Very Slight Stories | Like short stories, only shorter.

'Darcy and O'Mara' is a novel by Arthur Cronin.
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Tuesday, January 26, 2010


To Germany

   Jill was upset after hearing about a horse who was marooned on a small island in the middle of a lake. It doesn't take much to cause her distress. Last week she was upset because a fortune teller told her she'd be upset because of something a fortune teller told her. After hearing about the horse, Theo decided to cheer her up by playing his guitar in her garden. The last thing she wanted was someone playing the guitar in front of her window at night, but his heart was in the right place, thanks to an operation.
   I live next door to Jill so I got the benefit of his performance as well, if 'benefit' is the right word. 'Benefit' is not the right word. He played so loudly he could be heard in the future. I was able to confirm this three days later when I could still hear him. My ears are normally happy ears. They delight in simple things. They thrive at night when interference from the eyes is reduced to a minimum, when the sounds of simple things stand out in the silence. They love nothing more than the sound of water trickling from a water feature in a garden at night. Interference from the sight of the water feature would ruin the experience. My ears were deeply disturbed by Theo's performance. I found their regular reports distressing. Most of the neighbours were getting similar feedback from their ears. After discussing the matter with them, we decided to visit Paul.
   He invited us all into his study. We told him about the objections of our ears and our concern about the possibility of a repeat performance. He said he'd almost definitely play in Jill's garden again at some point in the future. He suggested that we go to Germany if we wanted to protect our ears. After giving the matter considerable thought, we found that this plan was faultless.
   To Germany we'll go! We'll go there with bells on, and the bells will have bells on them, and the bells on the bells will be embellished with bluebells and tulips. Celebrations will be held to mark our departure. Fattened calves will be killed, or else just threatened with golf clubs. Innocent by-standers will be threatened with golf. Birds will sing songs of farewell and brass bands will play music specially composed for the occasion by a man specially created for the purpose of composing music to mark the beginnings of long journeys or the marriages of short farmers to women they met while engaging in the perilous practise of sticking their heads into every open window they come across. People will adorn our path with rose petals until we despise them. We'll set forth with sprightly feet that will carry us over the hills, out of sight of our homes, out of earshot of the brass bands and the birds, with nothing to counteract the magnetic charm of Germany enticing us into its embrace.
   Someone suggested that we don't actually need to go all the way to Germany, that we really only need to go to Lisdoonvarna, but I think we'll definitely need to go further than Lisdoonvarna, or else not quite that far.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010


A nice way to spend the afternoon

   Strange creatures with seven tongues prepared my lunch. I tried not to think about this as I ate it. It didn't taste too bad, but I got the feeling it would taste much better if I could acquire another six tongues. I might have attempted to get them for dinner, but I had a better way to spend the afternoon. A trip to the museum seemed more appealing than a search for additional tongues.
   There was an extraordinary amount of guns on display, far too many for a museum of modern art. The number of guns wouldn't be considered excessive in my grandfather's study or in the National Museum. Guns play an important part in our history. They're much more noticeable than tablecloths or holes (ordinary everyday holes rather than graves with ornate markers to ensure that their representative from the past remains prominent in the present). I suppose that's because gunshots are much more noticeable than almost all of the sounds a tablecloth can make.
   I spent a long time looking at a painting that didn't have a gun attached to it, though it did depict a man holding a gun. He was standing in the background, waving with his gun-less hand, as if he was saying hello to the artist. In the foreground there was a woman holding a bunch of flowers. I appreciated the way the woman with the flowers took precedence over the man with the gun. Having said that, she looked deeply unhappy, and the man with the gun seemed perfectly content with life. If I had to hold something, I'd be happier with a gun rather than a bunch of flowers, but I'd choose neither if I had the choice. I always have a cigarette handy for occasions when I have to hold something. These occasions might arise when it looks as if someone is going to ask you to hold their baby or their gun or their flowers. You can say, "I can't. I'm holding a cigarette." I don't smoke. I've been using the same cigarette for years. It's held together with insulation tape.
   I enjoyed my afternoon in the museum, though I'd have enjoyed it more if there had been more paintings with tablecloths and holes. After leaving the museum I felt relaxed as I walked through the streets. I came to a quiet street where I could hear the birds singing. I'd heard that song on the radio earlier, and I started singing along. Two women who were walking behind me joined in. I turned around and I saw that they were holding puppies. I took out my cigarette so I wouldn't feel left out. I was happy to keep singing the birds' song because only the birds would know if I was saying something stupid. After singing for twenty minutes I noticed three birds on a window ledge. They were looking at me as if I was an idiot. I felt a need to use words again so the birds wouldn't know if I was saying something stupid. I asked the two women if they'd join me for dinner and they said they would. I avoided making eye contact with the birds as we walked away.
   Dinner was better than lunch, but there were bits of cardboard in my custard. Apparently, if you have the right sort of tongue, cardboard tastes like rhubarb.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010


