As the heading says, this is an old story, and not just because I wrote it eleven years ago.
(At the time I thought having a story narrated by a table was pretty original, but I suspect it has been done before.)
Part of the inspiration for this, which is alluded to in the text, was a talk I heard on the radio (I think) which mentioned the Jewish custom of laying out the dead on the kitchen table. I associate this with ideas that I learned elsewhere, about tables as altars, and also something that sticks in my mind from a lecture long ago – ‘for the Jews, every meal was a sacrifice, and every sacrifice a meal’ – I find that a very pleasing, hospitable notion, which I feel ought to inform Catholic understanding of the Eucharist rather more than it does. What is more characteristically human than sitting down together to eat?
However, the main inspiration of this tale comes from three very old stories indeed: the first is the parable of the Prodigal Son, which I have blended with another, that of the Good Samaritan – I rather liked the notion that the two might be the same person. But the third story is the oldest of the lot, and the connection only occurred to me in the act of writing. I had always been troubled by the character of the older brother in the Prodigal Son, perhaps because I identified rather too much with him (the ingenuity of the parables is to wrongfoot the righteous: we identify with the Pharisee and the labourers who were hired first, rather than the publican and those hired at the eleventh hour).
So here at the end, the brothers become Cain and Abel.