Small Talk: Writing Stories


Aug 4, 2019


Illustration by Shreyaa Krritika Das

Niece – You want help?

Me – No.

Niece – I can help. I’m good at writing stories.

Me – I don’t think you can help with this one.

Niece – Why? I know lots of words. And also animals.

Me – This doesn’t have any animals in it. And the words are weird enough as it is.

Niece – Put ‘piano’ in it. Put ‘cabbage.’

Me – You want me to just randomly mention pianos and cabbage in my story.

Niece – Ya.

Me – That might work, actually.

Niece – Then say there was a mosquito. And his name is Suresh.

Me – I’m not adding a mosquito named Suresh in my story.

Niece – Why?

Me – Because I feel I have to draw the line somewhere and that seems like a good place to draw it.

Niece – What about a elephant?

Me – No.

Niece – Two elephant.

Me – Dude, if you don’t leave me alone, I’m going to shave your head.

Niece – Write “Once there was a elephant. And a shoe rack.” Write.

Me – I’m not putting a shoe rack in my story.

Niece – Why?

Me – Because …. Well, I guess I could, actually.

Niece – What kind of story is it?

Me – I have no idea.

Niece – Is it so scary story?

Me – I guess not so much scary as … not-making-much-sense? Which usually means it’s done.

Niece – Does it have cockroach in it?

Me – Not yet.

Niece – You should put one.

Me – Will you leave me alone if I do?

Niece – Ya. And a crocodile.

Me – Okay. “The fading light on the old ancestral home looked like a cockroach and also like a crocodile.”

Niece – It’s nice. Now put elephant.

Me – Actually maybe we should … hm.

Niece – What happened to all the words?

Me – I deleted them.

Niece – What means deleted.

Me – I made them disappear. I can bring them back though, no big deal. Like this. Like … this. This…. Oh my god, what the f— come back!

Niece – What happened?

Me – I just deleted everything!

Niece – Why?

Me – Because I’m stupid!

Niece – You said stupid.

Me – Oh my god, what did I just do!

Niece – You said stupid.

Me – Oh. My. God.

Niece – Yesterday I said bum.

Me – Dude, that was almost 3,000 words!

Niece – No.

Me – Yes!

Niece – You can’t write so many words.

Me – Um, I just did. Before I deleted them all. Like an idio… syncracy.

Niece – Where you got so many words but.

Me – This is not the time for your weird questions.

Niece – Why?

Me – I was supposed to submit that tomorrow oh my god.

Niece – Why you always say oh my god.

Me – Oh my hecking god!

Niece – What’s a hecking god?

Me – I have to try and get this back. Away with you, little dude! Go do something.

Niece – I write another story. I be very quiet.

Me – Please, gods, give me back my story, please please please.

Niece – Write “Oh my god.”


Niece – Why you lying down?

Me – Because I just lost a 3,000-word story somewhere in the wilds of my computer and I can’t find it.

Niece – Hm?

Me – All the words are gone, little dude.

Niece – Because you made them disappear.

Me – Yes.

Niece – Because you are stupid.

Me – I totally am.

Niece – I wrote a story.

Me – Aw, for me? To help me out?

Niece – No, it’s for me. I read it to you?

Me – Why not.

Niece – Once upon a time, there was a shoe rack and a elephant.

Me – An elephant.

Niece – Ya, an a elephant. They were best friends. They ate curd rice and chips. One day the shoe rack died.

Me – How does a shoe rack die?

Niece – He got sick.

Me – How does that happen?

Niece – Then the elephant was so angry. And he stepped on the cockroach.

Me – What cockroach?

Niece – That one that was there. And the elephant died.

Me – Why is there so much death in your stories?

Niece – You like it?

Me – I liked the curd rice and chips part.

Niece – What was your story?

Me – It was probably about unhappy people who have weird things happen to them. I can’t really remember, actually.

Niece – You should write about shoe rack.

Me – Maybe you’re right.

Niece – I can draw one for you.

Me – Ok, let’s assess my current situation, shall we? I have a submission deadline tomorrow and I no longer have a story to submit.

Niece – Amma bought chips yesterday.

Me – Really?

Niece – Ya. There’s curd also.

Me – Your Amma doesn’t like you eating curd rice and chips.

Niece – Ya, but you lost all the words. And there’s chips.

Me – I can’t argue with any of that. Okay, come on, little dude. Let’s have curd rice and chips and take a nap.

Niece – You can have my story if you want.

Me – Really?

Niece – Ya.

Me – That’s really sweet. Thanks, little dude.

Niece – It’s okay. It’s not so good.

Small Talk chronicles conversations between the author and her niece that could, in an alternate universe or in this one, be real.


Written By Kuzhali Manickavel

Kuzhali Manickavel’s collections “Things We Found During the Autopsy,” “Insects Are Just like You and Me except Some of Them Have Wings,” and chapbooks “The Lucy Temerlin Institute for Broken Shapeshifters Guide to Starving Boys” and “Eating Sugar, Telling Lies” are available from Blaft Publications, Chennai. Her work has also appeared in Granta, Strange Horizons, Agni, Subtropics, Michigan Quarterly Review and DIAGRAM. She used to blog at http://thirdworldghettovampire.blogspot.com/.


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