The Writer – Part Six

Read Part Five.
Read the whole thing on ‘The Writings’ page.

The Writer – Part Six
May 2011

Nadia returned more often during the weeks that followed.  Fraser lay in the darkness looking at the ceiling and suddenly she would be standing at the foot of the bed, looking up at the tiny window, with the hair on the crown of her head illuminated by the moonlight.  At other times she would visit him in the dayroom; The Bear and The Bumblebee would look over, concerned at the two of them talking, but when they saw that Fraser was calm they left them alone.  They did not see him writing, but they noticed his twitching hand and another new pill appeared in his cup.

She brought the manuscript with her each time and took it away when she left.  As the days and nights passed the scribbled ruinous ending was replaced with the odd scraps and pieces of paper from Fraser’s collection.  When she carried it away every day Fraser looked at the crisp torn pages in her hands and imagined that he could feel them with his own fingers.

The work was extraordinarily difficult; Fraser thought that writers should never have to write with their characters watching over their shoulders.  Her new ending was a source of endless struggle between them, even though she did not come to him with requests for beautifully idyllic, fairy-tale conclusions.  She merely asked that her husband and child be allowed to live.  The request crawled down his throat and sat like a weight in his stomach, but he ignored the creeping feeling and resolved to try.  Given the opportunity to rewrite his own life, he knew he too would reach out for unattainable happiness.

He wrote draft after draft of the new ending, eating away too quickly at his precious collection.  He recognised the absorption of it, how it filled every waking moment and filtered into his dreams; it made him sick to think of the last time he had felt like this, and what his inattention had cost him.  But this time something was different: when he picked up the pen his twitching hand suffered to obey him again.  But it did not move quickly; instead it felt like lead and took an unprecedented concentration of will to follow the loops, curls and dashes of his thoughts.

At first he ignored the sluggishness of his hand but eventually, with a mixture of regret and relief, he found that he could not bring himself to write Nadia’s ending as she wanted it.  Despite his best efforts, with her breath hot on the skin of his neck, he could not force the novel to do her bidding.  Every attempt collapsed: the joy felt contrived and the passion stunted, so that her dream ending was birthed a stillborn, deformed and unreal.  Nadia held the crippled, wasted pages and let them absorb her tears.

 *

Eventually on an overcast day, when he had managed to bring his chair around behind a supporting pillar so that he was out of The Bear’s direct line of sight, Fraser put down the pen and screwed up the piece of paper upon which he had tried to weave the threads of a believable happy ending.  She looked up questioningly from the page she was reading.

“I’m sorry,” he said, “it’s out of my hands.”

When she looked at him with her wide, ferocious eyes, he could not breathe.

“Keep trying.”

“No.”

“Stop pretending you have no control over your characters,” she said as tears bled from the corners of her stony eyes.

“Look at me,” he said, and he held up the pen, “I’m a slave to all of you.”

Quietly, so as not to attract unwanted attention, he told her that her child was safe; Fraser had killed him in rage and grief alone, and he could be written back in without harming the novel.  Nadia smiled, but the shadow of a frown played across her brow.  Fraser continued, looking away from her at the blank pillar behind which he was hidden: he had written her husband in order to die.

She opened her mouth but he held up his hand and spoke more quickly.  He told her that this was built into the very fabric of the story; the foreshadowing and metaphors, the multi-layered suggestions and little twists and intricacies of plot would all be for nothing if her spouse did not die in the end.  Nadia blinked and told him to simply go back, alter those things, put patches over the ominous sentences and pretend that they had never existed.  But Fraser shook his head and sighed, saying that this would make it an entirely different story, and her an entirely different person.

“You may as well ask me to make you a princess in a tower.”

“Please,” she said, “make me a princess in a tower?”

He opened his arms and she folded herself into them, shaking.

*

“Why you read this stuff?”

Fraser was sitting in the armchair, alone.  Nadia had not yet arrived – it was still quite early in the morning and she did not always visit during the day – and he was reading Don Quixote.  The sky was patched and scarred with shifting clouds.   He put the book down and the pale man twisted his hands together.

“Waste of time, you know?” said the schizophrenic.  His feet were bare, like the day he had torn Tolstoy.

“No, it’s very important to me,” said Fraser.

“Why?”

“Because this stuff tells you the things you think, in a way you could never have said yourself.”

“Makes you happy?”

He almost said yes, but something in the man’s face made Fraser believe that he would detect a lie.

“Not always.”

“Waste of time then, you know?”

“Sometimes you have to be sad first, before you can be happy.”

“Long as you’re happy,” said the pale man.

Fraser caught the echo of Naomi.  If he turned his head slightly the slanted light from the square-barred window cast diamonds on the floor, as it had in the attic.

“You ruined my book,” he said.

The pale man looked down at his feet and shifted uncomfortably from side to side.  Then he curled his toes and straightened up, stretching his arms out in front of him and jerking his cramped fingers into crushed claws.  His voice sounded tight and alien.

“Bastard made me kill Mama.”

Fraser stood up.

“No,” he said.  “He didn’t.  You did.”

“Mama.”

Fraser began to feel sorry for the pale man; he looked so pitiful with his crumpled hands.

“But don’t think you deserve this.  You were out of your head.  Crazy.”

“Mama.  No!”

“You don’t have to rot in here.  Get well!  Leave!”  Fraser gripped the man’s shoulders and shook him back and forth, but his eyes were glazed and he seemed not to see Fraser’s face so close to his own.

“Mama!  Mama!”

The Bear raised his nose and began to charge.  The Bumblebee was nowhere to be seen.  There was a little time.

“Tolstoy’s dead!  Not you!”

“Mamamamamamamama!”  The pale man began to beat himself around the head with his clawed fists.  Fraser felt sick watching him.

“It’s not your fault!”

The man threw himself forward in a flurry of teeth and nails.  Fraser lashed with his fist, caught him across the cheek; the man fell just as The Bear locked Fraser’s arms behind his back.

“It’s not your fault!”

He knew he was going back to the room with the rubber mouthpiece and the humming machine, but this time he would not struggle.  This time he wanted it to happen.  He smiled as he was clamped in an obscene bear-hug.  This time they would have to cut his nails.


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