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Chapter 2

He’d made another coffee and finished it in less than 2 minutes, wanting another before the final drop had even touched his stomach, and didn’t hesitate a trip to the kitchen to get one. By the time he got back to his room he’d already finished half of it, and was almost but ready to doubling back and get a refill. He elected against the idea, saving a 3rd cup for when he’d got through at least the first chapter. The coffee stops he made were short but frequent, and such repetitive digressions ate into his work schedule significantly. He couldn’t afford to be constantly away from his task, needing to concentrate and concentrate hard. He needed to keep focus, not let his mind wander and apply himself fully. These were all things he frequently struggled with. Reading the books of his literary idols growing up, gorging on renowned landmarks including Crime & Punishment, Lord Of The Flies, A Tale Of Two Cities, A Hundred Years Of Solitude, surely their creators took up their writing implements and fired them off in white-hot blazes of inspiration and unhindered velocity, leaning back when it was done and breathing heavily but with a deep satisfaction at their accomplishment. This was just not how things were, for him anyway. Those stories would still go through difficulties, and maybe their creators were frequently in a mindset to throw them away altogether. No matter how good the artist there was never a time free of struggle or hindrance, not only with skill level and aptitude but with the brains natural propensity to idle, wander, and occasionally leave outright. When he desired to work the tinniest noise would emanate from another room or the streets outside. He would be struck suddenly with a tinge of thirst or hunger. He would notice an insect flying about in the air around him. He would catch sight of an unpleasant stain on the wall or curtains, scan its every contour before leaving his seat, fetching his cleaning utensils and going about trying to clean it off. These were the periods when distractions and intrusions were everywhere, and every one of them was harder to ignore than usual. What would normally take less than 5 minutes could take up to 20, and that was if only 1 or 2 things diverted his attention. He might very easily waste hours at a time doing nothing but attempting to fix his mind on the task.

He completed Chapter 3 before getting up for a stretch, the corrections he deemed necessary noted everywhere in slapdash fashion. Between words, sentences, paragraphs and in the margins he made brief notes such as ‘Expand this’, ‘Trim this’, ‘Use Thesaurus’, ‘Delete’ and whichever others were appropriate. It was an unholy mess in places, but he included enough detail in the spots where the amendments were more complex and might require a little explanation for when he came back to do the fixing. Either the quality of his storytelling improved towards the end of Chapter 3 or, what he conceded was most likely, he had begun losing attentiveness and let a number of issues slide. He hopped off the bed in a sprightly manner, gleeful at the prospect of yet another coffee. He much preferred it to tea, feeling more of a kick and lasting sensation as opposed to the relative weakness and bland taste of its counterpart. He’d heard and read about how much coffee robbed you of sleep and caused your blood pressure and heart rate to skyrocket, especially with the amount he consumed, but it wasn’t like he laced his airways with cigarette smoke or his liver with alcohol, 2 substances he knew to be measurably worse than a single cup of coffee. It helped him to be productive, helped keep his energy up and, when he wasn’t glancing at every little blotch on his ceiling or carpet, kept his mind fixed and the wheels turning. Should he forgo this perennial indulgence he would be reduced to never completing another word of prose for the rest of his days.

With another few hours passed and another couple of chapters down he took a second extended break, flexing his fingers and shaking his hands back and forth, hoping to force some life and lustre back into them. Downstairs, gazing out the kitchen windows across the tops of his garden walls and marvelling at how the buildings in the distance seemed to sprout out from them, he saw his neighbour’s son on his back lawn, bouncing up and down on his net-enclosed trampoline. His name was André, the child of a French father and an English mother, neither of whom he knew particularly well. It was André he spoke to most often, on the occasion when they were outside at the same time. The kid always spoke first, once holding him in discourse for a solid hour, only stopping when his parents called him inside, apologising to Alex about his garrulousness and how much of his time he was wasting.

“Sorry Mr. Payton, he could talk forever when he gets going.”

“No problem, I promise. He’s a great little chatterbox.” The mother nodded respectfully, bringing a still-blethering André inside, Alex and him exchanging a mutual wave.

“You’d never believe he was only 10 would ya?” The father announced, propping a foot up on the wall and speaking with his hands in his pockets. His accent was unmistakable, but there was some evidence to suggest he was downplaying it. Only the most obvious of inflections betrayed his native language, but most of the time he could have easily passed for a bona fide Englishman.

“Growing up pretty fast.” Alex noted. He came to the wall, seeing André entering the house, turning back just as he crossed the threshold. The father agreed silently, saying no more on the matter.

“How’s your book coming?” He smiled, running a hand through his hair. Alex was about halfway through his previous novel at the time, setting up a tight schedule and sticking to it to the best of his abilities. He was breeching it now as he spoke, having stopped mid-way through a conversation between 2 of the main characters and needing someway to continue it. He was lost for further compelling dialogue, and that was when he had spotted André and came outside to see if he had any suggestions.

Alex and André’s father conversed politely for a couple of minutes, their interaction curtailed when his wife asked him inside to help her with something. They exchanged civil goodbyes and went back to their respective houses, Alex running the discussion through his head to find any vestige of inspiration. None whatsoever, but he did think of a way to circumvent the conversation, and he returned to his typewriter and carried on, finishing the dialogue when he had a suitable direction for it to take.

