...a story that was lived, not written
I read a short story the other day which cut off abruptly towards the end. It felt as though the author didn’t have the heart to finish it. There was no plot to retell, it was merely a collection of images, metaphors and memories which, although didn’t follow any sort of time line, did as a whole develop into a tale. It was a collection of moments that gave the sense of a story. A love story.
The opening image is the most haunting. A girl sits by herself typing away at a computer. She is desperately trying to capture an image that is floating about in her head, but it eludes her and the words she uses to entice it, to lure it to the blank screen are not working. It refuses to be held captive, declaring that it can only exist in the corridors of memory. Full of despair at her ineptitude, she stares out the window. The sky is black and full of fat, dark clouds. Silent veins of lightening shoot up behind them, forming a silhouette of their bloated bodies.
She thinks back to a night when there was someone there with her, when she opened her body, lay herself out on the examining table of companionship and said without moving her lips, “have me.” And he had.
And so it had been for a few brief days, the author tells us. Such a short time that every moment transforms into a memory. Every glance, gesture, casual remark is emblazoned in the mind’s eye and in the end there is no story, because the encounterstands independent of time. It weaves and wavers without ever becoming a narrative. It is an experience and can only be remembered by the participants as a collection of beautiful, poetic images each trapped inside the realm of memory.
Separated prematurely, both characters are prone to melancholic reminiscences and empty embraces. These words are not written, this image is not given by the author, but in reading the story one gets a very clear sense of yearning.
The story begins on a Friday night, the opening image I have just been writing about, and it is, or rather would be, a Friday night like any before it except for a new absence. This absence is a metaphor for the second character who is not actually present in the story except as a shadow lingering behind every word, wanting to be in the story but unable to.
She is doing what she always does, following the regular patterns, the same habits, the usual rituals, but every so often a feeling creeps over her body, like an uninvited insect. It is the sense of something missing. She thinks of him and where he would be, what he would say, how he would look, smell, feel if he was there, if she was in the parallel universe where he hadn’t gotten on that jet plane to a cold, faraway land. She stares at an empty place in the kitchen, next to the door perhaps, where he once stood and looked at her, explaining the fault of a handed down kettle.
Those are images of what isn’t, but there is also a cacophony of images of what was. These float about her head, taunting and teasing her, now trying to force themselves onto the screen. They flow into and out of one another, like snakes writhing in a cage, desperate to entangle themselves further, each separate yet part of the moving whole. They are memories of the past, limbs writhing in a bed. An unsuccessful game of bowling, a half hearted attempt at a crossword, a half watched movie.
Soundless sighs. Unwritten, but I could almost hear them emanating from the page.
She remembers feeling his cock in her mouth in the frantic moments before coming. She remembers his hands on her body, his mouth reaching for hers. She remembers the look in his eyes the first time he told her she was beautiful. She remembers the first exchange of words, their first dance, the first touch. And, of course, the clichéd first kiss which starts when both parties know without a doubt that it is imminent, long before the actual moment of contact.
She recalls with a smile that he is the only other person she knows who can appreciate a cup of Nescafe three-in-one.
Amongst all the levitating images and memories, the clearest image in the story is of the girl sitting alone in her neighbour’s flat, staring at a computer screen, staring at but not reading the words that have appeared out of nowhere. Words that form the foundation of a short saga, a tale, a story that is her story and the story of the other, non-present character. She sits alone swarmed by memories, taking solace in one or another, but always returning to the screen. It comes into focus and reminds her of the original image she was hunting but could not trap, never will.
And then it just ends there.
You know, if I had been writing the story, I probably wouldn’t have finished it either. I would have let it hang there in mid-sentence, leaving it an unfinished statement, resonating with future potential, a prophecy demanding to be fulfilled…