This week, I drew spades from my well-shuffled deck of cards. That’s how we roll in the Deal Me In Short Story Reading Challenge. Some people assign specific stories to specific cards. I just assigned sources of stories to suits.
Spades mean Daily Science Fiction. I went to DSF on Thursday, and the story that was up was Gordon B. White’s “Rearranging Ways to Listen”. It’s flash fiction, but man, is it good!
At an art gallery in the future (possibly the relatively near future), the privileged circulate, viewing the artists as well as the art. The viewpoint character is an artist named Hermes.
In Greek mythology, Hermes was the messenger of the gods, skilled, a trickster, and a friend of mortals. I don’t think the character was named at random.
Hermes is not one of the privileged. He has an old-tech mechanical hand in a society in which having no replacement parts is a sign of safe and easy living. The wealthy viewers find his painting vaguely interesting, but not something they care to live with. When they’ve moved on, their place taken by a food service worker with an old-school implant in her neck, we learn the meaning of the story’s title, which is also the title of the painting. In his painting, Hermes’ has literally rearranged his materials to communicate only with people like himself.
I found the story brilliant in the way it manages, in very few words, to work both on the surface and as an allegory. One of the few Stephen King books I (almost) thoroughly love is MISERY, for this same reason. And I’m reserving that (almost) in case I want to withdraw the qualification sometime. In “Rearranging Ways to Listen”, White says that true art is made from who we are and speaks to those who can understand it viscerally. In this story, there’s a physical link to understanding. Allegorically, it’s arguable how far imagination can take one toward “experiencing” the meaning in art made from a life vastly different from one’s own.
I very much like it that the title is “Rearranging Ways to Listen” and not “Rearranging Ways to Speak”. The privileged viewers would never have understood the painting to the extent Hermes’ intended receptors would, but they would have come closer if they had been “listening” to it instead of thinking about how it would look on their walls.
Gordon B. White has lived in North Carolina, New York, and the Pacific Northwest. He is a 2017 graduate of the Clarion West Writing Workshop, and his fiction has appeared in venues such as A Breath from the Sky: Unusual Stories of Possession, Nightscript Vol. 2, and the Borderlands 6. Gordon is also an Assistant Editor with Kraken Press and contributes reviews and interviews to various outlets. You can find him online at gordonbwhite.com or on Twitter @GordonBWhite.
A WRITING PROMPT BASED ON MY POST: Write about a failure and a success at communication.