As much as he was embarrassed to admit it as a grown adult, André was among his best friends. He was bright, funny and never had a problem talking to Alex about any aspect of his work. No matter what they started discussing it always came down to the same thing: How much he wanted to be in one of his books.

“Can I be the cute French boy all the girls like?” He would say, sounding like he intended it as a joke but wearing an expression of deadpan seriousness. Alex promised him he would. Very few of his stories involved a great deal of kids and none revolved around them. Some had no children whatsoever, and as much as he would love to include him somewhere, he felt it unprofessional to force a story simply to include him. If he found a way to do it organically then maybe he’d go ahead.

Alex observed his actions for a few minutes, hopping up and down, attempting both forward and backward flips. He was a very athletic child, twisting in the air with the grace of an Olympic diver in freefall. When he grew dizzy from the activity he slowed down, allowing the springs to gently ease him to a standstill, and looked around with widened eyes, catching sight of Alex holding his mug as he leant on the window ledge.

“Hi Alex!” He yelled, not sure how much volume he required to make himself heard.

“How’s it going Andy?” He often called him by that name to wind him up, and it worked just as well on each occasion. The boy jumped high, slamming his feet into the fabric and attaining much greater elevation.

“Hey, it’s André! It’s a Gallic name!”

“Yeah I know.” Alex tittered lightly as he spoke “How are you?”

“I’m ok.” He spun a few more times. “Did you finish your new novel?”

“Yeah I did.”

“Am I in it?” He asked hopefully, slowing his actions down. Alex shook his head and replied with regret.

“No, I couldn’t manage it pal.” André was now off the trampoline and perched on his garden wall, legs crossed and face turned down, playing around with a loose rock in front of him.

“You promised you’d base a character on me.”

“And I will mate, I haven’t forgotten. It’s just that this story wouldn’t suit a kid as cool as you.” He twitched and winked but André didn’t seem any happier.

“You don’t think that would make it better?” Alex coughed on an already clear throat, picking up and putting down his cup and rubbing his stubbed cheeks.

“You’ll be in the next one ok?” He deliberately omitted the words ‘I promise.’

“You told me that when you wrote Shadows.”

“Did I?” He strained to think. “I don’t remember saying that then.”

“Well you were pretty drunk. You came to chat and you were carrying a Champagne bottle. I think you’d just finished writing it.” Alex, with some mental strain and a lot of rolling his pupils round and round, recalled speaking to André soon after finishing Shadows, albeit the conversation was largely lost in time and inebriation, existing now only in misty fragments of remembrance. He could picture the scene but not what was said. André was certainly happy at the time, no doubt bolstered by his friend’s achievement, but no promise was made in his memory. “What’s it about?” André addressed him while staring off into the distance.

“About?” Alex asked, his head still fumbling around in his cache of hazy recollections.

“Your new book.” Alex fiddled with his hair, thumbing the part of his scalp which would soon be bereft of such matter.

“I’ll know soon enough.” He stated cryptically. André didn’t hang around to decipher it, performing a backflip off the wall, landing solidly on both feet.

“See you later then I guess,” He walked away with only the slightest of waves and not even making eye contact. Alex watched him go, whispering into his empty cup.

“I just forgot. Sorry kiddo.” He too went back inside, feeling no better than his friend and returned to work, the pages heavier and more unwelcoming than before. He doodled an image of André in the top corner of one of the sheets and edited some more, flicking back to it whenever he wanted to cheer himself up, if only a little.

The following morning, with a full night’s sleep and an invigorating dose of fresh air obtained on a short stroll round his locale, he was at 100% clarity and in full attack mode. His head full of revitalising oxygen, as well as the assorted aromas of the neighbourhood, he was almost born again, and dived into this novel with renewed vigour. He noticed more errors, putting it down to the extra attention he was now paying, even considering going back and re-examining the sections he skimmed over and giving them a more thorough critique. That was even more time to be wasted, and ploughed on with the idea dispelled. He sat with no drink next to him, now buzzing solely from the task at hand. Distractions still came, but he fended each one off as soon as they arrived, forbidding himself from even glancing up from the words on the pages. Nothing else in his life was of any importance or consequence, it was all about this book, and keeping that philosophy in mind kept him going through the entire day. When he hit a snag, coming up to a paragraph he didn’t know whether to expand or delete, his eyes shot closed and his head pitched forward, then he jolted back to consciousness like at the tail end of a dream of falling. His forced awareness had bled him dry and the words before him were hieroglyphs, figures and symbols that may as well have been a different language. The paragraph wasn’t very relevant, almost as if it had been cut from another part of the story and placed there at random, but it sounded good and rang true to the tone he was creating, leaving him torn as to what to do to it. Each time he blinked another 5 minutes passed. His neck was stiff from repeatedly rising and falling and the wider open he held his eyes the more inclined they were to shut. He surged through the rest of the chapter, ceasing only when he hit the final full stop. With a sigh of resignation, he gave up for the day. It was pitch black outside, barely a star to shine and a moon not long into its waxing crescent. The light on the ceiling flickered slightly, and he swore his eyes did the same. A brightness inside him started to dim, he lost much of the feeling in his body and time stood completely still. He was snoring seconds later.

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