Category Archives: story

Story: The gift of the roses


Every year, on her birthday, my mother got twelve roses

from an old admirer. Even after he died, the roses kept coming:

the way some people leave paintings and furniture,

this man left bulletins of flowers,

his way of saying that the legend of my mother’s beauty

had simply gone underground.

 . . .

After ten years, the roses stopped.

But all that time I thought

The dead could minister to the living;

 . . . Louise Gluck (from here) 

Leave a Comment

Filed under story

Story: The guilt of the roses

We had been staying at our grandparents’ house in London while our parents were abroad in Russia, and one afternoon my brother and I were overcome with the desire for the chocolate sold in a nearby shop. I don’t know why we didn’t ask my grandmother for the money: we must have thought she’d refuse, or maybe we were thrilled by the idea of laying hold of the chocolate surreptitiously. In the garden in front of their semidetached house, my grandfather grew roses that remain, for me, the archetype of a rose; I can’t think or say the word without summoning those delicate, fragrant English flowers. We found my grandmother’s heavy metal shears in the kitchen, and squeezed the stems between the blades, high up under the flowers’ sepals, until the large heads rolled. Coolly, we wrapped the stumps in aluminum foil, and decided that a lie would be necessary to convince people to buy them. We stood out on the street, and began to sing: “Roses for sale, roses for sale, roses for children’s charity!” A woman stopped. I remember her as lovely, with tidy, dark hair beneath her woolen hat. She set down the bags she was carrying. “Are you sure it’s for charity?” she asked us. Later it was her question that undid us. She had given us the chance to reconsider and come clean, but instead of taking it, we dug ourselves more deeply in. We nodded: quite sure, yes. She took out her wallet and unburdened us of our handfuls of roses—six or eight of them. My brother took the coins, and we began to walk quickly in silence. But as we made our way toward the shop, a crushing black guilt descended on us. We had done something we couldn’t undo: beheaded our grandfather’s roses, sold them off, lied to a stranger, all to serve our appetite. The sense of the permanence of our wrongdoing, our inability to ever correct it, was immensely heavy. I don’t remember whether I turned to my brother and finally spoke, or whether it was he who turned to me, but I remember the words clearly: Are you feeling what I’m feeling? There was nothing more to be said. We bent down in the earth alongside the sidewalk, dug a hole, and buried the coins. That we would never breathe a word of what we had done to anyone was implicit. One day, I told my children the story. They were crazy for it, and wanted to hear it again and again. For days, they continued to bring it up. But why did you bury the money? my younger son kept asking. To be rid of it, I told him. But it’s still there, he said, shaking his head. To this day, if you go to that spot and dig, the coins will still be there. Nicole Krauss, Dark House

Leave a Comment

Filed under story

Story: A Ruby Heart

[Every year the children play for hours in a hotel swimming pool on holidays with their parents in Israel. One year ]    . . . my brother and I discovered that the pool was full of money—shekels everywhere, shimmering mutely on the floor of the pool, as if the drain were hooked up to Bank Hapoalim. Whatever lingering fears I had about swimming were shunted aside by the steady flow of cash we could turn up. As in any well-run operation, we soon divided and specialized: my brother, two years older, became the diver, and I, with a smaller lung capacity and keener eyes, became the spotter. At my direction, he would plunge down and grope around at the blurry bottom. If I had been right, as I was about sixty-five percent of the time, he would burst excitedly to the surface, clutching the coin.

One afternoon after a string of false calls I began to feel desperate. The day was wearing on, and our time in the pool was almost up. My brother was wading morosely along the wall of the shallow end. I couldn’t help myself, and from the middle of the pool shouted: “There!” I was lying—I’d seen nothing—but I couldn’t resist the chance to make my brother happy again. He came splashing toward me. “Right there!” I yelled.

He went below. I knew there was nothing at the bottom, and now, treading water at the top, I waited miserably for my brother to find out, too. The crushing guilt I felt in those few moments comes vividly back even more than thirty years later. It was one thing to lie to my parents, but to so blatantly betray my brother was something else again.

