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One Thousand and One

by on September 19, 2010

Scheherazade had always loved stories. Telling them to her husband Shahryar had at first been exhilarating — now the tedium of it, the stress of it, had grown tiring. So many other women were dead because they had failed to convince Shahryar that they should live — would tonight, she wondered, be her turn?

Could she begin another story after this, one to leave incomplete at the night’s end and so ensure her life for another day? She looked into Shahryar’s eyes, and said:

“River had to write a story. He worked nights on it because he spent half of each day studying, half making money. Bills, River knew, didn’t pay themselves. He was divided: not two-ways, but three. He wrote:

“Troy Packham sits in his parents’ cold, porcelain bathtub. If you listen you can hear him crying — harsh, uneven, staccato. In his right hand he clasps his father’s straight razor, but he can’t bring himself to cut.

“When he finally quietens, Troy climbs out of the tub and says into the mirror, ‘Fuck this shit.’ He walks out of the bathroom. Out of the house. Away from the city.”

“River thought that his story needed more work. A better ending, perhaps. But then so did his studies, so did his contract work. This all had to stop, he decided. He went to kitchen to think over a cup of tea.”

Scheherazade finished her story. The roosters were crowing and the sky brightening. She began no other tale.

“What does it mean?” Shahryar asked.

His wife shrugged, then said, “Love, let me sleep a bit. We can talk later.”

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12 Comments
  1. I thought this was a little messy and too disjointed. I suppose even Scheherazade fails somethings 🙂

  2. Something very different for you. Personal and open – clever and intriguing: a difficult combination. Also very meta and not at all the straight story that you have shown such skill with – very cool.

    One might be tempted to say confusing or pointless but as I understand it that IS the point: I really like the end where you pre-empt my ‘what does it mean’ with the characters confusion – and answer it.

    The Troy story retold differently is clever – I felt amused and pleasantly caught off guard by the interplay between the real world and the fiction (river, the troy story etc).

    On the critical side I feel the first paragraph is a bit kludgy; I don’t think it was necessary to explain the 1001 nights background so explicitly but I guess it depends on your audience.

    I’m not sure if the completed story is supposed to be taken as suicide (S is never supposed to finish a story without starting another) ; or if this was the 1001st story; or if you meant to imply that the story is incomplete – but this ambiguity didn’t detract from it for me.

    • Yeh, I thought long about that first paragraph. It takes up a good chunk of the word count :-/ I think it (or something similar) needs to be there, though, for a bit of context.

      Personally, I don’t see it as Scheherazade committing suicide, but rather wanting to try something new. But I did try leaving it rather open — I hope it wasn’t too open.

  3. cbraz permalink

    I really enjoyed this and found it clever. I loved its layeredness and connections to reality, previous stories and classic stories. I took the end to be a retelling of the Scheherezade story: either it is the 1001st night, or this is a parallel universe where she continues to entice him but through exciting intellectual discussion :-).

    I have a small grammatical issue. In the second sentence “…had at first been exhilarating — now the tedium of it,…”, the hyphen feels wrong to me here. I would prefer a semi-colon or full stop maybe.

  4. Oooh, upside-down Arabian Nights! I loved this – very layered, rather subversive about storytelling expectations, and a witty and amusing inversion of reality and the story. Loved the fictionalising of the personal, and the intrusion of a different version of an earlier micfic – a lot of meaningful echoes there. I’d say this was a resonant piece, but stv will laugh at me :>. It’s also cleverly written, in that the classic storytelling/fiction world becomes the critical/intellectual world even as the real world becomes fictional.

    I also felt that the first paragraph was a little clumsy compared to the rest, and possibly laid out the background slightly mechanically – it seemed to me to require a slightly different tone or approach.

    • Thanks, Docinatrix. Am really glad that you liked it 😀 I am looking closer at the first two paragraphs to see what could be done about them.

  5. I dig stories in stories (in stories), and this worked well for me.
    First read felt a bit full / overloaded, but return reads felt great.

    I really liked the return of Mr Packham, especially with the new twist / spin, and the bringing in of River worked well.

    Another hand in the air for “fist paragraph good but not great.”

  6. parfles permalink

    I am in two minds about this one – on the one hand, it echoes very strange, dreamlike, meta-reality stuff, and it does it very well, twisting and changing old stories to remove their meaning and purpose. it made me think of the philosophical musings in “Our Tragic Universe” by Scarlett Thomas – thoughts about the “storyless story” and how narrative tends to force meaning on a story, but that meaning is not really there until the narrative invents it. This direction is very interesting, even though telling stories that are storyless is difficult, as the narrative keeps wanting to creep back in and create order.

    The other hand was i think down to the first paragraph, which framed it for me in a way which didn’t quite work. Go, vagueness!

    On the whole, this is worth experimenting with more as the results are interesting!

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