Memories are stories we revisit, fragments of the self, quick glances into a past life. They’re some of the greatest short stories.
From time to time, I write Medium articles. If you’re not familiar with Medium, it’s an open platform for readers and writers. Some of the biggest names across the geopolitical, literary, you name it world are on there.
A recent curated article was titled, and I paraphrase: I Hate Short Stories. The funny tag attached suggested a humorous story, and since I had consumed my reading for the month, I couldn’t read the piece. But it got me to thinking how much I love to read and write short stories.
Since I wrote the article for Medium, they have the copyrights. But I’ll offer the memories that inspired it (quotes), and the link for the article below.
As Neil Gaiman said: Short stories are tiny windows into other worlds and other minds and other dreams. They are journeys you can make to the far side of the universe and still be back in time for dinner.
I LOVE SHORT STORIES – TINY WINDOWS INTO OTHER WORLDS
A rich imagination sets the scene for Neil Gaiman’s quote above.
As a child, I lived in Bucharest, Romania. There were residential buildings scattered throughout the city called blocks, similar in color and design. They were called sister buildings, having been build around the same time, 1980s, and due to their similarity and proximity. We lived on the fourth floor of one such apartment building sandwiched between several others.
In the evenings, I’d spend time watching the world outside my window — a universe within a universe — and there was a lot to see. People rushing along, kids playing, commuters getting off busses and trudging home.
Then there were the wide open windows — people airing out the heat of the day. Welcoming the breeze. They didn’t seem to care the open windows invited onlookers inside their homes. They lived as if no one was watching.
Day after day, I could see families going through their routines. In the building across, a young family — mother, father, and young child — would start their dinner routine with remarkable punctuality. The father would always bring dishes to the table, so I pegged him as the cook. He gesticulated a lot in between moving dishes. A hand talker. The mother threw her head back quite often, laughing. Easily amused. Or her husband had a knack for humor. The young child would pop in and out — the top of his head barely visible. It would take forever to set up the table, but once they sat down, they attacked the food, consuming it in record time. A fun, no-nonsense family, living an organized life, at least around dinnertime.
In the lateral building, there was a young woman, in breezy summer dresses, always in pale colors, reading. Every now and then, she’d set her palm on the page and stare out the window. I imagined she had read something powerful and needed a few seconds. Or maybe she was watching someone also though open windows. She was two floors below and couldn’t see me. Same as the young family across.
Years later, I realized that someone from the floors above was probably watching me stand there, head swiveling between windows, pegging me as a nosy little brat.
The wide open windows were journeys I made into other people’s lives, not far from where I stood, yet a world away. They were short stories, complete, profound, filled with rich characters and enough detail to briefly let me into their lives. They were encapsulating narratives contained to those moments in time.
A novel is different, although many short stories are later expanded to novels. In a novel, the reader is invited to step across the threshold of a home and inside, rather than catching stolen glimpses through open windows. The entryway might look enticing, so the reader keeps going. Moving from room to room, the reader may be enchanted or disappointed, but she’s gone in and has more rooms to see. She must decide whether to continue or go home.
Short stories are about one feeling, one mood, from start to finish. More is implied, less involved. The reader rides one emotional rollercoaster from beginning to end. If the story is well written, it’s a worthy ride.
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photos credit Unsplash: Jan Jakub, Dawid Zawila