- All Stories Are True
In company, my husband and I tell stories differently. He likes to exaggerate, elaborate, omit details—in short: make up. When my husband is telling a story, I'm not supposed to join in, contradict, or correct, even when it's my story he's telling, or a story about me. Stories don't have to be accurate, he says. They don't even have to be true. The obligation of the storyteller, he says, repeatedly, is to entertain, not inform, and when I correct him, or add a fact or two—as I admit I am not only inclined but eager to do—I not only embarrass him, but I ruin the story.
Myself, I like to tell the whole story, every bit, exactly as it happened, beginning to end. I think it's more honest that way. And while it's true my stories often ramble, do not make a point, and are hard to follow if you're not paying close attention, I think life is like that: messy, complicated, intensely personal, hard to understand, rarely funny. When I am telling a story, my husband is so silent I have to look at him to see if he is listening. He is usually looking at his shoes. I always wish he would join in, protest, tell the story his way, but he doesn't. He doesn't say anything. Not until we are in the car and he tells me what I could have said to have made a better impression and how I could have said it.
"You're too literal," he says, though "dull" is what he means. Still, it is not lost on me that between those two words, he chooses the one I would prefer to hear.
At home, we don't tell stories as a rule. We ask what time to set the alarm; what's for dinner; how was work; were there any calls today; have we seen each other's glasses, books, car keys, checkbook; if Saturday is free. One of us is likely to wonder, aloud, if we should plant a garden; have a dinner party; if the dresser might look better against the other wall.
But sometimes, when it's just the two of us, and it's quiet outside, and the dishes are done, we talk about what we did like when we were little: the [End Page 119] kind of candy we used to buy with our allowances after school; the scents our mothers wore; the presents we wanted for Christmas and never got. It is a subject we never tire of, a mine of shifting stories only the teller knows are true, which is, oddly, immaterial and so far beyond the point we haven't gotten there yet and know we never will.
Sue Allison has new stories in the current issues of Harvard Review, Appalachia Review, and So To Speak, for which her story "The Yellow Coat" won third place in the annual short story contest. She teaches at the Wakefield School in The Plains, Virginia.