The Writer- By Jas T. Ward
"Excuse me? What was your question?" She gave a half smile, bringing the pen tip to her unremarkable lips, yet he found that sight too, worthy of a spark to be fed to his constant flow of creative need. Those green eyes tried to catch his as she asked again, voice soft, now as if trying to understand what he didn't speak. The words he didn't say.
"Why did you become a Writer?" He brought an elbow up to the arm of the chair, hand coming to rest beneath his chin. Absent-minded and out of habit, his thumb stroked a scar beneath it's pad; one healed long ago. Eyes still focused on the day outside, which now seemed far away, as if ensconced on another plane, said softly. "So a child would have a voice."
"Be quiet." I know. I know. Must be quiet. But even though quiet was demanded, it did not stop the sounds beyond. The heavy sound of a slap, the grunt with a punch, the cry of pain. Wrapping his arms around his head, hands clamped over his ears, the plea to be quiet now was a wish for without and within. But the child also knew, as the sounds that had become his lullaby continued, hidden by sight of the closet door, muffled by old coats, neglected shoes, and forgotten items of no longer want, that quiet could be bad.
For when the echoes of pain ceased to sing his nightly, sometimes daily tune, they might come and find him. And that was bad, very bad. Drawing up his knees, arms still cradling a head that was hot with panic, yet cold inside, his eyes pinned the door, willing it to stay closed. His mind tripped and stumbled, trying to somehow weave an escape; finding none. This scene had played out far too many times for the ending to change. It was written, and rewritten by the ordainment of life, but the edits never took, the same page would always turn. Even now, the sounds had stopped, and the child felt hot tears, dripping silent and warning, down his dirty cheeks.
"Be quiet. Be quiet."
But they knew where he hid. They knew the places he would fold up his small frame, tuck it away so it too could perhaps be forgotten, like the garage sale items he now hid behind, to be valued at pennies and dimes. Worth even more than he. The footsteps sounded down the hall and he whispered silently, over and over, through lips that were bitten and chewed.
"Be quiet. Be quiet."
"Where are you?"
No where. Go away, please go away.
"Where are you? You little son of a bitch."
He closed his eyes tight, the tears would betray that he existed at all. "Be quiet. Be quiet." Suddenly the door opened, the darkness flooded with light, the shape in the square large, seething; rage wrapped around pain, power within fury fueled by liquor, narcotics or both. He tried to curl up tighter, to be unseen, invisible and unnoticed. But again, the same chapter, same story, always the same. His arm was grabbed, boxes falling out of the way; their escape was allowed.
His was not. "Didn't you hear me?" A slap, quick and sharp, causing his lip to bust, blood sweet and once again a flag that this was real, deal or not. His grey eyes lifted, long lashed spiked by tears as he nodded. The nod rewarded another slap, this time the backside of the busted knuckles, sending him falling to the threadbare carpet below. "You answer me. Didn't you hear me?"
He touched his cheek. No school tomorrow, the marks would show. "Ye...ee...ss. I...I..heeea..rr..dd you." No. Not now. His voice always betrayed him. Caused him to get another slap as he was hauled up, thin shirt twisted in a meaty fist. Frightened and scared eyes looked into angered and crazed gaze. He grabbed at the wrists, his own hands too small to even encircle half as he swallowed and tried again, "Yes. S...si..sir." The next slap sent black streaks into his vision as he hit the floor, knowing the words that would stab at his fear next. Opening it wide, twisting to burn. "If you can't speak, without sounding like a fucking moron, don't speak. I don't want to hear you. I don't want to be reminded how worthless you are. Do you hear me?"
He looked up, nodding, tears once again, fat and wet, dripping from his chin. The man stood there, towering and cold, as if to decide what to do with the child. A child whose mind was whispering. "Be quiet. Be quiet. Be quiet."
His eyes snapped up, as the interviewer was leaning forward, as if trying to see behind the emotions barely reflected on his features. The view drifted from her face and back to the window, as a family passed, on their way to the next destination of their stay. Clearing his throat, his hand dropping, the dog knew the mood of its master, as her head came to rest under his palm. His eyes went back to the range of the woman, a slight smile tilting one corner of his mouth, his eyes now stormy blue, as the past lurked beneath his skin.
She frowned, concern washing through those green eyes as she looked down at the pad."What was you first written work?" "What is it?" His hand scribbled the words, but they were telling the story. He couldn't stop as the scenes played over and over like pictures of a show. They flowed and spoke, danced and sung, and he was just the instrument for their song.
The sounds started up again and his mind beckoned for him to ignore; stay here, stay here and play. We can make all of that, go away. The child had grown, but now silent. The voice had gone away long ago. But not that one that he kept inside. It spoke and begged to be listened to. To never be shut away, to speak and be heard. It existed, in its own silent way.
"What's it about?"
