Alex finished his book after a late-night cram session, completing the last chapter by the stroke of midnight. Granting himself little rest, few respites and almost no time to loll around, he was determined, nay, obsessed, with getting the last words onto paper before the chime of 12. It was not the first time he had done this, and as the day grew darker and the long shadows of night crept further across his room, its walls bearing only the echoes of typewriter keys, his fervency grew ever more acute. His left shoulder let out a tiny pang of discomfort whenever he pushed the slide back into its starting position, and after a cursory rub he got right on back to what he was aiming to accomplish. As the clock rolled past 11 he prepared his mind and body for the final onslaught. Giving up now on comforting his increasingly ailing shoulder and ploughing on with sentence after sentence, full stop after full stop, the last paragraph seeming to go on for such an interminable stretch of time. But before the clock could sound out his failure by the heralding of the next hour, his typewriter spewed out the final page, and with the last slam of the last key it was done. Another novel completed, and he smiled. It was his 5th book, and he was eager to get it onto the shelves. He brought to his thoughts what the cover could look like. Which image best embodied its spirits, captured its soul and immortalised its message? Impossible to tell at that instance, since in the excitement he had fleetingly forgotten what it was about. A couple of deep breaths and it returned to him, and the mental picture of a man in a raincoat drudging his miserable way down a sodden street with the clouds looming over was presented. It set a dark and foreboding tone, but that was what the book was in its very essence, and it appropriation was at once a perfect fit. Perhaps his publishing company would have a better idea. He only wrote the books. But before any of this could take place he had to edit it, and on occasion that had taken longer than the writing itself.
He’d been at it since around 3pm, working near enough constantly, having been slacking the previous few days. During that time, he stood up from his desk repeatedly for no good reason, checking his phone even though it had never rung, peering out the window even though nothing of remark had occurred, and he even tried to have a nap, but remained fully-conscious, aware and opened-eyed on the mattress, staring at the blank ceiling. Procrastination may have been his biggest failing, an affliction that did not rot his physical or mental state but nevertheless plagued him throughout his entire working life. The process of writing, his occupation and previously his adoring hobby, was meant to be not only fun but simple and straightforward. He looked to his heroes of prose and envied how they would certainly never have creative problems. They could knock out a best-selling classic in one go, no pauses, interruptions or floundering. His ultimate envy was not possessing that very same ability. Not getting his house wired up with internet was one of the best decisions he ever made, dreading the idea of having yet another massive distraction in his vicinity, one that in seconds would tear him away from his work and into a confusing world he might study for years and never even begin to understand. Frustration boiled up in him when faced with a sheet of paper he was unwilling or unable to blast words onto, and rather than taking the time to carefully consider what these words might be he was out of his seat and searching for something else to do, anything other than writing. But that very morning he woke up with the resolution of getting to the end before the day was over, and as much as the impulse to begin wandering off and doing something else was as strong as the one to finish his story, stronger even, he sat still, ramrod straight, keeping his mind ticking, emptying out the last of his ideas onto the page which zipped from left to right. He paused after the final stop, took a light breath, scrolled the page down and in the centre he typed in capital letters ‘END’. The words itself was a bizarre sit, looking lost with a ‘THE’ preceding it, but having only the single word of conclusion gave it a stronger resonance and added somewhat to the finality of it. It wasn’t as long as his last one, probably clocking in at nothing more than 55,000 words, but whatever the length it comprised a full story, 3 acts, and close to 300 pages in standard book format.
Once the D key sprang back up the room fell silent. No music played in the background and almost nothing stirred outside or inside the room. He sat back and absorbed the peace, resting his arms on the sides of the chair while stretching his fingers and hanging back his head. It was always the same when he fished a project. He experienced a deep euphoria, a sensation of his entire self relaxing, every muscle and fibre relinquishing their grip and letting him slowly back down to where he was when he started. With short stories, which he wrote only on occasion, it was nowhere near the same. He could do one of those in a couple of days, several in a week, and none of their completions hit home like his novels. This one was no different, aside from how much harder he had pushed himself to get this one done. All the familiar feelings rushed back, and now when he paced his room it was deserved and welcomed. He drummed his fingers on the pile and ran from room to room on the top floor, doing a little dance across the landing and punching the air in jubilation as if he’d just won a gold medal. He laughed the laugh of a movie villain who’d sent his adversary off to a painful and theatrically over-the-top death, peeking back into his bedroom to see the pile of pages still where he left it. He picked up the manuscript and weighed it in outstretched hands. It was no accurate indicator of its overall quality but he did it every time he finished writing. Physically experiencing the fruits of his labour; with every page resting on his palms he could feel the end result of all the hard graft. After holding it for more than 10 seconds he put it on the desk, straightened the sides so it sat like a perfect slab, poured himself a beer from the fridge and drank on the patio. Autumn had not long arrived, and with the summer being one of the hottest on record, it looked as though things weren’t cooling down anytime soon. Throughout the hours of the day the sky was emblazoned with all the colours of the season, swept together in a beautiful collage that stretched across all the land and out to the farthest visible reaches of the sea. Now a blanket of star-spangled darkness had been thrown over it and pinned down