Our second edition of ACCA Goes Literal. Today's theme: how do you tell a story in a story in a story in a story, without losing meaning or forfeiting one or the other. How can they intermingle, and intertwine?
Story Lines by Anna
Simone sips her coffee; her face reflected in the dark liquid. Each wrinkle tells a story; tales of joy, memories of struggle. Eyes on the sugary drink; pupils fixated on a particular crease by the side of her mouth. Softening her eyelids, Simone travels to a moment when she wasn’t the old, tired Simone she is today.
The kettle whistles. Carmela removes it from the stove and pours some water into her cup. ‘Simone! Where are you hiding? Come! Help mummy set the table’. Simone is outside, climbing olive trees; rising up to the tallest branches to find out what lies beyond her hometown. Right foot on a pointy bit, left hand grabs the edge of a steady branch and she pulls herself up. A tear of sweat in her forehead, a smile of pride in her mouth. ’Simone! Food’s ready, sweetheart’. An offshoot gives way and the girl falls two meters down. Laying flat by the foot of the olive tree, Simone looks up, taking in the dimensions of that living thing towering above her. Eyes on its bark; pupils fixated on the irregulars folds. Softening her eyelids, Simone travels to a moment when she wasn’t the intrepid girl she is today.
Uma casa portuguesa is playing on the radio. Simone reads her novel on the balcony; in the kitchen, Ramón is cooking pasta. A smell of pancetta, olive oil and fresh basil distracts her from the book. Rumbles of hunger echo from her stomach; craving for food, craving new life. Through the steam, Simone enters the kitchen. Ramón’s stiring the sauce. Thick moustache, hairy chest, silver chain, tempting eyes. A warm breeze blows through her knees; shifting dress, thighs exposed. ‘I’m hungry’ - Simone speaks — ‘So am I’.
The countertop trembles; the pasta is overcooking. Eyes on his flesh; pupils fixated on his forehead’s relief. Softening her eyelids, Simone travels to a moment when she wasn’t the expectant mother she is today.
Mateo is crying and the little girl won’t give up on attention. In the end she’s only six. Simone rocks the baby side to side. Carmelita pulls her dress from below, ‘Pick me up, mummy’.
Ramón’s at work; his labour fills their mouths. Sitting by the balcony, Simone is still rocking and Carmelita makes room to sit on her mum’s lap. Uma casa portuguesa; mother and daughter humming the baby to sleep. His nap becomes theirs. It doesn’t last. A strident shout disrupts the siesta; the phone is ringing. Mateo cries and soon, so does Carmelita. ‘Simone, it’s your mother’; Carmela is gone. Eyes off into space; pupils wide open. Softening her eyelids, Simone travels to a moment when she wasn’t heart broken as she is today.
‘More coffee, mum?’ Mateo brings the cafetiere closer and refills Simone’s cup. Simone sips the dark liquid, face stretching towards the sides; her wrinkles vanish for as long as her smile lasts. Each wrinkle, a story; tales of a lifetime, memories of the past.
Interrailing Across Europe by Charlotte
I would like to tell you a story about my father. Though he is sadly no longer with us, his stories, which transfixed me as a child, still entertain me today and I would love to share them with you. I promise they’ll be interesting, for they transcend time, journey across many lands and include some wonderful characters.
Like lots of good stories, this one starts at the beginning:
Many years ago, my Dad told me the story of when he went inter railing across Europe with his friends. Starting from Sheffield they managed to get all the way to Marrakech, stopped for a cup of mint tea and decided to come back again. Just before they started their return journey however, they climbed to the top of the tallest restaurant they could find to look over the square on the snake charmers, spice merchants and monkeys perched on shop keepers’ shoulders. Marrakech really was a sight to behold. As they gazed over the parapet, another group of backpackers were doing the same. Noticing that they were in good company, they quickly struck up a conversation, sharing their adventures across Europe.
It turns out that they were also English explorers and had started with Western Europe before meandering down through Spain and heading south to Africa. One backpacker, a mischievous guy named Spal (I have no idea where his name came from, but who is now reportedly a Christian missionary) started to recount some of the places they’d been.
“We’d been traipsing around France and Belgium, and Holland for a while, but really we wanted to go to Munich for Oktoberfest. So, we jumped on a train, and made our way over. I mean that’s the great thing about inter railing, you pick where you wanna go and then go! We heard about a campsite that was very cheap from some guys we met in Amsterdam, so we gave them a call and booked a pitch with a tent already set up. But as I’m sure you know lads, train travel is thirsty work so we decided to go straight to Okoberfest and then make our way to campsite afterwards. Did you go to Oktoberfest?” he asked looking around at my dad and his friend’s shaking heads.
