Without the cancer drug Herceptin, this is how short the story of a life might beby Ali Smith / December 17, 2005 / Leave a comment
There were two men in the café at the table next to mine. One was younger, one was older. They could have been father and son, but there was none of that practised diffidence, none of the cloudy anger that there almost always is between fathers and sons. Maybe they were the result of a divorce, the father keen to be a father now that his son was properly into his adulthood, the son keen to be a man in front of his father now that his father was opposite him for at least the length of time of a cup of coffee. No. More likely the older man was the kind of family friend who provides a fathership on summer weekends for the small boy of a divorce-family; a man who knows his responsibility, and now look, the boy had grown up, the man was an older man, and there was this unsaid understanding between them.
I stopped making them up. It felt a bit wrong to. Instead, I listened to what they were saying. They were talking about literature, which happens to be interesting to me, though it wouldn’t interest a lot of people. The younger man was talking about the difference between the novel and the short story.
The novel, he was saying, was a flabby old whore.
A flabby old whore! the older man said looking delighted.
She was serviceable, roomy, warm and familiar, the younger was saying, but really a bit used up, really a bit too slack and loose.
Slack and loose! the older said laughing.
Whereas the short story, by comparison, was a nimble goddess, a slim nymph. Because so few people had mastered the short story she was still in very good shape.
Very good shape! The older man was smiling from ear to ear at this. He was presumably old enough to remember years in his life, and not so long ago, when it would have been at least a bit dodgy to talk like this. I idly wondered how many of the books in my house were fuckable and how good they’d be in bed. Then I sighed, and got my mobile out and phoned my friend, with whom I usually go to this café on Friday mornings.
She knows a lot about the short story. She’s spent much of her life reading them, writing about them, teaching them,…