November 12, 2007

Three definitions of what stories and/or narratives are


“Southern writers must have learned the art of storytelling from listening to oral tales. I did. It gave me the knowledge that the simplest incident can make a story."


“A novel is a daily labor over a period of years. But a story can be like a mad, lovely visitor, with whom you spend a rather exciting weekend.”


“Once you're into a story everything seems to apply—what you overhear on a city bus is exactly what your character would say on the page you're writing. Wherever you go, you meet part of your story .”

Short extract based on a conversation overheard and the conventions of Catch 22.

                                                                      Around the water cooler

It was already too late.

          Baxter rounded the corner of the staff room and saw Andrews looking at him, expectant, motioning with his eyes.

           Baxter knew the routine; there was no way of avoiding it. He took up his designated place next to Andrews who straightened up as Baxter sat.

             “He wasn’t wearing his poncho today,” said Baxter.

“No. I find he doesn’t make much sense,” Andrews responded.

“No, no sense at all,” Baxter quickly agreed.

The silence was tangible until Andrews responded with “Not at all.”

           It had been like this for some time now. They would sit and talk about the man in the poncho. He gave the weekly briefings about health and safety but everyone just sat in wonderment at the sartorial nightmare that was the blue poncho. The absence of said item meant they had actually had to listen for once. Baxter didn’t like it.

“I rather missed it to be honest,” Baxter confessed.

“Me too,” Andrews said.

“Apparently we can go home early if we feel stressed, that’s what the man without the poncho said,” said Baxter.

“But if we have time to ask to go home early then we aren’t that stressed so we can’t go home.” replied Andrew.

“You’re right. Bloody company policy,” concluded Baxter. Andrews merely shook his head.

They weren’t strictly allowed to be sitting by the water cooler. Health and Safety stated that they could get a drink if they were extremely thirsty and it was becoming detrimental to their work. However, if they were sitting in the staff room they weren’t doing work and so were not entitled to a drink. Andrews found this repugnant and took an empty bottle to work every day to fill illegally with water. The Health and Safety man knew he was doing this but could not stop him because if he was in the staff room he was not working and so had no authority to say who could and could not use the water cooler. Andrews saw this as a victory against the man without the poncho. No one else cared.

“I just can’t be assed to fill a bottle every day. I get a drink when I’m thirsty.” said Baxter, spotting Andrews’ banned receptacle.

“But what if everyone thought like you,” replied Andrews. “They’d see that people weren’t using the water cooler and take it away, and then everyone would be thirsty.”

“I wouldn’t care, I’d just bring a bottle from home,” surmised Baxter.

“But that’s what I’m doing now!” Andrews replied exasperatedly.

“As long as it makes you happy,” Baxter said.

“It’s not making my happy! I’m doing it for the greater good!” Andrews said in a voice that was verging on shouting.

“But what is the greater good?” Baxter asked.

Andrews’ face flushed as he enunciated clearly to Baxter, “To benefit the workforce as a whole not just to benefit one person. To stop the company taking every last shred from us.”

Baxter turned with his polystyrene cup full of water. “It’s not to my greater good because I’d just bring a bottle from home.”

Andrews turned abruptly away from Baxter and his offensive cup. It was not normally like this, they normally made polite conversation. If only The Man without a Poncho had worn his poncho.

Baxter soon sensed Andrews’ irritation and decided to change the subject, “Smith seems to be really on top. Apparently he’s devised a way to get an extra working hour in the day, did you understand…”

“I didn’t understand at all. Smith’s a wanker,” muttered Andrews.

Baxter pondered for some time, biting his polystyrene cup as he thought. “Really making an impact though, with the people who matter.”

“Who are these people that matter?” Andrews asked.

“Not us,” Baxter said.

Andrews looked somewhat resentfully towards the water cooler, in a way that suggested he wouldn’t mind being someone that mattered. “Did you hear what he said about stopping people walking to the water cooler? He’s getting five minutes of his miraculous hour from that. It’s a scandal.”

“What a wanker,” was all Baxter had to say about the matter.

“When you display as much arrogance as Smith you don’t deserve to be taken seriously,” Andrews stated passionately, obviously not keen to let the subject drop.

“I hate the way he skulks around the staff room pinching minutes from us. He’s only doing it because level four created an extra half an hour in the day. He just wants to go one better,” Baxter said.

Andrews smiled at Baxter, pleased that he had dropped the silly talk about the water bottle. “Totally, they give him the title of Director of Initiative and he swans around like he can control time, he’ll be messing with the timetables next, eating away at our breaks minute by minute.”

Baxter felt Andrews was getting rather carried away and slowly sipped his cup of water listening to Andrews’ rant. “Scandal,” “greater good,” “water cooler,” “greater good,” “water.” In the end Baxter decided that Smith was just a wanker and that he would drink water from the cooler whenever he wanted and that no person who mattered could take that away from him. He articulated this to Andrews with a measured sip from his cup. Andrews seemed to get the message and stopped talking about water coolers.

“Shit, its quarter to. We’d better get back to it,” Baxter said, fully waking Andrews from his rant. They sidled back through the heavy fire door into the office.

The next day the water cooler was gone.

March 2023

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