Emily Comes to Stay

   Jamie woke up with a hangover on Saturday morning, just like every other Saturday morning. It was nearly midday by the time he managed to make it to the kitchen. He plugged in the kettle and he took a carton of milk from the fridge.
   "I wouldn't drink that milk, if I were you," the cat said.
   Jamie didn't think there was much chance of the cat ever being him, but he didn't want to offend her by ignoring her advice. Reluctantly, he threw the carton into the bin.
   "Even when the fridge door was closed I could smell it," the cat said. "I'm struggling to stop my mind from forming a mental image to explain the smell I get from upstairs."
   "The sight is nowhere near as bad as the smell. Maybe you should go and have a look before your mind burdens you with an image that's much worse than the reality."
   He was hoping she'd go so he could retrieve the milk from the bin, but she stayed where she was, sitting on a chair next to the kitchen table. While he drank his black coffee she purred contentedly. Jamie said, "I was going to say that you look as if you've just got the cream, but..."
   "Please don't mention the cream. You put me off cream for good last Christmas."
   "I was just going to say that. Of course, it was a long time after Christmas before..."
   "Please don't fill in all the details of that mental image. A change of subject is needed, and fortunately I have one at hand. I've had a vision of something that will happen to you today. You'll meet a woman. She'll be wearing earrings designed by a farmer's wife who beat away a thief with a rolling pin and took up jewellery-making as a way to forget the incident, but instead it's a reminder. Her earrings evoke images of a bloodied thief staggering away into the night, making his way to the lake where the night swimmers go. The woman you'll meet isn't reminded of thieves. When she hears her earrings ringing she sees people swimming at a peaceful lake in the middle of the night. Be kind to this woman and you'll get a pleasant surprise."
   After Jamie had finished his coffee and abandoned the mug in the sink, the doorbell rang. His aunt Emily was standing there when he opened the door. The first thing he noticed about her was the extraordinary earrings, even though a voice at the back of his mind was telling him that she had a suitcase in her hand and that he should start thinking of an excuse why she couldn't stay. But he couldn't stop looking at those earrings that looked like miniature chandeliers.
   "Didn't your mother tell you I was coming?" she said.
   "No. She didn't." His mother wouldn't have asked him if Emily could stay because she'd have known that he'd say no.
   "I'll just be staying tonight," Emily said. "I have to be at the airport tomorrow morning."
   The pleasant surprise better be good, he thought. He invited her in. He said, "I'd make some tea, but I'm afraid I don't have any milk."
   "Your mother told me you wouldn't have anything fit to eat or drink in the house on a Saturday morning. Or afternoon. So I stopped off at the shop on the way. I'll make the tea."
   They went to the kitchen and she plugged in the kettle. She took a litre of milk out of a bag, and she poured some into a saucer for the cat.
   "Is it just my imagination," Emily said, "or is that cat smiling at me?"
   "I can put her outside if she's bothering you."
