Mixed Bag

Or book contents.

I’ve finally rounded up six of my short stories into a book format. I was originally going to write to a theme – make collections of stories about certain themes: Landscape or love; travel or horror, etc, but it hasn’t happened thus, my influences and ideas being a very mixed bag themselves.

So now on the last (hopefully) edit and onto the next bag, or book of tales.

 

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Dog, and other tales will be available at The Wirksworth Festival during readings of my novel Hoxton on the 13th of September. For anyone within reach of Wirksworth, Derbyshire, the festival and art trail are well worth attending.

Link: http://www.wirksworthfestival.co.uk/the-festival

To throw or not to throw . . .

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Files and rough manuscripts of four books: Trilogy – Going Out in the Midday Sun, and Hoxton.

As I was about to consign all rough drafts of my books to the recycling, my son said – ‘but shouldn’t you hang on to all that? The memories, the work’ . . .

I reminded him that I’d already, about two years ago, disposed of about the same again in paper and files, so therefore if I was to regard it as a complete collection of all prep work I’d ever done, it was already pillaged. So . . . to the bin. But wait. Maybe just a bit of it – the actual first ideas; the first mistake-ridden file of 80,000 words; the coffee stained and dust covered tentative trial pages . . .  Oh, OK, maybe just a small shelf’s worth.

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Big yellow file holding the first draft of the first book – where it all started. Yep, I might keep that one . . . 

So, I’ve rescued a couple of items from each book, plus the actual proof copies and the rest will become an ripping up occupation while half watching a couple of episodes of Breaking Bad (for the second time around) this evening.

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Cats Like Plain Crisps

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somebody’s cat – sorry not sure whose, or whose image but we don’t at present have a cat to photo, with or without crisps

At present I’m re-editing my short stories with a view to making them into a ‘collection’.

What to call the book? one of the titles perhaps? or something random; something to encapsulate the wandering, miscellaneous subjects . . .

As sometimes happens, my brain (and I assume with most other peoples’) suddenly decided to present me with a curious phrase I haven’t recollected for about forty years. Cats Like Plain Crisps.

The whole figment came back to me – complete in every detail:  1974 or so, Mum driving round a roundabout in West London in the aged Hillman Minx; me in the back staring out on a grey, sleazy day after a school holiday spent in the Hovis-ad-like countryside of Dorset.

Mum, negotiating the rush-hour traffic and probably saying ‘bugger off’ to other motorists, failed to acknowledge this wonderment of graffiti – hand sprayed in large black letters on the blank end of a house, but I obviously logged it away for use forty years later.

Except . . . that it’s actually quite well documented. I checked on Google and there are images of the writing, not of the wall I had seen, but other walls, and on bridges, and padlocks, even. Apparently the first ever ‘Cats like plain crisps’ was scrawled on a kitchen wall in a Grosvenor Rd squat, Twickenham, and then reproduced possibly by the same wonderfully-deranged person in other areas of West London.

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Oh well, just another 40 million words/phrases to choose from . . .

Weasels Dislike Chamber Music?

 

 

Serious advice

 

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Myself – in case any search engines pick up on it. Kate A. Hardy, at the moment, reveals many images of other Kate Hardys and just occasionally one of me.

 

Self-editing is fine, even enjoyable but actual, real, serious advice from someone who knows the writing industry is invaluable.

As my finger was hovering over the ‘yes, go ahead, publish your book’ again on Lulu Publishing, this time I stopped and wondered about a different way. ‘Hoxton‘ was on its eighth or so draft. I had listened to incredibly helpful comments from many readers and acted on their suggestions in most cases. Some people, (hello Bob!), had spent many hours thinking about the way certain sections of the book were constructed and picked up on all sorts of continuity embarrassments, and for all these points I will be always grateful. But it’s easy to continue, still including favourite elements, phrases even chapters that you know are perhaps not quite working, even if friends and readers have told you as much.

So, the different way. I investigated a literary consultancy’s web site on the recommendation of a writer friend; sent off my trial chapter, was accepted and then the whole manuscript sent to an industry editor: a tad scary . . .

