How To Tell A Story by Kaj Tanaka

How To Tell A Story

Seated next to a great storyteller at dinner the other night, you realize you have never really known how to tell a story. He tells stories all night, and all of his stories serve no purpose, but you love him. Each story he tells is a kind of riddle, a stick laid out on the ground next to other sticks to see if they are all the same length, and indeed they are, and we are all surprised to find this to be true.

When he hears you are writer, he requests that you deliver a story you have written to his house. He wants you to arrive at 5AM on a Sunday two months from now. He is rich and busy so you don’t ask him why two months’ time and why 5AM, though you really should have because it makes no sense. You write the story — the best story you can in that amount of time, and it is this story, and you arrive at his huge house in a snowstorm. The snowstorm isn’t real, but it is an obstacle in getting to his house because his house is not real either. There is no road and then the road returns and then you are knocking on his door. The house is dark. You knock again.


The story is this: You call your mother in the night, but there is no room and there is no mother.

The story is this: Your father is a man, but he is also a field of grass and he is also a stone. Which is he?

The story is this: Snow falling and distant music and lights.


He opens the door. Am I here too early? you ask. He switches on a light near the door, and the light illuminates the interior rooms of his house. No, he says, I’m just making coffee. Sit down. And you sit down even though there is nothing to sit down upon because there is no house.

And you are in the kitchen together drinking coffee. You hand him the envelope with the story you have spent two months writing. I never asked, you ask him, but what is it for?

He opens the envelope and pulls out the story you wrote. You can’t remember a single word of this story. You have spent two months laboring over it, and it’s gone entirely. It is the echo of a bell that is no longer ringing. You ask him what’s on the paper. He laughs and shakes his head.


And the story is this: Are you still a good person, even after all of the mistakes you have made?

And the story is this: A mysterious universe within your body.

And the story is this: A long, white feather plucked from a gray wing.




Kaj Tanaka’s writing has appeared in The Rumpus, Electric Literature, Volume 1 Brooklyn, PANK and Joyland, and he has been featured on Wigleaf’s (very) short fictions list. Kaj is the nonfiction editor at BULL. He tweets @othrrealppl.


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