I’ve been obsessing over the notion of a perfect story for the last year and a half. This is a concept that is not easy to explain. A perfect story is like a perfect crime. You don’t have to commit it, it happens. It’s such a well-oiled machine that when it happens in the daylight in front of hundreds of pedestrians, none of them bother to turn around to look at it. But when they feel its presence, suddenly - and they don’t even know why- their whole body shivers involuntarily.
The audience reaction to a story can only be as primal as the story itself.
A perfect story is pure. Pure in the sense of an apple falling off a tree or in the sense of an infant looking for the mother’s breasts. It lives next to us. It’s there at the corner of the classroom where a push pin has fallen and dusted. Or in the slaughterhouse near the drain where the blood is pouring. And it’s staring at us for so long that we’ve forgotten it’s there, motionless, no blinking, patiently waiting.
A perfect story doesn’t need to exist, but it’s so vital. It doesn’t add but subtract. It wipes the pollution at the atomic scale; that’s why it shines, but only when you shed the correct kind of light on it. A perfect story whispers, but it’s deafening. It’s dark, but it can make you go blind.
A perfect story is a hard concept to define, but when you encounter one, you feel it in your bones. It’s a religion. It’s a faith.
Just recently, I found out that the great Gabriel García Márquez would go around and gather folk stories that the writers are anonymous. The stories that pass through maybe centuries and perfected by many many people and probably change shape billion times but still survived.
The story below is something that Marquez wrote himself, but it has that shiny quality. He wrote this after the lights go off in his apartment and an electrician visited his home. "While he made his repairs, I asked him while holding a candle, “How the hell is this a light problem?” He answered, “Light is like water. You open a faucet, the light comes out and registers on a meter.” At that moment, I saw in a flash the completed story."
LIGHT IS LIKE WATER
In a city far from the sea—it could be in Paris, Madrid, Bogotá – a young married couple lives on the fifth floor, with their ten- and seven-year-old children. One day, the kids ask their parents for a rowboat. “Why would we buy you a rowboat,” the father asked. “What can you do with it in a city? We’ll rent one this summer when we got to the seashore.” The kids insist that they want the rowboat now, and their father answers, “If you get the highest grades in school, I will buy you one.” The kids get the highest grades, the father buys them a boat, and when they reach the fifth floor, he asks them, “What are you going to do with it?” “Nothing,” they tell him, “we only wanted it. We will store it in our bedroom.”
One night, when the parents go to the movies, the kids break a light bulb, and the light, “as if it were water,” starts flowing down from the ceiling until there is four feet of water in the apartment. They take out the boat and start rowing from room to room and into the kitchen. When their parents are about to come home, they put the boat away in the closet, let the water go down the drain, and screw the bulb back on as if nothing had happened. This game becomes so much fun that every time they play it, they let the light rise higher and higher. They put on goggles, flippers, and swim under the beds, under the tables, spearfishing underwater … One night, people walking along the street notice that light is flowing out of the windows, flooding the street, so they call the fire department. When the firefighters break down the door, they find the kids had become so absorbed in their game that they that hadn’t realized the light had reached the ceiling and they drowned …