|Very Slight Stories | Like short stories, only shorter.||
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
How my career began
I left school at the age of ten and I became a journalist. The editor of the newspaper I worked for used to assess current events from the point of view of a nineteenth century man looking into the future. This was really just a way to excuse his sexist attitudes. He was surprisingly old-fashioned for someone so young (he was only sixteen). At lunchtime every day, all of the journalists from the paper used to go to a dimly-lit restaurant that was always overcrowded, despite the poor quality of the food, and the bare wooden tables that looked as if they were never cleaned. I tried to avoid looking at the floor, but I always had to clean my shoes after leaving the place. Every day we could hear women selling vegetables on the street outside. They were journalists as well.
My first assignment was to interview a former sporting great called Seamus. He had played Gaelic football, hurling, table tennis and cricket, he'd run marathons, he had a brief career as a professional boxer and he'd represented his country at canoeing, badminton, wrestling and gymnastics. He'd gladly talk to any journalist, and he'd tell tall tales of his sporting days, such as the story about the time he played a football match with a broken arm and he had to keep running because a demon was trying to set his shorts on fire.
I wasn't really listening to him. As he spoke I was drawing a picture of a van. When he finished telling his sporting stories he went to the window and he looked out at the horizon. "When I was your age," he said, "the summers were much longer, and so were the days. I could play five or six matches a day and still find time to climb a mountain, build a raft and poke a leprechaun with a stick. Every August I'd spend two weeks at my aunt's house. I remember watching the lightning shows..."
My mind wandered at this point. I started drawing pirates capturing the van.
The story came to an end with the line 'He was so big he once sat on a choir'. I could only remember a few lines from the start and this one line at the end. This was all I had from our interview. I had to make up the middle of the story. I couldn't help thinking that it probably had something to do with pirates, so I wrote about a huge pirate who used to pluck seagulls out of the air and eat them whole. He could even eat them by shoving them up his nose. His behind was always getting lodged in things, so two men had to follow him everywhere to extract him from doorways or holes. These men only chose to take on the job when the only other choice they had was to walk the plank. Most people chose to walk the plank.
The editor liked my interview, and it did wonders for my career as a journalist. I've tried to include pirates in most of my articles since then.
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
I was looking at a dog collar in a museum one day when a man came up to me and said, "How much for one of your eyes?"
I thought about how best to respond to this. In retrospect, I should have just told him where to go straightaway, instead of pausing to think about how to give him directions. Despite the thought I put into it, this was all I could come up with: "They're not for sale."
The pause must have convinced him that I was interested. He said, "I'll give you a diamond that you couldn't fit into a mouse's mouth."
I paused again, this time to consider a witty response, something about why you'd want to put a diamond into a mouse's mouth, or why a mouse would want to consume it, and if he was able to fit it into his mouth, would he be able to get it out the other end. But I'd grown out of the phase when I thought that a witty response could include a reference to an animal's rear end, so all I said was, "No, thanks."
He must have thought I'd been seriously considering the offer. He said I was more than welcome to get an expert to value the diamond. I told him I wasn't interested and I walked away, but he followed me out of the museum. He kept pestering me about my eye until I threatened to call the police.
I was horrified when he turned up at my front door that evening. He told me his name was Frank and he asked me what my name was. I refused to tell him, but he said he already knew it was Hugh. I insisted that I had no interest in selling either of my eyes and I slammed the door in his face.
He called to my house again on the following morning. I told him to get off my property and he did, but as he was walking away he said he'd be back again in the evening.
I met Karen later that day and I told her about Frank. She said, "I know just the man who could help you. At least I think it's a man. It once helped me get rid of someone. Its name is Keegan."
She took me to Keegan's house, which was an old thatched cottage. He was a huge man (I'm fairly sure he was a man) who had to bend down to get through his front door. I explained the problem I was having with Frank and he nodded. "I'll get him this evening," he said.
This was about all he said to me. On the walk back to my house I tried to make small talk, but he didn't say a word.
We drank whiskey as we waited for Frank to arrive. I needed the drink to allow me to talk for over an hour and not be in the least bit bothered by the fact that Keegan obviously wasn't listening.