A month later back came the notes, and wow, what a mine of usefulness it was/is. After the initial very deep breath and following careful study of everything said, I constructed a list of points to talk over. We will meet later this month and I will start dissecting the book (already have, in fact) and piecing it back together, as I should have done if I had really listened to my misgivings and other peoples.

 

Story for Mark (polymath husband)

Unknown

On the eighth day, God created the polymath.

He’d had a fairly busy few days and was actually having a bit of a lie down. But then being God, five minutes was enough; he’d already started feeling a tad bored.

Man was OK, running about in that fabulous garden, but . . . maybe a bit of tinkering with genes – Yeah, why not!

He took a prototype man, and (not many theologians know this) faffed about a bit with his logic circuits and wondering abilities. He breathed suggestion into Man; suggestion that there was always more to discover; more about everything: pudding, buildings, contemporary dance, fish eggs, town-planning, knitting, pot-holing, writing, taxidermy and so on . . .

   Some of these early polymaths died out from overenthusiasm – rather too keen to know more about fungi, home made bombs, etc, but some lived on and passed down, through their genetic makeup, the Polymath RNA.

     Throughout the history of mankind; through wars, great political triumphs and construction of hypermarkets, there have always been persons wandering along convoluted paths of destiny, liable to turn at the slightest suggestion of more to learn, a different way of seeing, or simply lead away by an inability to say no to some new project or idea.

    These people must be celebrated, cherished, and occasionally taken firmly by the arm, away from something that ‘could lead to great things’.

    They must be heralded in their thirst for knowledge, their enthusiasm, and in Dr Lockett’s case (and no doubt, many others) their generosity in passing on their fabulous wealth of accumulated information (apart from sport if referring to Dr Lockett).

Mark: you are a wonderful, kind, incredibly talented and very tall Polymath. Your family, friends and many, many students from over the years, salute you and know that you will still be composing, playing music, thinking and teaching well into your 90s.

Happy 60th from us all.

The Writer

A story for my fellow writers.

 

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The Writer  Copyright: Kate A.Hardy 2016

 

The Writer looks down into the teeming street and wonders how many other writers are out there, the air thick with ideas, plots and sorrow over rejection letters.

He turns, sits at the table and stirs his own pile of envelopes: some large, some small; all containing the same sentiment:

Dear Writer, we looked at your chapters with great interest, but due to the high numbers of manuscripts we can only accept those that we really feel passionate about.

Did they read it? Surely those first lines should have stirred something.

The first thing that Reginald was aware of on waking was that his legs had become giant yellow pieces of a bulldozer.

Perhaps it was the grammar: A comma after waking perhaps. The spell check hadn’t said so though, but should one trust a piece of software? Or maybe the whole four chapters were riddled with misplaced SEMI-COLONS and the wrong dashes. Perhaps his finger had slipped and the word had become wanking. Proof read seventeen times means nothing; you just don’t see the words anymore.

But if it did say wanking, surely that could be good — cutting edge, surprising, ground breaking — better just check though.

The Writer presses the wakey-wakey button on the computer; never really shut down, just waiting for possible news from online submissions.

The manuscript lurks in a file along with many others: good and bad, and really really bad, or actually . . . rather wonderful . . . depending on if his mind is leaping along a sunlit hilltop or in a stinking pig-shitty ditch. This morning his mind inhabits a bus station: cold and grey thoughts coming and going, waiting for the right bus to hop on.

Word is stuck.

He presses Force Quit in a moment of unheralded stupidity and the screen goes blank: a blue rectangle in the dimly lit room.

“FUCK! No really, it can’t have just gone . . . The Writer shuts the computer down for a while and considers eating some cheese.

“Cheese is good, with Branston, better. Tea, big bloody mug of tea.” The writer realises he’s talking to himself. This has been happening alarmingly often recently.

The fridge is devoid of cheese and Branston, even bread. The writer must GO OUT. In fact the dog must go out, so why not.

The writer approaches the dog bed; plots and descriptive elements as ever fight their way through the cheese lust.

