Stories Start Surprisingly
by Shaun Levin
See, stories shape silent sensual seconds. Stories start silently, subconsciously, setting savoured scenes, stone-like, shimmering. And then we must write. It nags at us, it wants to be written, that thing, that line, that word, a scene, that moment when we’re cycling to work along the park and the kid on his bike who's bunking off school looks at us and says: I'll race you. And there's something about that look in his eyes that will haunt us for days, like a dream we can't get rid of, or a memory. And we're not sure why it's haunting us, what it wants us to do with it, that look, that moment in the middle of the day when we and the kid were cycling alongside each other, about to race to the edge of the park, or not. His look is like a punch in the gut. That's a cliché, but it was a bit like that. We remember it. A ton of bricks. A truck. An epiphany. All of that. And we thought: he just wants a dad to play with him. He doesn't like school, doesn't need school at this time in his life, the way we didn't need it when we were that age, close to sixteen. All we wanted was the sea, to be on the beach, to think about sex.
And yes, it's something I've noticed about my writing over the years, S features a lot. The letter S, and maybe not just because it's the start of my name, the beginning of a snake's hiss, the moment of temptation in the garden, the turning point, the end of Eden, danger, or the beginning of the sound that tells others to be quiet, the voices in our head, to let us write. Sh.
I didn't race the kid in the end. I'd seen him do that thing of balancing on one pedal, balanced on the side of his bike as it moved down the street, like an acrobat on one side of the horse, the circus crowd waiting for him to propel himself over to the other side. I’d dared the kid to do that, to jump from one pedal to the other, and he’d looked at me and said, I can’t do that. There was a note of sadness in his voice, an echo of disappointment. He wanted to impress someone.
The story has become an exploration of fathers and acrobatics (I did gymnastics in primary school) and how we learn to do stuff with our bodies. I'd just been watching a documentary about three guys who run across the Sahara, from Senegal to the Red Sea, and I longed to go running again, a long run, miles and miles, which made me think of my dad, of being a son, and although I never liked running with him, I’ve always loved to run, to jog, the farther the better. The story’s still simmering. Some stories stalk you, snatch your sleeve: Say something! Speak! And we must submit to them, be the shadow to their scent. Say si.