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The Story

He didn’t know if he had read the story somewhere, in a

magazine or book perhaps, or someone he didn’t know very well,

perhaps hardly knew at all, had told it to him at a party in an

unguarded moment, or he had invented it himself some time

ago and didn’t know how to close it out so he had filed it away

in his mind as something he might deal with in the future when

he had enough distance from it to contend with the material

or—the least likely of his alternatives—something like it

had actually happened to him and, troubled by its implicit

commentary, he had blocked it out and now, for its own

reasons, it had returned to insist on itself, on its prerogatives

as narrative, its bloody need, its inalienable right, to have

a life of its own separate from his uncertain connection to

it, and what was he going to do about it, what could he do

as a writer but honor its insistent presence by retelling the

story in a way that would emphasize its uniqueness as an

imaginative event while at the same time hoping that no

one else after the fact would show up to make claim to it,

which would mean that the story for all its closeness to

his heart, meaning his artistic vision, had never really been

his in the first place and therefore what he had done with it

would be vitiated by the charge of plagiarism laid at

his door, rightful or not, and worse making him regret

his commitment to the story and even regret the story

itself, which would be like falling out of love when

he had announced to everyone that this one was forever,

but then again no one, no one that counted, might show

up to deny his right to the story when he had already

made it his own, covering the traces of its origins in

any event but hadn’t all stories in a certain sense been

told before, which was the word on the media street,

a popular conception or misconception and so irrelevant

to his concerns at the moment (and damn it, where did

the story come from anyway) which were (are) to produce

a memorable version of the story, the best possible version

given his gifts and limitations, whatever they may be,

which is the business of others, critics and such, educated

readers, to determine, his arrant immodesty best kept to

himself far from the public eye or whatever good will his

work has accrued over the years will leak through the

holes in his reputation, which is a small thing as it is

with unspoken aspirations toward bettering its condition

and what did he really know what the general culture

thought of his work if it all, did he even want to know?,

but lets get back to the story, he tells himself, it’s the

story that matters, he is only its executor or caretaker

perhaps, or parent, the one who keeps it clothed and fed

until it is sufficiently formed to deal with the world without

him around to mediate its existence, this story which concerns

a writer not much like himself who has come into unspecified

possession of a story of at once general interest and

self-defining strangeness that seems to insist, virtually

demand that whoever takes it up give it voice

but as it has been entrusted to him, this extraordinary

event, by whatever gods control the destinies of prose

narrative (by chance, he supposed, and vision and luck)

he feels burdened by such responsibility, perhaps even

thwarted by it so it requires of him an act of will or

presumption to give the story in question the kind of

imaginative re-creation it surely deserves and so the

shadow of possible failure, possibly inevitable failure

looms over his endeavor even as he feels he is solving

whatever inherent mystery lies at its core, he is also

falling short of the perfect accommodation of substance

to form but no one will know while it remains in a

state of ongoing inconclusion (in life, all stories

go on indefinitely or slip away into ellipsis) so this

sentence, which is the story, which embodies the

story, cannot be allowed to, has to be held in

abeyance as it acknowledges an implicit mortality

wholly alien to the nature of perfection, achieve

even the illusion of closure without permanently

curtailing whatever hope for the earned unexpected

it brings to the page, it cannot be brought to conclusion,

it cannot be, it cannot, it….


Jonathan Baumbach

Brooklyn native Jonathan Baumbach is the author of 3 collections of short stories and 11 novels including Reruns, B, Seperate Hours, Babble, Chez Charlotte & Emily and On the Way to My Father's Funeral. His stories have been anthologized in O.Henry Prize Stories, Great Pool Stories, Best American Stories, Full Court, All Our Secrets are the Same, Best of TriQuarterly among other.


The Brooklyn Rail

MAY 2006

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