This is a short thing commissioned by BBC Radio Merseyside’s The Popular Music Show. You can also listen to me reading it on the episode here (11 mins in).
Our world, you decide one day, is composed almost entirely of stories. They are everywhere, you convince yourself. Inside everything. They are more abundant than matter, than air, than light and pain and love and hunger. Enough to gorge on, to choke on, to drown in forever and still have change.
We just don’t need this many stories, you yell silently as you scroll and swallow and swallow and scroll. So. Many. People. So many lives enveloped within each, except not, actually, because deep down, in the weft of each one, you feel certain they are secretly all about you. Every story is just for you. And it delights and appals you that it should be this way.
Of course, there are plenty of stories undoubtedly about you, most of them told by your beloved grandmother. Of all the yarns she told you as the two of you worked together on those complex knitted broths of hers, or on one of your long, sweltering walks to the cinema – days which you remember suspiciously vividly – it was not the ones about yourself that held you, but the ones of lost folk. Little clusters of people perched on the edge of their world, clinging on desperately with a grand commitment to tiny ideas. You loved them because they seemed to hum with a truth you felt in your bones. That, truth be told, still feels more honest than pretty much everything else.
The story of the blind family in the caravan, that was your favourite. The way that look flashed over your grandmother as she told it, the expression of bright shock and invitation. She knew them personally, or perhaps someone she knew did. And really, did it matter? No, what you needed was the story to unfold in precisely the right way. That way it had of unlocking you.
You can still remember the way it appeared to you, that caravan. The five of them inside, not one of them able to see more than a whisper. The sorry interior with its miniature rooms and miniature kitchen and no toilet, which they moved through – in the story at least – exactly the same way every day. Like subterranean mammals, guided by instinct. Singing their croak-voiced songs. Teeth black, eyes black, smiling and singing, and oh how you loved that story. Begged for it. To hear it now would kill you, you’re certain of that. Would stop your heart in an instant.
You’ve spent time trying to understand how it held you so effortlessly and you have decided that it was the father. Because inside the story he is mad. He is the one who makes them sing. It was his idea to make them warn outsiders of what would happen if they encroached, through song. It was his arrival that you waited for as the story began ticking over in your grandmother’s mouth, knowing all the while the awful culmination that was waiting, and still you were devastated and surprised and desperate when it came. Always feeling like you might wet yourself; always remembering that first time when you actually did.
It is as much a part of you as your fingernails, that story. And infinitely more so than any account of your own so-called life. You look down and it is there. You grasp for the meaning, to hold it fully inside yourself, but that part is not there. It will not let you get at it.
These days you watch the ten o’clock news in your dressing gown from your own miniature front room, sound down low, one eye on the little window in your hand, as people from your own city tell you what it is like to be alive, and you agree, but you recognise them less and less.
You realise with a cool sensation, like a shadow falling, that you don’t care what they have to say. That you love them but you just want them to stop talking for a few moments. Just long enough to take a breath before the needy humid exhalation of humanity blows you up once again, filling every grateful inch of you, nice and tight.
The button is there but you don’t press it.
Our world is composed entirely of stories, you say aloud, and of course it always was, you dummy.