The Author Would Very Much Like to Write a Story of Stories
But where to begin? Let us consider this question seriously before we rush into things: where is the most appropriate place to begin our thread? In the middle of the action, perhaps, where tensions come to a head and an ultimatum is reached, resulting in a subsequent release of tension and a sudden realisation that unmasks, behind the safe image of the story we thought we knew, an incomprehensibly sophisticated pattern of meaning? At the birth of our heroes; the first abandoned in the wilderness for the gods to decide his fate, the second surrendered at the doorstep of the (conveniently) childless couple, who will raise this princess as a peasant? Or, might we introduce an ending, a tragic moment of suicide perhaps, where various witnesses are named in order to allow a private investigator to later interrogate each one and construct an anti-story of increasing confusion?
Of course, the storyteller is fooling us, presupposing that this epic thread exists beyond his or her own lips.
In winter-time, we used to tell fairy stories at the fireside. This is true. Now the television, which tells its own stories, requires no Mother Goose to act as interpreter. We once understood that winter, the darkest part of the year, was the only appropriate time for storytelling. We have television all year round.
Outside the house, where the wind blows fierce and the darkness settles down, we have somehow accepted that wolves are real, and thus journeys through dark forests are fraught with danger. We have forgotten the ending altogether. Did we misplace it somewhere in the forest, choosing instead to gaze at the treacherous flowers? Are we still haunted by the fears instilled in us by our well-intentioned mothers? Our baskets are filled with fruits and flowers of our own choosing, or so we have been told. What happened to that ending we chose for ourselves? We are certain it was there only a moment ago... where did we put it? No matter. Let us forget the issue for the moment. Instead, let's look at this little story:
She is sitting in a cafe on a busy street, half an hour before her shift begins. Absent-mindedly, she's sketching in details for a story she's spent all morning trying to develop. Before her on the table: an empty coffee cup, an ashtray containing a few cigarette butts, yesterday's newspaper and an unlined foolscap pad. Across its crisp white surface loop tight sections of handwriting, arrows connecting words, loose circles and violent blots of overwritten phrases. She clutches her black ballpoint pen with purpose, as if it is both a surgeon's scalpel and a sewing needle. She carves up the flesh of the text; stitches it up again with fresh punctuations of vowels and consonants. The waiter approaches the table and offers her another glass of water. He is polite, but, ‘No, thank you, it'll only make me pee myself silly after all the smokes and the coffee,' she says, the words coming out almost of their own accord. He laughs in response, perhaps a bit too hard. He does not, after all, understand. He is gone. In her state of caffeinated hypersensitivity, she is relieved that he has done this, suddenly self-conscious of her writing. Could he have, was he-- reading her notes? Suddenly shy, she shields the page with the sleeve of her anorak. There are terrible, dangerous things written on the page before her. One day, she thinks, she will be caught. She wishes she were not so susceptible to symbolism. A familiar voice, the Pedant, rises up in her—she feels her writing suffering from a swampy, wanky, mess of tangled metaphors. Tilting her head and squinting her eyes, she writes:
“I create these lands so easily. Too easily? Certainly unashamedly, compulsively. I don't really need a romantic setting at all just the right amount of suggestive qualities (a scene half-glimpsed through a window, or an unseen staircase. A mysterious door where people come and go). When I am writing I am feeling but no-one else knows this so what have I to fear? I have control of who sees what… But still I wonder if other people… notice? Let's face it, I want to bring somebody else here not just an IMAGINARY person (however wholly real I imagine you to be oh reader reader reader). Oh, I just realized—”
She smiles to herself, letting the words stand out proudly on the naked page. It is, after all, just a piece of paper, and the letters, after all, are just blurs of meaningless fuzz to anyone at any distance greater than a metre. Lines on a page do not arouse the curiosity of the person on the street. She thinks again, her smile growing wider. Has she lost her mind, perhaps? She turns the page of her foolscap pad, revealing a fresh sheet. Her smile has not disappeared. She applies her pen to the page's middle, very slowly drawing a line. A dogwalker suddenly stops, arrested by this curiosity. ‘What are you drawing?' he asks. She looks up from the page, her little smile still unbroken. She does not answer. Instead, she smiles, waits for him to become confused. This occurs, he moves on. In letters bold, she writes:
"People don't want to be alone."
So, how might this story continue? Certainly it has an air of unfamiliarity for us, unless what we are reading is actually a thinly veiled love story between the character of the writer and one of the men she might eventually meet and become entangled with. A jazz musician? A publisher perhaps? Or how about a psychoanalyst? Either way, his intrusion would provide a humorous plot sequence involving various situational dilemmas interspersed with odd moments of poignant romance. We must concede that, following this thread of narrative logic, the story will end with everybody sitting around drinking coffee and smoking in the café, chatting away amicably. The waiter will say something corny, and everyone will laugh, and that will be the end.
But enough hypothesizing, let us return to the story:
The café is empty. The writer has long forsaken her cigarette butts, her empty coffee-cup, and her newspaper, which, after all, she only brought with her for the crosswords. It is now late afternoon.
Only the waiter remains. He is sitting on a stool behind the sandwich bar, leaning a few loose sheets of paper against the glass and writing. The ballpoint pen he uses like a feather, tickling the words lightly into place, naively savoring the way each curl resembles ‘proper' handwriting. He writes unselfconsciously because his employer is taking a break, and, besides, the café is always empty at this hour. Also, he is safe behind his sandwich bar. His story, for he is also a fiction writer, begins with a supermodel sitting in a cafe. He describes her passing the waiter a note that reads,
“People don't want to be alone.”
Being a healthy man, he wishes he really did have a supermodel of his own. So, he writes that this waiter character, (he has called him called ‘Mr. Yo') returns her note with one that reads,
“Let's not be alone, my Darling,”
He smiles at the page. He feels a surge of adrenaline; a glowing feeling that also moves in his loins. He suddenly decides the waiter would very much like to penetrate this supermodel, so he continues to write, with shaking hands, a scene involving her following him into the store-room. Despite her passionate protests, Mr. Yo removes her underclothes and has his way with her. Then he writes,
“And that's how Mr. Yo discovered this girl was really an android.”
for the story's final sentence. Conveniently, he also rids himself of any guilty pleasures associated with her rape. After all, she's only a fictional character.
Do not be fooled! How could you, intelligent readers, ever accept such an uninspiring closure! Surely you, as erudite human beings gifted with common sense, are by this point in your lives well versed in the distinction between fact and fiction? Surely you are thinking and reasoning human beings? Surely you are the central protagonists of your own stories, consuming fictions only for the various possibilities they presents? After all, are you not your own people? You are readers, not writers. You are—oh dear.
What has happened here? We have forgotten our manners. We have indulged in assumptions about writers and readers and personal lives, creating gulfs of misunderstanding. We have long since embraced our hunger for fairy stories, flames, clouds and wolves. Had we forgotten this? Let's abandon the storyteller, and sit back in front of the flickering lights of the television that tell us stories about fabulous plane crashes on the other side of the world.
But—weren't we just about to begin something? And where did we put that ending? Sometimes we think: if only we could talk more clearly, without these scribbled words getting in the way.