Short Story by Ben Loory (The Jakarta Post, April 30, 2018)
Once there was a man who wanted to write, but he didn’t know how to do it. You just figure out the story and sit down and write it, everyone said. It’s easy! So the man sat down and tried and tried, but for some reason it didn’t seem to work. What’s the story? he said. How do you know? How do you know what it is?
Then one day the man saw on the news that a famous writer was in town. He was giving a reading at the local bookstore.
I’ll go ask him! said the man.
At the reading that night, the man sat and listened politely while the famous writer read. And afterward, he raised his hand.
I would like to be a writer, he said. But for some reason, I just can’t do it. I’m having trouble with the story part. I don’t understand how you know what it is. How do you know what to write?
The famous writer sat there and looked at him.
Well, he said, it’s easy. You start at the beginning, and let it unfold. When you get to the end, you walk away.
Okay, said the man, and went home to his desk. He sat there and stared at the page. But what’s the beginning? he said in frustration. None of this makes any sense!
That night, the man drove to the next town, where the famous writer was doing another reading.
But how do you know what the beginning is? he yelled, when the writer had finally closed his book.
The writer sat there and looked at him.
Look, he said. You listen. You sit very still, and listen to your heart. When your heart speaks, you start taking dictation.
So the man went home and grabbed some paper. He sharpened his pencil and sat down at his desk. He closed his eyes and took a breath, and listened to the inside of himself.
He stayed like that for a long, long time, but nothing at all ever happened. He waited and waited for his heart to speak.
This is stupid, he finally said. I’m going walking.
So the man stood up and walked out the door. He walked down the path to the road. And then he turned and just kept walking. He never once looked back.
He walked and walked across the town, and then across the state. And then he just wandered aimlessly.
Sometimes he hitched a ride on a cargo vessel.
He lived that way for many, many years. He went everywhere, met people, did things. He was always busy; he had no time to stop and think. It never even dawned on him to sleep.
But then one night the man was in a bar, and he saw the famous writer in the back. The writer was laughing and drinking with friends.
The man stayed there and watched them all night.
And when the writer left, the man followed him discreetly — from a distance, like a detective on TV. And when the writer turned in to his fancy hotel, the man watched for a light to go on from the street.
Late that night, the man broke into the writer’s room, and stood over his bed in the dark. He looked at the writer lying there before him.
Then he knelt and pressed an ear to his heart.
He listened and listened to the writer’s heart all night, and then, in the morning, he rose.
You lie, he whispered.
And the writer smiled.
And that, he said, is exactly how it goes. ***
If you like this story, you’ll love what Ben Loory has to say about the process of writing odd fables and fantasy stories. Meet him this weekend! Hear him speak and join his creative workshop before seats run out. Find out more at writerseries.org
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