Telling Stories about Strangers

Lately, more so than usual, I’ve been creating stories about the people I don’t know.

I’ve always done this to some extent. Many writers do. We look at the world around us, and tell stories to tie it all together. But I’ve been doing it more and more frequently.

Behind my apartment, there is a man who waters plants. He is a reedy giant of a man, and he has the greenest thumb in the world. He grows South American ferns and vibrant lilies on his porch in the middle of winter. He has tried to repress his magical talent since he was a boy, you see, because the world isn’t kind to those who are different. He has mostly been successful, but tendrils of power still sneak out to woo the plants. He knows this. He doesn’t try particularly hard to stop it.


Then there are the spies. They are a man and woman in their early thirties, and they had a baby several years ago. The baby is real enough as is the couple’s marriage. But when they disappear from their house for weeks at a time, they aren’t simply visiting family or traveling to another office for work; they are hunting secrets.

And somewhere down the block there is an even stranger love story. I always see the dogs first. The big one comes racing around the corner, pale as death and with a mouth full of murder. Then the little one bounds after, throwing itself in the air as though it is part rabbit. After a few moments, their respective owners will stroll after the animals. The owners never expected to meet, but they both needed a roommate. They wanted to hate each other, but their dogs made that impossible.

I don’t take these stories too seriously of course, but they are always in the back of my mind. And I don’t think I’m alone in telling them. After all, how many of us have told a child a tall tale or invented a history for the woman in line at the supermarket? How many of us have decided that the office copy machine is the secret weapon in the eternal war that wages between the powers of good and evil?

…That last one may be specific to me.

—     —     —

Image Attribution: Still from House of Strangers, 1949.


8 thoughts on “Telling Stories about Strangers

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