Tom Wanton Writes
by Simon Gauci
Posted: 22 December 2006
Word Count: 2180
Tom Wanton Writes by Simon Gauci
I woke up late in the morning to cross the river. The city is an easy walk. I saw them from the other side. I followed her because she appeared to like it. Her short hair, black and imaginably sexy, fell perfectly into my eyes. I had never followed anyone before, but I had often felt that someone was following me. She was dressed casually with a pair of jeans that penetrated my idea of a fantastic day. A simple t-shirt revealed her view on animal rights, and yet, with the modesty of hidden talent, enough pea-size navel revealed something else. He was earnestly dressed like a man of great self-importance: blue suit, white shirt, black (albeit excellent taste) shoes, and a blue tie. The bag gave him away. His confidence, that pace, was undermined by the fact that I could see the MEC logo.
His stride, constant but interrupted by cell phone rings, was far less interesting than hers. She glided along the morning streets and then, suddenly, without looking up, they kissed, but they did not touch hands. He ducked into a big brass Bay Street door. She stood for a moment, and then kept on going.
She stopped for a coffee. I did too.
“Pass the cream”.
She had ugly hands. They were massive. Her hands, corroded with a terrible infliction, opened my eyes.
“He’s my brother”.
I guessed that she was talking to me. I put the swizzle stick in my mouth, leaned against the weight of my leather satchel. I looked at her. My thoughts were incomplete.
“Do I know you?”
“You followed me from Nicolas Hoare”.
I had the nerve to look away.
“Aren’t you that writer who was in the paper last week?”
I grabbed my coffee and walked out.
My first book came to me in the middle of the night. I saw it on the walls. I saw it on the sheets. I saw it peeling from the wallpaper, and from the swirling ceiling fan and the dripping tap and the crying baby and the lovers humping themselves into forgiveness. The pages pulled out my hair. Like a baby, the words forced their way out.
My grandfather left me gold. I earned five hundred dollars discretely pawning it at Church Street pawn shops. Enough money to copy the pages, bind them, and send them to publishers.
While the editors stood by, the cold water washed over me. I waited for six months – drank. As the months passed, letter after letter – email after email arrived stating that although my book was original, it had too many “trivial and misleading words”. The publishers compared my book to word candy – sweet but, well, good for what? Word candy. Word candy?
“That’s just dandy”.
Back then my actual job was paying the rent, commuting by red rocket, dining on whiskey, and somewhere in between, making freelance comments about world oddities. The remarkable way, in which we hover above ourselves. We lament the absence of grace, plunging our unity into another grave and, without a word, saying, “Yes” to another war.
One year later, my book was published. It was big – larger than I was – larger than I wanted- it was poetic- it was full of grace. My first book made new people out of new ideas, and then everything was different. Nothing mattered to them. They were ready for war: To be forth incoming, I did not intend to write a revolution, but that was how it was read. Within months, bookshelves were empty as fast as they were full. I forwarded my PDF signed contract to all the ones that said, “No”.
After years of treading water, I published my first manuscript, book, whatever. Today, buried inside a plastic bag, stapled inside my journal, the pages lie contagious and poisoned. My words lie, entangled in the aqueduct. I am unable to climb out of my well.
“I cannot write”.
The public waits in line at the bookshops. I stand beside them, pretending not to listen…
”Really, when…? A one hit wonder… I agree!”
Others log on and hoogle me to death. They want to know where I am, and why I am doing zilch to make them read again. All they have to do is look at each other and there I am, remote and covered, witty yet not unique, like a twinging weirdo waiting, ready to skip the next line. They could click on my words and read the empty link, the orphaned blog, or scroll through the twelve hundred other hits. I try to imagine that I am a helpful person, and that I have, in some profound way, made the world a better place. However, most of us already know that city air is lovely in the morning, so what’s the point of mentioning that?
One time I saw a lady fall. I immediately ran toward her to help her up. Her hands were disease free. She carried on abruptly without a word of thanks, without a smile or the simplest civilized eye contact. I stood waiting for red to turn to green. Perhaps going to Kilbride would strip me of familiarity.
“Then again, small towns are just another dysfunctional family”.
“But you loathe pastoral privacy”
“It serves one purpose”.
I greeted urban autonomy. Lying in parks, listening to the clouds sound like doubts as they poured over my textured cheeks, a thought occurred to me.
I glazed the streets petitioning for mercy. There was no more fooling the critics. Even worse, the few magical words I saw fighting off what was supposed to be a mystery, could not be plucked from my rabid brain. Words know that prosperity and fate is not the same thing. I could write, but I could not create. I could walk, but I could not run. I listened as my brain scuttled away certainties. That is what lead me to the river. Paranoid or not, I began to believe that words were avoiding me. My keyboard would not cooperate either. Loosing most of the text while pausing, spell checking and rethinking.
“Why do you take it so personally?”
“Because I believe in the fifth agreement”
“I only know of four”
“To pine own self be true”.
