I’m working my way through sections of The Likeness. That’s now the title of the 100,000 word story I finished recently and it needs more work – not least trying to make it a bit shorter. And that made me think again of flash fiction. I’ve posted examples of my own efforts here before but this time I want to share one written by a friend, Anneke Klein. She and I have exchanged lots of emails about various aspects of writing and her stories convey a style, an approach, a particular type of perception – I don’t know what to call it – which produces sometimes strange, sometimes haunting little stories. On the surface, they seem relatively simple but they always leave me feeling that there are depths she’s suggested which aren’t accessible to me. I don’t think it’s just that she writes them in her native Dutch then translates them, because her English is perfect. She’s very careful with her choice of words and seeks nuances which lurk in the corners of her narratives. It’s a gift I envy.
When I wrote that her stories had this strange, haunting effect, she asked what I meant by it so I stopped being vague and actually looked at Shreds, which I’ve posted below, to try to be more precise about what I meant. In the end, by making myself do that, I was able to pinpoint a few things that sort of ‘explain’ how it works. But, rather than have me spoil it for you, judge for yourselves. I’d be interested to read your analyses of it – or even whether you liked it or not. Copyright belongs, of course, to Anneke Klein.
The mouse searches under the Ikea couch, on the draining board, behind the bread-bin. Nothing much to eat since the woman’s been living here. She doesn’t eat much, never wastes anything and cleans up leftovers right away. When Mister T lived here it was certainly different. Mister T didn’t care about order and tidiness, he cared about his books and was always reading. Often the mouse sat behind him, on the edge of his armchair and read with him. Anna Karenina they’d both found beautiful and The Brothers Karamazov. And when Mister T fell asleep in the chair, the mouse ate the breadcrumbs out of his beard.
One day Mister T didn’t read any more. After a few weeks men came. They put Mister T in a bag and removed all the books.
Then she came. She doesn’t have books, she reads a screen which she strokes with her finger.
But today she reads from paper, a large sheet full of sentences written with a blue pen. It comes out of an envelope with her name and address on it. Her eyes skim over the words and fill with tears. She rips the sheet to pieces, runs to the bedroom and slams the door.
The mouse sniffs the shreds. They’re not quite comprehensible, the sentences are broken. He reads: ‘not anymore’, ‘I have’ and ‘somebody’. He can’t make much out of it. Disappointed, he sits next to the shreds and feels sadder than ever.
In the bedroom it’s quiet. The mouse shoves the shreds about a bit. When two of them lie next to each other he reads: ‘beautiful times with regret’. He shoves another shred below them: ‘don’t want’. Then another one: ‘with her’. It looks like a poem this way, he thinks. It isn’t Tolstoy or Dostoyevsky, but still nice. He nibbles ‘beautiful time’ until it’s all gone and also ‘prefer to’, ‘met’ and ‘regret’. With a full stomach he feels much better, He carries what’s left of the shreds one by one to his hole and builds a nest from them. And, not because he’s still hungry but for no reason, he eats a small bit of ‘sorry’. Then he falls into a deep sleep.