   "Not at all. It's a really nice feeling to win the approval of a cat. Because they're very particular about these things. This one looks more intelligent than the average cat. I can't help smiling every time I see her smiling at me."
   "It's probably just your imagination."
   She went out shopping in the afternoon. When she came back she insisted on making dinner for him. While she was busy in the kitchen, the doorbell rang. Jamie opened the door and he saw a middle-aged man in a grey suit. "Where's Emily?" the man said.
   "Who are you?" Jamie said, but before he got an answer the man pushed his way into the house. It didn't take the intruder long to find Emily in the kitchen. When she saw him she dropped a spoon on the ground and she said, "Dermot!"
   "Don't go to Wales," he said.
   "I'm visiting my friend Julia."
   "It's a lie. You're running away."
   "I've no reason to stay."
   "Yes you do." Dermot got down on one knee. He put his hand into his pocket and took out a small box. He opened it to reveal a diamond ring. "Will you marry me?" he said.
   Jamie was leaving the kitchen as Emily accepted the proposal. The cat followed him out. After he had closed the door he said to the cat, "I hope the 'pleasant surprise' wasn't the scene I've just witnessed."
   "Aren't you happy for your aunt?"
   "I'm not unhappy for her, but I wish I hadn't witnessed that scene. I could have turned on the TV and found the worst soap opera or film and seen something just like that, but it would have been much easier to forget the scene on TV."
   "I wouldn't normally recommend this, but I think you should go out tonight. They'll be busy here for the rest of the evening."
   Jamie had his dinner in a restaurant and then he met his friends in the pub. He returned home at two o' clock in the morning. When he went into the living room he saw that the fire was lighting. There was enough light from the flames for him to see Emily and Dermot. He saw almost all of them and he couldn't see their clothes.
   An expression of horror was frozen on his face as he withdrew from the room and made his way upstairs. He met the cat at the top of the stairs. "You look as if you've just seen something unpleasant," she said.
   "You could have warned me. You knew I'd see that."
   "I can easily erase that scene from your mind."
   "It's perfectly simple."
   "Yeah, but there's a catch, isn't there?"
   "It doesn't even qualify as a catch. All I ask is that you put more effort into keeping the house clean and tidy, and that you look at the expiration dates on cream and milk."
   "Very good. All you have to do is look into my eyes. Keep looking. Never let your eyes stray from my eyes. They're filling your mind..."
   All Jamie remembered was looking into the cat's eyes. He didn't know that the unpleasant scene had ever been shown on the cinema screen in his mind. He went to bed and slept soundly that night. When he got up in the morning he found that he had an urge to clean the kitchen. He went to the shop to get some milk, butter and bread. When he got home he made breakfast for Emily and Dermot. He didn't notice that they couldn't look him in the eye because his mind was preoccupied with the dust on the shelves. He spent the rest of the day cleaning the house. This new-found interest in cleaning seemed completely natural to him. He never suspected that it had anything to do with being hypnotised by the cat.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010


