Very Slight Stories | Like short stories, only shorter.

'Darcy and O'Mara' is a novel by Arthur Cronin.
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Tuesday, April 28, 2009



   Half days are good days. Leaning to one side is a good thing to do on a good day. I used to nod to emphasise statements like these. I spent years practising my nodding. I've nodded at bishops and at politicians, but none of them were able to out-nod me. I had never lost a debate until I came up against Mrs. Maguire. Architecture was the subject of our debate. I made a point about how some houses were bigger than other houses and then I launched a ferocious nod. She was clearly taken aback, and I thought this would be the end of the debate, but she regained her composure and she unleashed a shake of her head of such magnitude that its accompanying wind blew me over. I said I had been leaning to one side when the wind arrived, but no one believed me. The debate was lost. The audience gave Mrs. Maguire a standing ovation.
   This defeat left me disillusioned with nodding. I considered giving it up for good. The only other option open to me was to ask Mrs. Maguire for her help. I could have asked her to teach me how to shake my head because I needed a defensive manoeuvre in my repertoire. Relying solely on attack had proven to be insufficient.
   I went to my caravan for a week to consider my future. I thought about taking up blinking after meeting a man in a nearby caravan. His eyes got bigger every time he blinked, as if he was inflating them with a pump. But my eyes did nothing when I blinked, and this wasn't as dramatic as nodding or shaking my head. I also tried raising my eyebrows, but this wasn't much better than the blinking.
   I tried to forget about all these things. I spent most of my time leaning to one side on the beach. This is where I met a woman who had a natural slant. She told me she had a shed and a shovel that she used to keep in the shed. Sometimes she'd take the shovel out and she'd use it to dig holes. She'd get her grandmother to inspect the holes to make sure they'd been dug correctly. Her grandmother was two men who wore ill-fitting brown suits. They agreed on most things, but they always argued about holes, and these arguments often became violent. She loved watching her grandmother fighting. She'd gladly spend an evening looking on, and her grandmother could fight amongst herself for hours without any sign of a winner emerging. Only when they got hold of shovels did the fight end quickly. She always tried to keep the shovels from them because she wanted the fights to go on for as long as possible.
   When she told me this I realised that I might find more fulfilment in arguments that lasted a long time. I practised with her. She'd emphasise her points by leaning more to one side and I'd use one or both of my eyebrows to emphasise my points. She could lean for hours without falling over. These debates proved to be much more satisfying than the short debates that ended suddenly with an emphatic nod or a shake of the head. I haven't nodded since my defeat to Mrs. Maguire.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009


The Saint

   I saw a staple on the ground. When I picked it up to examine it I heard someone say, "Ah, you've found my staple." I turned around and I saw a man who looked like one of the saints in the stained glass windows in the church. "I'm a saint, you know," he added.
   I couldn't come between a saint and his staple, so I gave it to him. He said, "I'll give it to my friend Stan for safe-keeping." Stan was standing behind the saint. He was bouncing a tiny kangaroo as if it was a basketball. He stopped bouncing the kangaroo when the saint gave him the staple. The kangaroo took its chance and hopped away.
   I asked the saint if I'd done a good deed by finding the staple because this indirectly led to kangaroo escaping his roll as a ball. The saint said, "It all depends on what the kangaroo does next. If he does something bad, you'd be partly responsible for that."
   We followed the kangaroo to see what he'd do. He led us to a graveyard, where he started jumping up and down on a grave.
   "Is that a good or a bad thing?" I said to the saint.
   He said, "I suppose it would depend on the grave's tenant. If he was evil when he was alive then the kangaroo is doing good. I think. He wouldn't be achieving anything good, but... I used to discuss issues of morality and theology with a wise man who was like a mentor to me. I only realised he was made out of porridge when I punched him in the face."
   The saint suggested going to the pub to discuss the matter further, but when we got there he started telling a story about a fight in another pub. He said, "I got into an argument over how much it would cost to get a tattoo of the word 'brush' on a shoulder. This argument turned violent. I stood my ground, but I found that I was up against countless people who took the opposing point of view. How many of me were there in the fight? People say there were ten of me, but I have a doctor's letter confirming that there couldn't have been any more than one of me. I emerged from the fight victorious, and I spent the rest of the night signing autographs on the bodies of the female fans I'd acquired because of the fight. I went home to bed after dawn, but as I was drifting off to sleep I smelled smoke. My house had been set on fire by an enemy, someone who disagreed with me about the price of the 'brush' tattoo or the husband of a woman who'd recently received a temporary tattoo of my name. I had to jump out of an upstairs window to escape from the fire, but luckily I turned into a football in mid-air, so I bounced away down the road until someone kicked me back into myself. The joy I felt at being myself fought the anger I felt at being kicked. The joy won."
   The saint saw a beautiful woman leaving the pub. He quickly finished his pint and went out after her. Myself and Stan followed him. As the woman was walking away down the road the saint whispered something into her ear. She ran away with such determination that she broke the air. It shattered into pieces, and these fell to the ground. The surrounding air rushed into the vacuum. A whirlwind was created and it carried us all away.
   Myself, Stan and the saint landed on top of a brass band who were playing in the park. Some of the musicians beneath us were unconscious. Some were just dazed and they played on. We picked up instruments and we tried to play along, but after a few minutes the others began to realise that we were interlopers. We dropped the instruments and ran away. The conscious musicians gave chase, but they tried to play their instruments as they ran, and this slowed them down.
   The saint and Stan kept following me because they believed that everything I did led to adventure, even though the only thing I'd done was give a staple to a saint. I wanted to get away from them, so I told them I needed to go to the library. They thought I'd cause mayhem in the library, so they went with me.
   While they were looking at books about horse racing, I looked through an encycoplaedia of saints, but I couldn't find an entry on my new friend. I found a short biography of him in a book about people who had applied to be saints. I read the following passage:

