A Reading

“A short story should be as long as a piece of string.”

- Alistair MacLeod

Who says people don’t care about short stories?

I’m ahead of myself, already. Let me back up a bit.

Following a recent concert, one of my writer friends found me in the lobby with some Big News.  None other than the great Alistair MacLeod would be giving a free public reading on Friday night, a debut reading of The Closing Down of Summer in its entirety.

The Closing Down of Summer is one of my favourite of Alistair MacLeod’s short stories (never mind that all fourteen of his short stories are my favourites…). Wild horses couldn’t keep me from attending his reading.

My friend and I planned on an early arrival at the lecture hall, but through the week as I read notices in the paper and saw posters on telephone poles around the city (seriously! For a short story reading!), we decided to go even earlier. In the end, we arrived a full hour before the reading was to start, and already the 300-seat lecture hall was half full. Over the next hour, through the two entrances spilled forth a steady stream of people. Accompanied by a Cape Breton fiddler and guitarist, the crowd filled up the aisles, and people were handed chairs to put where they could, around and behind the podium where the reading was to take place. By the time the reading started, there were at least five hundred in attendance, maybe six hundred.

Finally it was time. Dr MacLeod began to read in his sonorous voice, so rich with cadence and laden with meaning, words familiar to most, if not all in the room. You could hear a pin drop between words.

Until five firemen walked in and stood quietly behind Dr MacLeod, hands over their radios to silence the static barking noises from their dispatcher.

I’d never have thought it possible, but a short story was…

… shut down…

… by the fire marshall.

It was all very civilized and quick. Within minutes the aisles were cleared and the improvised floor seating sorted out to the fire marshall’s satisfaction. Dr MacLeod waited patiently with a bemused expression on his face, and when he was given the nod, he stepped back to the podium and swept us all back to the Cape Breton beach at the end of summer, the musings of a miner considering with anticipation and dread his and his fellow miners’ return to the pits.

The evening ended with a standing ovation from a grateful crowd. This was a singular event, one which none of us will forget.

Now I can say it:

Who says people don’t care about short stories?

Categories: General.