As God Is My Author

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15


Mason’s story

Sam was trying hard to make it sound as if something had changed as if there was a new beginning. She poured his coffee as Dorsett buttered the toast.

‘So how did your meeting go with Carol last night?’

‘It was OK.’

‘I tried to stay awake while working but fell asleep. You must have been talking until late.’

‘It didn’t last that long. She left after an hour and I returned to finish Garbutt’s story.’

‘You’ve finished it?’

‘It was supposed to be a novel, but it’s now a novella. Carol advised me to finish it so I did. Garbutt, the pauper, is now a rich man.’

‘How did you do that?’

‘He found a case full of money in a dustbin.’

‘That doesn’t sound likely, Dor.’

‘Unlikely or not, it actually happened once. I read about it in a newspaper a few years ago. Only that particular person handed it to the police. My characters aren’t that naive.’

‘Or not as honest.’

‘Are you telling me you wouldn’t keep it?’

‘I don’t know. It’s a matter of morals, I suppose.’

‘Rich people can afford to have them. People like Garbutt can’t.’

Sam looked at him without smiling, not sure if he was being critical of her. He noticed and corrected the confusion.

‘I didn’t mean you. I was talking about the filthy rich.’

‘And my family’s clean rich, is that it?’

‘Anyway, I might return to Garbutt in the future, I don’t know.’

‘He’ll probably be dead from what you’ve told me of him. What else could happen to an alcoholic who finds there’s no limit to his finances?’

‘I don’t think so. Turning to drink would be too predictable for him. One of the reasons he drank so much was because of his job, a job which he had to do to earn money. That problem doesn’t exist anymore. I think he’ll go the opposite way, at least to start with.’

‘I presume he found an answer to the Nonsense Question then?’

‘Yes and no. He said we were born to ignorance, that we were never meant to solve it. He’s either run out of ideas or he’s being truthful. But I gave him his money in the end like I promised.’

‘It seems to me you left him just when the story was getting interesting. How an alcoholic deals with finding himself rich overnight. It sounds like the beginning of a story, not the end.’

‘I don’t need to continue because he’s answered it.’ said Dorsett, ‘Or if not answered, at least given an explanation.’

‘What did Carol say? Or am I not allowed to ask that?’

‘She advised me to finish the story. Then she said she’d come and visit me soon.’

‘That’s kind of her. She’s not expecting to get paid for her services, Dor. I offered, but she refused. She’s doing it because I’m her friend. You should be, too.’

‘I am grateful to her. But it’s hard to be relaxed with someone who’s reading your thoughts. It doesn’t feel right. I mean, how could we socialize? Every word spoken would be analysed. Those people never switch off. They can’t.’

‘A bit like writers, then.’ she said.

Dorsett conceded the point.

‘Maybe.’

‘I’ve invited her and her boyfriend, Steve, to dinner next week. Don’t worry, it’s purely a social visit.’

Dorsett didn’t attempt to disguise an audible sigh.

‘Do you think that’s a good idea, Sam? It could be awkward.’

‘I don’t see how. What goes on between you and Carol is confidential. She wouldn’t say anything to Steve about it.’

‘Are you serious? I bet a lot of pillow talk goes on that we don’t know about.’

‘Ok then, let me put it another way. They would keep it private between themselves, which is the next best thing.’

Dorsett wasn’t convinced.

‘Once a secret’s out then it’s not one anymore. I will know that they know.’

Sam gave him a kiss on his cheek before she took her coat to leave for work.

‘Then we’ll pretend that we don’t know anything about what we all know about.’ she said.

It had become a recent habit of Dorsett’s to check his writing first thing each morning before he made his coffee. Almost two weeks had passed without interference and he began to believe the days were back to normal. But one morning he discovered additional work he doubted he was responsible for, the same unfamiliar handwriting, the same upward right slant of the words.

He stared at it for a long time. Then he read it aloud. Again and again, even with the previous lines he’d written. The sound of it gave no indications of change. But he was determined to alter it and made a point of ensuring the couplet would jar. But it had to be subtle, something that wouldn’t require major surgery to correct, but a tweak. Something too tempting to ignore, so that whoever was responsible for it, might feel compelled to reappear and return it to its original state.

He replaced the last three words of the unwelcome inclusion with three of his own and though they rhymed, they weren’t as suitable. It finished the line too briefly, didn’t complete the metered dance of the previous ones and when read aloud, sounded like an awkward bump on an otherwise smooth path. Yet he left them there. If it was his own work he wouldn’t have done that because the previous line was better, or certainly less bad. Throughout the rest of the morning, he wrote another three stanzas to try and lose it in the crowd.