Beegee was a small dog: brown, sleek; remarkable only for the fact he could dance to men singing in squeaky voices. His bed of worn — no — threadbare velvet, was situated next to the wall of panelled Lincrusta; a morbid shade of dull green — nope, too many adjectives, editors don’t like them — green Lincrusta. The fringed lampshade of the standard lamp — too many lamps — the fringed shade of the standard lamp, cast a . . . should there be a comma after lamp? The —

The dog stands up aware that his master is ready to go into the real world. The Writer folds the idea away into his mind-store of a million dusty paragraphs and strokes the dog.

“Walkies?”

The dog, knowing that The Writer will have to go back to the computer and check a few things first, flops down with a grunt and waits.

Familiar words spike the flat’s stuffy air.

“Bastard internet company — right that’s it, I’m going to change to . . . oh, s’OK.”

A line slides across the blank bar at the top of the screen, reflected in the writer’s china/cornflower/piercing, blue, anxious eyes. “Come on, come on! I need to check the deadline on that competition.” The line stops halfway and the writer runs shaking fingers through his greying-brown hair; hair that was just brown when he started on this mad mission to be PUBLISHED.

“Sod it.” He cries and the dog gets up again, understanding the throwing back of the chair signifies walkies will now happen.

As The Writer drags/shrugs/pulls on his (worn, but once expensive Savile row tweed coat) the phone rings. The writer stops. Perhaps it could be The Girlfriend, or The Mother. Both women must be avoided at the moment, as there was talk of jobs and money earning. Yes, vital, and will be seen too, as soon as this last chapter is done.

Perhaps it could be an AGENT; it has been known to happen — the personal touch? Not just an email: The book in it’s present form would not make the market place, but . . . I think you have some interesting ideas. If you would like to . . .

The writer grabs the phone on the last ring, knocking a glass of wine to the floor.

“Shit . . . Oh, hi. Pub? Yeah, why not — just got to buy some cheese first. The Rat’n’Cucumber, in ten? OK.”

Dog and owner squeeze past the shared-house detritus on the landing, avoid Mrs Green on the first floor and reach the ground floor. The Writer pauses before the freckled hall mirror to examine his appearance: furrowed brow, hollow cheeks and . . . opps, no mirror descriptions. Oh so useful, but so damned clichéd. He turns his gaze to the dump of mail on the hall table.

“Phone bill, credit card statement — sharp intake of breath — postcard from Cleethorpes. A-ha, Beegee . . . what’s this?”

He slips a trembling finger under the envelope flap, the paper giving way with a sound as loud as a sandstorm in the echoing hallway.

Dear Writer,

Hutch and Wortleberry associates were interested to read your chapters, but . . .

The dog whimpers as his owner rips the A4 sheet into a small blizzard and kicks the pieces under a warped section of lino, noting first in his Earnest Hemmingway moleskin notebook, which agency has rejected him.

The greasy London street seethes with rush hour activity. Black-garmented people scuttle, bags and briefcases clutched in morning-knuckly hands, a million office chairs vacantly waiting their arrival. Weaving beetle-like through the crowd, The Writer dives into the fug of Sahides convenience store, grabs a triangular packet of Cheddar and heads for the counter, ignoring the lines of chunky bestsellers that sit smugly next to the pink-fronted celeb magazines.

He pays and heads off into the drizzle, the cheese continuing its fermentation in his cellar–like coat pocket.

Traffic lights blur in his rain-spotted glasses; hair flops, shoes leak. A job . . . at least he would own real shoes. Maybe. Just this last chapter: send it off and kiss this crazy urge goodbye. Imagine a future without it — get up, get dressed, take the tube, do the job, kiss the girlfriend, buy the ring, secure the flat, book the vicar, the church and the covers band; have the most important orgasm, the one that sends a tadpole burrowing into her egg that fixes itself to her womb and creates a tiny, new living form; move to get the right school . . . WHAP.

Beegee has chased a cat into the road and the writer has embraced a lamppost, hard.

He collapses to the pavement as the dog apologises, eyebrows converging, cat forgotten.

People hurry past; just another down-and-out.

The writer laughs, locates the cheese and breaks off a nub. He sits for a moment as the acid-saltiness stings his teeth and turns off all other senses.

