The Pit


     “So, where is it these stories are kept?”
     “Not so much ‘kept’. That implies a keeper.”
     “‘Live’, then.”
     “No, not ‘live’, either. That might suggest a self-conscious existence over time. The stories – a loose term, some may fit more neatly under the category of ‘anecdote’ – are in a large, circular pit, the slopes of which fall at a very low gradient. These slopes are covered in rubble, over which is spread various mosses and lichens. The diameter of the pit’s lowest point is negligible: that is, if you were walking across the pit, you would hardly have reached the bottom before you began to rise again. The pit as a whole covers an area of some forty metres square. Not being a geologist, I can’t tell you the exact composition of the stone. Granite and greywacke come to mind. It is grey.”
     “It sounds rather bleak.”
     “Well, no. It isn’t. It is in fact neutral; lacking in emotion. Just a large, shallow hole in the ground. Of course, people have perceptions. We can’t help that. Some have an aversion to dry lakebeds. They’re reminded of drought, or famine, or environmental degradation.”
     “You didn’t say it was a lakebed.” 
     “It isn’t, but you know…large, shallow pit. Some people will instantly react.”
     “Who knows about it?”
     “That depends on who’s listening to us. You see, one doesn’t want to give the situation too high a profile. Familiarity only invites more stories. Even with that last remark we’re taking a risk.”
     “How do you mean?”
     “Well, think about it. Here we have a large, shallow pit, filled with stories, which occasionally climb out over the moss and rubble and go…somewhere else.”
     “Do they have legs?”
     “I beg your pardon?”
     “You said they climb out.”
     “Ah. No, no legs. As I was saying, consequently – ”
     “If they haven’t got any legs, are they a bit like evolving fish? Kerflumping out of the sea, and learning to breathe, and growing legs with time?”
     “No. You really must let me finish. Your questions demonstrate an acute lack of understanding. If you listen, you’ll find that they’ll be answered quite satisfactorily.”
     “To recap, even by saying ‘Familiarity only invites more stories,’ we will prompt impressionable types to embark on flights of fancy, imagining, for example, a scenario where the pit overflows. The land is flooded with stories. Some crops are ruined, but a few hardy species benefit from the added nutrients. Months later, stories are still being found lodged high in trees. Others have already rooted themselves where there is light to grow – and so on. Whole new possibilities declare themselves.”
     “What’s wrong with that?”
     “There’s nothing wrong with it, per se. By asking that question, you’ve demonstrated that you haven’t got it yet. And the reason I say that is because if I begin to answer your question, then we risk the creation of stories around the stories. I could say it’s wrong because the stories in the pit need a neutral and passive environment in which to flourish. Then we’d be drawn into looking at the background of how they came to be there, what ‘flourishing’ entails, and so on.” 
     “But what’s wrong with that?”
     “I’m tempted to abandon this conversation. However, I feel obliged to continue. I’ll start at the beginning. The pit was the best we could manage. It seemed to have fewer associations than other potential receptacles. Think, for example, of a tree. Immediately, there springs to mind a talking or in some other respect magical tree, a person trapped within a tree, an evil tree. A ‘cat’ was suggested. With that, Ancient Egypt enters the picture, and all manner of stories featuring intelligent animals. Naturally, we would prefer not to use the word ‘pit’, or even to have anyone see the large, shallow hole, but a certain degree of identification is inevitable…I see by your expression that you think you could have done better.”
     “There aren’t many water-towers in literature.”
     “Yes, but think towers generally. Rapunzel, the Lady of Shallot – and if not that, then people will be wondering, why water? What’s the connection there, they’ll ask. And we haven’t even begun to consider the cultural context. And – don’t think I haven’t already researched these possibilities – if you start down the path of apparently innocuous items – a tablecloth, say, or a letterbox – then we’ll be suspected of irony.” 
     “What’s this ‘we’? And how come you know so much about it anyway?” 
     “Ah. The less said about that, the better.”
     “Oh come on now. That’s just evasion. It seems you have it all your own way.”
     “It’s probably unfair to expect you to understand. But all it takes is a little push one way or the other, and people – ”
     “What people?”
     “People – anyone who happens across this – that’s all it takes, and they go off in any direction, imaginations flailing.”
     “You’re giving them quite a lot of credit, aren’t you? Or yourself?”
     “What do you mean?”
     “I reckon most of the ‘people’ you’re talking about won’t bother to put any thought into this little scene of yours.”
     “It’s not a little scene. It’s rather important.”
     “Either their brains will be deadened from too much work or alcohol, or they won’t find enough interest in your ‘large, shallow pit’ to detain them for longer than it takes to tear off a sheet of toilet paper.”
     “I…that’s not…I don’t.”
     “You haven’t thought of that before, have you? Isn’t this whole thing rather delusional?” 
     “It’s not personal. It’s about the pit. And the stories. That’s all there is.”
     “If you say so.” 
     “You’re being very unfair. It’s…I…I’m sorry, I’m rather overcome. I haven’t encountered this level of cynicism before.”
     “Have you ever tried to explain it before?”
     “That’s beside the point. You are quite mistaken. I’m not in this business to promote myself. My interest is in the stories themselves. If you must assign a role to me – and I hesitate, because I’ll be burdened with it forever – you could think of me as a sort of guardian, or caretaker.”
     “And who appointed you?” 
     “What if I decide differently, then? Because I can see this large, shallow pit now, can’t I? What if I say that it’s actually a bowl, and there’s a cat lapping at it, and…and the stories are lifted up on the cat’s tongue…and…”
     “You can think what you like. But I’ll have to ask you to take your ideas elsewhere.”
     “Which elsewhere? I like this story – ”
     “Which story?”
     “This one – the lakebed, you, me, our tense conversation. I want to stay here, me and my ideas, here.”
     “Wait! Where are you going? When you said I had to take my ideas ‘elsewhere’, I took it to mean you’d be staying here.”
     “Took it to mean! Hah! Took it to mean!”
     “What? Why are you laughing like that?”
     “Oh, there’s no use…Are you telling me I can’t leave?”
     “Maybe. Yes.”
     “Is that your personal wish, or a universal truth?”
     “Now that you ask…I thought it was just me, but maybe it really is the truth. Yes. You can’t leave.”
     “Very tiresome. And I suppose you don’t recall how you came to be here?”
     “No….no. I’ve always been here. Ever since I was – well, ever since I was.”
     “And what do you think that makes you?”
     “I don’t know.”
     “You don’t know. Ironic, isn’t it? You knew a great deal a few minutes ago.”
     “Do you know, then? What that makes me?”
     “So what happens now?”
     “We wait.”
     “What for?”
     “The end.”
     “Is this it?”
     “I don’t know.”


Susan Pearce lives and writes in Wellington. She is currently completing a collection of short stories for the MA in Creative Writing at Victoria University. Not all of her stories are weird dialogues.