See, I've done the really dorky thing of timing my 2000th post with the third anniversary of my Hatrack registration. That takes precision posting, people. Thanks everyone for the laughs, the flames, the great conversations and the friendships. Hatrack is a special place in the miasma of the web because of the people here. Thank you.
I figured that rather than tell you guys anything about me, I'd post something I've written. Some of you may have read this before...
His body is cold when I find it. I touch his hand first and the skin is cold against my fingers. The pen is held loosely in his hand, its ink seeping slowly into the paper. The words break off in mid-sentence. The body is cold. His skin is clammy to the touch, cold and dead. A sentence that spills broken onto the page. Words that remain unwritten, trapped in the loosened grip of this hand. The grey blanket has come loose from about his thin, grey frame.
I touch his hand first and the skin is cold against my fingers. A sentence spills onto the page. A broken piece of fiction, unwritten words and lives drifting, now, into empty space. White, immaculate and unblemished. I have never seen a dead body before but I have seen sentences like this one. Fading inspiration that leaves nothing but themes that taunt and shadows to chase into nothingness. Will ‘o the wisps of the mind.
The pen is held loosely in his hand, its ink seeping slowly into the paper. Often I have sat in the corner of the room, still and distanced. Sometimes I bring him tea. He drinks slowly as he writes so that the last sip is cold and full of tealeaves. There is a pipe that he touches occasionally. He has long since stopped smoking. He touches it absently when he pauses, pen raised, glasses pushed forward on that thin, prominent nose. The doctors have told him not to smoke but he keeps the pipe anyway. I think it reminds him of the past. Perhaps then he wrote by a small gas lamp. There are books scattered across the desk. Sometimes he stops to fill the pipe and smoke, leaning back in the old oak chair and leafing through these books. He read voraciously then. With the pipe cold he simply writes. There are no books on the desk in front of this cold, grey body. There are only these neat stacks of paper, tied with dark red ribbon, and the white unblemished sheets that he fills with spidery letters.
The words break off in mid-sentence. At first I don’t read them. I simply stand there, bent slightly, and look at his face. Deep lines cross his cheeks, heavy wrinkled curves below those deep-set eyes that stare into nothingness. His mouth is slightly open as if exhaling a gentle breath. He spoke rarely, filling the room only with the scratching of pen on paper and the soft, wet sound as he sipped at the tea I placed gently next to the pile of crisp unused paper. Sometimes he read out loud. His voice thin with age, coming dry and husky from those wrinkled lips. Then I knew that he didn’t really live here, in this dark old room with its shelves of leather bound books and yellowed paperbacks, dusty with disuse, and its oak furniture, darkened by age to a rich, deep brown. It has been years since those books were opened. I remember coming to the room one evening to find the desk bare but for a stack of white, unmarked paper. The books that used to lie scattered across the desk and in piles upon the floor were banished to the tall shelves that line the walls. He was in the chair with this same old grey blanket drawn about him, pen in hand. There was a strange look on his face, I think now that it was a resigned look. A half smile for this resolute movement towards a future that has ended cold, broken. A sentence that doesn’t end but merely breaks off into white.
The body is cold. There is a night breeze moving gently through the window that sits ajar above the desk. The breeze is cool but the body is colder. I touch my hand softly to his cheek, surprised at how reptilian it feels. He wrote everyday that I knew him. I have read the books he published and many that he didn’t. I have heard others say that his work touched them, that he wrote what no one else could. That he captured the essential humanity of his subjects. That his works were universal. They bandy about phrases like ‘greatest living author’ and ‘novel of the century’. They quote book sales and translations into twenty-three languages. They explore theme and authorial motive, about what he was ‘really’ trying to say. Sometimes they write to him with questions or praise. Often they want something. I know he used to read those letters. He never smoked when he did this. He read them standing in the doorway to the room, folding each one carefully back into its envelope and then placing them in the wastebasket. I don’t think he ever replied. Sometimes he laughed when he read them. I used to think it was a bitter laugh, a resigned laugh. When he stopped reading those letters altogether, when they never made it as far as the doorway, I knew that it was a tired laugh. This was years before the books were put away in their places on the shelves.
His skin is clammy to the touch, cold and dead. I move now, without thinking. I fold his hands into his lap and roll his eyelids forward. I try to close his mouth but it seems his lips want to remain slightly apart. I smooth back his thin grey hair gently. The black shadows about his eyes, the thin beak of that pronounced nose. He seems calm and tired. There is nothing of that resigned bitterness that sometimes marked his face – a certain set of the mouth, a tightening of the brow – when he tied dark red ribbon around a stack of papers and placed them carefully atop another. I take up the final sheet and read that broken half-sentence. Slowly at first and then almost eager, I look down and begin
A sentence that spills broken onto the page. Below and to the right of it is a dark blot where the pen rested. The pen I have laid carefully beside the paper. It is an old fountain pen, silver blackened with age and use. That dark blot seems somehow appropriate. There is a certain finality to it. I smile at the way it sits there, distant and separate from that truncated sentence, the untold story. It has a certain dignity to it. As if to say, ‘whatever happens, here I leave my mark.’ There are four novels on those shelves that he wrote. The spines are unmarked. He once said that he never read a word he had written twice. When he was younger he used to like to relate the story of Faulkner, working in a coal mine by day and writing As I Lay Dying in the early hours of the morning without a single edited word, without the smallest of changes before being set to print.
Words that remain unwritten, trapped in the loosened grip of this hand. And in the depths of that stilled heart, that wonderful, darkened mind. Then I catch myself. I am aware of this trap. This obsession with the unwritten that took and held him in those last years. The obsession with unplumbed depths, with fantasies that soared and plunged and reveled. It was not escape as much as it was flight into suffering. It is there in his spidery letters, a hurried desire for what is not yet written. A disdain for the words as they are, here on the page. This is why he never replied to those letters, why he never read his own words.
The grey blanket has come loose from about his thin, grey frame. Page in one hand, I draw it closer about him, hiding the striped flanellette of the pyjamas he shuffled about in in those last days. I draw the glass off his beaked nose slowly, fold them and place them gently beside the pipe. Carefully I lift up the unbound pile and place the sheet in my hand at its back. This is an unfinished work I hold. I tilt the lamp upward slightly so that I can stand and read. It occurs to me that I should call someone, that something needs to be done about his body. But this will happen. Someone will come. What matters now is these words in my hands. These sentences that build, construct and evoke. All that only to die in twelve or so words that break off into nothing but white. Slowly at first and then almost eager, I look down and begin
His body is cold when I find it. I touch his hand first, the skin is cold against my fingers. The pen is held loosely in his hand, its ink seeping slowly into the paper. The words break off in mid-sentence. The body is cold. The skin is clammy to the touch, cold and dead. A sentence spills broken onto the page.Posts: 2945 | Registered: Apr 2000
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3 years, 2000 posts and the name of a Culture spaceship. Congratulations on surviving all three years. Appologies for all of the posts I missed (due to my newness). Greetings to a fellow Ian Banks fan .
Kath - "revolutionary", eh? I remember us arguing quite vehemently a few times, no? One of the things I really love about Hatrack is how friendships can develop around and despite of immensely different opinions on many different subjects.
Posts: 2945 | Registered: Apr 2000
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Ethics, I gotta chime in and say that you've always been one of my favorite Hatrackers. We started here at about the same time and agree about a lot of stuff and I've always felt a lot of kinship because of that.
Congradulations EG... You were one of the first posters I came to recognize here. For a while there I thought you were just going to leave... Anyways, get working on the next 2000 pronto.
Posts: 2432 | Registered: Feb 2001
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