A carelessly thrown fifty pence piece ricochets off the pavement and chinks into a drain. The Writer’s tired eyes follow the movement and he sighs as deeply as the wind in a thousand pine trees (nice).

“Pub, Beegee. I need a bloody drink.”

 

Dog and writer arrive at the Rat ‘n’ Cucumber. The doorway, a friendly orange rectangle amongst scarred, dusk-dark brick beckons them in: ale for the writer, bacon crisps for the dog.

A pink-haired woman, signals across the room, waving madly: “Hey, Dodo!”

The writer flushes, wishing The Artist didn’t call him this. Pushing his way between suited men braying about deals and thin girls with eyelashes of crows’ wings, he reaches the table she has claimed. A small sculpture of someone sits atop a pile of books, alongside hairbrushes, tins of soup and a melon.

“Who’s the guy?” says The Writer, peeling off his wet coat and throwing it to the bench seat.

She jerks her head towards the flaking personage: “Kennedy,” she says, and continues to empty her voluminous bag.

“Before the bullet, or after?” he asks, “and what are you looking for?”

“After. It’s for an exhibition — Presidents in Heaven and Hell. And I’m trying to find my fucking purse.”

“I’ll get them,” says The Writer. “Guiness and mint cordial?”

“No, I’ve gone off that — just a triple Martini with four cubes of ice. Thanks, Dodo.”

“Crisps?”

“God no . . . so bad for you.”

“And a triple Martini isn’t?”

“I had a pint of goats milk first. You can drink anything after that — just think of what goats eat.”

The Writer nods, remembering the time a goat ate his mother’s handbag in London Zoo.

He approaches the counter hoping the fair-haired barmaid will serve him, but she’s trapped with a guffawing man in silver-grey trousers, the jacket slung over his shoulder, Cartier watch revealed, and Ferrari cufflinks; the dancing horse in its sea of custard yellow as clear as a Dutch miniature. The Writer forgets what he is doing, drawn in by the outward signage of this person.

“Can I help you?” The man asks.

“Er, no . . . sorry, just wondered what time it was.”

“Same time as it says on your Timex, Mate.”

The barmaid titters as The Writer moves along the bar, wondering how he would choose to dispatch cuff-link man if murder could be ordered along with lager.

Returning to the table, he clinks down half a lager and a stem glass of amber-red fluid.

The Artist picks up the drink: “Thanks, but why only three ice cubes?”

The Writer turns heavy-lidded eyes on her: “Does it really matter?”

“Everything matters. Anyway, I have this thing about the number four at the moment,” she sips. “Ooh, that’s good . . . have to do things four times.”

“Like what?”

“Closing doors, washing hands, blinking, orgasms . . . ”

“That’s OCD.”

“It’s conceptual art.”

The Writer considers his own small routines in the flat: “So me going back to check the gas is off is conceptual art.”

“No that’s OCD.”

“Four orgasms?”

“Always.”

“How?”

“Visualising plant stamens. Another drink?”

“Er . . . yeah, sure.”

She glowers as he passes the drained glass: “You need something more thought-provoking that half a pint of piss — don’t go anywhere.”

Sighing, the writer watches as the The Artist pushes her way to the bar. The last time they left this pub, he ended up in St Thomas’s Hospital with a car clamp attached to his leg and crisp poisoning. Not this time. A new plot was forming: need to keep focussed. He could feel the story line hovering just out of reach: rain-slicked street, a burning car, acrid smoke hissing under the pelting/torrential/shimmering, steel edged rain/water/torrents . . . just rain for now, shit, just used rain . . . “Oh, thanks.”

A glass of blue is in front of him; an oasis amongst the matrix of grey brown and black that is the Rat ’n’ Cucumber.

“What is this?”

“A thought provoker.”

“But what’s in it?”

“Shut up and drink it, then you can come and help me finish the paper maché Nixon head.”

“But — ”

Actually . . . why not? The Writer considers: a couple of hours engaged in some other art activity while this new idea walks around in his head. No fearful staring at the computer squeezing a few words out before putting the kettle on, once again.

“I like the suit,” he says as they leave the pub. The collection of peculiar, coloured fabric strips that The Artist usually inhabits has been replaced by a sharp, single breasted number.

