There’s Just One Problem

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I would like a copy of Amy Hempel’s Collected Short Stories please.

I’ll just do a quick search, she says.  Good news, We have a copy in the system. One copy. We can get it from the Burnside library.

That’s great.

There’s only one problem.

What’s that?

Did you learn any foreign languages at school?

French, Spanish, a spattering of German. Why?

How about Croatian?

Pardon?

The only copy we have is in Croatian.

How did that even happen? I ask.

God only knows. Do you know any Croatian?

My cleaner comes from Montenegro. He taught me a few swear words. Does that count?

Not really, she says. You could do a crash course in Croatian.

No thanks. I’ll wait till there’s an English version.

It could be a while. This version came out in ’96.

Have you got anything else by Amy Hempel? I say. In English.

 

  • have you ever encountered an unusual problem in the library?
  • can you speak Croatian? are you one of the readers of that Amy Hempel book?

 

  • photo by Jakub Arbet from Unsplash

 

 

Waiting for the Apocalypse

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I am lying in bed waiting for the Apocalypse.

It is due fifteen minutes after midday.

We have been told these things before.

What do they know?

It is sunny outside though clouds are building.

There’s a piffle of a breeze rustling the bush outside my window though I notice it is picking up.

Could there be something in it?

Damn. There’s someone on the phone.

It’s Emily from my insurance company calling from interstate about a failed payment.

I question some details.

Just bear with me a moment, she says, as she scurries off to her superiors.

Don’t be long, I say. The Apocalypse is near.

Pardon?

The Apocalypse’

I’ll put you on hold, she says.

Dogs whine, doors clatter, the sky darkens.

Just then ADT Security phones.

What is wrong with you people? Don’t you know the Apocalypse is nigh?

Silence.

I go out to the verge, bring in the bins, look around. The winds have dropped.

All quiet on the western front.

Gus, the Jack Russel next door, barks at my presence.

It’s okay, buddy. It’s only me. And anyway it’s been postponed.

What has? it barks.

The Apocalypse.

Again?

Yes, again.

What the %$%&#.

Calm your farm, buddy.  We get to live another day.

I go inside, wait for the next alert.

 

The Factory

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The factory’s closed, he said.

Closed? As in Closed Down?

No, the security guy chuckled. Closed for repairs, renovations.

I understood.

I had been going there for years, churning out my poetry, those little dispatches from the frontiers of perception. Lately however the software had stopped working, the hardware was getting cranky too.

Someone had noticed.

When will it be re-opened? I asked.

Soon, he said. We’ve got people working on it. You work here or something?

You could say that. Guess I need a break too just as much as the machines. Thanks anyway.

He watched me go as I trudged down the street. I gave him a little wave just before I turned the corner.

 

One Way

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We were seated at the feet of the Great Writer who at 37 already had three novels published, the latest of which had just won the Booker Prize as it was then known.

“I will tell you a secret,” he said. “one which is not really a secret. It has been known for millennia but it has been largely overlooked and forgotten. Aristotle first taught it in his ‘Poetics.’. It is the principle of Endings. “

We leant forward. I had my notebook ready. “The ending,” he said, “is written in the beginning. There should be only one way a story can end. The challenge for any writer is to surprise the audience with the inevitability of everything that happens. There is no such thing as alternative endings. I repeat, there is only one way a story can end.”

 

do you agree with that? Is there only one way to end a story?

can you think of a story — fairy tale, parable, short story, film — that could have ended in a way different to how it did?

have you read Salman Rushdie’s Booker prize winning novel, ‘Midnight’s Children’?

Falling Awake

 

Grapevinesnail_01I am reading a book of very strange stories.

One of them is called ‘Falling Awake’.

It is only six sentences long.

Here it is in its entirety:

 

I have no trouble falling asleep.

I have a lot of trouble falling awake.

Sometimes I sleep ten to twelve hours a day before snailing towards the light.

One day I will fall asleep and not fall awake or fall awake and not fall asleep.

Neither prospect daunts me.

I like adventures; no matter how short.

 

The Best Exotic Mongolian Beanie

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What sort of wuss wears a beanie around the house?

It’s not Outer Mongolia for fuck’s sake.

And I do have the heater on.

But it does look exotic and its warm and woolly.

A tower of a hat from Ulaanbaatar, the trader tells me.

I had to have it with its burnished reds and browns and its black leopard spots.

But I look a proper Charlie wearing it in the mall or library or on public transport.

In restaurants people just stare.

So I wear it in the yard when I’m gardening or evening walks along the esplanade before disappearing into my yurt

Bloomington-TibetanCC-Yurts-9114  where I cuddle with a copy of Sonomyn Udval’s ‘Collected Short Stories’

 

Jolt

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Every now and then you read a story which gives you a jolt. ‘Suicide Watch’ is one of these. In spite of its confronting title, the story is not depressing. It takes you into the teen world of social media, with its relentless pursuit of ‘likes’ and ‘comments’ and what lengths teens will go to so they can elevate their quota. The tension and uncertainty are nicely calibrated so the narrative skips along.

 

It has one of the best openings I’ve read:

 

Jill took her head out of the oven mainly because it was hot and the gas did not work independently of the pilot light. Stupid new technology! And preferring her head whole and her new auburn sew-in weave unsinged, and having no chloroform in the house, she decided she would not go out like a poet’.

 

I love the humor and desperation in this. The ending though comes with a jolt. Partly expected, partly not. The writing is an exercise in style, masterfully balanced between the vernacular and the poetic.

 

AS Adam Ant says, “Do yourself a favor’ and read it. *

 

Have you read a story recently that has given you a jolt?

 

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A Short Story is Not a Car

 

 

-45372083853575__480x360-RGB_565-205044809 At the writers’ group we were issued a list of things to check when we’re critiquing each others’ stories, things like plot, character, setting, dialogue. We’d put a tick or a cross depending whether the requirements were met. All well and good. Yet I couldn’t help thinking of the checklist that mechanics fill out when they’re servicing your car. So I said, “A short story is not a car!”

This put a brake on proceedings. They didn’t know what I was driving at. I didn’t know what I was driving at either. I just felt it was wrong. I don’t know what a short story is like but I do know it’s not like a car.

What do you think a short story is like?

The Lady in the Glove Box

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When I wait for her to do a spot of shopping

I wait in the car.

When she’s getting ready to go out,

I wait in the driveway, the sun

like a lamp. with my stash of magazines

between the seats:

my New Yorkers, National Geographics

and that lady in the glove box,

Olive Kitteridge.

It is my loo, my library, my study,

My five-seated reading room,

My Chapman’s Homer.

My car really takes me places.