So there are a few deadlines slowly creeping up on me, the usual end of term stuff that happens at University. Except, of course, the fact that I’m doing some really rather interesting modules this year, including on Creative Writing one. I’ve got the bones of a story written, but it’s too short, and I need some help. I need you guys to tell me where to expand it, what works, what you want to know, things like that. Time is of the essense, of course, what with it being due on Thursday. But I can write fast with these mits, so expect multiple edits as I react to your comments, should any of you get around to doing so. So, without further adue, here it is;
The cursor blinked at him. It was a lethargic motion, one of an old friend stretching itself out into a tired routine. There was a loud, sickening snap of eight knuckles cracking in unison. That was one of the few things he did better, lost amid the many layers of greatness that constantly dwarfed him. He chewed his lip, a dozen sentences containing a hundred moments hovering in his mind. The coffee shop in Paris. The rallies in Birmingham. He pinched the bridge of his nose, squeezing his eyes shut as he shook his head clear of the overwhelming nostalgia. This wasn’t about him, after all.
Before the pressure began to build, he lowered his hands almost mechanically, letting them settle on the worn keys in the familiar pattern. The flutter of his breath, forced through old lungs, danced over the backs of his hands. The first word was punched out as a pair of staccato notes.
That was the entirety of it. ‘He’ was the cause of all this. ‘He’ was that which overshadowed everything; the greatest achievements and most crippling failures. Without ‘He’, the screen would be forever blank.
‘He used to move to the music.’
It was as good a beginning as any, he supposed. It wasn’t where it all started, but it was close enough to be relevant. It was a bitter sentence, filled with regret and retrospection. His fingers rested on the board as he thought. This was how he would set the tone, then. A moment tinged with nostalgia that didn’t mean anything to anyone but himself. The shadow of a smile fluttered over thin lips. This was where he would begin, then. Besides, it was those years, when a man is not quite a man but certainly no longer a boy, it’s those years when the man is formed, created, moulded into the shape he’ll be for the remainder. It was as good a place to begin as any.
‘He used to move to the music. He wasn’t a dancer, but something in a random assortment of notes compelled him to maintain his step to a rhythm, or, when stationary, to keep moving. The bus stop was his ballroom, the sedated shuffling of his feet containing the kinetic force of his soul.’
He stopped, his finger heartlessly holding the delete key down as he erased the last sentence. It was too much. He wasn’t creating a myth; he was giving account. There was room for style, but not flair. He chided himself, one hand running down the faded stubble on his cheeks. One finger moved to the ‘I’ key. Should he make this personal? It was, in his mind, irrevocably so, but he did not know whether he wanted the reader to see it as such. He sighed and pressed, taking the plunge.
‘I tell you this not so you think him a better man, to admire his quirks and realise that deep down, he is just like you. He isn’t, and never was, a thing like you. I tell you all this because that is how it was, and why he is how he is now. He is greater than any of you.’ He stopped and erased the last three words. ‘All of you.’
He took a sip from the cold coffee at his side, wincing a little at the unexpected temperature. Had he really been sitting here that long? His eyes were hurting. After a brief fumble around him, he found the glasses in his pocket and blinked the screen back into sharper focus. Before he continued he allowed his hand to stray to the side of the keys, finding the worn sandalwood handle. He remembered reading an article, years ago, entitled ‘Haunted Sandalwood’. He felt the ghost of a chill run down his spine.
‘It was he who saved this country. It was he who brought the corrupt state off the streets where they peddled their fear, and thrust them into the court houses. I’m sure you’ll profess that you know all this, that this is the precise reason we are in this ‘predicament’. To that I say you have forgotten who has fathered this country. I was there since it began. I, who has never done anything but hold myself up with the achievements of others, using their greatness as a bolster to my shallow talents. I only helped people see with a finer eye, brought the giant figure of a man into understandable limitations. Ultimately, it is I who allowed you to believe you were his equal. I am to blame.’
He paused, taking a deep breath. He was diverting again, slipping away into a personal tangent. It wouldn’t do. His personal thoughts would be clear soon enough. The hand patted the sandalwood again, surprised by the warmth of the wood, the glimmer of inviting metal at the end. It was his father’s, he remembered, brought over from America before the war. An antique, he had said. Closing his eyes he put it from his mind, bringing the fingertips back to their place on the plastic keys. He made good use of the delete key before continuing.
