When wading through fits of literature, I think it beneficial to remind ourselves of why we are where we are and how we got where we “got.” I’m sure each of us have reasons for a great many thing, but I’m also sure that we can at least agree on our reading as a vessel to carry us places we have yet to experience, or of places we crave to be reminded of.
Short stories are a treasure. To gain any level of recognition, they need to meet a criteria that not many are able to achieve. Among others, a short story needs to be succinct and it needs to have impact. It’s the impact that leads us to our next short story and it’s the impact that inspires me to write this post.
A “shorter” story than a short story is something very special indeed. What I’m referring to here is a story of merely a few words. A sentence or two or three at the most. These types of stories are of the shortest ever told and are on par with many of our favorite quotes or sayings that we spread so often.
Let’s take a look at one of my most admired and discuss what makes it special:
“A woman is sitting in her old, shuttered house. She knows that she is alone in the whole world; every other thing is dead. The doorbell rings.”
This short story is credited to Thomas Bailey Aldrich and is certain to give more than a few a chills down more than a few spines. How can this be? It’s not more than three sentences. Impossible you say.
I suppose the common question would be this: Who rang the bell? If you merely read what’s written, you may be tempted to leave it at that. But if you tunnel just a bit deeper and forget about the “who” and consider the “how,” you may begin to enjoy yourself.
We’ve all most surely rang a doorbell. We recognize its feeling on the fingertip. It’s at times stubborn. It’s oftentimes loaded by a spring at its rear and it most positively can’t ring itself. It takes effort and desire and it’s not something the “wind” can do alone.
How did the doorbell ring?
Let’s add the question of “why” into our conversation. Since it’s the doorbell that intrigues us the most, it’s a worthy focus of consideration. That’s why I suggest asking questions about it. It’s simplistic to envision a person standing on the other side of the woman’s door, ringing her doorbell. “If she is all alone in an otherwise dead world, how is there someone alive to ring the bell?” By asking yourself the preceding question, you may be losing sight of what’s given you the chill down your spine in the first place.
It wasn’t the fact that someone else may have survived human collapse. It wasn’t the fact that the woman was all alone or that her home was shuttered. It wasn’t even that “every other thing was dead.” The chill came from a scenario that was presented to us, which quickly became impossible. A scenario that puzzled us and that too easily duped us into asking an obvious question and then, hopefully, led us into a complex provocation.
Why did her doorbell ring?
There are quite a few similar short, short stories such as the one I shared above. I’m not sure any of them can be categorized the “Shortest Story Ever” because new stories of varying lengths are constantly being devised, but they certainly are interesting and many of them warrant further thought.
Ernest Hemingway: Baby Shoes
For sale. Baby shoes. Never worn.
Lydia Davis: Spring Spleen
I am happy the leaves are growing large so quickly. Soon they will hide the neighbour and her screaming child.
Now, once we recognize that stories such as these are simple to create, we may be inclined to blurt out similarities. We must be cautious though – we must remember to always seek the “chill” I described above. If we can accomplish this, we are rewarded and desire to continue on.
Do you have examples of shorter than short stories? If so, please share in the comment section below.