“Thanks,” she says. “Hair’s next — raven black.”

“Why?”

“Black and white, no fuzzy in-between stuff. You’ll understand when you see the flat.”

The rain is now as heavy as the torrents featuring in The Writer’s new idea. They dodge traffic and arrive panting outside The Artist’s grizzled residence to climb the four flights of gravy-coloured stairs. Dog and master steam gently as she searches for keys.

“Bastard bag.”

“Maybe you should get a small brief case to go with the suit?”

“Piss off, Dodo.”

The Artist opens the door and they stand in an empty white room.

The Writer gawps: “What happened to all the stuff?”

“New start,” she smiles. “Easel, materials and four walls – eight if you include the bedroom, or twelve with the loo.”

“Where’s this Nixon head thing?” He says, peeling off his coat.

She jerks her head towards the bedroom door: “In there.”

The Writer walks over and tentatively opens the door remembering a drunken dalliance in that very room when he and The Artist had shared apres-university hopes and ideals.

“He won’t bite,” she says as he peers into the room. A chicken wire structure looms in the space, empty otherwise apart from stacks of newspaper, a computer and a giant Technicolor photograph of the ex-president.

“Where’s the bed?”

“I gave it to the mad woman downstairs — got a futon in the bathroom.”

“Oh, I see.”

“Tinned peaches, or shall we start?”

 

Four hours later, sticky with gluey paper The Writer sips tea and looks out over the glistening rooftops from the flat’s one window.

“Penny for ’em,” says The Artist.

He turns and sighs: “Just thinking . . .”

“How many is it now?” she asks, stirring her tea.

“Rejections? About fifty.”

“You still got the itch to do it?”

“Think it’s hidden somewhat under layers of mental clothing.”

“You’ll know.”

“What?”

“When enough’s enough. There’ll be a sign.”

The Writer nods: “I’ll watch out then. Right better get back and do some work — or not.”

“Thanks, Dodo . . . for the head help. I’ll give you a credit.”

The Writer stands, wakes the dog, waves and heads out into the blackness of the corridor to wander back home through streets puddled with petrol-rainbow water. His weary mind juggles poetic prose but falls into thoughts of jobs and healthy bank statements. A sign? Life without the word urge?

 

Turning into his thin street, he looks up at the tenement block and considers the six years that were supposed to be six months while he figured out a way of contributing to a joint mortgage. The door of number six is ajar. Someone has left the door open: careless! The Writer pads upstairs. Beegee whines as they reach the landing.

“What?” questions his owner, “cats?” The whine becomes a bark as they approach the open door of the flat. “Jesus. F. Christ,” wails The Writer as he steps over a bookcase partly blocking the hallway. His voice rises to a screech as he observes the dark square on the dusty table on entering the sitting room. “The fuckers — the computer!”

He wades across the debris and stands white-faced, hands raking his hair. It’s gone. Along with the hard-drive and all the non-backed up files, words, phrases, pages, paragraphs, stories and . . . The Novel. As he collapses, sobbing, onto a pile of clothing, he remembers The Artist’s words: ‘You’ll know — a sign.’ He buries the words in his fury, covering them with the earth of phrases stored in his mind, but they surface again, a waving hand of the undead — ‘a sign’.

Hours, wine, coffee and a police statement later, The Writer sinks into his bed still dressed, a million phrases spinning through his dishevelled brain.

 

Day breaks with the ‘chip chip of urban sparrows and the thrum of the rush hour. The Writer sits up, leans over to the window and flips up the roller blind. Sun streaks into the room highlighting shelves bent under the weight of dust-inebriated manuscripts. Turning back to the window, he glances over the unkempt, privet-bushed garden and considers the beauty of this London morning. He waits for the usual gush of lyrical observations: nothing. His mind is as empty as an uninhabited goldfish bowl.

Looking back to the sagging wads of paper, The Writer imagines a clean wall and respectable wallpaper. Pushing back the bedclothes he stalks the idea into the living room. Perhaps it might be good to rediscover the carpet, paint walls and invite people round. As he stirs a pile of discarded papers with a moth-eaten socked toe the idea becomes an unbearably huge thing, filling the flat, making him breathless: he dives for the phone.

