Seven Stories from Once and Upon: Sixty Tiny Tales
Once and Upon
Time was their only son.
City and Country
My father always used to say, "There's the city and the country," and you knew right away just what he meant. He did not mean to say there are substantial differences. Any fool knows that! He did not intend to imply that the city had a myriad of pleasures of which country folk had no knowledge or if they did had no hope of partaking of. He did not even mean that it's beautiful and quiet in the country, so still you can hear the stars in the sky.
My wife and I went to the beach where we witnessed a man lying in the sand, not as others, sprawled upon it frying in the sun, but with head and hands appearing only, he preached to us of our sins. A little crowd gathered round him, some to jeer, a few to applaud, a couple to kick sand in his face which had gotten very red in the heat and the excitement of what he said. "Come out of there!" the lifeguard called over.
Right in the middle of forgetting I forgot, remembering at last what was about to be lost. Yet it had apparently passed, since I could not now recall why I had wanted to forget or why in the midst of forgetting I could suddenly recall all. Eventually I knew I would forget, and having forgotten would attempt to recall what I had this time not. Fearing that, I attempted to memorize the past, and repeating it over and over, in retrospect, I began to realize that I had already forgotten a lot, the colors of clothes and rooms, the smells of—was it summer? the seasons, the sounds of certain voices, and the sources of the voices themselves. Now I knew everything only in outline, and the more I retraced the outline the more I comprehended how its contents had been condensed, until I saw what was within as only a spot, a dot that stood for all that it was and could then have been. Until it appeared that nothing really had occurred, although it might have if only I had drawn in a deeper breath or studied the ceiling, a dress, or listened for what must or should have been said. And so it seemed now that nothing really had been spoken—although there were certain sentences that I seemed to remember such as: Are you certain? And as certain in such a circumstance as such an uncertain person as me can be—or accomplished by my committing it to memory, or even remembered and finally forgot.
Some days, nothing goes right. I get up and it's raining. Well, okay, I'm not made of clay and I have an umbrella. But then, when I lean down to pick up the soap in the shower, I hit my head. Nothing serious, but it hurts. Is that blood? I must have cut myself shaving. It's just a little nick. Now I've lost the hot water again. If I stop to tell the landlady in the office, I'll be late for work. I'm late nonetheless. The boss had been looking for me to discuss the new account for which I haven't finished the papers. The meeting with their representative, I discover, has been changed from next week to this very afternoon. On the way to his office I twist my ankle—not enough to incapacitate, but leaving me still with a dull, stabbing ache. Is that a sore throat I feel coming on? Well, orange juice will take care of that! At the café, alas, they've just run out.
Pretty Is as Pretty Does
Someone had put up Christmas lights in the middle of July.
Rocks and Clocks
There is always another way to tell the same story. For example, I have a friend who collects rocks. She has thousands of rocks, not only on tables, shelves, and mantels where people might normally display them, and on every window ledge, but in beds and chairs, in closets and shoes, and in the icebox. Naturally, people think this is strange and so they keep their distance. Which is really too bad, because my friend in every other way is very normal, kind, and generous to a fault. If you were sick and couldn't get to the physician's, she'd run you over in a second. She'd clean your house, if you let her. She'd bake a cake—although she'd always burn it—and take you over a hot plate.
Copyright ©2009 by Douglas Messerli
Douglas Messerli is the author of several books of poetry, most recently, First Words and Dark, which will appear in 2009. He is also working on his annual cultural memoirs, My Year, of which the 2004, 2005, and 2006 volumes have appeared. He edits Green Integer and Exploringfictions.