|Very Slight Stories | Like short stories, only shorter.||
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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