The doorbell rang at nine o' clock. It was Frank. He was in the middle of saying something about a diamond that a rat would choke on when Keegan emerged from the house and dragged Frank away. I went back inside and poured myself another glass of whiskey to celebrate.
I was still drinking at midnight when the doorbell rang again. It was Keegan, and he was on his own. When I asked him if he'd done the job he took my hand and put two eyes into it. "This is all that's left of him," he said, and then he walked away.
I was too shocked to say anything. I couldn't sleep that night, no matter how much I drank. In the morning I went to see Karen. I said to her, "Did Keegan kill that person you wanted to get rid of?"
"I don't know," she said. "I never asked him that."
"I don't know."
"How could you not know something like that?"
"Now that I think about it, I do know: I don't care."
"How could you not care?"
"I don't know."
I got little sleep that night. Every time I started to dream I saw the two eyes staring down at me and I woke up again. I knew I had to get rid of the eyes and I thought that the only decent thing to do would be to give them a proper Christian burial.
On the following night I went to the graveyard after midnight. I buried the eyes near an oak tree in the old part of the graveyard. Their coffin was a cigar box. I went home, and I was able to sleep for a few hours despite the nightmares, but I was woken by the sound of a voice in my room. When I opened my eyes I saw something more nightmarish than anything in my head. It was the ghost of Frank.
"It was you," he said to me. "You did this to me. That 'thing' you used was just an instrument to do this to me."
"I didn't know," I said. "I thought he was just... I didn't know what he was going to do."
"He took my eyes and he threw me into a dump. Give me back my eyes."
I started to realise what had actually happened. Frank was still alive. The eyes that Keegan had given to me had been in Frank's pocket.
I laughed. I told Frank what I'd done with his eyes, hoping he'd laugh as well, but he didn't. He said, "I'm going to have two eyes before dawn. If they're not mine, they'll be yours."
We went to the graveyard. I dug up the cigar box and I opened it to show him the eyes. He seemed relieved to have them back. He was just about to say something when we heard a sound behind us. We turned around and saw two men with shovels. They were holding the shovels in the air, as if they were just about to hit us, but as soon as we turned around they put the shovels down and tried to act casual, like two men going for a walk with their shovels at night, two men who were definitely not digging up bodies in the graveyard.
Frank said to them, "These eyes were owned by a man who saw the insides of brothels in every major European city in the late nineteenth century. Make me an offer."
The two men had four eyes that lit up. They emptied their pockets of gold watches, diamond rings and necklaces. They gave everything they had to Frank in exchange for the eyes, and then they walked away happily with the cigar box. Frank turned to me and said, "I'll give you a diamond that a horse would spit out."
I told him I'd rather see my eye in the other end of a horse. "That can be arranged," he said.
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
Jenny had a dream in which she was standing in a huge room that was completely empty. There was a glass wall on one side and the evening sun was shining in. On the ground she saw long shadows of people, but the people themselves were missing.
She remembered the dream clearly when she woke up, and she often thought about it during the day. She had a feeling that it was meant for someone else. She remembered being told about a void, and that if you talk about the void you'll only make it wider. The not-Jenny would grow and the Jenny would get smaller. This is an imperceptible process, but over time the change would be significant. The not-Jenny would be bigger than the Jenny, but the not-Jenny wouldn't actually exist. It would be a blank space, an absence rather than a presence.
She wondered if the dream belonged to the not-Jenny, a non-entity like the shadows that signified the absence of people. She couldn't remember who had told her about the void, and she wondered if she had heard it in a dream.
On her uncle Noel's land there was a tree that had been struck by lightning. He believed that women were lured to it, and that when they touched it their understanding of the world was illuminated by thousands of candles. It only worked on women, he thought, because men wouldn't stand for such nonsense. Men could see that there was a certain dignity to going through life in the dark. Emotions were another activity that should only be practised by women. He was annoyed whenever he felt the presence of feelings in his mind. He'd have preferred if the birds of sadness or sympathy nested in someone else's head.
