As I work on what might be the longest story I've ever done--the updated "Big Bob and Little Bob"--I wrote the shortest story I've ever done. "Of course that's how you would do it," I think to myself. "It makes sense with you."
I think the story is a marvel. I won't say a small marvel, because what is small in my work? What is ever small in stature? What is ever small in significance?
The story is a constant surprise. Elements of truth are presented to the reader, and the reader takes their meaning, only to learn that there was more to that meaning. There's this part early on in Meatheads when he's at the symphony with a date at Christmastime. They don't know each other well. He's doing his thing, and the woman is regretting going out with this guy, let alone going to the symphony with him of all places. They're having this conversation--which is to say, he mostly is--and it's only later that you realize there's a kid between them the entire time, because their seats aren't together. It's not their kid. The reader has experienced a truth--they haven't been deceived. They drew certain conclusions on their own. Viable, fair conclusions.
But now there's a second level of truth in the presentation, which also causes the reader to mentally re-read what they actually just read, because those words are different--they play differently--when one realizes they've been said with a child between these two people. Then the child--who is sort of this upper crust, "dorky" kid who loves the arts and is this kind of cosmopolitan little fellow (almost like a little Frasier or Niles)--gets involved in the discussion. There's a lot of movement transpiring, though it's not a physical movement (though there is some of that at the end, and a spatial and visual form of movement--the eye-level gets changed repeatedly during this sequence--when Chad interacts with the people below where he is in the balcony). There wasn't a need to include the child--to say, "by the way, there'a s child sitting between them," because then you're just saying something and you're taking away from the work. Rendered as it's rendered, we learn more about this guy. It says more about him.
That's the point. There's no authorial betrayal of trust, no manipulation--rather, something systematic, but with wit. It's a book, a narrative saying that it will be systematic, it will go as it goes, at its pace, and all will be in there, but it's going to happen, rather than be stated. So put your preconceptions and expectations to the side; it's a book that garners and requires the trust of a reader.
The best books work with you and you work with them. You're in it together. It's also a reminder, or a major point being made: You don't always know what you think you know. You probably don't. And that's a big theme of that particular book, which sets up certain expectations by bringing the expectations of the reader to the fore. We think this is a kind of guy. We think we are a kind of person. We think there is a great distance between us and this guy. Those are our expectations. But they don't hold up. That theme also functions at the level of the sentence; it's micro and macro.
This shortest story of mine--by which I simply mean word count--is 130 words long. It's called "Will You Show Me?" This is the second paragraph:
The sun barely hung on at the horizon’s edge. Another moment and it would disappear into tomorrow. Until now he hadn’t been aware just how late it’d gotten in autumn.
Very affecting and efficient. People have described the sun going down for thousands of years, but no one's put it quite like that. The idea of the sun disappearing into tomorrow, as if it is exists and lives with a liminal state, which is also a full state, only we don't see it, where it plays offstage--or we do--until once again aligning on the same astral plane, gives the sun further agency and purpose; an identity that exists in multiple worlds, whereas we are limited to the one. We share our days with the sun; but only a portion, and that is all we share. The sun is off living somewhere in the future. Doing integral sun things. It's a personification, but it remains within the realm of nature and the natural. The sun lets loose a grip and goes over the horizon's edge--an edge of time--as we do as well. Not in the same way. The sun will stay at it much longer, repeating the process far more often.
These are sensations a reader will have. They are the sensations this character in the story is having. That he is having them--on whatever level he's having them; conscious, subconscious, but most likely a mix, with more from the latter than the former, but enough of that former so that specific thoughts are articulated in his mind--makes it all the more likely that he does have that realization that it's later on the calendar than he had realized. Both the actual calendar and in the larger sense of life. In finding someone, perhaps. Of not being alone, which he may very well be precisely because he's the person who behaves as he does in part in this story. And that can be in a wise way, and also a melodramatic and even narcissistic way, a trumped up way which is a false way, though in the way one believes false things are true things at times and stages of life. Depends on where the person is at. Their make up. Their age. It doesn't have to. But it can and often does.
But this is the first sentence of the story:
"Will you show me your tits one last time?" he importuned.
Presented with what we've been presented, we, as readers, make certain conclusions. We speak of human nature; there is also the nature of a reader. The best writers understand that nature and the tendencies of the reader.
That last word, "importuned," is a tip-off. We read the line of dialogue, and we're reading a kind of work, or so we think. But when we get to the "importuned," we have a second kind of work that also causes us to view what we've read differently. We may have misjudged--been too quick to assume--what it was we're reading. We read forwards and backwards at once. We now know that the work is not going to be some shock value exercise, when it utilizes such a word. That word is neither used naturally nor unnaturally; it's an indicator that there's going to be more here than someone trying to shock you or be crass or whatever. Nor is it some piss-poor MFA writer--who would never have started with anything so "shocking" and uncouth--taking up the thesaurus to try and look smart because they're so desperate to be perceived that way on account of their insecurity. It's a word in place for a reason. It has high functionality.
This is a story that I could see smart, arty, open high school kids loving and thinking was wild and weird. Which isn't to say that's the target demographic; but that kind of person. The person who is still open to the world and gets blown away by Joy Division and a work of fiction that makes them think, "What the hell did I just read?" in a good way. One laughs at the end, and then honestly wonders whether one is supposed to.
Publishing people, meanwhile, would never get it, but they're also the last people on earth to understand what a reader would actually care about and be moved by. Therein is much of the reason why no one reads and no one learns to write anything worth reading: the people in charge of putting out books are the people least qualified to do so.
I worked on the story for several days and now it is finished. It could be a part of Longer on the Inside: Very Short Fictions of Infinitely Human Lives, but I don't know just yet.