When he’d finished, he looked at the clock and noticed it never seemed to eat up time like it used to, and it made him uneasy. He enjoyed the slow digging up of words, the warm victories when two sounds linked like a chain completed. A clock hand’s slow progress would gladden him and make him feel like he’d earned his achievements. But lately, the words were all above ground, easy to find, easier still to situate on the page. He never used to be that able. No one, he considered, improves that quickly. He was either getting better at his work or losing his ability to redraft competently.

This time when Carol called she kissed Dorsett cheek to cheek in greeting, safe in the awareness that it was a social visit. Her partner Steve was a tall man, wearing a suit without a tie, the smart-but-relaxed appearance. He was polite, waiting to be asked before sitting, and fell into the conversation easily. He had the kind of facial hair growth that made Dorsett envious, one that situated the development of a beard wherever he wanted it. At the moment it looked halfway to full growth, stubble that was attractive rather than dishevelled.

He had no ostentatious jewelry but cufflinks that were visible to anyone who needed to see them. Dorsett never could get that final balance where his would do the same. They would often catch under his suit sleeves or extend far out, something that made his jacket look too small for him.

After the introductions, the two women sat in the kitchen to chat as Dorset led Steve into the living room and offered him a drink. Steve sat back on the sofa and looked about the walls, noticing Dorsett’s books on a shelf beside him.

‘I see you enjoy reading, Dorsett.’

‘Who doesn’t?’

‘It’s not the pleasure it used to be. I can’t remember the last time I saw anyone reading a book on a bus or train. Have you a favourite author?’

‘I like Orwell. I read Nineteen-Eighty-Four when I was younger and never forgot it. It led me to read most of his other work.’

‘It does send out a morbid prediction for the future. ’

‘It’s slowly coming true. Walk any busy street in England and you’ll see CCTV everywhere. He warned us about that.’

So the conversation continued until the food was prepared. After the meal dishes were removed and left for the morning. As the two guests had booked a return taxi, cautionary drinking was unnecessary, and later in the evening, Carol followed Sam into another room when she mentioned lecture notes she needed an opinion on. Steve, by now with his jacket off and shirt sleeves rolled up, stood and tilted his head at the titles lined along the bookshelf. The relaxed atmosphere, a full stomach, and the dimmed light of the room made Dorsett feel drowsy as he watched Steve lift a book from the table.

‘I notice you’ve quite a few books on poetry.’

‘But there’s a lot not there, too. It’s a dabbler’s library, that’s all.’

‘Dabbler’s or not, it’s a cultured interest. Tell me,’ he said, ‘I’ve often wondered if Shakespeare was a poet who wrote plays or a playwright who wrote poetry. What do you think?’

‘One and the same, I imagine.’ replied Dorsett. ‘He only wrote a few sonnets so I’d say he was a playwright first.’

‘I was referring more to the language written in his plays.’

‘Oh, I see. Then I’d have to say he was a poet first.’

Steve walked a few steps across the room and then turned to see Dorsett staring lazily at the wall ahead of him. He sat down next to him on the sofa and held his hand.

‘Why did you alter that line of your poem when you know you shouldn’t have?’

Dorsett turned to him and pulled his hand away sharply. He almost mouthed the words without speaking.

‘What do you mean?’

‘You know it doesn’t work and yet you forced it in against your better judgement. Why?’

Dorsett stood up and looked down at him angrily.

‘How would you know that?’

Dorsett moved to another chair on the other side of the room. They both sat looking at each other across the red glow from the lampshade, one hostile, and the other conciliatory.

‘I told you, Dorsett. I write what you do. I noticed you finished the story with Garbutt, although I’m a bit disappointed in his final answer. Born to ignorance? Sounds like an easy way out if you ask me.’

‘No one’s asking you. Ignorance could well be the answer. When no one can refute it then it can make as much sense as any other proposal. And he elaborated on his explanation.’

‘And your question: have you reached any decision on how it all began?’

‘No, I haven’t. And the reason I haven’t is because you keep interfering in my work. When are you going to leave me the fuck alone?’

‘I’m trying to help you. But for some reason, you altered a line that you knew was not suitable. Why would you do that?’

‘Because I knew whoever was meddling in it would turn up. And you have. Tell me something Steve, or whoever the hell you are. When does it finish? Because I can’t begin to answer the question until it’s completed.’

‘You have to finish it, Dorsett.’

’But I can’t finish it because you keep interfering. Are you stupid?’

Steve put a finger to his lips.

‘Shhh. You’ll have the girls in here.’

‘Bring them in, I don’t care. I’m going to tell them who you really are.’

‘And who exactly am I- Mason or Steve? Do you seriously think they’ll believe you? First, you cut yourself with your own scissors, and then you tell them I’m not Steve but Mason the home help who composes your poetry when you’re asleep. You’d be dragged off in a straitjacket by midnight.’

