While she had my manuscript (and while I waited the six months for her to have an opening in her schedule), I began co-writing a book with my dear friend, Mark, who lives in the UK. I've mentioned him a time or two in this blog.
Let me try and sound British for a moment: He's bloody brilliant.
He's whip smart and a brilliant writer, just perhaps not as prone to sit down and keep at it as me. In any event, we've created two, I think, amazing characters: Eva and Keaton. But I've had to put them aside to work on my rewrites of The Fifty-Week Wife.
But, as often happens with characters, they become all too real to you, and I missed them. So I had to take a break and read a bit of the work in progress last night.
Mind you, it's first draft stuff. This is very near the end of the book. But it made me happy to visit. The book is called Whatever Words I Say
I stared at the images in front of me. Though so different from the scenes of global grandeur I’d seen back at the cottage, they were just as breathtaking.
A sparrow pecking at gravel in the garden.
The shadow play of my lashes against my cheek as I lay sleeping.
A coffee cup, half in the frame, with rumpled bedclothes in soft focus in the background.
A rusty metal wheel against a weathered wall at the back of the cottage.
Keaton’s reflection in a mirror, hazy and cut off by the edge of the photo.
My fingers drummed along the top of the table as my mind tried to hone in on a idea that was swirling in my brain.
I spent the next hour pacing along the length of the table, picking up this photo, then that one and giving each a harder look. Still my thoughts spiraled into nothingness.
Next, I taped them to the opposite wall to offer myself a different perspective.
Flopping on the couch, I sat, arms behind head, feet on the coffee table and stared. Then I stared some more. I think I may have blinked. Argghhh. What was I even hoping for? He left me these for a reason. It had to be more than to show me he was attempting to be a photographer again? He could have easily told me that and shown me the images in person.
Why the envelope? Why the admonition not to open it until he had left? What did he want from me?
Running my fingers through my hair, I sighed in frustration.
My thoughts began to wander like a restless child. I should really repaint this room. When was the last time I dusted? Is that clock off?
My eyes travelled over to my bookshelf and as soon as I saw it, I knew.
I jumped off the couch as though it were red hot. But I was the one on fire. I grabbed the book and opened it to the first photograph. The image was burned in my brain from having seen it countless times, but the words … Alex’s words … I’d only given them a glance. I was so besotted with Keaton’s language that I didn’t need anyone else’s. But he needed Alex’s words. He needed them and now he doesn’t have them.
Could I give words back to him?
For the next two days I barely moved. The settee was my island and that book my lifeline. I read everything Alex wrote and then I read it again. And again. I studied his cadence, his word choice, his verbal imagery.
I thought of all the writers I loved—authours whose words lifted me. Dickens, Atwood, McEwan, Vonnegut … a list as long as my arm. I pulled book after book off my shelf and reread familiar passages. These novels were the friends I had when I had no friends. They loved me when I was unlovable. They were my salvation until I met Keaton.
Most of all I thought of his words. How, from the first night I met him, he transported me. Praque, Ireland, France. He took me to a place of possibilities and he painted me a picture with his language as surely as if he held a pigment-laden brush in his hand.
I let these words and thoughts fill my head and push out the self-doubt and confusion.
And then I slept.
The next morning Claire dropped off the kittens and their supplies before eight. My living room looked as though a hurricane had torn through a library, but I didn’t care. After she left, I went to shower, leaving the little felines to play amongst the mountain of books.
I’d read once that hot water could open the capillaries in the brain. I don’t know if it was that or perhaps all the words I’d absorbed over the last forty-eight hours had gelled in my memory while I slept, but for whatever reason, I was now ready to write.
Or at least try.
I had my cup of tea and my notebook and my pen.
Time to start.
Yes. It’s time. Going to write now.
What the fuck?
Suddenly that empty sheet of white paper seemed as large as the wall. I made a mark. Not a word. Not even a letter, but a dark slash across the whiteness. The page shrunk back to normal size.
Yin and Yang looked at me from the corner, turning their small heads in my direction before settling in to nap.
I flexed and stretched like prizefighter before a bout. Pen in hand. Check. Paper. Check. Writing now.
The little bird …
Scribble and scratch that.
The small creature …
Who the hell did I think I was? James Fucking Herriot?
Crush paper and throw.
The cats awoke, thinking I was playing some sort of game. To my mind, this was not, by any stretch of the imagination, fun.
Too boring. Crumble.
Too flowery. Crumble.
Pretentious shit. Crumble.
The kittens chased the paper balls, batting them around for pleasure until they became bored and the wrinkled spheres outnumbered them three to one.
Frustrated I went to the kitchen and made another cup of tea, then sunk down into the cushions of the settee and closed my eyes.
How did Alex do this? How did my favourite writers find the words to make me feel ... feel …
Stop overthinking, Evangline. I conjured up the photograph against the darkness of my closed eyes. Any fool can see that it’s a sparrow amongst the gravel. But what else?
Taking a deep breath, I opened my eyes and picked up the pen again. I had clarity.
And so I began.
Peck, peck, peck.
Somewhere in here, there is a bug. There is sustenance.
My markings are those of a burglar but I work honestly for my meal. I take nothing from you. This garden is enough. The flowers are bright in their colour against my white and grey. I blend into my surroundings easily. I’m hardly noticed at all. But you see.
It is a small thing. I am a small thing. But you have found beauty in the small.
Tousled hair. Tousled bodies. Skin slips against skin and satin. We lay loved and fucked and exhausted. Blanketed in kisses, your chest for a pillow, I drift away. A perfect sleep unlike any other. Soon the light will come, but for now I rest in shadow. You watch me. I am safe.
The warmth of our bed. The warmth of a morning coffee. I drink you in. The coolness of your skin. The icy blue of your eyes. Your aloofness, balanced by your total abandonment. We rise and fall, go hot and explode. Then we are one. A single body at rest. The morning beckons. It is a new day, ripe with what is possible. But I have seen the night. I know of its miracles. And I pray for the eve.
Round and round. There and back. The places I’ve been and seen have left their mark on me like a kiss in greeting and a farewell embrace. I am worn, tired. But life stretches out ahead. There are wonders you can only imagine. Experiences your mind has not yet conjured. I would not trade my memories for the world but my time is done. There is a garage and in it an auto, apple red and waiting to be picked. It is your time now. Let the wheels take you. Explore your life.
Your face. Can you see it? Surely you can. Before you, I wandered, always wondering. How will I know? Will I find love? Will it find me? Then, without warning, there you were. I looked into your eyes and you looked into my soul. As surely as though a thousand cosmic truths rained down on me at once, I was struck with the undeniable certainty that you were what love looked like. Love will age, love will grow fine lines around its eyes and its hair will become tinged with grey. Yet I will always recognize its face.