With the Epiphany Café closed, I had to go somewhere else to find my stories. Therefore, your intrepid reporter has been lurking in the lilacs outside the Geeky Guy’s house. This location does not have the advantages I enjoyed in Kenilworth’s finest coffee establishment. I could sip the take-out from Dunkin Donuts and sit quite comfortably on the ground, with my back against a trunk, but the rain could get me wet and spiders liked to size me up for their web. However, a fictional character need not fret about the weather if his author doesn’t mention it and he will never get bit unless it advances the plot, so I was happy to spend hours in the lilacs gathering information to share with you.
I’m sorry to say I had little to go on. I could not directly witness the proceedings inside the house. I had planted a bug by catching the witch’s black cat when it was let out, slipping it under her collar, and waiting till it was let back in. She now was purring at the foot of the witch’s bed, along with whomever her companion might be, while I sat outside with a set of earphones on and a receiver tucked underneath my jacket. I could just make out the creeps and groans of the floor as the Lisping Barista came down from the attic to go on her exploration. I could see shadows cast to the inside of the curtains, and I could use everything I knew about the characters involved to assemble a reasonable narrative of what was going on. However, I must confess that most of what I have already told you about what happened in that house is constructed from the little bit of data I have gathered.
Some more meticulous readers may object to my rendering scenes I did not observe. Wait just one cotton pickin’ minute here, they might say; although I’d doubt it, few people say cotton pickin’ any more, if they ever did. Wait a minute, they would repeat, you mean to say that everything we just read as written by the Lisping Barista was made up?
Yes, that’s right, I would answer. Everything since she left the Epiphany Café is entirely my own creation. I have learned to mimic both her patterns of thought and her writing style by studying her closely. Then, I used my imagination to present to you what is, strictly speaking, a story that blurs the lines between what you call truth and fiction.
Don’t get me started on what you call truth. You know my beliefs about fictional characters and the ones who are said to be real. I shouldn’t need to repeat them here. I can summarize them by saying everyone is fictional, anyway. The same goes for events. Every bona fide event, even those reported by the Associated Press, or some other highly respected source, is fiction. That is to say, the event as it occurred was cut and pasted, photoshopped, proofread, and edited for your consumption. You see, events don’t come with a narrative; we create a narrative for them. There is no beginning, no end, and no context. The things world leaders utter in their own language are nicely translated for you. News photos are framed to exclude extraneous distractions. Soundbites are fashioned to get right to the point. There’s nothing between the lines, for there are no lines. It’s all just blooming, buzzing confusion until us storytellers nicely package it for you.
What I have done is akin to an archeologist who finds an ancient manuscript with four out of five words missing. He fills in what he supposes is there. It’s like an astronomer who takes a reading of a star one day, another reading a week later, and traces the line between them as the path the star had traveled. It’s no different than Darwin studying the birds and beasts of the Galapagos and constructing a tale of how they got to be so different. It takes imagination to see the truth, so I should not have to apologize for using my imagination.
I was in the lilac bushes, explaining this to you; explaining it to myself, really, for you, dear reader weren’t there, except in my imagination; when a passerby, walking home from the bar, stopped because he thought he heard someone who sounded like a professor of literature lecturing in the lilacs. He listened for a while and peered through the bushes, to see if he could make out a classroom, a podium, and a tweedy, self-absorbed instructor, surrounded by sleepy students, staring at their phones. I halted my hectoring, sat very still, and counted on incongruity to hide me better than the bushes ever could. In the end, he pulled his eyes away, shuddered his head, and staggered on, carrying an amusing anecdote to tell his wife when he got home. She wouldn’t smile at the story, but she would renew her efforts to get him to stop drinking.
Returning to our imaginary conversation, the meticulous readers might ask, how is it possible to tell truth from falsehood? Is it all fake news anyway?
I believe stories can be tested for truth. Truth is not correspondence to things in themselves, for the things in themselves can never, ever be adequately represented on a page. You know truth by a different test. It has a ring.
For instance, the story the passerby would tell his wife, that he’d heard a literature professor lecturing in the lilacs on High Street, did not have the ring of truth for her. The story that his wife would tell herself, that he’d heard voices because he was drinking too much, did. If only he had said he found a homeless man, camping out on High Street, talking to himself, then that would’ve been a story that could be believed; but it would’ve been a story so unremarkable that it would not have been worth telling.
The ring of truth is not something that can be explained; you know it when you come across it. When a story has that ring, all the parts harmonize together. The characters sound like human beings you might have heard speak and the plot flows out of things they might have done. You can trace their history up to their present situation and their conflicts are something you would care about, if you were them. The setting has enough details to make it seem like an actual place and the conclusion is not dropped out of the sky, but it emerges as a natural consequence of what has happened.
Let me tell you what happened next with the Lisping Barista, so you can see the ring of truth in action. You will read a work of imagination, constructed from few actual facts. Then you tell me if it has that ring I’m talking about.