His sneezes have been the subject of much discussion. It takes over an hour for the effects of a sneeze to subside. Observers have identified thirty-five different areas of his face moving independently of each other in the immediate aftermath of a sneeze.

   This gave me an idea. I found an old Latin book that hadn't been read in years. It was covered in dust. I told the saint he might find it interesting, and as I held it up in front of him I blew the dust into his face.
   I could see that a sneeze had been initiated, but it took over a minute for that sneeze to arrive. This gave me plenty of time to run for cover. After the sneeze he couldn't do anything while all the different parts of his face moved, and Stan was busy counting those parts. I was able to get away from them without being noticed.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009


Elinor's Father

   He used the sharpest shark he could lay his hands on to open the envelope. The shark was upset at having Elinor's hands upon him. Elinor hoped that the letter from his father would explain how he came to have a girl's name, but it was a faint hope. He didn't know what to expect from his father. He hadn't seen the man since he was four-years-old. That was twenty years ago. His father had left under a cloud. He remained under the cloud and he went wherever it went. Elinor had made an attempt to find his father once before, when he tried to track down the cloud. If he could find it, locating his father would simply be a matter of looking underneath the cloud. He spent months looking at satellite photos, but he couldn't find what he was looking for. He considered the possibility that his father's cloud was hiding beneath another cloud. Elinor saw no way around this difficulty.
   He had given up hope of ever seeing his father again, until the letter arrived. He knew it was from his father because of the image of the cloud on the envelope. It was unmistakably his father's cloud. After opening the envelope he absent-mindedly thanked the shark and put it to one side, failing to notice how upset his make-shift letter opener was. He read the letter. It said: "Dear Elinor, I don't know if your mother told you, but I've been away for some time now. I can't say how long because I've been too busy to keep track of time. In the past, keeping track of time was a hobby I'd gladly engage in for hours on end, but I haven't had a chance to do it in... I don't know how many hours or days have passed since I last had a chance. It could even be as long as months. Sometimes when I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror I wonder if I've been away from my family for years. I've travelled many miles under my cloud. It has come to rest over a golf course, where I now work as a green-keeper. Looking after the grass gives me great satisfaction. I get little satisfaction from watching people trying to putt birds on the greens. The birds will only roll into the holes if they want to. The golfers want the birds to roll into the holes. Hitting a bird with a metal object isn't an effective means of getting that bird to do what you want it to do. You've got to nudge it as gently as possible. Talking to the bird in advance might help your chances.
   "Sometimes my cloud doesn't provide adequate protection from the rain. I've found that a ceiling is more effective than a cloud when it comes to keeping the rain off my head. With this in mind, I moved into a cottage on land adjoining the golf course. I've recently discovered that there are spare bedrooms in the cottage. I can't say how many there are because I haven't had time to count them yet, but I'm sure there are more than zero. This should be enough to accommodate you, should you decide to visit. I have sent a similar invitation to your mother. There is more than enough room beneath my cloud for both of you. I look forward to seeing you again,
Your Loving Father,
   Elinor's mother, Harry, would have to wait a few months before visiting her husband because she was busy trying to get down from her shoes, but Elinor went to the golf course as soon as he could. Elisabeth was delighted to see his son again. He couldn't believe it had been twenty years since they last met.
   He showed his son around the golf course. On the twelfth green they saw a bird stop to lay an egg when it was ten feet short of the hole. When they got back to the cottage, Elisabeth made some tea and Elinor brought up the subject of his name.
   "Your grandfather was called Elinor," Elisabeth said, "and so was his grandfather, and his grandfather before him. The original Elinor got his name because his father, who was called Elisabeth, got drunk one night and foolishly accepted a challenge to jump over a horse. He had little trouble reaching the height needed to clear the horse. In fact, he would have been better off not jumping so high. When his head became embedded in the ceiling he questioned the wisdom of undertaking such a challenge indoors. He saw a woman in the room upstairs. She had every right to be offended by his intrusion, but she was very sympathetic to his plight. She rescued him, and he was very grateful for her assistance. Alcohol always increased the strength of his emotions. He promised to name his first-born son after her. He was shocked when she told him her name was Elinor. He thought she'd be called Paddy because most of the women he knew had that name. Almost everyone was called Paddy back then. Nevertheless, he kept his promise and he called his first son Elinor. The name was passed down through the generations until it arrived at you."
   Elinor was a changed man after he heard this story. For years he had been ashamed of his name, but from then on he took great pride in it. No longer would he fear appearing effeminate because of his name. He could tell people that his name originated in a propensity for drunken dares and being rescued by women, and these were masculine characteristics.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009


