What are the minimum requirements for a sequence of sentences to result in a story? One way to approach the question is to examine a short short story that has endured for some time and ask: 1)What elements of narrative are present here? 2)What elements of narrative is this piece doing just fine without?
The Mayor of the Sister City Speaks to the Chamber of Commerce in Klamath Falls, Oregon, on a Night in December in 1976
by Michael Martone
It was after the raid on Tokyo. We children were told to collect scraps of cloth. Anything we could find. We picked over the countryside; we stripped the scarecrows. I remember this remnant from my sister’s obi. Red silk suns bounced like balls. And these patches were quilted together by the women in the prefecture. The seams were waxed as if to make the stitches waterproof. Instead they held air, gases, and the rags billowed out into balloons, the heavy heads of chrysanthemums. The balloons bobbed as the soldiers attached the bombs. And then they rose up to the high wind, so many, like planets, heading into the rising sun and America. . . ”
I had stopped translating before he reached this point. I let his words fly away. It was a luncheon meeting. I looked down at the tables. The white napkins looked like mountain peaks of a range hung with clouds. We were high above them on the stage. I am yonsei, the fourth American generation. Four is an unlucky number in Japan. The old man, the mayor, was trying to say that the world was knit together with threads we could not see, that the wind was a bridge between people. It was a hot day. I told those beat businessmen about children long ago releasing the bright balloons, how they disappeared ages and ages ago. And all of them looked up as if to catch the first sight of the balloons returning to earth, a bright scrap of joy.
[Winner of the 1986 World’s Best Short Short Story Contest and first published in Sundog. Reprinted with permission of the author, whose new book, Four for a Quarter, is available from the University of Alabama Press.]