Short Stories - A Story
This week I’ve been reading Voltaire. So grand it sounds, to be reading his work. And not
only Voltaire, but Balzac and Zola, Torkington and Twain. That’s what a collection of short stories offers. One
story every lunchtime.
I don’t usually read short stories, nor work by these writers, but that’s the serendipity
of life on a boat. Now they are my lunchtime companions, one at a time.
This particular collection deserves an essay of its own. Having been conceived in the mind
of a publishing executive somewhere, in London or the Home Counties, it’s now on my boat in southern Sicily, and
when I examine the volume I toy with the idea that it must have had an interesting life.
One might surmise an engaging history – a series of tales - if one looked at the face of a
handsome middle aged woman with lines radiating from the corners of her eyes and lips, lines recording her
undoubted catalogue of lovers and admirers. So with the book. Two inches or so in thickness, a paperback production
with a well-exercised spine and, probably, a shorter life expectancy than its hardback sibling might anticipate.
The beauty is not immediately obvious, as the cover design is not engaging.
Enjoying the beauty requires a long affair comprising a series of snatched lunchtime
trysts, building admiration and memories, until it ends suddenly. The recollections, however, will be pleasurable
and will not contain recrimination or pain as might have an affair with a woman of beauty who sees her next lover
appearing round the next corner of her life and leaves her man of the moment for pleasures anew.
Conceived in London under the guidance of an undisclosed editor, with an introduction by
Geraldine ________, this copy was born on Guernsey in 1996. The Guernsey Press acted as midwife and despatched the
copy off to its first temporary home, before it met its first parents. I didn’t meet the anthology on that island
jewel of the English Channel, even though I lived there for a short while some years ago.
In fact I don’t know where I acquired it, but certainly it was this year, and as far as I
can deduce it was in Greece – perhaps Paxos or Cephalonia, maybe even Ithaca or Levkas.
Now I think about it, not far from the bones (would there be any remaining) of Lord Byron?
Or it might have been here in Sicily - it was certainly an island and somewhere where we engaged in a book-swap;
that intermittent activity that cruising folk enjoy. That activity is now in rapid decline, with space on boats at
a premium and the advent of the e-reader well under way, but that’s another essay.
The meeting was not immediate. The compendium stole aboard secretly, hidden amongst a set
of other books – fiction mostly, with its own set of surprises and new-to-discover (for me) authors such as David
Baldacci. It lay undisturbed, secreted in that collection of regular fiction. The first meeting finally
took place last week, when I had finished working my way through the novels. Hmm. Not my thing, short stories.
Nevertheless I was committed.
That first brief lunchtime kiss engaged me – I think it was accompanied by salami
Milanese. That was not a good choice - garlic for a first date? The trysts are – usually - restricted to the lunch
hour, but the affair continues unabated. A week already! Have we known each other that long? It cannot be! And, as
one does in any affair, in any interlude of love, one develops knowledge of the subject of one’s affections and
examines more closely the crows feet and laughter lines, knowledge built up from a series of open examinations made
in brief snatches across the lunch table.
I know it will end. The kisses may become uninteresting, I may lose that frisson that one
experiences before the next meeting. End it will, but still I am drawn to my lunchtime thrill, each one bringing
something different. Such variety! Occasionally, we meet over dinner, but only occasionally, as by the evening I am
usually too tired to give mon amour the attention deserving of such an exquisite treasure.
Don't Get Excited!
Hey - it’s only a book! Don’t get carried away, the feelings will pass. Fine, I
acknowledge that. A book it is, set, unfortunately, in what is at most, nine point type - as with all affairs, one
has to work at it. But what a book! A distillation of so much experience, so many eyes, thoughts, cultures and
historical settings, it is there with me, during lunch. Such a flexible spine!
So, how did it arrive at my table on a boat in Sicily? I have described the migration from acquisition to
acquaintanceship and deeper affection, but what about the laughter lines? They tell the tale of travel, perhaps.
Inside the front cover, written hastily in pencil, I see “$5”, so I can assume that it has in all probability
travelled on an American boat for some of its life, or at least lived on one. Some literary stowaways have tattoos
- ink or embossed stamps - showing that they have been on the 'SV Marie Celeste' or other sailing vessel, but not
Despite being only fifteen years old the cheap paper has acquired a weathered colouring.
Weathered but not faded, strengthened towards a sepia tone, with freckling; and there are water stains too –
probably from having resided temporarily under a dripping hatch, or leaking deck. Which waves, which seas brought
the book here? The tired spine tells me that others too have enjoyed this volume, or parts of it anyway, and that
it has been manipulated by their hands. How long were their encounters? Were those encounters at an anchorage, or
whilst on passage at sea? Perhaps both, and probably there were some enjoyed with a glass of wine as the sun set,
as is the wont of we cruising folk. Or perhaps some encounters were like mine, at the lunch table.
Of course, the volume may have experienced an occasional air flight too. That I cannot
know, only guess at – just as I can only guess at the number of harbours and anchorages the book might have
visited, and wonder. Romantically, I prefer to think that it arrived at the table via the Straits of Gibraltar, and
not via Luton Airport.
These days, ‘books’ – hardly the word - are travelling through cable, fibre optics and via
radio signals, to terminate on an e-reader. I’m not sure I would enjoy the company of an e-reader every day at
lunch. In fact, I’m not even sure that the words – even of this anthology of short stories – would have the same
magic at my lunch table when viewed through an LCD screen.