Updated on August 5, 2015
The Writer – Part Seven
This is the final instalment of this story.
The Writer – Part Seven
Nadia’s last visit was on a clear night. The patient next door was scratching at the walls again. Fraser had walked past his cell earlier that day; the wall had been painted but there were fresh inscriptions on it already and they proclaimed a different name. Fraser thought the helpless man must have forgotten who he was all over again. That night, for the first time in a long time, Fraser could see the stars.
When she arrived he was sitting with one leg curled underneath him, the other on the chair, and his head turned and raised. His right arm continued its monotonous, mutinous movements beside him on the bed, but it had eased ever since he started rewriting his story. She coughed but he did not turn. He pushed the chair away across the tiled floor with his foot. Only when she stood by the chair did he look at her.
“You had it bound,” he said.
She nodded and passed the book to him. He lifted it up and down slightly. There were more pages but it felt lighter somehow. He passed it back and she put it on the shelf. It was above suspicion now. The spine showed only the title; she had not told the binder the author’s name.
“I’m going home,” she said.
“To your son.”
For a minute they looked at each other. Fraser’s arm stopped moving.
“Naomi died in a car accident,” he said and curled his other leg underneath him.
She sat down. Fraser continued to talk and, as he did so, he felt himself become blurred around the edges. He told her how he had spent the day at his desk in the attic – like a prince in a tower, she said – working on the story that now sat on his bookshelf; how he had drunk coffee, smoked, doodled on the edge of the blank paper and dropped his pen. Fraser knew now that the crash happened at precisely 13:56, but he could not pinpoint exactly what he had been doing at that moment. Sometime in the afternoon he had had a burst of inspiration and written two pages without pausing, until the phone rang, but it had almost certainly happened after the accident. He had probably been simply staring into empty space thinking of nothing at all.
He received the phone call at 14:28. His hands shook on the steering wheel. She lay on a stretcher with a blanket covering her from the neck down. The car had not been going fast enough to kill her outright. She cried when she saw Fraser and her mouth opened in pain. There was blood in her hair. The ambulance, her hand, the hospital, the mask on her face, the waiting room, the surgeon’s downturned eyes.
He bought a large bottle on the way home and screwed off the cap as he was walking up the drive. He could not remember finishing the novel at all, he only remembered tripping on his way up to the attic and bruising his knee. They found him passed out on his scored desk. The ambulance again, the hospital again, a mask on his face that he tried to rip off because he thought it smelled of her. Weeks and no sign of mental recovery, but plenty of writing and screeching for paper. It did not take long before they stopped giving it to him. He tore out his hair when they took his pen away and he was admitted not long after. He had been convinced that he could bring Naomi back if they would only let him write.
When he had finished she put her hand to his cheek and kissed him.
“You look a lot like my husband,” she said.
It took some time before the watchers began to admit that Fraser was showing signs of recovery. Eventually, when they noticed that his hand had stopped moving, they assumed that the medication was finally taking effect and the doctor recommended him for a ward transfer. Summer was changing the sky when he was moved into a new cell in a new ward, closer to the wood-paneled room with the large windows. His secret collection was gone, used up by his work with Nadia. He had taken great delight in watching the watcher pack up his books, handling Fraser’s anonymously bound novel with the same attention as Tolstoy, Orwell and Cervantes.
His new room was lighter and warmer. It was on the first floor and through his window he could see a tree. Fraser sat in the same position as he always had, looking through the window, but now he could watch the wind moving the leaves and see them drift downwards, out of sight, like disturbed sheets of paper. He propped his leg upon the chair and, when he did not want the chair any more, he tucked it away under the desk.
After he had been in his new ward for several weeks Fraser overheard two watchers conversing in the dayroom. He sat in a clean armchair with its back against the wall, facing into the room. One watcher whispered to the other that a new arrival to the institution had been transferred to the high security ward, in the far end of the west wing, after only one night in his new cell. He had found a pen lid somewhere and managed to choke himself half to death. They mentioned the name Martin: The Shark had saved the man with his mighty arms.
Nadia did not come back. Fraser began to hoard paper again. It was easier to come by in the new ward where watchers were more likely to turn their backs, or a blind eye. He had brought only one pen with him, but now when he sat up at night he did not doodle thoughtlessly. He formed words and sentences, making the letters so tiny that they could barely be read and did not use up the precious paper too quickly. He could fit a chapter on one side of a single sheet. With enough self-restraint he calculated that he would be able to hide a short story under his bed sheet. He already had several pages covered; it had all flowed from the first line. Fraser Henry Thomas sat carefully on the bed that hid his secret and gazed out of the barred window.
Fraser began to have group therapy sessions in the afternoons, with the other patients on the ward. The meetings were presided over by a blonde nurse who spoke only in questions. At first he listened to the others speak, wishing he could take notes. Then one day she spoke directly to him.
“Fraser, why don’t you tell us why you’re here?” she said.
He shifted in his chair and cleared his throat. He said that his wife had died.
“And?” She looked at him expectantly.
“And I went off the rails.”
“I … got drunk. I hit people.”
“Aren’t you forgetting something?”
“I believed that if I had a pen and some paper I could write her back to life.”
“And did that work?”
“And do you still believe you can write your wife back to life?”
“Don’t we all think that’s excellent progress?”
She looked around at the group and opened out her arms. The other patients shuffled and nodded encouragingly but did not meet Fraser’s eyes.
“Have you recovered from this debilitating compulsion to write, Fraser?”
“It’s not a disease,” he said.
“Isn’t it? Wouldn’t you agree that your obsession was a form of insanity? Creating imaginary people is surely not a healthy pursuit?”
No it isn’t.
“No, it isn’t.”
“So, have you recovered?”
He looked down at his hand and noticed an ink stain at the base of one of his fingers. He had been up late writing and was too tired this morning to pay attention whilst washing his hands.
“Yes,” said Fraser. “I’ve recovered. That’s all the writing you’re going to get out of me.”