Very Slight Stories | Like short stories, only shorter.

'Darcy and O'Mara' is a novel by Arthur Cronin.
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Tuesday, September 29, 2009


The Farm

   Martha wanted to know where the farm was. She wouldn't accept my insistence that it was lost forever. She thought I was a liar because of the box on my head and the things in it. Sometimes I'd put my hand into the box and take something out, like a plug or a glove. This could be embarrassing if I had lied about the whereabouts of the plug or the glove. My head always felt different after I had removed objects from the box. My head also felt different after I had lied. This is why I enjoyed lying.
   Despite my lies, people were always asking me if they could put things into the box for safe-keeping. My aunt once put a diamond necklace in there, but it was nowhere to be found when she wanted to retrieve it a few weeks later. She blamed me for its disappearance, and I had to pay for a replacement necklace. This is why I got a job holding up book shelves for a man who was devoting all of his intellectual powers to making French people. All of the books on the shelves were about the manufacture of French people. After years of research he came to the conclusion that he'd need the assistance of a French woman. He met a French woman in the park one day. He liked wearing his wig and his wig liked wearing him. Whenever he took his wig out for a walk in the park people thought it was his wig who was walking him. The French woman was wearing her wig when they met. The two wigs got on very well, and so did the people beneath them.
   He didn't need shelves or books any more, so I had to get another job. A beggar needed an assistant to hold his clothes while he did his dance because if he didn't have someone to hold his clothes he'd have to wear them while he danced, and they'd get so frightened they'd run away. It happened once before, and they caused havoc. I got the job as his assistant. I enjoyed watching his dance at first, but the novelty wore off after a few days. I was bored, and I wasn't paying as much attention to my job as I should have been. One day the clothes slipped away when I was supposed to be guarding them. They ran out of the town and into the countryside. I had to follow them.
   As I was walking through the fields I met some people who were determined to avoid being eaten by a monster. I told them I'd pray to the appropriate saint on their behalf. They felt sure that my prayers to the appropriate saint would keep the monster at bay, and to thank me for my intervention they put some coins and keys into the box on my head. When I told them I needed to continue on my search for the beggar's clothes they said they'd help me.
   I walked on through the fields, with my helpers close behind me. I saw the beggar's clothes on a scarecrow. I went over to the scarecrow and removed the clothes. My followers were amazed at my bravery because the scarecrow was the monster they were afraid of. After talking amongst themselves, they came to the conclusion that I must be a saint, and that when I said I'd pray to the appropriate saint I meant that I'd have a word with him when I met him in the pub, a special pub where saints meet.
   I wondered why I was working as a beggar's assistant when I had these people who regarded me as a saint. I couldn't go back to my job, so I walked the other way, and my followers followed me.
   I met Martha. She was still looking for the farm. Helping her look for the farm would be just the sort of thing a saint would do. When I said I'd help her she was suspicious because of my previous claims that the farm was gone for good. But she accepted my offer because she needed all the help she could get.
   We spent days searching for the farm. My followers were growing weary. I was afraid of losing them, so I suggested to Martha that she look in the one place we hadn't thought of searching before: the box on my head. She stood on a rock and she reached down into the box. The first thing she pulled out was my aunt's diamond necklace. The second thing was a short piece of rusting barbed wire. She immediately recognised this as a remnant of the farm. It was a long way short of the farm as a whole, but she decided it would be sufficient. My followers got down on their knees and prayed to me. Some people might say I was lying to them, but I never actually said I was a saint.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009