The whisper too was silent, as he waited for the one inside to answer, as the words flowed, black and stark on the frayed, cheap spiral. One that he found in the trash at school. It had a name of someone he didn't know, scribbled on the worn green cover, written with doodles and curls by a hand he would never hold. But to him? It was if that person had been a muse, who had left him a gift. The spiral had become his silent voice, and it was enough to keep it sane. To give him an escape from the nightmare that only ended when he was alone, and lost in its pages. He kept writing, focused as he laid hidden under his bed.
"I don't know yet. It's not finished."
He never knew. The spark would hit him, like a bolt that seemed more real than reality, and that spark would flare, until he had to spell it out, words and images or it would burn him alive. He never knew what the fire would leave behind. Would it be a vision of brightness? That would light up the dark? Or would it be nothing more than ashes, left behind by the flame. The sounds stopped and his head snapped up, eyes looking under the worn blanket, mouse-eaten and thin, to see if someone was coming. Ears twitched to listen for footsteps to warn as his hand stilled on the page.
"Hurry. He's coming."
He frantically dove into the images, begging them to take him with them. It was safer there, with no pain or fear. But then the footsteps chased them too away, and left him alone. Curling up the spiral, the pen within, he stuck it inside the rip beneath the box spring, squeezing his eyes tight, telling the story to run away.
He didn't even what that to witness what was about to come. The stories needed to stay true. No darkness there, for then, where would he have to go? His shame had to stay hidden, the pain a secret. And what if the stories no longer wanted him to be a part? He would then be totally alone. Silent outside. Dead inside. His voice would be lost.
"Where are you?"
The woman had spoken, and he raised a brow, the here and now like a haze as the past whispered clear.
She smiled, consoling and gentle, again, the hand coming up to tuck her soft hair away. A nervous trait his spark flared upon, to be used, and focused on when he was alone.
"You didn't answer. Your first written work?"
He rubbed the back of his neck, wanting to be gone, out into that day, hoping it's light would burn away the haze. Give him something to focus on beyond where his mind beckoned him to be. This was not one of his good days. Not one of the days where his creativity and charm, would cover for the turbulence within. When he could flash a smile, spin some words and delight the room.
No, today was not a good day. Today was a day when the past swam through the waves of his today, and crashed on the grains of his sanity.
Leaning forward, hands gripping the arms of the chair, he cleared his throat again, eyes going down to the floor, only to clear and come back to focus on the woman, if only briefly.
"A journal. I kept a journal. When I was seven."
She nodded and tilted her head, pen going back to her lips, small white teeth now chewing the tip. His mind feasted on that, used it as if an anchor in the tide, and he swallowed, grasping onto the clarity to finish the task at hand. Sitting back, his dog laid her head on his thigh, his fingers softly stroking the soft fold of her ear.
"And your first work? That you wanted to be seen? Published?"
"What is it?" He looked down at the sheath of papers in his hand; bound with crooked staples, a rubber band wrapped to keep it together. He closed his eyes, and said softly.
"A story. I wrote it."
He dared not look up, to see the looks on their faces. He knew what he would find there. Stale and molded rage on the man, drunk and stoned stupor on the woman who he was not allowed to call mother. There was silence, and then boots came into his view. He focused on the tips, scuffed and dirty from a lifetime of work. Work that would make the man come home, and seek an escape. Only pain bringing him back, but never his own.
"A story? And you wrote it?"
Laughter and snorts as the story was ripped from his grasp, causing him to gasp, and reach out for its rescue. The man sat heavy, already dazed by the small white pills, that lay like small creatures on the tray. His eyes darted to his mother, hoping today was one of her good days. That perhaps the bottle was half full, not empty, a hope that would mock him in reality. The bottle was never half-full. Not for long.
He cleared his throat, his eyes going back to the floor, "I wrote it for Mrs. Barnes. She said it was good."
The man laughed, the story now rolled up in that meaty fist, and reached out and hit him with it, upside his head, like a mutt who needed to be trained. "Mrs. Barnes must be a fucking idiot. Just like you. What's it about?" His mother recoiled, curling upon herself. If the child took the abuse and the pain, she would be free of it. For now. So she dared not pull the man's attention to herself; not while the rage had a new focus to endure.
His voice was going to betray him, he already felt it stutter and halt, before it even left his throat. Closing his eyes, he twisted one hand within the other, bending one finger wrong, pain sending focus flaring to his brain. He looked up and met the man's eyes, "A little boy. Who gets lost in a special place. And never comes home."
The man laughed, and reached out to bat him again with the story, this time harder, the staples catching his skin, snapping his head to the left. A tear started to threaten, and he wiped a hand over his eyes. The man flipped through the pages. They protested, starting to rip. He felt for the story, and felt sorry it too, had to feel the pain. "Why you showing it to us? I don't give a shit about your little story."
He looked back and pointed, his hand shaking, despite his plea to stay strong, "Mrs. Barnes needs your permission." The man looked at his mother and back. "For what?" He chewed on his lip, a constant habit to help control his voice. The one that never flowed like the one in his head. "She...she..." No. Please. The story deserves this. You have to do better. You have to show you can. "Wants to publish it. In the newspaper. For...for...peoople" Stop. The story needs you to be strong. "To read."