“Come on . . . come on . . . Hey! Yes, sorry I know it’s bloody six a.m . . . yes it is an emergency, sort of.”

An hour later, a blue van is parked outside the building, its portly owner yawning as he watches The Writer manically dragging bin bags into the patch of front garden.

“What the fuck are you doing, Dodo?”

“Don’t call me that. Just doing something I should have done years ago.”

The Friend passes a hand through the remaining wisps of hair stretched across his head and squints at The Writer’s zealous activity.

“Have you found God?”

“No.”

“What’s all these bags?”

“Paper millstone.”

“Sorry?”

“D’you want to come to an exciting life-cleansing ritual?”

“Can’t — got someone coming round to collect a cake. How long do you need the van?”

The Writer drops the two bags he is clutching and smiles blankly: “I really don’t know.”

“This afternoon then. Before two, I’ve a wedding tapas to set up.”

“Thanks.”

“No problem. Let’s get the rest of whatever it all is, out, then you can make me a coffee.”

 

As The Writer leaves the remnants of Suburbia behind, the sun appears, clouds drift away and the light drizzle that had threatened his plans evaporates. Today he is unaware of the patchwork of fields and the distant blue hills. The van chugs, the radio babbles and his mind feels divinely empty.

Inspired to turn left, he does so, and finds at the end of a track a clearing and a small pond. “As if to order,” he murmurs as he turns off the engine and observes the landscape. The cooling engine clicks. Wind ruffles the poplars’ yellowing leaves, some escaping and tickling the van window. No poem shuffles forward, just practical information: fires, ashes, and disposal of.

Opening the door, he steps out and breathes in the Autumnal air: “OK, let’s do this.”

The ash pile is smaller than he had thought: not much for seven or eight year’s work. Scooping up the feathery flakes he tosses them across the water where they land in clumps, not lyrically dissolving as he had imagined: himself as a lone figure weeping on the banks. “Huh.”

 

Van returned, The Writer walks towards his home, ideas of fresh paint and upholstery crowding his mind. There is much to be done, atonement, grovelling even.

He opens the door, hearing the swish of post and free papers on the lino. Stooping he picks up the pile and scans for his name — couple of crinkly-windowed, worrying things, letter from his mother and . . . “Huh! One of those.” Carelessly he slips an index finger under the flap and draws out a thick piece of A4. “Last time I’ll have to endure crushing humiliation, eh, Beegee.”

The page holds rather more words than usual: words he had often fantasied over.

    Dear Writer. Thank you for sending us your chapters. Although there are issues to be resolved, your work interests me. Would you please send the complete manuscript by return of post.

The dog cringes under the hall table, waiting for the howl of rejection. Nothing. Silence apart from his owner’s heartbeat, just audible in the musty hallway.

Reality crashes: “Holy, crapping, crap! What have I done?”

The Writer thunders upstairs, unlocks the door with sweating fingers and stumbles into the mess.

“Somewhere,” he spits, “in this nightmare, I left that USB key for safekeeping. Safe! Where!”

The dog retreats to its bed whilst The Writer/whirlwind passes through the flat, turning over piles and wrenching open drawers. Abruptly he stops as a memory surfaces. There was another one . . . I gave it to . . . who, WHO? Grabbing the phone, he stabs the keypad.

“Holly? Hi-yeah-fine-no-actually-totally-mad. Look did I leave you a USB key . . . after that gig we went to where Peter was playing . . . no? Shit. Sorry, I’ll call again, soon.”

He repeats this seven times without success then as he stands white-faced in the dishevelled flat another memory surfaces: the image of a messenger bag he had left at The Girlfriend’s flat after a spectacular row – the last row. Throwing all other issues aside he dials her number. No reply. She must be there; it’s Wednesday. She always works at home on Wednesday.

An apologetic bark reminds him that it’s Beegee’s teatime. The tin and opener have become a brain-freezing complication of metal; his hands slip and twist.