Gerry's Vanishing Act

   Gerry put a lot of thought into his vanishing act. His plan was to disappear and go to a remote cottage in the country, where the grass was always wet in winter, and most mornings would be lost beneath a veil of fog. There he could be invisible. He wouldn't feel a need to sharpen his wit every day, and live in fear of being sliced into tiny pieces by the razor-sharp wit of his work colleagues. He could start a new life each day, abandoning the old life every time he went to bed at night. Sleeping in his invisible cottage would be easy because his mind would be blank. He'd still feel small, but the world around him would feel small as well. Aliens from beyond the ditch would rarely invade his world, and if they did they wouldn't abduct him and probe whatever there was to be probed. They'd just call to borrow some sugar or to give him a jar of homemade jam.
   That was the plan, but there were many days to endure before it would come to fruition, days that would linger into his dreams. He'd wake up with them on the following morning. He tried his best to get away from them. Day-dreaming about his vanishing act wasn't enough. He needed some other escape.
   He found an ideal form of escape when he discovered a tunnel in his garden shed. He crawled through it every evening after dinner. The tunnel forked off into four other tunnels, and these led to yet more tunnels. There were manholes spaced at equal intervals on the ceiling of each tunnel. Gerry went up through one of the manholes every evening. Sometimes he'd emerge in a garden. These gardens always looked as if they were tended to by devoted full-time gardeners, but he never saw a gardener as he walked down the winding stone paths. He rarely met anyone. One evening he met a middle-aged woman who was sitting on a garden seat. She told him to sit down next to her. She assumed that he was there to hear her thoughts on how to find a suitable spouse. She spoke for an hour and a half. He nodded in the appropriate places to show that he was paying attention, but he couldn't keep track of everything she said. She spoke about predators and prey, and what would constitute good manners when you're trying to subdue a potential partner who mistakenly believes that you made an inappropriate joke about their aunt's gait.
   Some of the manholes led to rooms. There were hardly ever any people in these rooms, but one evening he met a man who was leaning against the mantelpiece. Gerry apologised for the interruption, and he was just about to retreat back down into the tunnel when the man invited him to come up and have a cigar. Gerry accepted the invitation. The man introduced himself as Roy. He took two cigars from a box on the mantelpiece and he gave one to Gerry. He used a match to light them, but he couldn't put the match out, and it didn't burn out. He considered this to be a breach of etiquette on the part of the match. He put it into his pocket to deal with it later, but his trousers caught fire. He considered this to be an outrageous breach of etiquette on the part of his trousers. He went outside and took them off. Gerry went outside with him. Roy didn't seem concerned about the etiquette of wearing trouser outside. He assumed that Gerry was there for an interview for a job as his assistant. The interview was conducted while they smoked outside and Gerry had been offered the job by the time they'd finished the cigars. It would be a few hours work in the evening, three evenings a week. Roy would dictate his memoirs to Gerry, who'd type them on a typewriter. Gerry decided to take the job because it seemed like a good way to forget about his other job.
   He hasn't regretted this decision. He still hasn't performed his vanishing act because he's waiting for Roy to get to the end of his memoirs. At the moment he's in the middle of a story about a bottle of medicine his sister found. She claimed she invented it, and this lie led to many other lies. He had to pose as her agent and convince a film director that part of her leg had been bitten off by an alligator.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


Bird Sweat and Tears

   Larry used to put on his bowler hat by climbing a step-ladder and diving into the hat. His grandmother had taught him how to do it. After one dive the hat was on too tight and he couldn't get it off. A nurse called Edna helped remove it from his head. Whenever I tell this story people always ask me if this is the same nurse who used to compete in athletics meetings where all of the competitors were tied to chairs. No, that's a different nurse.
   Larry and Edna discovered that they shared a common interest in tomatoes. He had built a glasshouse because he wanted to grow his own tomatoes. She had already started growing them and she was able to give him invaluable advice and assistance.
   The other nurse, Grace, once entered the hundred-meter hurdles, even though she didn't like being tied to a chair. She won the race, despite knocking over all of the hurdles. She was presented with a gold medal and a magic wand. She used the wand to make clay pigeons talk to their owners. They said they'd rather not be shot. She tried using it to make a train stop, but she only succeeded in making it slow down. The driver was angry with her. He believed that she was responsible for giving rabbits wings and making those flying rabbits attack him when he walked home at night. Grace told him that the more likely explanation was that someone was throwing heads of cabbage at him. He considered this explanation for a few minutes before discounting it. He was sure it wasn't cabbage, he said. It was possible that someone was throwing rabbits at him, maybe even dead rabbits. But not cabbage. She asked him if he had any enemies and he told her his life story because he'd been making enemies all his life.
   His name was Jacob. He said his first meeting with his parents came on a train to Galway when he was four years old. His parents had met for the first time on that train just ten minutes before meeting their son. They had managed to fit a lot into those ten minutes in an empty carriage, but they regretted their encounter when they met their son. He'd made enemies of his parents, but he didn't think they'd throw things at him.
   He went to school on a train. The school building was out in the middle of nowhere, and they had to endure a long journey to and from school each day. The teachers started teaching lessons on the train. This proved to be successful, and after a while all of the lessons were taught on the train. They'd arrive at the school just before lunch time. They'd have lunch there before more lessons on the journey home. The school eventually became a restaurant. He regarded the teachers as enemies, and he made sure they regarded him as an enemy as well. But they'd never demean themselves by throwing something. They put a lot of planning into plots of revenge because it was an opportunity to show how cunning they were.
   He'd made a few enemies since he became a train driver. One of them was a man called Adrian, and Jacob thought he was the most likely culprit. Adrian believed that rain was the sweat of birds. He always carried an umbrella, just in case. He didn't want to get bird sweat on his suit. He hated the song 'Singing in the Rain', and the film. One evening, he left his umbrella on the train. He had nearly reached the end of the platform when he realised what he had done. He turned around just as the train was pulling away. He waved frantically at the driver. Jacob was aware of Adrian's attachment to the umbrella and he was able to guess what had happened, but he didn't stop. It started raining shortly afterwards.
   Grace said she'd help Jacob find out who was throwing things at him. She'd follow him home, staying a long way behind him at all times, and she'd see who was throwing something that resembled a flying rabbit.
   This is how they were able to confirm that Adrian was the culprit. He was throwing cabbages at Jacob. Whenever I tell this story people always ask me if the man who believed that rain was bird sweat is the man who built cardboard boats. No. That's a different man who believed that rain was bird sweat. This other man used to cry every time he got wet in the rain. He believed that his tears were the excretions of tiny animals who crawled into his head while he was singing in his sleep.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009