As for what happened next, I have no explanation for it. Or none beyond the possibility that the laws we cling to in order to assure ourselves that all is as it seems have occluded a more complex view of the universe, one that forgoes the comfort of squeezing the world to fit the limited reach of our comprehension. Otherwise, how else to explain that when my brother surfaced and uncurled his fingers, lying in his palm was an earring with three diamonds and, beneath them, hanging from a gold loop at the bottom, a ruby heart?

Nicole Krauss, Forest Dark

(from here)


Leave a Comment

Filed under story

The truth of stories

Following the publication of his first autobiography, “Uncle Tungsten,” [Oliver] Sacks came to understand that his memories were not as reliable as he’d thought: After describing in high detail the memory of a thermite bomb that fell behind the family’s house in the winter of 1940-41, he was informed by his brother that he had not in fact been present for it, having been sent away to the relative safety of boarding school. The “memory” had been lifted whole from a letter their older brother wrote to them both, describing the dramatic event in a way that had deeply impressed Sacks at the time. And yet even after accepting the correction, Sacks found that the recollection lost none of its vivid power, having long been embedded as if it were a genuine primary memory. Neither psychoanalysis nor brain imaging can tell the difference between a true and false memory. And more than that, Sacks writes, “There is, it seems, no mechanism in the mind or the brain for ensuring the truth…. We have no direct access to historical truth … no way by which the events of the world can be directly transmitted or recorded in our brains; they are experienced and constructed in a highly subjective way…. Our only truth is narrative truth, the stories we tell each other and ourselves — the stories we continually recategorize and refine.”

Nicole Krauss, A Last Glimpse Into the Mind of Oliver Sacks   The New York Times, December 4, 2017 (from here) 



Leave a Comment

Filed under memories, story, the writing process

A compensation for bad behaviour

Hemingway’s girlfriend, the writer Martha Gellhorn, didn’t think the artist needed to be a monster; she thought the monster needed to make himself into an artist. “A man must be a very great genius to make up for being such a loathsome human being.” (Well, I guess she would know.) She’s saying if you’re a really awful person, you are driven to greatness in order to compensate the world for all the awful shit you are going to do to it. In a way, this is a feminist revision of all of art history; a history she turns with a single acid, brilliant line into a morality tale of compensation.

Either way, the questions remain:

What is to be done about monsters? Can and should we love their work? Are all ambitious artists monsters? Tiny voice: [Am I a monster?]

 Claire Dederer ,What Do We Do with the Art of Monstrous Men?The Paris Review, November 20, 2017   (from here) 

Leave a Comment

Filed under story

The need for stories

We all find in others, as we find in ourselves, certain moments of being unreal, of floating free, of not getting to grips. In some people we find it as a whole affliction, someone detached at the very root of existence. We recognise them in the workplace as people with vast schemes that never come to fruition; in relationships, as those who won’t commit to one life path over another. From the parents’ group to the football club, such people, after a period of assessment, are quietly worked around. It is part of the continuous whole-personality assessments we all make of each other, building models, revising them. The fact that we can be “wrong” about someone is a demonstration of the process.

We build such narratives of character all the time. We build them in art, in high culture and popular, and we can go back and forth between the great and the small. As well as the rule of England, Shakespeare’s Henry VI is obviously about the running of a small theatre company – you can hear Shakespeare’s bitching about how hard it is to bring it all together all the way through. The Office, a bitter plaint at the life wasted by time commodified, is about the failure of democratic socialism, from Harold Wilson to the coming of Thatcher.

People have been doing it about Malcolm Turnbull for months now, making stories that explain him out of the things they know. Turnbull is the wanker from head office, the bloke who sold them a timeshare, the guy who seems to have an agenda, teeth-clenched, bearing all before him.

Guy Rundle, Character actors, The Saturday Paper, November 18-24

Leave a Comment

Filed under story, the unknown, the writing process

The happy ending of fairy tales

I suspect our continual attraction to fairy tales, especially the classical Grimms’ stories, is based more on something adults repress and are afraid to talk about, something the Grimms knew 200 years ago but also repressed. I mean child abuse, neglect and abandonment, and not only the kind experienced at the hands of strangers but that meted out by parents themselves. Perhaps the most therapeutic aspect of these stories is the reassurance they give parents that children survive the horrors they impose on them with good will and the desire to lead a different life.

Fairy tales have always expressed an adult viewpoint on family relations and power. We tend to forget it, but adults were the ones who first told them, wrote them down and circulated them. Though the stories may ultimately defend the rights of children and underdogs, they do so only by ration-alizing the actions of the adults, who want to make certain their children are socialized to forget the abuse they have suffered.

I do not mean to exaggerate and argue that fairy tales completely rationalize abusive attitudes and behavior toward children, or that all parents abuse their children. To a certain extent these stories were told and written to reveal the shame and guilt adults feel at even fantasizing about cruelty to their children. More than anything else, I believe, they reveal what the psychoanalysts Alice Miller and James Hoyme have identified as the ambivalent feelings parents have about their children, their desire to abandon them and the shame they feel when they actually abuse them. . . . 

Children know better than adults that it’s certainly not the happy ending that counts.

Jack Zipes: Children’s Books: Child Abuse and Happy Endings  (from here) 


Leave a Comment

Filed under story

The lure of the happy ending

The happy ending still beckons, and it is in hope of grasping it that we go on. The poet Wisława Szymborska caught the writer’s dilemma of choosing between hard realities and the longing for the happy ending. She called it “consolation.” Darwin: They say he read novels to relax, but only certain kinds—nothing that ended unhappily. If he happened on something like that, enraged, he flung the book into the fire. True or not, I’m ready to believe it. Scanning in his mind so many times and places, he’s had enough with dying species, the triumphs of the strong over the weak, the endless struggle to survive, all doomed sooner or later. He’d earned the right to happy ending, at least in fiction, with its micro-scales.

Hence the indispensable silver lining, the lovers reunited, the families reconciled, the doubts dispelled, fidelity rewarded, fortunes regained, treasures uncovered, stiff-necked neighbors mending their ways, good names restored, greed daunted, old maids married off to worthy parsons, troublemakers banished to other hemispheres, forgers of documents tossed down the stairs, seducers scurried to the altar, orphans sheltered, widows comforted, pride humbled, wounds healed, prodigal sons summoned home, cups of sorrow tossed into the ocean, hankies drenched with tears of reconciliation, general merriment and celebration, and the dog Fido, gone astray in the first chapter, turns up barking gladly in the last.

Annie Proulx

(from here) 

Leave a Comment

Filed under story

Story :The genesis for a novel

About eight years ago a girl in distress came to my door, a stranger, and asked me for help. Said she needed money – so I gave it to her. Later I found out that it was probably a scam of some sort. A lot of questions followed from this in my mind. Was the girl really desperate? Was I a fool to give her the money? But wouldn’t you have to be really desperate to come up with such a scam? The episode, tiny as it was, stayed with me. It became a fruitful sort of problem – connecting with ideas I’d had for a long time about class and desperation and ethics – and eight years later a whole novel sprang from it.

Zadie Smith Thursday 1 August 2013 The Guardian (from here) 

Leave a Comment

Filed under story, the writing process

The risk of self-mythologizing

As an artist, Avedon told the truth about lies, and why we need them or metaphors to survive, and how people fit into their self-mythologizing like body bags, and die in them if they’re not careful. Look at his portrait of Marilyn Monroe in “Nothing Personal,” perhaps one of the most difficult pictures in the book. In an interview, Dick said Monroe had given a performance as Marilyn Monroe earlier in the shoot, laughing and giggling and dancing. But then the shoot was over, and where was she? Who was she?

Hilton Als, Richard Avedon and James Baldwin’s Joint Examination of American Identity, November 13 2017 The New Yorker

(from here) 


Leave a Comment

Filed under story