[Fiction issue] ‘1. This Is The Title’, a short story by Richard de Nooy

Exclusive to The JRB, a new short story by our Editorial Advisory Panel member Richard de Nooy.

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1. This Is The Title

2. You are a librarian at the Mestna Knjižnica in Ljubljana.
3. You have worked here too long.
4. That’s a fact.
5. You would like to include a short passage here, confirming your longstanding connection with the library.
6. But you are unable to write that passage yourself.
7. You love reading, but you are not a very good writer.
8. You do know you shouldn’t start every sentence with ‘you’.
9. You don’t have to be a good writer to be a good librarian.
10. You do need to know a lot about writers. And about books, of course.
11. Which is hardly surprising.
12. All your books are classified, numbered and ordered.
13. The same cannot be said for facts.
14. Apart from the Bible, there are very few stories in which the facts are numbered.
15. You find this a drawback, mainly because this makes it more difficult to refer back to earlier facts . (See Nos. 4 and 11.)
16. Some readers like to check the last sentence of a book before they start reading.
17. You know this from experience.
18. This story ends with No. 4.
19. Other readers want to know whether they’ll like a story.
20. And that’s never easy to predict.
21. You need to know their past preferences.
22. These readers keep fishing in the same pond.
23. You prefer sending readers to stranger, deeper waters.
24. But this is only possible if they are open to this.
25. Books can be easily opened, but the same cannot be said of people. (See Nos. 17 and 4.)
26. They are more difficult to fathom, and fickle as well.
27. This is borne out by a writer who frequents the library.
28. He enjoys working here, because it allows him to be close to the books, as well as the library’s heating and cooling systems, depending on the time of year.
29. Most writers have very little money, but this one’s first book was a huge success, which means he could fully devote himself to writing his second.
30. That’s like winning one hundred thousand euros in a lottery, he once explained. But if that’s all you earn, you have to win the lottery again three or four years later.
31. And that rarely happens. (See No. 17.)
32. Ten years ago, you read his bestselling collection of short stories.
33. You were impressed.
34. It included a story about a writer who meets a woman in a library.
35. You saw that relationship developing in real life.
36. There were rumours that the writer stole the story from his lover, who had an extraordinary occupation.
37. The story was about her occupation. But also about writing.
38. The writer and his lover split up long ago, but they still see each other in the library once a year, on his birthday.
39. They are together again today.
40. They are whispering to each other. They keep glancing at you and smiling. They are talking about you. And about his fantasy.
41. The writer once told you that he had erotic fantasies in which the two of you engaged in various sexual acts among the books.
42. You listened attentively as he described these acts.
43. Very soon they became your fantasies, too.
44. Whenever you saw him, you blushed and felt aroused.
45. Eventually, you had no other choice but to act out your shared fantasies.
46. You lured him into the library’s basement with the promise of showing him the extraordinary books kept there.
47. You would like to give an account of what happened there. (See No. 6.)
48. The writer was disappointed with the experience, remarking that reality was ‘like a desiccated turd in the bright light of fantasy’.
49. You wrote that down, even though you felt insulted and told the writer he would probably steal your story for his next anthology.
50. The writer laughed and said it was sometimes permissible to steal a story, on condition that it had passed through the filter of one’s own imagination.
51. You disagreed, insisting that writers have a duty to report their sources.
52. This presents an ideal opportunity to report that the numbered format of this story is inspired by ‘The Great Rebellion at the Stuln Nazi Camp’, written by David Albahari and published in an anthology of Serbian stories titled The Prince of Fire.
53. You would be more than willing to give the ISBN, but you are starting to realise how facts can get in the way of a story and therefore decide to press on.
54. You see the writer and his lover leaving the library to add a chapter to their romantic liaison.
55. You would like to follow them and report your observations, but you cannot leave the library.
56. You are restricted by reality, as well as the bounds of your imagination.
57. Is there a moral to this story?
58. See No. 25.

  • Richard de Nooy grew up in Johannesburg, but has lived in Amsterdam for the past thirty years. He writes his novels in English and Dutch. His first novel, Six Fang Marks and a Tetanus Shot, won the University of Johannesburg Prize for Best First Book. De Nooy regularly contributes short stories to Dutch and English anthologies, collections and literary magazines. His fourth novel in Dutch, Van kleine helden, was published in 2017. He is currently working on the English version of this novel. Follow him on Twitter.

© Richard de Nooy, 2017

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