Reading an old story
I wrote a story once about a young man who works in a tailor shop. He was listening to the radio. His name was Joe Gibson. A pretty girl comes in and he takes her measurements. He presses her breast. He’s aroused and bashful. She doesn’t even seem to notice. The song Melancholy Baby was on the radio.
The story was called Joe Gibson’s Melancholy Baby. I sent it around to a bunch of magazines, showed it to the couple of people who read my work. It didn’t resonate for anyone. Some editor at a small magazine wrote me a note on the rejection slip. He said the idea needed to be fleshed out.
But it didn’t. I didn’t want to explain. I just wanted to capture that one moment of running the tape around the breast, feeling aroused and isolated. That’s all there was — a moment. For me, that moment said everything about what Joe Gibson felt, what his life was like, what he was about.
At least, that was what I thought to myself.
I found the story recently when I was cleaning out some files. I read it. I couldn’t think of anything else to say. But what was said wasn’t all that clear. It was just a moment, picked out of the blue, written and left flat.
Joe Gibson lives on in an old manila folder in an file cabinet, on a few pieces of printer paper, still chastened and enthralled by that girl’s breasts. He’s not ever going to get anywhere else. But when I re-read that not-quite-a-story story, I was swept up into that moment, in that place that didn’t exist, and felt the same quiet surge of recognition as when I first wrote the story.
That’s part of what writing is: putting the name to the thing and holding it.
Here’s the offending story: