Suspend Your Disbelief

Shop Talk |

Stories We Love: "Show and Tell"

day fifty three
Back when I worked for The Southeast Review, we ran an online feature called, “The Cult of George Singleton,” where we asked writers to weigh-in on his larger than life personality. Katie Burgess, his old student from the Greenville Fine Arts Center, told one of my favorite stories, “One day George… hit a snake with his truck. He… put it in a duffel bag, and took it… to a faculty meeting… A few minutes into the meeting, he opened it up and started yelling, ‘Snake! Sweet Jesus!’ until he cleared the room.”

Don’t try it. Unless you’re a short story writer of the same stature as Singleton, you’d likely be punched in the mouth and out of a job without prospects.

Singleton became my short story hero the summer I heard him read, “Show-and-Tell,” at the 2004 South Carolina Book Festival. The story opens with a third-grader reading his class “a long-lost letter from famed lovers Heloise and Peter Abelard.” Coached on “what words to stress, when to pause” by his newly-separated father, the boy reads, “That guy who wrote that ‘How Do I Love Thee’ poem has nothing on us, my sugar-booger baby.” Throughout the story, the father provides his son with even wilder trinkets for show-and-tell: cufflinks worn by Louise Quatorze, a stuck-shut locket once owned by Elmer the glue inventor, and more famous letters— Ginger Rogers to Fred Astaire, Anne Hathaway to Shakespeare, and Plato to Socrates (which the father had “gone to the trouble of learning Greek in order to translate”).

It’s the retrospective narrator who reveals that his father and teacher had dated in high school, broken up, and that his father “had gone over to her house and gathered up everything he’d ever bestowed upon her.” Show-and-tell becomes a way for Dad to court his old flame by having his son lay out the gifts of their relationship, ennobled by classic tales of epic love. And once something becomes myth, well, anything’s possible…

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