Jenny touched the tree to see if it would shed some light on the dream. Nothing lit up in her head, but she did hear a voice. It told her that the final act we perform in our lives is predetermined, and everything we do is done to set up this one act, like a story to set up a punch line. Some lives are shaggy dog stories with terrible punch lines, final acts such as plugging in a kettle, or saying 'Where did you get that spoon?'. Others are more dramatic, like a helicopter chase.
When the voice ceased she asked what her final act would be. She listened carefully, but all she heard was the sound of the birds singing.
She asked for my opinion on the dream and the voice. I said to her, "If a man spends all of his time making plates and he plans to do this for the rest of his life, then he knows that his final act will be to make a plate. It would be a very repetitive story. The only uncertainty would come from wondering what sort of plate he'd make at the end of his life, unless he made the same sort of plate over and over again. It might be tedious, but at least he'd have certainty."
This inspired her to take up pottery, and now she spends most of her time making vases.
I looked back on my past to see where this joke is heading, and these are some of the things that stand out:
I had a phone that was shaped like a fish. I was in Scotland once. When I was young I had a hat that I really liked. Spitting at poltergeists is a pastime that some people will enjoy immensely. When I most needed my trees I couldn't find them because I was lost in the woods. When I most needed my shoes I wasn't permitted to use them. I moved into an attic apartment and I found hundreds of songs written on pieces of paper. Some were written on the walls. There was a song called 'Everyone has their own lifeboat but they don't know it', and another called 'I broke my lifeboat'. Most of the songs dealt with the sea and fishing. Their writer was terrified of drowning at sea because it had happened to his father and to his grandfather. But they were fishermen and he was a song-writer. He died when he tried to play his electric guitar in the bath.
Tuesday, November 04, 2008
I used to read the graffiti on the walls of my head. I was hoping that this would shed some light on my situation, but I couldn't even figure out who was writing it. Now I ignore it. I was living in a bin in a fog-bound town, and now I'm in a town surrounded by fields buried under snow. What am I doing here, and am I doing it right or wrong? A game is being played. I don't understand the rules and I don't know what the objective is, but I know there's a game. The farmers in the fields know this too, even though they're just pieces on a board, moved by invisible hands. Why else would they be farming snow? Sometimes a stray snowman slips away unnoticed because he doesn't want to be part of the game.
There are people who think they're spectators, but they're just pieces as well. My boss thinks she's a player. The spectators love her style, a style that's evident in everything she does. It gives her the energy to do everything. Others have lost the will for action because they don't have a style and they don't have the substance, a reason for being. The style in which she does things gives her a reason for doing them. I'm re-writing classic books I've never read. This is my job now. I work in an office with three other people. I don't know what they're supposed to be doing, and I don't think they know either. One man looks at blocks of black ink on white paper for a few minutes, and then he says, "Is there something I'm supposed to remember or something I'm supposed to forget?"
My boss keeps telling me not to forget everything I learnt from the plays she made me watch, but I didn't learn anything from them. I didn't know what she wanted me to learn. I used to meet trainee judges at those plays. They had no interest in learning anything. They'd inherit the title from their father, and judges had little interest in dying. The sons could be in training for decades. It doesn't really matter what they learn anyway because they never pass judgements. They just make wishes. I got to know one of the trainee judges. I told him about my theory of the game, and he said he'd believe anything. He took me to a card shop near the theatre. In a room over the shop people were playing a game. The players were moving figurines around a huge board. Some of the figurines were no more than piles of ash, but you could see ghostly faces in them.
When I asked the players about the rules they just said, "It's complicated." I've spent many hours observing the game and the only thing I've learnt for certain is that the players don't understand the rules either. But I'm convinced that I'll find an insight into the greater game by observing this smaller game within it. Already I've started seeing things that I never noticed before. I never realised there was just a rich and varied life in the steam that rises from kettles. Every morning when I look out my window I see the ghosts of thatched cottages in the fields. They disappear as soon as I look away. I have a feeling that I have some sense of what's going on, but I've no idea how to go about formulating rules. And I also have a feeling that the snowmen know much more than I do, which is depressing.
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.
More blogs about Storytelling.