angry. Put her in a room with a thousand people and there's a good chance that someone will do something to annoy her. They'd sneeze or cough at the wrong time, or they'd be wearing the wrong clothes. Sometimes she thought they just looked funny. She wasn't really a people person, so it was unfortunate that to fulfil her extraordinary talent she had to perform in front of a lot of people. It was difficult to convince a record company executive that she'd be a star when she was shouting obscenities at a woman in the front row for dressing like a prostitute. Of course, nowadays it would be very easy to convince a record company executive that a woman who behaves in this way could be a star. I mean shouting obscenities, not dressing like a prostitute, although that might help your career along the way as well. Back then only prostitutes dressed like prostitutes to advance their careers. Nowadays you'd struggle to convince anyone that a woman who sings like Edith Piaf will be a star. Despite the swearing and the fits of anger she still managed to attract some very loyal fans. One of them was a millionaire. She never lost her temper with him. He was very refined, and he could charm a song out of a stone. He invited her to a party in his Swiss chalet. I went with her, but there weren't many other guests, and most of them left fairly early. The numbers were swiftly diminishing towards three, and two of them were looking into each other's eyes as if there was no one else in the room. That's the time to bail out. Soon they'll start behaving as if you weren't there and you'll wish you'd bailed out when you had the chance. So I said goodnight and I got in the car to drive to the hotel in the town at the foot of the mountain. When I was rounding a corner on the way down I must have hit a patch of ice because the back of the car spun out. When it stopped, the back end of the car was hanging over a precipice. It was balancing precariously on the edge. I couldn't see what was beneath me in the darkness, but I wasn't imagining a soft landing. Getting out of the car was a priority, but it rocked up and down every time I moved, and every time it rocked, it seemed to slip back another little bit. I thought about making a dash for it, but I came up with an even better plan..."
The candle on the mantelpiece burnt out. Marian lit another one, but when they looked back towards the armchair the man was gone.
They went upstairs to the room where Noel had seen something moving earlier. As soon as he stepped into the room he noticed a portrait on the wall. He said, "I'm sure that portrait wasn't there when I lit the second match."
The portrait was of the man they had just met. In it he was wearing the same suit and tie he'd just been wearing. He seemed to have a knowing smile. Debbie said, "When he was telling the story about the car on the mountainside, I was thinking that he must have got out of it alive if he was here to tell the story, but now I'm not so sure.
Noel said, "Why don't we think of this as just one note from the symphony of life's experience, and move on. Have a drink. It'll be a very annoying noise if we dwell on it for too long."
They looked at the portrait again, and it seemed to have changed slightly. The smile looked like an approving one, rather than a knowing one.
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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