Lucy's Dream

   Lucy had a dream in which she was being chased through a city by a monster who was taller than a three-storey building. She had a talking harp that offered some very good advice, but she had to carry the harp everywhere, and this slowed her down. The monster was hindered by his trousers, which kept falling down, but he eventually cornered her in an alley that was blocked by a high wall. She played the harp, and it sang a song. The monster smiled as he listened to the song. When he had dropped his guard and his trousers she took her chance to kill him. She left the harp, but it kept singing and the monster kept smiling. He didn't notice her putting a grenade into his trouser pocket. She took the harp and ran past him. He pulled up his trousers and he turned around to chase her. She made it around the corner before he exploded. As she ran down the street she managed to avoid the falling debris, and then she went bowling with Adam.
   She woke up with a scream. She thought Adam was an idiot. He once told her that if he was ever proposing to a woman he'd give her chewing gum instead of a ring, just to see her reaction. He didn't think it was likely that she'd react by saying, "I'd rather marry that man who often has porridge stuck to his face." He couldn't imagine her saying no, as long as the chewing gum hadn't been used before.
   But Lucy's dreams had often been right in the past. They told her truths that the rational part of her mind didn't want to accept. Dreams had convinced her that she loved Abba, and that she didn't hate golf. She decided to allow herself to be won over by Adam. He was a friend of a friend, and they often met in the pub. She was nice to him the next time they met. He noticed the change in her attitude towards him. She had never laughed at his jokes before. The way she used to react was more of an anti-laugh, as if she was straining to show how unfunny she thought the joke was. But all that had changed. She laughed at his joke about women drivers, and she seemed genuinely interested in a story about a pie he found. Whenever he met a woman who didn't show antipathy towards him he always asked her out on a date. He asked Lucy if she'd like to go to a film with him, and she said she would.
   Cormac was horrified when he heard about this. He'd been trying to find the courage to ask Lucy out for months. He hated Adam, and he hated him even more for the way he didn't need courage to ask women out. He just needed a complete inability to imagine the consequences of using obscene chat-up lines on women who were holding something that could be used as a weapon. Cormac couldn't understand why Lucy would agree to go out with him. This is what he said to Adam when they met. "I thought she had more intelligence than that," he said. "I thought she had a better sense of smell."
   "Intelligence and a sense of smell have nothing to do with these things. That's why you'll never succeed. You'll try to smell good and appeal to their brains. It's a sense of mystery they fall for."
   "And you have a sense of mystery?"
   "Exactly. You wouldn't be able to see that. That's what makes it mysterious. Women can sense it, but you'll be completely blind to it. It's a bit like dogs listening to high-frequency sounds that we can't hear."
   "I've seen dogs back away from you because of the smell."
   "That's fine by me. I'm not trying to attract dogs."
   Cormac wanted to dispel any sense of mystery around Adam. When they were in the pub one evening Cormac got another friend of theirs to remind Adam of the hobby himself and his brother used to practise in their teens. They used to train dogs to get sick on people's shoes. Adam enjoyed telling Lucy about this. She smiled, but it was a forced smile. In the past she'd expressed a dislike of anyone who harmed dogs or shoes.
   Lucy and Adam went bowling later that evening, and she accidentally dropped a ball on his foot. She realised that this was what her dream was telling her to do. As he was lying on the ground, holding his foot, he saw her smile and he noticed that this smile looked more real than all the others. He thought he'd be better off staying a long way away from her.
   Cormac is still trying to find the courage to ask her out. She might say yes. The only time he appeared in one of her dreams he was eating a potato.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009


