Appeared in Noted Magazine 2017
It was evening when Anton finally sat down to write his book. It was like someone had pulled a gun on him and said, ‘If you don’t write it, I’ll shoot you.’ But no one was there.
He said, ‘Oh, how I miss her,’ and so on and so forth, but no one answered because he was alone. The lamp lit up the room cutting sharp, black shadows.
He was haunted with boredom. As if boredom was a ghost in a haunted house of nothingness. Julia, her name was. He wrote the name down and wrote about her. He wrote until his hand ached and the ache travelled through him, through his arm and to his chest and head. He had a headache, he realised. A terrible migraine that wouldn’t stop. A pinhole-sized pain in his forehead. But he didn’t stop writing. If he stopped writing he thought he might die, but really there was nothing to die from, he was just sitting in his room by himself, the cold wind blowing in through the window.
He sat there for three years. He wrote pages upon pages of a story so long he forgot the beginning to. The story was about a woman who meets a man. Or a man who meets a woman. It was the only story he could think of. He ate mainly fruit and drank water. He became thin and ill. His beard grew and his hair grew, but the story of Julia didn’t stop. The lamp stopped working two years ago so he usually worked in the daylight. At night he strained his eyes with a lit match. The words came out of him like a birth and the life he created lasted actual years until he heard a knock at the door.
He looked around the room. He didn’t recognise his apartment anymore. Thousands of pages stacked like towers filled the entire room, as though making smaller rooms within the room.
There was a knock at the door again.
‘Who is it?’ he said. His voice phlegmy and unused.
‘My name is Detective Blake,’ a voice called to him. ‘There’s been reports you’re dead, sir. I’m here to check on you, see if you’re alright.’
‘Are you sure, sir?’
‘I’m not dead, if that’s what you’re asking.’
‘I have to come in, sir. If you don’t let me in I will have to break down your door.’
‘You’ll have to pay for my door if you break it.’
‘That’s fine, sir. Your door will be paid for, after I break it.’
‘Will it be a new door or the same door?’
‘Excuse me, sir?’
‘After you break it are you going to pay to fit the broken one back in its place or will you buy me a new one?’
‘I’ll buy you a new door, sir. I’m coming in now, sir. Stand back.’
Blake broke down the door and came in. He walked in from an unimaginable white light outside and walked over to Anton. ‘Hello,’ Blake said. ‘I can see your not dead. That’s good.’
‘It is good, isn’t it.’
‘I suppose so. But you’ve been missing for four years. There have been search parties, sir.’
‘But no one thought to check my house?’
‘It was locked, sir. You saw I had to break the door down.’
‘Well can’t a man stay hidden away for years if he chooses?’
‘Of course you can. It’s just that people thought you were dead. If people think you’re dead well that gives me a problem, doesn’t it, sir.’
‘What sort of problem?’
‘Well I have to investigate, don’t I. I’m here, I can see you’re not dead. But I still have a problem.’
‘Well, I’m sorry to say it sir, but I was sort of hoping you’d be dead.’
‘Why on earth would you hope I was dead? You don’t even know me.’
‘And I would like to get to know you, sir, if the circumstances were different. You see, there is a reward of £100,000 to anyone who finds you.’
‘So why do you need me dead?’
‘Because you are dead, sir. Legally, anyway. Your estate has specifically requested the return of your found remains for burial. As you are legally dead, there’s no reward for returning you alive, unfortunately.’
‘Well I can see you don’t want to come with me.’
‘No, I don’t.’
‘Then I have to kill you, sir.’
‘This is ridiculous. I’m trying to write.’
‘That’s what you’ve been doing all this time?’
‘Yes. I’m writing a story.’
‘What’s it about?’
‘It’s a tragedy. It’s about the love of my life who left me. I’ve written over 10,000 pages. It’s all I know to do since she left.’
Blake tutted. He said, ‘Ah, that is tragic. My wife left me once.’
‘Yeah, just the once.’
‘Well that’s different. She didn’t stop loving you, did she?’
‘No she didn’t. But it’s still tragic, sir. A death is far more tragic than a love who runs away.’
‘You have a point there.’
Anton looked at the myriad of pages. Piles and piles of paper stacked unceremoniously around the room like Grecian pillars. ‘I don’t feel like writing it now.’
‘But you’ve come a long way.’
‘Your story seems better,’ Anton said. ‘The death thing. I never thought about death until now.’
‘I’ve thought about dying, but it’s blasé.’
‘Everyone thinks about death sometimes,’ Blake said. ‘It’s like a joke. It’s one of those funny things you think of and can’t stop thinking about.’
‘Death isn’t funny.’
‘It can be.’
‘How could death possibly be funny?’
‘Well you, for example. You’re dead but here you are. It’s quite funny to me.’
‘Look, Detective, I’ve spent three years of my life writing my story. You’re disturbing me.’
‘I’ve come to take you, like I said.’
‘Fine, take me away.’
‘Oh no, you have to finish the story. What use is your dead body with an unfinished story?’
‘But I can’t think of anything to write. I can’t even remember what she looks like any more.’
Blake pulled out a gun. He pointed it at Anton’s head. Anton then remembered Julia and how she smiled. He remembered the touch of her, what she felt like, smelled of, tasted of. Everything.
‘Write the story,’ Blake said. ‘Or I’ll shoot you.’
‘But you’re going to shoot me anyway.’
‘It’s your choice. If you want to say what you want to say, then write the story. Otherwise I pull this trigger and it ends mid-sentence and you’d only have wasted year upon wasted year.
‘Julia would never read the story anyway,’ Anton said.
‘So why are you writing it?’
‘I don’t know.’
Blake cocked the gun. Anton looked at the gun and imagined the bullet going through his head and blowing his brains out, ending the story there. Stopping all those thoughts where they stood. So Anton wrote. He wrote about Julia but he hated writing it. He couldn’t bear thinking of her, let alone writing about her. The beauty of her in his mind was now ugly, tainted. She was old and decaying. She turned to dust and blew away in the wind. Her dust, like a spirit, floated for miles and miles across deserts and cities and finally settled in the ocean.
‘Is that how it ends?’ Blake said.
‘I don’t know,’ Anton said. ‘I think so. But I regret calling her ugly.’
‘It’s just the idea of her. Unfortunately if you saw her again you’d fall in love again. So goes the pain of the heart.’
‘That’s quite poetic, Detective. Where did you read that?’
‘I can’t remember.’
‘What happens now?’
Blake shot him. He shot him in the head and blew his brains out. For a long time he looked at Anton’s body. He wondered who Julia was and why she left him, why she did what she did to Anton to make him write thousands upon thousands of pages of a book. Blake collected all of the pages which took hours and eventually put them all in his car. He turned Anton’s body in and collected his reward, using some of the money to pay for a new door for Anton’s house, where someone else now lived.
© Michael Holloway