It was a bit of a struggle toward the end of last week, Friday being a low point of just 800 words. Gratefully I woke early Saturday morning and as I lay in bed contemplating everything that I had to do, a long wrestled with conversation started downloading in my head. Upshot, I got 2100 words, alongside a spectacular breakfast and knew the day of my 40th party was going to work out fine.
Sunday I realised I wasn’t going to be able to wing it to the end of the novel. I needed to carefully think through the role all my characters had to play. And I knew I couldn’t do it alone. Friday I brained stormed a scene with Em for her novel over sushi lunch and Thursday with Rus for his (sadly not in person), so I knew it was time to call in a favour.
Rob and I sat in his steamy kitchen with my huge sketch book between us as thunder detonated around us and rain added extra humidity to the air rather than clear it. I truly sweated out a story.
And while I told bits of the story to help Rob piece together the newer, bigger version of the short story, those bits sounded increasing desperate and stupid. I tried not to scribble all over my mud/mine map. I could see Rob tapping his fingers on the table top in ever increasingly elaborate displays. And all I could think was ‘I fucked it all up.’ I have so fucked it up.
“You don’t want to turn it into a murder mystery,” he said.
“Hell, no. This is the ending.” I said.
And then the pieces fell into place. Who was playing who. Who really had all the stuff to lose. What I think is most amazing, is all the pieces were there, all the characters were in play and I had just failed to make one important connection between the characters. Bit by bit we went through and I fitted it all together. Who dies first and how. Who died next and how. Right down to the end.
The best bit about all of this, is the fun that will be had in the second draft when I get to go back and retrofit all this.
Back at the start of November Adam issued me with three dares. The second was to include a derided classical novel. When I told Lois about the dare she insisted that I share how it all played out. This is by no stretch of the imagination polished. But here is a bunch of folk sitting around a table… talking about stuff!
* * *
“Favourites?” Becca said, placing her knife and fork in the thick smear of Reading Sauce on her plate, the bottle now hidden from view and the brunt of puns about Cocks’s brand of sauces. “What do you think favourites actually means? What does it tell you about someone?”
“I think it’s what people don’t like that tell you more about them than what they actually like,” said Christian.
“Oh yeah, people will tell you what they don’t like without thinking,” Lucas said
“That’s not entirely correct. Half the time we don’t even know what we don’t like and the other half of time the we’re too afraid to say it,” Gordy countered
“So like, I ask someone what colour they really hate,” Becca continued, ignoring Lucas and Gordy, “and without even thinking about it, they say orange.”
“I like orange,” Lucas said.
“You are weird,” Becca said. “Okay, but I ask them what their favourite colour is, and they have to, you know, think about it.”
“I said, my favourite colour is orange.”
“You’re being belligerent.”
“I am offering an alternate point of view.”
“You are being –”
“Maybe it’s kinda like body language, how it says all the things that we really don’t want to say.”
Tabitha straightened up and stopped pulling at the corners of her nails.
“Maybe you shouldn’t be asking about favourites. Maybe you should be asking what’s the best accidental indicator of the real person,” Ramsey said and turned to face the sculptor to his right, “of the person sitting next to you for example.”
“You mean the stuff that says stuff about themselves without them meaning to?” Lucas asked.
“I’m an open book,” the sculptor said and Tabitha was sure she’d never heard such profanity in a simple statement.
“Francois Mauriac says if you want to know a man’s heart look not to what he reads, but what he re-reads,” Tabitha said.
“Interesting,” commented Ramsey he went to pour the wine and the sculptor went to take the bottle from him. “Let’s not stand on tradition tonight,” he said, keeping hold of the bottle. “Let us just serve ourselves. I’d like us to be, what is the word, contempories.”
Becca suppressed a giggle behind her hand.
“I’ve never re-read a book,” the sculptor said.
Gordy accepted the bottle and poured himself some and then topped up Becca’s glass.
“You’ve read a book though?” Tabitha said.
“Of course I’ve read a book.” Gordy passed the bottle to Christian who emptied it between his glass and Tabitha’s.
“I’ve never re-read a book,” Lucas said. “I’ve hardly read any books that aren’t text books. A hand full of novels maybe. I can’t concentrate. My head skips a million miles an hour over stuff. I’m bored too easily by them.”
“I’ve re-read ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ three times,” said Becca. “What do you reckon that says about me?”
“That you’re a decade too early for housewife porn,” Tabitha said, pulling apart a roll and teasing the soft white innards out. “And have nothing better do with your time.”
“So you’ve read it then?”
“I wouldn’t waste my time on cheap, badly written smut.”
“Smut… that’s a bit prudish isn’t it.”
“Prudish? Your vocabulary doesn’t mirror your taste in literature.” Tabitha put down the dismembered roll. “You have this idea of me as, what? A repressed bored housewife. You think sex in literature bothers me. That talking about sex at the dinner table bothers me?”
She felt Christian’s hand on her knee and she wasn’t sure if it was a come on or a back off. She pulled at the broach at her throat, wishing she could be free of the confines of the fucking clothes they had to wear.
“I read Lady Chatterley’s Lover when I was 17. I’ve read it several times since and each time I get something new from it. DH Lawrence wrote it in 1928 and uses words EL James won’t even use. Inner goddness and all that euphemistic crap. Does she even use the word cock?”