with a luminescent moon. Above him was every hot-bodied interstellar object the universe had ever known, from the point of its conception to its most recent days, the night sky a living history book all that had been, what currently was and a glimpse into the world of tomorrow. He drank in the comfort of the dark and the tepid wind that drifted in from the water, taking calm, measured sips and enjoying the taste each one provided. The consumption of alcohol was as uncommon to him as the feeling of snow. He never did so when stressed, afraid he might never be able to stop if he did, instead reserving his tipples for when he celebrated the completion of something he was working on. He didn’t miss the coincidence that Willy Faulkner, one of his greatest champions of the quill, also forsook alcohol while he was writing, saving himself for the binge which followed the conclusion of his work. He hadn’t often gone so far for it to be classified as a binge, instead only drinking to the point where he was, in his own slurred words, ‘categorically drunk.’ For the most part booze to him was only a tool for unwinding, facilitating his minds removal from the writing process. Experimenting with typing drunk has produced rather mixed results. His imagination was loose and limber, throwing out ideas left, right and centre, but he was unprepared to mediate any of them, and as such they flew from his brain with the greatest of ease and grace but belly flopped entirely upon contact with the page. He wrote a lot, but it was all terrible. It was coherent only when viewed through a cloudy glass, and should it be presented to sober eyes and sensibilities would be laughed all the way back to the pit from whence they enthusiastically emerged. Each time he created he did so with full clarity and unhindered perceptions. He had done so in writing, and so to would he in editing, a process long-abhorred but unavoidable. To go back over what he had already spent many thankless hours on, lurched over his desk, and change everything he wasn’t happy with. But for now, he simply relaxed and soaked it all in. He polished off couple, one bottle magically turning into 3, turned off all the lights, closed his windows and doors and crawled under his sheets, the imbibed liquid gently rocking him into a sound, comfortable and rewarding snooze.
He awoke 3 minutes before 11. Unaccustomed to sleeping as long as he just had, usually arising between 8 and 9, the bottles of beer had clearly worked much better than he had anticipated. After throwing the covers back and stretching his limbs, he retrieved the sheets and slipped once again into a slumber. He surfaced in the mid-afternoon, his stomach howling for food and his brain for coffee. He obliged them both, sitting at his kitchen table and munching away on a toasted sandwich washed down with a latte. It was a happy moment for him, and when the time came to get to work he was somewhat unwilling to do so. The activities he considering in its place included going for a long walk, watching some TV and visiting his neighbours, something he did so scarcely that he routinely forgot he had them. Instead he picked up his phone and called Jesse, his publisher and good friend, who despite often reinforcing how busy a man he is, didn’t take a message and answered after only 3 rings.
“McCall & Paisley, Jesse speaking.” His voice came solidly down the line, speaking his words with confidence and no hint of hesitation. It was something he said so regularly that it was even beyond instinctual.
“Hey, it’s me.” He said, bringing what was left of the coffee to touch his lips.
“Alex.” He drew the name out, smiling wildly and tapping his desk with a pen. “And how are we this afternoon?”
“Good, great actually. Are you working right now?”
“When am I not mate?” He shouldered the phone and called out several inaudible instructions, returning to the call in seconds.
“Well I won’t waste your time then. All I wanna say is that I finished the book last night.” The pen tapping stopped, then started up again much faster and with a notable flourish. Jesse laughed off to the side, as if something in the room had amused him.
“Congrats buddy, I knew you wouldn’t keep me in suspense for too long.” The number of syllables in ‘too’ almost matched the total amount in the rest of the sentence. Alex grinned but didn’t quite manage a giggle, guilty but carrying on without making Jesse aware of it.
“It did take a bit longer than expected.” Came his timid retort.
“Can’t rush inspiration, am I right?” He asked, imitating his friend’s voice in the first half of the sentence, drawing out a slightly embarrassed laugh from Alex, who had indeed used such an excuse in the past, and on more than 1 occasion. “So when can I see it?” He pried eagerly.
“Well I haven’t started editing yet.” Jesse stopped rapping his pen again, this time placing it down.
“I thought you said you were done?”
“I’m finished writing, but I need to go over it, check it out.” Jesse let out a suspicious hum, but still didn’t speak any less cheerily.
“You know when you wrote your other yarns you called me when they were ready to go.” He made it sound like an accusation, but Alex latched on to his excitement and gladness glad, neither of which he was conspicuously hiding. He continued with their playful banter.
“Well I figured you were a bit keener on this one.”
“Nah, I think your last one was probably better.” Alex tittered for a second, eating the penultimate piece of food left on his plate.
“I’ll let you know when I’m finished.”
“Be sure that you do. Au revoir mon amie. Best of luck.”
“Thanks.” He hung up first, threw the last morsel of toast into the air and caught it in his mouth, placed the dish in the sink and chewed thoroughly on his way up the stairs. He gave his typewriter a quick dust-off before retrieving the manuscript and propping the pillows against his bedhead, sitting up straight against them, taking up a pen and starting at the beginning. There was no title on the cover page, only the words ‘By Alex Payton’ written just below the centre. Some of his previous novels had names beforehand, some acquired them midway through, and others were only dubbed when everything was brought together at the climax. He’d settled on a name for this one before he’d started, but with the story blossoming and taking on an identity of its own, he found himself altering it so many times that he gave up and vowed to only pick one when he was done and sought no further alterations. He lifted the first sheet up from the top of the pile and read over it meticulously, noting at least 3 mistakes in the first paragraph alone. A soft, disquieted puff of air passed through his pursed lips. It was going to be a long, long couple of weeks.