Dorsett, half desperate, made a suggestion.

‘I’m going to finish the poem here, right now. And you’re going to help me. Then when it’s done, you can leave me the hell alone.’

Steve nodded favourably as Dorsett collected his work from the drawer.

‘That’s not a bad idea. But you’ll need to change that line I referred to.’

‘It served its purpose.’ said Dorsett. ‘I didn’t like it anyway.’

‘And don’t mention this association to anyone, either.’ cautioned Steve. ‘It wouldn’t be helpful.’

‘Fuck you.’ said Dorsett. ‘I’m tired of your orders.’

Steve pulled another chair close to the writing-table and took a pen from his inside pocket. Dorsett moved slightly away from him, wanting to show his independence. When the paper was laid before them Dorsett looked straight ahead and confessed almost dejectedly.

‘I’ve never worked in collaboration before.’

‘It’s not collaboration.’ Steve assured him. ‘This will be your work. I wrote you but you wrote the poem. I’ll start first.’

In less than a two minutes Steve’s four-lined stanza was completed with only brief pauses to indicate any sign of contemplation. Dorsett read it once and followed straight after. The words flowed so naturally, it felt like dropping pebbles into a lake.

‘I’ve never written this quickly.’ said Dorsett. ‘I don’t like it.’

Steve was already writing his lines as he answered.

‘That’s because it’s already written.’

‘What are you talking about?’

Steve wouldn’t answer; too busy scratching the nib coarsely across the page.

So they continued, writing fluently and alternately without pause as if the words would evaporate from memory if their hands stopped moving. Several stanzas formed before them as one read while the other followed on. As Dorsett was about to move his pen he stopped and looked up from the page.

‘That’s it. It’s finished.’

‘What makes you say that?’

‘It’s the first time I’ve hesitated.’

‘Then I suppose it is.’

Steve rose from the chair and sat back on the sofa again while Dorsett continued to reread the lines.

‘It’ll never make you poet Laureate,’ said Steve, ‘but it’s the best we can do.’

‘Poetry written that quickly will never get published.’ said Dorsett, dismally.

‘Really? Who told you that?’

‘It takes time, periods of necessary judgement. I’ve never written that fast before.’

‘Why shouldn’t a poem that’s written instinctively be acceptable?’ asked Steve. ‘You’ve been watching too many films, Dorsett. Pretentious poppy cocks suffering for their art. If it all comes from the same source it doesn’t matter how fast it travels.’

‘And there are too many questions.’ said Dorsett.

‘The theme needs to be exhausted.’ explained Steve. ‘Run them through your head and see what you can come up with.’

Dorsett gave him a disapproving look. ‘And who will you come back as next time? A postman? A pizza delivery worker? Maybe even my own Sam?’

Steve looked at the floor reflectively.

‘The poem’s finished which means I am too. I’ll take your explanations without you even knowing.’

They sat quietly for a moment, each pacified by their own thoughts and no longer friendly people meeting by chance during a social evening.

‘This life I’m living.’ said Dorsett. ‘You said you dictate it all.’

‘Yes.’ replied Steve, resting his head back on the sofa with his eyes closed. ‘The same way you dictated Garbutt’s life.’

‘I suppose it is like being a God, isn’t it?’

‘If anyone can explain to me what a God is, then I might be able to tell you.’

‘If I’m Garbutt’s creator and you’re my creator, who’s yours?’

‘You asked me that before. I don’t know.’ said Steve. ‘But we all have one. I just haven’t met mine yet. And maybe never will.’

‘Well, I hope you do.’ said Dorsett almost kindly.

Steve looked at him and expected to see a compassionate expression but instead saw a leer easily translated.

‘Then you might start believing you can do anything you want.’ continued Dorsett. ‘Pick up a knife and cut the throats of dinner guests, smash a car into a school playground. What would any of it matter if the place you live is unreal? None of it will make any sense. What a freedom that would be.’

‘Be careful, Dorsett. Remember the question of credibility. It can’t be senseless or without purpose. No matter how false you think your life is, you’ll still take the consequence of your actions. Not because I write it that way, but because that’s how real life is. Murderers don’t just walk away.’

‘Don’t be so gullible. Read a little human history and you’ll discover millions eradicated with no one accountable. And think about the magic of it; your own private universe to rape and slaughter. Haven’t we all wanted to run riot in our own fantasy fun park?’

‘I’m not going to hurt you, Dorsett. Just as you left Garbutt to continue on his journey, so I’ll allow you to continue on yours. Where that will lead I have no idea. You could become a published poet; you might marry Sam and live happily ever after. You might even have a car accident and die early. Once I leave this story, I have no charge over it.’

