Updated on May 24, 2015
The Writer – Part One
This is another free-style long story I wrote for my MA. I’ve always loved reading about writing, so I wanted to write something about it. I’ve also toyed with the ‘man alone in a cell’ motif in other things I’ve written, because the idea of solitary confinement holds a gruesome fascination for me.
The Writer – Part One
Fraser Henry Thomas sat carefully on the bed that hid his secret and gazed out of the barred window. It was set into the wall opposite the door so he had to turn his head up and to the right to look through it. With one hand he absent-mindedly turned the tag on his wrist: FHT-356X. The edges did not scratch any more, he had worn them smooth.
On previous mornings Fraser had tried sitting cross-legged on the bed, so that he would not have to strain his neck, but it made the walls close in and he felt like he was falling upwards into the sky. On other occasions he had stood at the bed-head, but the doorway gaped behind him like a hungry mouth and the passing of clouds made him forget how to move his body. He suffered a paralysed panic until he managed to force his eyes closed.
Through these experiments he discovered that the only way to sit was with one of his legs crossed beneath him, and the other propped on the wooden chair that he pulled up next to the bed. The discomfort in his folded leg and twisted neck kept him inside himself, whilst the distant daylight lit his face. His other leg grounded him, reminded him of the chair, the existence of something beyond himself. The sky always put him in great danger of oblivion.
This morning it was cloudy, but the opaque light had been strong enough to wake him early. The sky was the same dirty white as the walls of his cell and had the peculiar effect of making the window seem further away than usual. Fraser waited. Soon a key scratched in the lock and as the door opened he stood up slowly, his fingers pressing down on the mattress as he rose so that it did not make the noise that would betray him. He dragged the chair back against the blank wall and all four of its legs scraped along the floor. The chair had once been coupled with a desk, but that was removed when they knew he was coming and now there was only a shadow on the painted wall.
He turned to the door which now stood open and empty. Across the corridor he could see another open door and another cell; only the bed and window were visible, and they were identical to his own. A man appeared in the opposite doorway, rubbing his eyes and tousling his curled hair. His sleeping-robe reached to the floor. Fraser considered the possibility that somebody had placed a large mirror in the corridor and perhaps he was now looking at himself. He raised a hand in a motionless wave, but the man yawned and left his cell.
Fraser stepped through the door. The corridor was long and blank, except for the occasional wooden chair with its back to the wall. They were the same as the one in his cell: standard issue furniture to create an atmosphere of conformity. Fraser looked into the cell next to his as he passed; the walls were covered with scratches of words and there was powder on the floor. His neighbour liked to carve his name into the aging plaster; his stumps of fingernails were always bleeding. Fraser thought the man did it to remind himself who he was: the tag on his wrist was chewed but held fast. He did not seem to have noticed that it was not his name he was carving.
The morning took up Fraser like a plaything and carried him through the day’s first monotonous hour: the eye-ache of strip lights, the daily greetings from familiar faces all one night older, the cold communal bathtub room, the plain walls of the dining room and food the colour of the walls. After swallowing his cup of pills Fraser was deposited comfortably in an armchair in a corner of the dayroom, with a book from his cell and a headache from his boredom.
Looking about him at his standing, staring, pacing, whispering, scratching, nodding, twitching, blinking, stamping, shaking, maddening surroundings, Fraser gripped the book tightly and felt between his fingers the pressed pulp of the pages. It was a solid weight in his hands that he clung to like a life raft in a half-imagined sea. If the people about him had all the substance of fleeting reflections, at least this object was definite. It had edges, corners, definable boundaries. It had weight and meaning and, as long as he held tight, it would not leave him.
A shadow peeled away from the shuddering mass in the room and drifted towards him. Fraser stood up and held the book in front of him. The shadow reached out and a strong hand gripped Fraser’s elbow lightly; he allowed himself to be led by it. As it guided him across the dayroom its owner informed him that he had a visitor, and would be taken off the ward.
“Who is it?” asked Fraser.
A pale figure with its gown slipping down its thin shoulders turned as they passed and its face twisted in grotesque horror. Its hand darted out and knocked Fraser’s book onto the floor; the pale man began to stamp on it with his bare feet and screech. He was a paranoid schizophrenic who believed Tolstoy had convinced him to strangle his mother. Fraser watched and did nothing; he felt the same as when he looked out the window with his back to the door, as if it was all happening at an impossible distance. The pale man was seized by a huge, bearded security guard who pinned his arms against his sides and dragged him out of the dayroom, still screeching. Fraser shifted his feet – the floor beneath them was solid again – and picked up his copy of War and Peace, running his finger along the feathery rip on the cover.