Winnipeg's Jazz Magazine


Long Story Short

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The first time I read a short-short story, I was stunned by how big and how small it was. These stories hardly have time to get heated up, yet they can still be smoldering in you years later.

I have been thinking lately about the arc of narrative, how it’s more like music than it might appear—its tensile strength, its ability to carry meaning and intention, its evanescence but also its persistence. In our days and in our creations, we share our long short stories—or maybe our short long stories. We tell them, we are told by them. Though they’re rarely long enough, they can be spectacularly huge.

In honor of plenitude where you least expect it, I offer you “Misterioso” by my friend John Gould, a master of this postcard fiction genre. It will give you another way of seeing Thelonious Monk. Another way of hearing him too…

You listen to his music, Monk’s music, to its broken rhythms, its dislocations, dissonances, its quips and queer silences, its harmonies that pelt down on you like handfuls of thrown pebbles, and you wonder where it all would have gone if he’d never sat down at a piano, Mr. Thelonious Sphere Monk—“Monkey” they called him as a boy—if at six years old he hadn’t started picking out tunes on those eighty-eight keys, if there hadn’t turned out to be eighty-eight at all but, say, sixty-three, or thirty-seven, or some other such number that meant to him absolutely nothing, if his little fingers hadn’t found their way amongst those eighty-eight black and white stepping stones to some hide-out, some cloister, if preachers and faith healers hadn’t suffered him to play by their sides, if his little monkey hands had been left idle in his pockets, to fidget with chestnuts and bits of string incapable of releasing any sound. What would have happened to all that weird beauty, you wonder, to those uncanny thoughts if there’d been no instrument on which to think them, and more, what would have happened to the man destined to choke on those thoughts, to be torn up by them as by a tangle of steel string snarled up in his belly, what would he have muttered to himself as he danced on what street corner bleeding to death inside, and who would have found him in what gutter, body frozen into what mute gesticulation? Was there a moment, you wonder, at which he might have missed his calling, might have turned away from the sound of his own irredeemably unique voice into some terminal silence? Was there such a moment for you? Was there something you might have found, some means, some method for getting all this passionate incoherence out of you, some instrument you failed to find or found and failed to recognize? Is it too late?

© John Gould, Kingdom of Heaven (Ekstasis, 1996)

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