The Honeymooners

   When Sean was eighteen he left his homeland on a boat, hoping to find a better life on foreign shores. He wore a hat that his grandfather gave him. His grandfather had found the hat in a bath. He took it from the bath, and he was going to return it later, but there was a small horse in the bath when he went back. It was a lucky hat.
   The first person Sean met on the boat was a woman who offered him some worms. He thought it was going to be a long voyage. Many weeks later they arrived at a port where the people spoke a foreign language. Sean stayed in a hostel that night. He listened to the local radio stations, hoping to hear a word or two he understood. The sound of bells from a church was a language he could understand, and this provided some reassurance.
   On the following day he started looking for a job and it didn't take long to find one, despite the language barrier. He worked as a gardener on an estate owned by a local businessman. When he wasn't gardening he trained the dog not to fall over when looking at birds in the sky, and not to laugh at the people playing lawn tennis.
   He fell in love with one of the maids in the house. Her name was Vera. He thought she was the most beautiful woman he'd ever seen, and she was even more beautiful when she sang. The lady of the house often got her to sing at parties. Butterflies were attracted to her when she performed. Worms were repulsed. Moths were indifferent.
   Sean and Vera got married. They got a lot of candles and a lot of cakes as wedding presents. Some of the cakes were flammable. None of the candles were edible (Sean checked each one of them). On their honeymoon they travelled to a lake. Near the lake there was an old castle that had been converted into a hotel, so they booked rooms there. Inside it looked exactly like an old castle and nothing like a hotel. Sean wasn't worried because he was wearing his lucky boots. He had decided they were lucky because he found them in a bath. There was also a chicken in the bath, but he only took the boots.
   At dinner they realised they were the only guests. They sat at a long table with the owner of the hotel, who was stroking his beard. The beard seemed to like being stroked (they could hear it purring). They started to suspect that their host was a vampire when they noticed that he was wearing a badge that said 'Give Blood', and there was dried blood on his beard. When he looked at a mirror on the wall there was no reflection, so he looked at a portrait of himself instead. He coughed to attract the attention of the painted version of himself. The painted version hurriedly tried to arrange himself in a pose that mirrored the original version.
   Sean and Vera decided to leave. After they went to bed, they made their getaway through a window. They ran away, but they soon realised that the vampire was chasing them. They had to steal two horses to get away from him. He tried to steal a cow, but he couldn't get it to work.
   After riding for hours they had to stop to get some sleep. They slept amongst the heather at the foot of a mountain. When they woke in the morning the two horses were gone. The horses had left a note saying they had to go home. Sean and Vera saw a black cloud approaching them. They sensed that the vampire was concealed within it. They ran up the mountainside. They came to a cottage that had a 'No Vampires' sign on the front door. This seemed like a good place to hide. They knocked on the door and a middle-aged man opened it. He took them inside when he saw the cloud behind them. His name was Harry.
   The vampire paid no heed to the sign. Shortly after Sean and Vera arrived they heard him pounding on the front door. Harry led them out the back, and they went further up the mountain. He said to them, "If you're in a fight with someone who has a knife, what you really need is a bigger knife. If you're up against a vampire, you need a bigger vampire, and I know where to find one."
   He took them to a castle that was hidden amongst the trees on the mountainside He rang a doorbell, and the huge oak door was opened by the biggest vampire Sean or Vera had ever seen. He was wearing slippers and pyjamas that were covered in images of smiling fish.
   "Hello Harry," the vampire said. "How are things?"
   "Hello Frank. It's these 'things' that have brought us here. I was wondering if you could do us a favour."
   "I owe you a favour after you gave me a loan of your lawn mower."
   "There's this chap we want to frighten off. He's been bothering these good people. I'd imagine he'll be coming along any minute now."
   "No problem."
   "Perhaps you could change into something a bit more intimidating than the pyjamas and the slippers."
   "Yeah. Good thinking."
   When the smaller vampire knocked at Frank's door a few minutes later, a broad smile revealed his fangs. The smile and the fangs disappeared when the door opened. Frank was dressed in black, and he seemed to have grown a few feet since Sean and Vera saw him in his pyjamas. He was so big, he would have struggled to get through the front door, but he didn't need to go out to chase his foe away. The smaller vampire ran back down the mountain path, and as he did so he became a black cloud. He flew away across the sky, and he was out of sight within minutes.
   Sean and Vera spent the rest of their honeymoon at Frank's castle. They tried to pay him, but he refused to take any money. He said he was glad to have the company.

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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