The dog snaffles the food while his master paces, thinking of the bag: did he really leave it there? Dog filled, they clamber back over the bookshelves, career down the stairs and sprint to the high road.

A black cab curves to a halt at The Writer’s frantic gesticulations. Scrambling in, he gabbles the address and sits hugging the dog.

As they flee through the back roads, gardens, feral cats and skips become again things to be considered, to be placed in sentences, paragraphs and page; the ordinary becoming once again a universe of extraordinary.

His guts gripe as the cab pulls in. He pays and stands looking up for a moment at The Girlfriend’s flat, situated at the top of an elegant mustard-bricked building. The argument rings in his head. He feels regret, but mostly fear: will she let him in?

Walking up the checked pathway The Writer glances at the pile of bin-liners covering the usually neat, gravelled front garden. Bin strike again, perhaps. He mounts the stairs and prods the illuminated rectangle next to her name, a shard of sadness running through him. Sweat pricks at his limbs. After what feels like days, her voice crackles in his ear.

“Yes, hello?”

“It’s me.”

“Piss off.”

Silence.

“I’m sorry.”

“Sorry for being a shit-head, or sorry for the last three years of total inertia?”

“Well . . . all that, really.”

“It’s over.”

The Writer feels a pain lance his throbbing heart, followed by brain-pulverising panic.

“Can we talk about this . . . and can I come in?”

“No. To be blunt, I’ve gone back to Sam.”

“What! That smarmy bastard who works at Nat West?”

“No. Sam with a job and a car who works at Nat West.”

The intercom hisses static as she moves to hang up.

“No, wait! My stuff!”

“Bin bags — outside. I was about to call you.” Click.

The Writer turns to look at the grey heap of rain-drenched plastic. He calmly takes off his jacket, rolls up his sleeves and un-knots the first one. A stench of ancient fridge contents knocks him back. Five bags later he’s unearthed his own familiar belongings. He hauls out socks, shirts, books, and, at the bottom, a crushed vinyl bag. The zip is stuck. He wrenches and tears, discarding notebooks, cigarettes, redundant technology and there . . . at the very bottom, a small piece of red plastic. Seizing it he jumps up, banging into a resident: “Sorry . . . I’ll be back — to clean up.”

He runs to the main road praying that Zippiprint hasn’t closed down. No, still there! Barging in he stands, close to hyperventilation, behind an old man requiring photocopies.

A youthful assistant is trying her best: “A4, sir?”

“No, I only want one.”

“The size — A4.”

“Oo, she didn’t say. Perhaps I’d better ring her.” His ancient hands shake as he reaches into an inside pocket for a mobile phone. “Oh, my glasses, I left them next to the television, I remember now. He purses his lips and peers close to the phone, mouthing silent numbers: “one, six, three . . . no, six, one . . . ”

The Writer fumes; sweat drops from his brow.

“Can I help you?” Another assistant has appeared from the back room: an amber-haired saviour.

“Never so sweet the messenger of sainted help,” murmurs The Writer.

“Sir?”

“Nothing. Sorry . . . ” he hands over the key. “I need a copy of a file on here, thanks.”

She takes the key, wipes the sweat from it and inserts it into a computer. It loads. The Writer dances frenetically on the spot. The old man stares at his phone.

Assistant number two turns wide, brown eyes onto The Writer: “Swedish Sofa Games, or Big Buns part two?”

He stops wriggling, face flaring: “Er . . . sorry, can I see.”

She turns the monitor and he regards the lengthy list of agent letters, synopi, short stories . . .

“Where the fuck?” he snarls, momentarily forgetting his whereabouts.

The elderly man turns to him and smiles: “No, not having much luck.”

The Writer grunts an apology and runs his straining eyes over the list once more . . . There! At the bottom, of course! During a drunken moment he had changed the novel’s name; it had never been changed back on this key.

He stabs a trembling index finger at the screen: “That one.” The girl opens the file and words fill the screen. “Scroll-please-thanks-sorry.” It’s there, the right edit — all of it. “Two copies, spiral bound, please.”

She nods, lips a firm line: “Fifteen minutes, OK?”

“Great, fantastic.”

