A Universe of Stories Writing Contest Winner
Sunday, Sep 15, 2019
Johnson County Library is pleased to announce that Brian Daldorph has won our writing contest in the Open category on the theme of A Universe of Stories with "Wasps".
Brian Daldorph teaches at the University of Kansas and Douglas County Jail. He edits Coal City Review.
I’m sitting in a café with one of the great storytellers of the modern world, the Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami. In jeans and a red Southern Comfort sweatshirt, Murakami is short and trim, with the deep calm look of a man who could sit cross-legged on a mountaintop and write, in neat kanji, 5000 words a day.
Though I’d not call us old men, we’re getting there. Murakami’s three-score years and ten and I’m a decade younger. We’re both hoping our old legs are good for tomorrow’s Tough Day in Paradise Half Marathon in this pretty city, decked out with flowers, ribbons and flags for some festival. Haruki's giving a reading tomorrow night at the university: “I hope I’ve recovered from my race!” he says.
I’ve read every book he’s written since Norwegian Wood. That’s still my favorite, though as a lifelong runner like Murakami, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running has a special place in my heart and on my shelf. We first met in Tokyo at a book fair. We chatted for an hour about Chekhov and Dostoyevsky, then he gave me his card and we’ve stayed in touch over the years. He insists that Art Blakey is the King of Jazz. I say it’s Miles Davis.
Murakami’s just finished telling me this strange story about an elephant that went missing from its enclosure even though there seemed to be no way out. We’re pondering that as a waitress comes to our table to refill our coffee cups. Murakami adds cream and sugar to his cup. Now he wants a story from me.
I start telling him about the wasps in the bedroom of my parents’ old house. The house no longer stands--it was demolished after my mother died so three new houses could be built on the valuable plot of land. Though the house of my life has gone, many memories and stories remain.
“I was home visiting my mother and the strangest thing happened: wasps kept ‘appearing’—I use the term carefully—on the carpet of the first bedroom, most of them with little life left in them, squirming in their death throes, soon dead. Twenty or thirty or more on the floor every day.”
Haruki’s intrigued and a little bit disgusted: “Who needs dead wasps on the bedroom floor?”
“When I looked at the roof of the house, I could see a lot of wasp activity around the chimney, little black dots buzzing around, so there was probably a wasp nest in the chimney. The Pest Control man who came to check it said that when we started lighting fires in Fall, the smoke would kill them. It was mild October. Almost time for the lighting of fires.”
“I still had that mess of dead wasps on the bedroom floor to clear up every day, so I sealed the window with masking tape in case they were squeezing in there. Windows in an old house don’t fit tight. Still the wasps got in. Then I remembered the bedroom fireplace. There was a fireplace in every room of this old house until my father blocked them off when we got central heating. With masking tape I sealed around the edges of the wooden panel my father had fitted in the fireplace. Sealed tight!
But wasps kept appearing, writhing on the carpet, dying. I sat in the room one morning and watched but I couldn’t see how they were getting in. Where were they coming from? I checked every inch of the room and found no cracks or openings.”
My story pleases Murakami: he’s listening intently. He loves a good riddle.
He knows not to ask how the wasps got in because that’s not the point, is it?
The point of the story is that there is no point--Haruki’s elephant goes missing, wasps appear in the bedroom, no point, just the pleasure of two not-quite-old men talking in a café on the eve of a race, telling each other stories.
It’s as sweet as our coffee with three packets of sugar stirred in. It’s the best way of growing old.