You're in the army now

   Michelle always wore clothes that she made herself. People referred to her outfit as a 'uniform' because it looked like something a soldier would wear, but there was no one else in her army. The word 'uniform' suggests uniformity amongst a group of people. She always looked the same, but she looked different to everyone else. Some people claimed to hear the muffled sounds of animals coming from inside her clothes, but there was no obvious place for an animal to hide. The skirt and the jacket were very tight-fitting. Some people hear the muffled sounds of animals when they're sitting in a boat in the middle of a lake in the middle of the night. There might not be anywhere for animals to hide, but there are wide open spaces in their heads for animal sounds to fill.
   There were rumours that Michelle was launching a fashion range. When I heard this I assumed it was a joke. A 'range' of clothes wouldn't have been a concept she'd be well-acquainted with. But then I got an invitation to the launch of her fashion range. I considered the possibility that this was part of an elaborate practical joke. On the card it said that a local band called 'Vaticandlelight' would be playing at the launch. They were a punk band who sang songs in Latin. I went to see the band's lead singer, and he told me that the fashion launch was real. She had put up a marquee in a field near her house. The band had already rehearsed there.
   This was enough to convince me that the event was real, so I went along on the night. I was glad I went when I saw so many familiar faces. All of the neighbours were there. After we had taken our seats in the marquee, the band started playing and the first model appeared on the catwalk.
   No one was surprised to see her wearing a version of Michelle's uniform. The second model was wearing an identical uniform. When the tenth model appeared in the same uniform we started to suspect that this really was a joke. After thirty uniformed models had walked down the catwalk the joke didn't seem so funny. The models were stationed all around the marquee, and they were armed with clubs. They blocked the exits. Michelle appeared on the catwalk, and she had a gun. She explained to us why she needed an army.
   A farmer had built the local golf course on his farm, but most golfers found it too easy because the holes were too short and the course was flat. There were very few trees and no water. It would have cost a lot of money to alter the course to make it more difficult to play, so the farmer went for an easier option. For years he had been using human scarecrows because the crows on his farm had figured out that the straw ones weren't real. He got some of his scarecrows to stand on the fairways and distract the players. This made the course much more difficult to play. Sometimes the scarecrows would shout at a player in the middle of a swing. This was a sure way to anger a player, and this led to many drives being aimed directly at the scarecrows. Many golf clubs were thrown at them as well. The scarecrows wore helmets and padding.
   When Michelle was playing the course one day, a scarecrow said to her, "Your swing makes it look like you're at war. If hippies saw you they'd organise a demonstration and they'd write songs about the merits of non-violent golf."
   They'd gone too far this time. They had to be eradicated from the course, she thought, and she needed an army to do this. The army of models would be augmented by the guests at her fashion show. She had made uniforms for all of us. The models distributed these. They put up a curtain down the middle of the marquee to make separate changing areas for the men and the women.
   When we had assembled outside the marquee she gave each one of us a club, and she made us march towards the golf course. Some of the scarecrows looked terrified when they saw us coming. A few of them were willing to put up a fight, but they were left alone when the deserters fled to the hills, and they had no choice but to follow. Our general, Michelle, praised our courage, and she marched us back to the marquee, where we celebrated our victory with champagne.
   Vaticandlelight played and soldiers danced, but the party came to an abrupt halt when the marquee came under attack. The scarecrows had regrouped in the hills, and they rounded up the scarecrows from other farms to launch this attack. We managed to keep the invaders out, but we were under siege. Michelle said she feared that this would happen, and this is why she had reinforcements. She called in another unit of models, who were stationed at an old church.
   This unit surprised the scarecrows when they emerged from the night and started fighting. We came out of the marquee and joined the battle. The scarecrows were outnumbered, and they surrendered, but Michelle wouldn't accept this. She marched them into the fields. She gave them shovels, and she made them dig graves. We thought she might have gone a bit too far this time, but she wasn't about to commit a war crime. When she got the scarecrows to put sand in the graves her purpose became clear. The scarecrows added bunkers to every hole on the golf course. This made the course much more difficult to play, and there was no need for the scarecrows any more. The farmer used them to keep his cows entertained. The scarecrows performed song and dance routines, and the cows produced better milk.

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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