‘But you started it.’ said Dorsett. ‘You planted the first seeds that will dictate how this story develops. I’ve already self-harmed and I might be capable of violence again, only this time against Sam. That would be credible because the initial signs were there, I showed unstable characteristics, clues to mental instability. No one would be shocked if things go bad because you compelled me to harm myself to try and prove you wrong about you being my creator. I might even return to my own story and see Garbutt again. I can certainly do what I want in that life, can’t I? After all, I wrote it.’

Steve watched him and saw a flawed creation, something he knew he was responsible for. He had to try and correct it. Dorsett went on.

‘Just as I arranged for Derek and Isobel to get together so that I could get Garbutt alone, so you arranged for Sam and Carol to disappear into the next room so that you could bring up the deliberate error I made after you wrote those lines for me. But I can’t hear the girls in the other room.’

‘If you want to see them then walk in the room and they’ll be there.’

‘I’m sure they will.’ agreed Dorsett. ‘But they’re not there now, are they? It’s the same thing that I told Garbutt: You can only see things from your own perspective. What you can’t see doesn’t exist. It’s like a computer game. The character walks and runs for hours in the eyes of the game player, but in truth, he’s not moving at all. It’s only the scenery behind him that’s moving.’

‘If you don’t believe,’ said Steve, ‘then the game won’t work.’

‘And what I’m living in now, that’s a game, isn’t it? The same type of game Garbutt’s living in.’ Dorsett walked back to the table and picked up the sheets of paper he’d been working on.

‘I’ve already found my answer. Because by writing it out, the questions have already been considered. Garbutt was right. We are born to be ignorant. Just as we’ll never know what the universe is expanding into, so we’ll never know what started or came before it. The secret of life, if that’s what it is, will remain as it is, a secret. Endless scenery going past us over and over again as we travel into oblivion and yet don’t move an inch. Like the Mobius strip that seems infinite but isn’t. Like the insect on a ball that walks for eternity but doesn’t. It hasn’t got the intelligence to figure it out. Too small, too slow, too brief in a place too big-’ he opened his hands to the room- ‘that moves too fast. That’s it.’

Steve looked sceptical.

‘Like teacher like pupil, is that what you’re saying?’

‘Why shouldn’t it be intuitive?’ asked Dorsett. ‘Like the lines of the poem you mentioned. If it’s instinctive, who cares how fast you reach your conclusion?’

They both turned to the sound of the door opening and watched Carol and Sam walk into the room. Dorsett knew their arrival was a full stop on the subject. He was growing less uncomfortable with the appearance of unexpected visitations and their demands. He even had the confidence to reveal what had happened, ignoring Steve’s earlier advice.

‘Sam, you won’t believe this, but Steve has helped me finish my poem. Can you believe that?’

The two women stood quite still and looked at both of them. Dorsett looked at Steve, who knew he could respond in only one way.

‘Well, I gave him a few helpful hints.’ he told them. ‘But I take no credit for it. It was mostly Dorsett’s work.’

‘He’s far too modest.’ protested Dorsett. ‘I couldn’t have done it without him.’

Sam looked uncomfortably at the both of them.

‘Well. That’s good news, Dorsett. I’m glad it’s finished.’

‘So am I.’

Carol was quick to change the subject.

‘Steve, our taxi is on its way. It’ll be here in five minutes.’

Steve began rolling his shirt sleeves down and stood to put on his jacket. Dorsett waited until he was properly dressed and then offered his hand.

‘Thanks again for your help, Steve. I appreciate it.’

‘Glad to help.’ he said. He kissed Sam on the cheek as he passed her and left the room quietly. Carol said her goodbye’s also and nodded towards Dorsett.

‘Don’t forget I’ll be round to see you next week. Same time, is that OK?’

‘Absolutely.’ said Dorsett. ‘I look forward to it.’

Carol and Sam said their farewells and the door was closed. When Sam returned to the room she was reluctant to speak and Dorsett was curious.

‘What’s wrong?’

‘Is the poem finished, Dorsett? Do you promise?’

He laughed and embraced her.

‘Yes sweetheart, it’s finished. Steve and I sailed through it. I never want to read or see it again.’

She looked up at him and smiled but it wasn’t one of acceptance. It had uncertainty at the close of it.

‘And did Steve really help you, Dor?’

‘Yes. He did: look.’

He went over to the table and brought back the sheets of paper for her.

‘We took turns, a stanza each at a time. That one’s his, that one’s mine. It went on like that until the end. It took about ten minutes.’

She looked at the words and was more convinced than ever.

‘Steve couldn’t have written those lines, Dorsett.’

‘Why not?’

Her smile faded and she stood a little apart from him.

‘Because he’s dyslexic.’

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