10 October 2008

And other stories...

A couple of responses to yesterday's Ama, from Jenna Cartwright and Ray Girvan, both of them picking up on the "elderly man who says nothing but plays chess with himself, left hand against right".

I wondered about his story; both Ray and Jenna echo my curiosity by wondering about stories of their own observations. Ray, for example:

"A while back, in the chip shop, there was an elderly, extremely well-spoken, man with extensive and clearly decades-old facial tattoos. Eccentric? Circus performer? Never seen him again. Nobody I've asked knows who he is."

And Jenna:

"A woman passes along my street at unpredictable intervals. She sings, softly, to herself. She is dressed in the "post austerity" manner of the post war years although can only be in her thirties or forties. She carries a shopping basket – not bag, basket. She looks happy. I have many times tried to summon the courage to talk to her, but so far my courage fails me."

In different ways, they make the point that such curiosity is both universal and, in most of us, impossible to satisfy.

Thinking about it, I wonder whether the lack of resolution, by allowing our imagination to construct and hypothesise, is part of the allure. To know the story is, at a stroke, to close down all others. We are a storytelling species; perhaps we don't really want to be constrained by definitive versions. To paraphrase a line from Zenna Henderson's Come on, wagon: every time we learn that something is true, we learn that a million other things are not.

  • Zenna Henderson, "Come on, wagon" in The Anything box. 1966, London: Victor Gollancz:.
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