Introduction by Łukasz Drobnik
Virginia Woolf’s “Monday or Tuesday”, the titular story from her 1921 collection, eludes categorisation.
If we applied today’s standards to this 300-word piece, we could classify it as flash fiction or even microfiction. Unlike most modern short shorts, which are more or less plot-oriented, Woolf’s piece refuses to tell a straightforward story.
The unsuspecting reader is attacked by a cannonade of images, from ferns (or white feathers?) to wheels striking divergently, to omnibuses conglomerating in conflict, to firelight darting and making the room red, to minarets, to the Indian seas.
The beginning and end are told from the point of view of a “lazy and indifferent” heron, but the perspective is ever-shifting. To the extent that it’s unclear who or what is perceiving these kaleidoscopic images. And perhaps it doesn’t matter.
In a truly impressionistic fashion, “Monday or Tuesday” seems to be intentionally disorienting and elusive, even its title confused about the temporal circumstances of the events it’s telling.
The fact that the story lends its name to the entire collection suggests it’s something more than a frivolous impression. But what—an aesthetic statement? A stylistic manifesto?
Or maybe the piece is not meant to be analysed but rather experienced. Maybe the mere attempt at interpretation is an insult to its oscillating nature. Perhaps instead we should glide through it like a heron, shift our gaze from impression to impression, get carried away by the rush of seemingly unrelated events.
Monday or Tuesday
Lazy and indifferent, shaking space easily from his wings, knowing his way, the heron passes over the church beneath the sky. White and distant, absorbed in itself, endlessly the sky covers and uncovers, moves and remains. A lake? Blot the shores of it out! A mountain? Oh, perfect—the sun gold on its slopes. Down that falls. Ferns then, or white feathers, for ever and ever——
Desiring truth, awaiting it, laboriously distilling a few words, for ever desiring—(a cry starts to the left, another to the right. Wheels strike divergently. Omnibuses conglomerate in conflict)—for ever desiring—(the clock asseverates with twelve distinct strokes that it is midday; light sheds gold scales; children swarm)—for ever desiring truth. Red is the dome; coins hang on the trees; smoke trails from the chimneys; bark, shout, cry "Iron for sale"—and truth?
Radiating to a point men's feet and women's feet, black or gold-encrusted—(This foggy weather—Sugar? No, thank you—The commonwealth of the future)—the firelight darting and making the room red, save for the black figures and their bright eyes, while outside a van discharges, Miss Thingummy drinks tea at her desk, and plate-glass preserves fur coats——
Flaunted, leaf-light, drifting at corners, blown across the wheels, silver-splashed, home or not home, gathered, scattered, squandered in separate scales, swept up, down, torn, sunk, assembled—and truth?
Now to recollect by the fireside on the white square of marble. From ivory depths words rising shed their blackness, blossom and penetrate. Fallen the book; in the flame, in the smoke, in the momentary sparks—or now voyaging, the marble square pendant, minarets beneath and the Indian seas, while space rushes blue and stars glint—truth? or now, content with closeness?
Lazy and indifferent the heron returns; the sky veils her stars; then bares them.
Łukasz Drobnik is a Polish writer, the author of the novel Vostok (Vræyda Literary, 2021), the flash fiction collection Riverine (VA Press, 2023), and the collection of interlinked stories Nocturine (forthcoming from Fathom Books). His writing has been featured in Split Lip Magazine, HAD, Fractured Lit, Foglifter, and elsewhere. His work has also been longlisted for the Wigleaf Top 50 Very Short Fictions and nominated for the Pushcart Prize. You can learn more about him at drobnik.co.