You wait for a bus and then four come along at once. You have a day where all you see is pregnant women. You spend a week where a song you love that you haven’t heard for ages comes on the radio at home, in a passing car, in a shop, in a restaurant.I love it when things like this happen. It wakes us up a little bit and makes us take notice of what’s going on around us. It stirs us to talk about the oddities of life and its random daily occurrences. We can celebrate them.
Something similar recently happened to me. It jolted me back into something I haven’t done in a long time. The short story. Let me explain.Once a week, I work voluntarily in a bookshop in Kew, west London. It’s one of those fabulous little places which you can get lost in and now I spend an afternoon each week sitting in the sun in the window, randomly reading tomes off the shelves, drinking tea, planning classes and writing. A couple of weeks ago I came across a first edition of Ted Hughes’s short story collection Difficulties of a Bridegroom. I didn’t know that Hughes had written short stories, so I sat down and read one of them. It was brilliant. Chris, the bookshop owner, then gave me the book and on the bus home I read another one of the collection’s stories.
Last week, Chris was sorting out some books in the shop and passed me The Snow Goose by Paul Gallico. It’s a skinny, pale blue hardback book with a picture of a goose flying imprinted in silver on the front. “Read this,” he said.By the end of its short 31 pages, I was almost in tears.
She came running to the sea wall and turned her eyes, not toward the distant Channel whence a sail might come, but to the sky from whose flaming arches plummeted the snow goose. Then the sight, the sound and the solitude surrounding broke the dam within her and released the surging, overwhelming truth of her love, let it well forth in tears.
It is a descriptive and emotional story of love, art, nature and the power of kindness. First published in 1941, it is truly a story for those wretched years; what it means to be a man, to lose a love, to do your bit, to see beauty where others see ugliness. It is a testament to man’s relationship with nature, to man’s relationship with himself and to the sacrifice some will make in order to make the world a better place.
The snow goose in the story is the unexpected visitor, the messenger, the bridge between worlds. It is the symbol of freedom, of choice and of loyalty. It shares the protagonist’s isolation and it comforts his heart by bringing a young girl, and eventually her heart, to him.And this story, as well as the previous short ones I read by Hughes, have brought short stories back to me. Ideas for short stories pop into my head all the time; how many first lines I have mentally written while on the bus, on a run, in the middle of a class. But now I am making myself get back to one, work on it and post it. Thus, I declare that my next post will be a short story.
Or The Snow Goose did not work its magic.