‘After the Reformation, I remember we sat together on an April evening, as we often did, talking about nothing as we sipped on brandy. Even in such a situation, you couldn’t help but be dwarfed by the grandeur of the man. Even in a conversation about butterflies and the migratory patterns of a swallow, he would bear over you like a friendly uncle does a child, willing to indulge your whims, but ultimately above them. I remember he saw this coming. He knew he would be betrayed, knew that it was necessary for the country. I laughed it off then, for he was loved, he was a man of the people. I wish I had been right.’
His vision blurred as his eyes filled with moisture. A series of blinks kept his emotion in check, kept his mind clear, allowed him to continue. There were many more stories, but he had no time, his internal watch reminding him of the appointment. A long, drawn out sigh permeated the late night air. This was more difficult that he had anticipated.
‘There are things to condemn a man for. They involve morals and intentions, and they are important to what makes us human, fundamental to elevating us above apes. However, when the majority is so terrifyingly wrong, I often wonder if what is ‘right’ ever comes into it. They judge without knowledge, condemn out of ignorance. Understanding and compassion never comes into it, utterly rejected in a world of petty revenge. Just as there are things that are wrong, there are also things a man has no control over. Time may allow us to see the correct path, but you cannot hold a man responsible for not knowing which fork of the road to take. It is abhorrent and crudely unfair.’
There was a dull light in the room, waking the dust and calming the screen, whose glare slowly dimmed until it was no longer noticeable. Taking the glasses from his nose, he turned, squinting into the dawn. It was devoid of colour, just a grey mark on a bleak sky. It would soon spread, a grey canvas flecked with white, a forgetful day in a forgetful year. A pity, but he couldn’t choose these things. The glasses returned, and he continued, the rattle of the keys slowing to a disjointed rhythm, tapping out the tattoo of a funeral march.
‘I doubt this will have any impact, and that is fine; it’s not meant to. Even if no one were to read it, I wouldn’t mind, nor care. I merely have things that need saying. If you do read this, know one thing: we meant the best, we always did, and he always will. Things may get better. They’ll probably get worse, but in the end people always need someone to blame, and you have chosen your sacrifice, great as he is. I hope you never have the knowledge to regret so great an error.’
He paused then, an ellipsis of thought as the end drew near. What had started as a biography had been hijacked by an agenda, but he had planned for that, known it would be inevitable in such a situation. It was sad, though, that no one would ever really know the truth, stranded in a mire of propaganda and rumour that obscured what little there actually was to know. His hands hovered over the keys, a dozen sentences sliding over the fingertips, every one vying to be there when they fell down and trapped the words on the screen. Wrinkled eyelids fell over dried eyes. He wrote the last blind, holding back unwanted moisture as he finished.
‘I often think of the role the music played for him. I think he saw it as a guide, a reminder of the goodness of people. It was what drove him for all those years. His office was filled with music whenever he was there, became such a part of the room that when I visited it recently it felt empty, dead. He did that; occupied a space so entirely that when he was not there it was a husk of itself, an absence. Have no doubt he’ll pick a piece of music to listen to as his final act, probably something by Grieg. He always did love the Cello. For me, this is what I choose, my swan song, if you will. It contains no beauty, except in how it relates to him. It is the shadow cast, the idea left, by him. I’ll always miss him, I suppose. Hopefully I won’t be without for long.
To Henry: I’m sorry and I say goodbye. We did what we thought best, and it was. That they can’t see that is their own fault, and they’re sure to regret it sooner rather than later. You were the greatest among us.
To the others: I say leave me on a hill, for the view, and enjoy your world, you’ve earnt it and all the troubles that come along with it.’
The final letter sounded like a death rattle, the final movement from a once prolific being. The cursor blinked slowly, reproachful as it regarded him with a tinge of disapproval. With a shrug his hands slowly left the keys one final time, shaking slightly as they moving over to find the worn sandalwood handle, fingers wrapping around the grain as they hefted its weight. Haunted. With a wary smile, he ended it with a bang, then a whimper.
Behind him, the dull grey of the morning slowly gave way to the seeping red of the morning sun, the last day in a final year.