“Why do you have the final word”?
“What will you do?”
“Where is the second book?”
“I have it with me?”
“Let’s see it”.
“It’s in my bag, hidden from them, hiding from you - away from the idea of a pitch.”
“But how will you know if they like it”.
“I wrote it”.
I am a duct built by Mersualt’s mother lying in Algiers - as an afterthought – listening to my pillow, wafting in words, printed into the cotton weaving, I slowly disappear. They wait, like wounds on the hunt for healing, for my next greatest word.
“Reek like a train station toilet.”
“Come on, do better than that!”
“Reel like old film bound for the incinerator.”
“Return like a prophet. Jump off the ferry.”
“Read like a palm. Drowned like a rat.”
“Is that all you’ve got?”
“What do you want me to say?”
“I want you to write, Tom”.
“I did write”.
A writer decides to write again – even if the first book is a success, even when the critic declines understanding. Maybe the writer is not a writer, but a lottery ticket buyer.
“The second book?”
My readers waited like believers for the next meal. In this case, I fed them something I thought they would enjoy. I wrote nothing new.
“It was what they wanted”.
Solitude and effort, that felt too much like a formula hurdling off the page, is how I thought the second book should be written. It was for a time, a creation built by one, for the masses to judge from their urban pulpits. I cannot let you read it – it failed to impress me. Instead of delivering the manuscript, the book, whatever, I left the café, walked and then sat by a river embankment, sipped my coffee, and started a fire.
After tossing the second book, four hundred and sixty six pages, finished and frustrated, into the flame, my deletions began. Along with it, every single imaginary email, clippings of all the supposed “Two Thumbs Up” reviews and invitations to speak at book club conventions. As the pages burned, I fell asleep listening to the memories. I must have had some sort of dream.
The smoldering fire let loose some of the ashes – some of them floated up and some were taken away from me- I ran after them trying to catch them and put them in a jar but as soon a soon as I caught one of the pieces it fell from my hand and the jar was transformed into a bell but it would not ring when I shook it. I ran around like a child at a carnival, quickly, snapping at them with a butterfly catcher but they got away, they slipped through the net, they traveled up and away. Several others that I caught became pages on the horizon and other ashes fell to the grass, crawling into the bag. I see ashes pressed into the ground. I see words printed on the water. I can see ashes in the gray sky. They are the clouds. They are my doubts. The ashes, the fire, the grass, the river, the coffee, the fans, the woman and the streets are editing my dream.
A couple of grasshoppers were perched on top on my bag; I brushed away the leaves that had fallen and watched hope drift away. Birds shat on it – a dog came by and sniffed it. A couple of seagulls pecked at the strap. The flap barely open
Scooped the remaining ashes from the fire pit and dropped them into my leather side satchel. Afterwards I felt the rain make its way through the puffy clouds, darkened by blue skies, and onto my head. I sat starring at the bag of ashes – the leather was spackled a darker black. As the silence was beginning to enjoy my moment, the satchel strap flickered in the wind, opening my eyes; I remembered her hands and wondered how they got that way.
“You woke up after a sleep and you enjoyed starring into the water.”
The day passed between my sickly fingers. My shirt was unbuttoned and my shoes were missing. My coffee was cold; the cup rested in the grass. My hands, withered and broken, consumed by shame, shook and quivered along with the flames. I was cold with my thoughts. The sun, descending toward its slumber, reflected my life in the river.
I once met a man in Srinagar, India, on a House boat on Dal Lake. He was a writer who had burned his manuscripts. It impressed me. I asked him why he burned all of them. “I had to start over”, he answered. Without a single note of personal regret or meaningful grace, I shook the guilt-free conscience from my shoulders. That night, as I leaned back on my chair listening to the Mullah calling the faithful from the other side of Dal Lake, his wife told me, secretly, that he regretted burning some of them.
I felt weightless as I sat by the embankment. At the same time my body was like a stone unable to move, unable to breathe, unable to want more than now. In the distance I heard cars and trucks and I heard what was meant to be life in the city. The city had, as she said holding her coffee, known me. It had driven me in and out of myself. To be well known and then to be waiting for privacy is war. I scooped some ashes from the satchel. Rubbed them into my hands. I looked into the water but upon seeing my ash painted face I backed off, laid down and looked up. The crickets began protesting my presence. The sun was tucked in and I was asleep but I could not rest. Here lies autonomy. Here, by the river, the words smeared in my hands wipe the tears from my eyes. I am stone. The dusk stars are squinting at me.
“You stood up. Picked up the bag and hung it on a tree limb.”
I stripped off my clothes leaving them in a scattered formation. I am standing privately with the night. I am cold. I see the city. I hear the sounds. My arms are spread out wide and my blackened fingers are out as far as they can go with out feeling pain.
“Where is she now?”
My face is painted for war. No more waiting in lines. No one will follow me to the river. Everyone is behind me.
“You should have sent the gold to your wife”.
Knowing that I was not good at treading water, I walked into the river.
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