Many years ago in a city much like this one, though larger and more prosperous, a man killed his neighbor. The murder was committed with a hammer or chair or some other blunt instrument, either in the morning or afternoon. The man cut the corpse into pieces, wrapped each piece in plastic, and stuffed them into the refrigerator, probably resolving never to open it again. Some weeks later, after he had confessed, the police discovered the body in this same condition. "It was packed in so tight you couldn’t even fit an egg," the inspector told the few reporters gathered to detail the crime. "Not even an egg."
And in the end this is what you remember. Not the name of the perpetrator or his victim, the reason for the crime, the manner of the killing, or the weapon itself. Even that great city where you spent so much of your youth has faded from memory, as have the lovers you had there. But the refrigerator packed so tight that not even an egg would fit remains. And you wonder if the strangeness of the world is due to your view of the past, or if somehow you have lost your way.
The hero leaves his village and goes on a long journey. He overcomes evil, acquires great wealth, and perhaps even comes to know himself. But when he returns home, in a turn that strikes him as overwhelmingly unjust, his wife is gone. "Do her eyes not linger on the horizon?" he asks the gods.
Embarrassed, they do not answer.
Once there was a village on a lake. There was no monster, no horrible beast lurking in the depths. Nothing larger than flitting schools of minnows and the occasional frog. Even in the center you could see all the way down a hundred feet to the rocky bottom.
The men of the village did not trust the lake. It made them nervous. They would row out and stare down into the depths, their spears ready, waiting for something to emerge. But, of course, nothing ever did.
Day by day, month by month, they grew more anxious. They refused to hunt. They refused to sleep, or lie with their wives. They stared down into the lake. It is like sleep without dreams, they said. Death without God, and unable to explain, the priest was driven from the village.
Finally, on the coldest night of the year, as the men sat huddled in their boats, a woman walked into the lake. She wore a white dress with stones sewn into the seams, so heavy she could barely lift her arms. She walked until she sank beneath the surface and drifted to the bottom where her body lay, pale and beautiful.
The men were much relieved. Beware, they said to the travelers who passed through the village, there is a madwoman in the lake. At night you can hear her call.
The seed of the parable project came from my struggles to write about my time living in Africa. I found myself slipping into either the cloying voice of a traveler attempting to imitate local rhythms, or a moralistic outsider casting judgments on a culture he didn't understand. The moralistic outsider voice was more interesting. After I let it run free, it changed. Turning to subjects far-flung and strange. One particularly beautiful influence is Kafka's Poseidon.