The man roared with laughter, the sound sickening, causing his stomach to twist and churn. The woman joined in, as if to make her side known, betraying blood over someone whose fist would kiss her later. The story was twisted, more pages ripped, caused him to lift his chin, strength to save what was his only escape.
"Can I have my story back?"
He held out a hand, the tremble gone. His voice now one, with the one inside. United, together to save the story. The man stopped laughing, the woman too. The child stood, as if ready to wage a battle, legs spread, hand curling into fist as the other held out to claim what was his. His eyes blazed blue and green for the fight. The woman let out a whimper as she reached for the glass, bringing it to her lips, only to find nothing but air. The man stood, far taller than the child, broader and full of sudden rage at the strength the man had tried to beat to be gone for years.
"You want your fucking story?"
He grabbed the child by the throat, dragging. The child kicked and punched, his voice now roaring in defiance, refusing to give in to the fear. The man punched him hard, the story still trapped by the fist, blood of the child spraying the white pages, scribbled in black.
The child was tossed in a heap, the wall not welcoming the weight as the man stood before the fireplace. The child reached out, panic and fear stealing the voice, mouth twisted in horror as the man lit the flame. The pages curled and turned black, the white overtaken by the heat. He screamed a silent sound, no more than a whisper. The story was burning, soon to be lost. He had let the story down, betrayed its sanctuary; tainted its retreat. He couldn't move as the flame devoured the works of his spark, the pages becoming light on the heat of their pain, drifting and flying, as if given flight, to drift upward out of the chimney and into the night.
The man stood there, watching it burn, a smile on his face as he finished and turned. The child stared at all that remained. A bit of ash, a small flicker of flame. The man pulled him up, and spit in his face.
"Garbage only makes garbage. Shit only stinks. And you? Or worth less than that. Don't let anyone fool you. You?" Another punch, his face spreading with pain, "Will never be worth" The drop was sudden, his legs gave, "anything."
"What was it?"
Present, here and now washed over him, as his eyes drifted back to the window. Gaze coming back to the woman, he nodded, his hand stilled on the dog, his other uncurling from the arm of the chair.
"My first work? Short story. Then articles. Then, the rest you know."
She wrote his answer and again with the hair. He was starting to enjoy that gesture. It made him feel like he knew her, but in all reality, he didn't even remember her name. She flipped through her pad, and he waited for the pen, a smile touching his lips when the tip came to hers.
"You don't like interviews do you?"
His eyes flipped to hers. "Is that a question?"
She laughed softly, "For myself. Yes. Article no."
He let out a soft laugh, hand once again petting the dog, "No. I don't. Not at all."
Her voice was soft, as if seeking so much more than what he was willing to give. "Why?"
He shrugged, "Because I want the reader to love my characters. Get to know them."
She frowned at that, "But not yourself?"
He looked away, his lips going firm. "No."
Again, voice soft, 'Why?"
He blew out a long, slow breath, not sure what to say. The woman was kind, and only doing her job. He wondered if she was married, with children and a husband waiting at home. Did she go home and kick off her heels, and slide in her stockings? Did she like to cook or order take out?
All these things swam and teased his sparking creative flow. But she was a stranger, and someone, he could never let in. There was too much there. And she, like all the rest, deserved more. And after it had all taken its toll, he had only less to give. Closing his eyes, lowered his head and voice low.
"Because they have happy endings. They, are someone the reader would want to get to know."
She seemed concerned with that answer, lips opening to ask more, but nothing came. His eyes drifted back to the window. His mind was closing up, like a trap for the sane.
“Is that all? Are we done?”
The woman gave him a sad and puzzled look, and that caused the spark to hiss in his brain. A story needed to be told, as it started to flame. A hidden tale of sadness, pain and despair, and he would burn up, if he left it there. He shook his head, forcing the child to curl back up inside, scared yet hoping for the story to be told. It never would be. The child would have to be silent, the pain hidden away.
Minutes had only passed, as his coffee was still warm, but he felt like he had lived months, stuck here both here and the space within. She tapped the pen and nodded.
"One last question. If you make it big, and make a fortune in writing, what do you plan on doing with the money?"
His brow creased at that question, as he looked to the floor. He knew all the answers he should say. How he wanted to do good deeds. Fund good works. Make up for a life gone horribly wrong. Perhaps find love, or maybe a home that could be all his own. To wrap the pain in pretty paper and show it the light of day. To laugh with friends, and charm the fans. To smile and taunt with promises spoken to a lover. To use the spotlight, to gain and make a name. But only one answer seemed true, and screamed out to be heard.
So he leveled his eyes on hers, as he stood, and picked up his bag. The dog bounded to her feet, her walk the only focus of her canine brain.
He gave the interviewer a smile, as he turned to the door.
"To run away."
And he walked into the day.