“No!” he exclaimed slapping his hands on his thighs. “Well you well and truly missed out. Basically, you sit at these massive long oak tables, and there are these damsels in the full gear walking around with these huge steins just slopping beer everywhere. Well, all you have to do is nod and she slides the full stein down from the head of the table. It’s like… what’s that sport in the winter Olympics with those brushes?”
“Curling?” my Dad suggests.
“Yeah curling – they slide it like 20 feet down the table and it lands perfectly in front of you. Never seen anything like it. Well, as I’m sure you can imagine we bloody loved it and got absolutely stonking drunk. So, anyway it comes to end of the night and we decide to make our way to the campsite. So, we’re walking around the city looking for the campsite, asking the locals and guess what!”
“The bloody campsite’s like ten miles outside the city and all the transport had stopped for the evening. I mean we were so bladdered I really don’t know how we managed it, but I woke up the next morning with a wicked hangover, aching feet and nearly suffocating on this tarpaulin,” he laughs.
“We found the campsite, but were too sloshed to get in the tents and just collapsed on top of it!” he cackles. Barely breathing he continues, “and do you wanna know the best bit? It wasn’t even our tent! It was some Norwegians – who were actually very nice and good sports about it – who just left us to it until we woke up.”
My dad, his friends and the other group of guys collapse with laughter. Such a good story!
The lad sat next to Spal, Alex I think his name was, pipes up “they were great guys actually, even invited us to spend some time with them – they were driving back to Norway – bloody long trip that. Anyway, they had this real beauty of a VW campervan so we all squished in the back. I grew up around cars, and ain’t bad at fixing them so I was chatting to the guy – Soren –and he groaned a bit when I asked him about his motor. ‘It’s been through the wars this one’ he said.”
“What happened to it?” Dad asked - also a bit of a motor head, he loved anything with wheels.
I’m paraphrasing here because I learnt this story, through my dad, who learnt it from this guy Alex, who learnt it from this Norwegian Soren, but it went a little bit like this:
Soren and his family owned a garage in Norway. It was up the top of the hill just around the corner from this stunning fjord. Several years before he met Alex and Spal at the campsite he had a bit of a run in with some English tourists. The tourists were on holiday exploring Norway – they had stuffed full their VW campervan will all the bits and bobs you need on holiday with two children, sleeping bags, blow up dinghies, food and tents. Anyway, this campervan was pretty knackered, chassis hanging low to the floor, so when the dad tried to floor it to make it up the hill, the campervan couldn’t do it. Gears grinding, engine moaning it pretty much rolled over, died and refused to move. Well, this family were in the middle of nowhere, and this was back in the day when you didn’t have mobile phones so they were stranded. The dad, looking at the map, decides he’s going to trek up the hill to the nearest village and get help. So, leaving his family with the car off he goes.
A few hours later, he makes it to Soren’s garage and asks for help. Being a very friendly person, but as it’s getting late in the day, Soren suggests that the guy borrows his camper van to go back down the hill and pick up his family whilst Soren borrows his friend’s truck to tow the tourists’ camper to the village. The dad agrees and off he goes with Soren’s camper, whilst Soren telephones his friend with the truck. About an hour passes – Soren’s friend has to finish a job first hence he’s a bit delayed– but the campervan still hasn’t arrived with the tourists. Now Soren thinks this is strange, and not wishing to think the worst of the tourists, he presumes that there must be a logical reason – they can’t have stolen his camper.
Are you still with me?
Shortly afterwards Soren’s friend arrives, picks him up and they head down the hill to find the broken-down camper. Rounding the corner, what do you think Soren sees? The dad who borrowed the camper, is standing on the side of the road frantically waving his hands and Soren’s camper is nowhere to be seen – can you believe it!?
The lads in Marrakech gasp.
Turns out the dad in Soren’s story, forgot to put the brakes on when he got out the van and it’s rolled over the side of the hill and got stuck halfway down. Now both campervans are kaput. Soren can barely believe it – apparently, he was so aghast that he was struck dumb, couldn’t speak. The dad, meanwhile is apologising profusely and the guy with the truck has to pull two broken campers up to the village…
“You’re never gonna believe this,” my Dad says to the lads. “I was there. I remember this vividly. I watched my dad get out of the camper, and watched it roll down the hill…”
The lads laughed.
“Nah, you’ve got to be joking” said Alex, “no way that was you! That would be crazy!”
“I kid you not lads,” my dad replies, “I remember it like it was yesterday. Never been more ashamed of me old man. We spent two weeks in that village whilst the guy fixed both campers, cost dad all the money we had with us and even had to send for more. We drove straight back as soon as it was fixed. Holiday was ruined.”
“Well, what a crazy coincidence… great story though!” said Spal.
Yeah, I agree, it is a great story!