What could go wrong on a day like this?

   As Caroline ate her breakfast she could hear the birds singing in the garden, and it looked as if they had something to sing about. The only blemish on the blue sky was a white line drawn by a jet. After reading the dog his horoscope and finishing her coffee, she left for work.
   The weather didn't bring out the best in the other people waiting at the bus stop, but it seemed to conceal the worst. The woman who used to smoke and cry had given up smoking. The man who normally kept talking on his phone was silent, satisfying himself with sending a text rather than telling a friend about the outrageous lies he told his girlfriend to avoid visiting her parents' house. Caroline always knew when he was talking to his girlfriend because he'd start telling outrageous lies. He once told her that the editor of a newspaper had asked him to stand in for their regular theatre critic, who had to retreat to the country for a few weeks to convince his illegitimate children that he was dead.
   As if the day wasn't going well enough already, the bus arrived on time. Tommy, the driver, seemed unusually hurried. Caroline sat next to a window and looked out at the rows of houses and parked cars, the kids on their way to school, the morning sun through the line of trees along the side of the street opposite the hospital, the industrial park where the wall had been adorned with new graffiti: 'Paul loves Amanda' and 'Paul loves Roger Federer' (mixed news for Amanda, whatever her feelings for Paul).
   As they approached Caroline's stop there were only six other passengers left on the bus. She appreciated the peace. Neil, the man who'd normally be lying or boasting about his lies on the phone, was still happily texting. She noticed that Tommy was taking a slightly longer route than normal. As he was driving through a housing estate in the suburbs he said, "Does anyone mind if I make a quick stop at home?"
   The only passengers who responded were those who said yes, they did mind, but Tommy only seemed to hear the ones who said nothing. He parked the bus outside his house and got out. He jumped over the garden wall, ran across the lawn and disappeared around the back of the house.
   After waiting for five minutes, Neil stood up and said, "I have a lot of work to get through today."
   Caroline assumed that he was going to leave the bus and walk the rest of the way, but he sat on the driver's seat. She asked him if he'd ever driven a bus before.
   "I've driven a tractor," he said, which wasn't the answer she'd been hoping for.
   He drove tentatively at first, but the further he went without knocking anyone down or crashing into a parked car, the more confident he became. He started to enjoy it. Rounding corners in large vehicles had never failed to entertain him in the past. Caroline could sense his glee as he approached a roundabout. He picked up speed, but as often happened in large vehicles, he had to take evasive action to avoid crashing, or else he'd just close his eyes. When faced with the danger of crashing into a road sign he managed to steer the bus down the exit before the one he'd been aiming at, and he seemed to have rescued the situation, even though they were going the wrong way, heading out into the countryside. But they weren't going the wrong way for long. They came to a halt when Neil veered too far to the left. The wheels sank into the soft ground at the side of the road, and the bus crashed into a ditch.
   A car stopped at the other side of the road and Tommy got out. Neil opened the door to let him into the bus. Tommy was smiling, but the manic glint in his eye would have been visible to the passengers at the back of the bus. It would have been glaringly obvious to Neil, whose eyeballs were in close proximity to those of Tommy. It wasn't a comfortable situation for Neil, but not as uncomfortable as it would be if he was Roger Federer and the other eyes belonged to Paul.
   "Do you have any idea how humiliating this is for me?" Tommy said. "I wanted to drive past my house today to see if Liam's car was there, and it was. My worst nightmare. My wife has always denied having an affair with him and I wanted to believe her. But there was his car, and when I went inside I caught them in the act. Now that's a bad way to start the day, you'd think. Things couldn't get much worse than that. Or could they? Some eejit might take your bus and make things much worse. And do you know what made things even worse than that? Liam offered to drive after the bus, and I had no other option. I had to accept a lift from the man I just caught having an affair with my wife. And then I had to drive his car because he wasn't wearing any shoes or socks."
   The passengers on the bus looked out at the car. Liam and Tommy's wife were in it. They smiled and waved when the passengers looked at them.
   "And to make things even worse than that," Tommy said, "you couldn't even keep the bus on the road, and I'm going to get fired because of this crash. What's going to happen next? That's what I'm wondering. What'll happen to make things worse?"
   "I think I know how to make things better," Caroline said. "We'll say that you were driving when the crash happened, and that you had to swerve off the roundabout to avoid a puppy who ran out in front of the bus. And then you drove into the ditch to avoid crashing into a truck."
   All of the passengers agreed to go along with this story.
   "And maybe there's something you could do about Liam," Caroline said. "Test his nerve by showing him what you're willing to do to Neil in a fake fight."
   Neil agreed to play his part. He fell to the floor of the bus when Tommy pretended to punch him. He stayed down as Tommy took a wrench from a toolbox and started hitting a seat near where Neil lay. The other passengers feigned horror and pleaded with Tommy to stop before he killed Neil. The woman who used to cry hid her face in her hands because she couldn't stop laughing.
   Caroline saw the horror on Liam's face as he witnessed Tommy's violent reaction and realised that Tommy still had the car keys. He got out of the car and ran away, even though he wasn't wearing any shoes, socks or trousers.
   Neil's phone rang while he was still lying on the ground. It was his girlfriend. He told her that he'd have to work late that night to make up for the time he missed in the morning, and unfortunately he couldn't visit her parents. But she hung up before he got to the end of the story about the bus he crashed and the partially-clad man fleeing the scene. She thought he was lying.

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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