Very Short Stories
(These short stories were originally posted on HitRecord in November, 2013)
Mark and Jane were out in the green fields by the old oak on a peaceful summer afternoon. They took turns at sitting on the swing that their father had made when they were born. Lively leaves were blowing softly in the breeze. They were contented and happy to be alive, but they were lucky enough to not be aware of that fact. Otherwise they would probably stop and doubt their contentment like their parents did all the time. They were sharing a moment of pure childhood together. The kind of childhood that only a select few had the privilege of enjoying, the kind of childhood that many people believed to be extinct. They were smiling together on that afternoon, in the summer of 1974, and there were many things they didn’t know about yet. That was probably why they were so happy, swinging back and forth on the green field. Poets wrote about scenes like this one, they had written thousands of them already, but Mark and Jane didn’t know that, either. The moment was new and wonderful to them.
“I like swinging,” Mark said, “Don’t you?” Jane nodded, innocent and unaware of all the bad things in the world. The Cold War was an unfamiliar term to them both. They didn’t even know what a warm war was yet. “I like looking at the tree. It’s pretty.” Mark looked up at the leaves as he was swinging back and forth. “Yeah, I guess. It feels like a friend, I think.” Jane smiled at the thought. “Yeah, it kind of does. It’s nice when trees feel like friends, don’t you think?” Mark nodded. “Yeah, it does, actually. Some trees feel scary. Especially at Halloween. I don’t like those.” Jane shook her head. “When their branches look like thin arms coming to get you. This tree isn’t like that.” Mark shook his head. “No, it’s not. This tree is our friend.” They smiled, admiring the friendly tree. “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Mark hadn’t thought of that before. “I don’t know. A good person, I guess?” Jane laughed, “No, you dummy, what kind of job do you want when you grow up? I think I want to be a lawyer.” Mark smiled, a little confused, “Oh, right. I think I want to be something fun. Like a comedian.” Jane laughed again, “A comedian? But you’re not funny!” Mark said “I am so! I just made you laugh, didn’t I?” Jane shook her head. “Yeah, but only becase you’re funny, not because you’re, know you, funny. Do you even know any jokes?” Mark started swinging a little faster. “I’m still working on that.” The wind was blowing when they didn’t have anything to say. After a while, Jane asked “Can I swing now?” Mark slowed down. “Sure.” They switched places, and Mark sat down by the tree as Jane got on the swing. “I’m having a good time,” he said. Jane smiled again. She smiled a lot of the time. “Yeah, so am I.” Mark was looking down at the ground and drew a little man with a stick. “Do you think we’ll always have a good time?” Jane hadn’t thought about that before. “I don’t know. I hope so.” The little man was on the brink of having a sad face. “Nevermind,” Mark said. It was the most adult word he knew at the time.
It was a state he was in. Matthew was in that state, he knew it. It troubled him, whenever that happened, falling into states like that. Most states he fell into went unnoticed, and then they affected him just like they affected everyone else. But when he was aware of them, these states, they took on a different nature altogether. He was aware of them, and he felt controlled, enslaved almost, to the feelings that he went through when they were at play. He would think “I am not my own self.” He would drink some coffee and think about it. “I am being like this because of this strange state. This sad, sorry state. I wish this state would pass. I hope it isn’t permanent. That would be unfortunate.”
Matthew thought about strange things in his sad states. Images, mostly gloomy ones. Images that would drive a person unaware of his sad state to despair. It was a good thing he was aware of his state in that sense, he guessed. There was a funeral. Not anyone’s funeral in particular, just a funeral for anyone who would eventually pass away, which was everyone, really. He thought about what the priest would say, especially since the majority of the people in the king-sized coffin didn’t believe in the things he said. If they could talk from within the giant coffin, the atheists, they would probably say his words were bullshit. “Don’t preach your shit at my funeral,” one would say. “Don’t listen to that guy,” another would say, crammed between all the other corpses, “I find his preachings quite hopeful, all things considered.” But then all the other people in the coffin started shouting, and all Matthew could hear from the coffin was the sound of barfights and stock exchanges taking place at the same time. Then another image appeared, similar in nature, and he would think about that image until he’d finished his coffee and thought about something else.
Robert was driving along on the highway in his truck. He was an asshole. A homeless man was lying on the ground at the next station. He asked him for some change, he told Robert that he had the chance to save a life. Robert asked him what he would get out of that deal. The homeless man didn’t know what to say, despite the fact that he majored in English 20 years earlier. Robert looked down at him, and when the homeless man was about to stand up, he told him to stay, like a dog. Then he went inside and told the guy at the counter to call the police and get that filthy hobo out of there. The guy at the counter had been told that the customer was always right, so he did, and the police came and drove the homeless man away for a while until they got bored and threw him in a ditch. They thought that was fair, and so did Robert. When he drove on, he felt satisfied with himself and smiled the smuggest smile that ever was. Many years later, due to Robert’s idiotic decision to believe in hell, he had a stroke and got fried and roasted alongside Hitler and Caligula until the end of eternity. He regretted his beliefs the second he got there, but some demon with a pitchfork told him it was too late, and did to Robert what he’d done to Adolf and his friends for quite a while at that point. Robert cried like he was an innocent victim of religion as he was dragged away to the pits. What a prick.
Joe was a regular guy. Average Joe, that’s what people called him, and he didn’t seem to mind. Sometimes he got up and felt weird for not doing anything extraordinary, though, and his friends would look at him and tell him to relax and have another cup of coffee. Then they would all get back to work, but sometimes Joe’s thoughts of grandeur lingered, and he would seem kind of fazed until he got off work. Then the feeling would come back again, when he was at home, watching television. It made him feel restless, and he didn’t know what to do about it. He usually didn’t do anything because of that. This happened a few hundred times during his life without any developments, and eventually he was a dad, then a granddad, and then a dead granddad, just like everyone else. It had been an okay ride, but mostly like one of the minor rides at Disneyland. The kind of casual rollercoaster you hop on between the real big ones, the ones with all the loops and twisting rails of excitement and non-stop thrills. Joe had lived his life looking at those rides from the comfort of his casual one, and that wasn’t all that bad, maybe. Maybe it was a great tragedy. I guess that’s up for interpretation.
Arthur finished his philosophy studies at Colombia University in 1955. He had thought a lot throughout his life, and now he had a degree to show for it. He was on the train, looking out the window at the sunny afternoon, wearing his tweed suit and crimson butterfly, feeling like he had accomplished a great thing. He was going to sit in the park and reminisce for the first time since his great achievement. It was his own little reward to himself, to sit in the park and think, finally officially qualified to do so. No one could say he was wasting his time anymore, he had studied to sit there and think, and when he got out of the train and sat on the bench facing the little pond with the little ducks drifting around the surface of the water, he started pondering with about the nature of wasting time, what it meant and what the term was for, wasting time.
He wondered if thinking about wasting time was a waste of time in itself, and that felt good to him, because to him, it felt like both, and that seemed like an answer to the question and an intellectual dead-end at the same time, and that eternal ambiguiety of life was a surprisingly comforting thing to Arthur, an outlook he had learned to appreciate during his studies. He saw a young, pretty girl walking on the other side of the pond with a little book in her hand. He fell in love with her instantly, as he often did with girls he didn’t know, and after a while of wondering what her name was, where she was from and what she aspired to do in life, Arthur wondered what she looked like without her clothes on, but then he stopped his fantasising, thinking to himself that he was supposed to be above such primal thought, and then he went back to thinking about wasting time, and then time itself, and then eternity, and then life and death, and the the void before birth and after death, and so on, and eventually he got to experience it himself after many other things had happened, content to have been alive for such a very little while, all things considered. Considering how much there was to consider, one might argue that was a good thing.