The writer steps into the street, the old guy’s querulous voice replaced by the city soundscape of cars, buses, sirens and a million conversations. He closes his eyes for a moment as if to cement in time this monumental moment. What to do with fifteen minutes? Coffee? Beer? Nothing. He sits, guards the shop as if it might melt away, imagines the shape of the agent: hair, glasses or no glasses. The elderly man steps out from the shop and smiles at him.

“I remembered, four copies of A4 — colour. And I think your cookery project is ready too.”

“Cookery?”

“Buns, wasn’t it?”

The Writer salutes as he stands up: “That was it, thanks.”

The assistant squares up the two heavy manuscripts on the counter: “Twenty-four pounds, sir.” Producing his faded debit card, the The Writer prays there will be enough swishing around at the bottom of his monetary petrol tank. “Code,” she continues, “Thank you. Bag?”

“Please.”

Clasping the slippery plastic to his chest, he enters the buzzing street. Visualising his almost empty wallet, he opts for a bus. He runs, dog following, to the nearest stop. The traffic is a car park, no red shape remotely visible, even in the distance.

“A brisk walk, Beegee. Can only be fifteen minutes to Charing Cross.”

The earlier sunny day is morphing into true late autumn. Storm clouds gather, office blocks pale against their towering dark mass. Wind whips. The first heavy raindrops spot the dusty pavements and The Writer’s brisk walk turns to a run. With the force of a mighty slamming door, the storm commences. He dodges the crowds, a sea of grey clothes and black umbrellas; steps into Garrick Street not checking to his right. A messenger cyclist clips his arm. The bag falls and regurgitates its heavy, white contents into an overflowing drain’s miniature lake.

Lifting the dripping mush of papers, The Writer stares at the dribbling words for a second then drops the pile.

The dog shivers as The Writer fumbles for the USB key, scanning the street for another printers. No key. His brain replays the transaction in Zippoprint but nothing surfaces.

Feeling as if his lungs have imploded, The Writer reaches the printers. The auburn-haired girl is swishing fetid water out from the shop doorway, her expression, grim.

“Sorry to bother you,” gasps The Writer, “but, did I leave my key here?”

She shakes her head: “I gave it back to you.”

The rain pours. She sweeps.

A vibration that could be his heart living its last, awakens him from his trance: Phone text message from The Artist: ‘Dodo call round, I’ve  — ‘

The phone dies. Beegee howls. The Writer picks up the dog and walks, mind empty to The Artist’s flat.

 

He presses the intercom button, the door buzzes and he struggles to the third floor, wet coat clinging to his trembling legs.

The Artist peers out from her doorway, hair in a towel.

“What was the rest of the message?” says The Writer dully. “I only got: ‘call round, I’ve  —’ before my phone’s battery went dead.

She pulls him into the room, hands him another towel: “Look — dry Beegee, he’s shaking then come in here.

The Writer slops his sodden coat to a chair-back, rubs the dog over and walks into the bedroom. The Artist’s newly, black hair shines with a blue reflection from her computer screen as she bends to fiddle with something at the side of the Mac. The Writer looks over her shoulder as a Ping announces item installed.

A small white icon of a USB key appears on her screen saver of a Robert Mapplethorpe nude. She clicks on it.

“I found this stuck to Nixon’s head,” she says, looking up at him as a list appears. “Just checking it’s the right key — I seem to have several. Remember you gave me a copy of the novel? Somehow it must have got into my newspaper pile. Sorry.”

“That’s really quite alright,” sighs The Writer. He pulls her chin slightly towards him with a damp forefinger and thumb. He kisses her slowly then looks back to the screen.

His shaking hand covers hers as he scrolls down to The Novel and opens the file.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Audio story

I love them: Dickens, Dorothy L Sayers, Bill Bryson, Jake Arnott, etc; listened to over and over, and will be again, no doubt . . .

Now I have one of my own – my words, the ones I wrote, edited, dreamed about and swore over . . . so amazing to hear them narrated by such a talent as Anton Lesser.

Thanks Cracked Eye! Great site of stories, artwork, audio, films . . .

 

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The Hundred and Fifty-Eighth book, read by Anton Lesser, now out on Cracked Eye