Tabitha gauged the reaction of her dining company. “If you want to actually learn something about intimate relationships, Becca, not normalised and popularised abusive relationships, why don’t you grab the first edition from the drawing room and read that. Broaden your mind.”
Becca sat fuming.
“I guarantee if you want to get off, DH Lawrence will get you there better and faster than anything Ms James spewed onto the page as bad Twilight fan fiction.”
“You didn’t just read DH Lawrence as a teenager, Tabby,” Christian said. “You’ve watched your fair share of crap on TV.”
“I’m loud and proud about my love of Die Hard.”
“Is there an expectation, Tabitha that one should read certain books, like certain books and re-read them in accordance with their creative enclave?” asked Ramsey re-routing the conversation.
“I read what I like. I read what I enjoy and I re-read the books that give me something every time I read them again. I don’t care what I’m meant to read. That’s a kill joy. Sure fire way to hate something.”
“It’s no different to your favourite movie. Or your favourite album then,” Gordy said.
“Unless it’s Jeff Fucking Buckley,” swore Tabitha and then blushed furiously. “I apologise, it’s just, I had this – boyfriend – who would only ever listen to Jeff Buckley. I can’t bear to listen to it. He totally ruined Jeff for me.”
“What does it mean to fixate on something then?” Ramsey asked.
“That’s a bit strong,” Gordy countered. “You can like something, you can want to feel it in your bones, but it doesn’t mean it’s like, some drug.”
“I don’t know, only ever listening to Jeff Buckley?” She rolled her eyes. “C’mon, he released two albums. At least if it was The Beatles or The Rolling Stones, someone with a back catalogue of work. Or someone who was going to produce new work.”
“Unless someone’s worked out the exhumation thing –”
“Everything you are talking about, it seems to me shines like a beacon of one of the fundamental flaws of humans,” The Sculptor said.
“And what would that be?” Tabitha asked.
“That we all seek comfort in the familiar and not the unknown. You re-read what?”
“The ‘Time Travellers Wife’?”
“Because every time I pick it up Henry de Tamble lives.”
“Wasn’t he a pedaphile?” Becca interjected. “I heard he was.”
“He’s not a pedaphile.”
“So is it your inability to cope with death and loss that brings you back to reading it over and over again.”
“I’m not like Robert and the Jeff Buckley thing. I read, other books too.”
“But you come back to this book. Often, I am guessing.” He took a long sip and ensured he completely had the floor. “It just seems to me, that there is not enough time in a single life time to read all the important books, to see all the art, movies, listen to all the music, so why go back and do old stuff, when there is new stuff to be experienced. What life changing book might you miss because you’re back reading ‘The Time Traveller’s Wife’ again?”
“I believe there is a book that is meant to change my life, then it will find its way to me. And it will come at the right time. You realise that we’re not sharks. We’re not in perpetuation motion, consuming and hunting down the next thing. Moving to survive. There is nothing wrong with stopping. With comfort.”
“Isn’t there?” The Sculptor cocked an eyebrow and smiled, and his teeth glinted with a sharpened edge she hadn’t noticed before.
“So is there stuff we share with some people and not with others. Give them the illusion that we might like something when actually it’s not what we like. There was that article about the books people have to impress others.” Becca looked directly at Tabitha and before she could answer, Gordy cut in.
“What if repetitive consumption is something, we like, only do with some things and not others.”
“Like people who never form close and important relationships?” Tabitha said looking first at the Sculptor and then at Becca. “Or who never move beyond Jeff Buckley.”
“I can’t live without music, my favourite tracks are right up there with coffee in the morning,” Gordy said.
“You say tracks,” said Christian. “What about albums. We’re losing the ability to appreciate something as a whole. Don’t musicians create something as pieces of something bigger. What’s lost when you are just creating singles?”
“You sound like you’re talking about a concept album.”
“It’s like a short story compared to a novel,” Tabitha said. “Both work if the writer knows what they are doing. But they are different beasts. You can’t compare one against the other.”
“Where is the light and shade if it’s all about one song?” Christian said.
“Is there not one perfect song in your life?”
“Doesn’t it change, as you change?”
“Is there one album you love every song on? Not one weak song. No fillers.”
“Several,” Christian said. “Because I appreciate them not just on each song’s individual merit but because of what they add to the tracks around them. What they create as a whole.”
“Why’d you give up music?” Becca asked and the buzz of conversation died. “Why do you keep turning down our invites to come and jam?”
“Like Tabitha said, you wait for the right time and right place… and sometimes,” he tapped his finger on the rim of the wine glass. “Sometimes the pieces just don’t fit. Or sometimes you break them, trying to make them fit.”
“So,” Becca said. “What’s your expression, Christian What’s the replay that’s most important.”
“Movies,” said Christian. “’Apocalypse Now’, if you want to pin me to one.”
“Books,” said Tabitha. “Followed by music.”
“Movies,” and Lucas. “Then clothes.”
“Music,” said Gordy.
“I can’t believe your banal enough to even ask that.”
“Then pretend she asked everyone but you then,” Tabitha snarked.
“Life,” cut in Ramsey, “Life is my most precious replay. Why I’m so grateful to have you here sharing yours with me.”