As God Is My Author

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24


Weeks passed in the life of Dorsett, and as they passed, he and Sam drifted further apart. Their long silences were accepted now, free from guilt or pressure to communicate. They ate by themselves and lived their own lives, like two platonic lodgers sharing the same flat. He kept waiting for her to tell him to leave and she didn’t have the heart to order him. Then one night she didn’t come home. Dorsett was hoping she’d stayed at a girlfriend’s house but couldn’t help himself from considering another possibility. When she returned the next morning he said nothing and she explained nothing. His uncertainty was made all the more unbearable because of their established isolation from one another. After two days, he could stand it no longer.

‘The other night, Sam, when you didn’t come home: What happened?’

Her hesitation in replying was an answer in itself.

‘I stayed over at a friend’s house.’

‘Man or woman?’

‘A man.’

‘Did you sleep with him?’

‘Yes.’

He kept quiet after her confession in the hope that guilt would sink into her. Her words a moment later seemed to justify the betrayal.

‘It’s not what you think. He-’

‘I don’t want to know. I’ll leave by the end of the week. I need time to find a place first.’

‘Fine.’

And that was it. Years lost in an exchange as ordered as a sterilised ward. Like adults, they discussed it. How easier breakups would be, pondered Dorsett, if all couples once in love handled their separations like this. So sensible. So brave.

Garbutt continued to drink, and Dorsett, still adapting to his new bedsit a little nearer the city, continued to contemplate the existence of God and determinism. He wrestled with his instincts and tried to discipline them logically, but the belief that pre-ordainment was evident would not leave him. He decided to see Garbutt again.

In the Coach.

By the ledge.

Listening to music.

Staring at nothing.

He ordered two pints.

This time, after he’d been served, Dorsett nodded a greeting to the Irish corner as he passed them, the familiarity growing. They nodded back, one of them even raising a hand in acknowledgment. Garbutt seemed indifferent to his attendance.

‘Dorsett.’

‘Hello, Garbutt.’

‘How’re things?’

‘Eventful. I’m now a single man.’

‘Welcome to the club. What happened?’

‘I lost focus.’

Garbutt waited but nothing followed, so decided not to press it.

‘Fair enough.’

It gave Dorsett time to ask a question.

‘How long have you been alone, Garbutt?’

‘About an hour.’

‘No. I was talking about relationships.’

‘Considerably longer, if you don’t count that fiasco with Isobel. About ten years.’

‘Doesn’t it bother you? Having no company?’

‘You mean am I bothered about not having a woman share my bed?’

Dorsett was about to defend himself but changed his mind.

‘Alright then, yes.’

‘The first five years are the worst.’ he said.

Dorsett smiled.

‘I’m serious.’ said Garbutt, ‘That’s the bad part. But you can get used to it. Then you prefer it. Life is less complicated without a woman.’

‘And pretty boring, too.’

‘If you mean there’s no disruption or chaos, then yes. You’ll get plenty of that with a woman. The last time I fell in love was with a girl called Chrystal Kaleer. She kept me company for a long time and I knew practically nothing about her, where she lived, if she was married or had children. And I didn’t want to know. I’d put her in a place I preferred and kept her there. And she didn’t even know I existed. This woman has been my refuge. She was only twenty-eight when she died of a drug overdose. With Chrystal, there were no arguments, no jealousy issues. And because she died young there will be no deterioration of beauty, either. None of that. Just pleasure repeated in a loop at the touch of a keyboard button.’

Dorsett saw Garbutt’s eyes glazed in remembrance.

‘Are you saying you were in love with a porn star?’

Garbutt jolted back to reality.

‘Why not? She demanded nothing from me. It was a love affair from a distance, a private adoration. There isn’t a woman on this earth who could give me as much pleasure.’

Dorsett gave a dismissive grunt.

‘You’re better off with a rubber doll.’ He said. ‘I’d rather have a real woman.’

‘You did. So did Derek. Yet you’re both on your own.’

‘For now, maybe. But we’ll find someone else.’

‘I’m sure you will. And lose them again. And guess what? There are millions available. They’re all over the place and you’ll never run out. You’ll get so used to them it’ll be like copulating with clones.’

‘Better than masturbating your life away.’

‘You think so? All that emotional upheaval that comes from falling in love, you want that? The first time I fell in love I felt so alive I thought I would live forever. It seemed to make perfect sense: look after this person who makes you feel this way. Look after her and the sensation of endless pleasure will be yours for as long as you live. But I was also disillusioned. Because I knew faster than I have ever believed anything, that this feeling, this apparently unique, once in a lifetime feeling could be repeated. With a different face. A different personality. Millions of different faces and personalities, all over the place. It felt like swimming amongst an ocean of beautiful sharks, no threat felt, no danger perceived. And I knew then there was no barrier to falling in love. Unless I made one. So that’s what I did. But all this happened subconsciously. This idea was forming without me even being aware of it. I went through those infatuations, experimental entanglements, just like most other people. I was part of the human race, then. But not anymore.’

He drank deeply to close the subject off.

‘So what are you here for?’ he asked, silencing a burp. ‘And before you answer, I’m not in the mood for any more searches or riddles.’

‘No. No more searches.’

‘Glad to hear it.’

They drank together as if it was a customary ritual closing a conference. Dorsett wiped his lips with the back of his hand after his thirst was satisfied, but Garbutt, knowing another beer awaited him, seemed determined to finish his first.

‘When you eventually leave life Garbutt, how would you like to go?’

Garbutt stopped in mid-gulp. He looked at Dorsett over the crescent of his glass, swallowed what beer was left in his mouth, and placed his drink slowly on the ledge. Dorsett prompted him further.

‘Would you prefer a universal death amongst millions or a personal one?’

‘I’m hoping that’s a hypothetical question.’ said Garbutt.

Dorsett didn’t reply and waited for his answer.

‘I think a personal one.’ he answered finally. ‘Why do you ask?’

‘I was curious, that’s all. None of us live forever.’

‘Christ, will you tell me something I don’t know?’

‘You said you’d like to go by yourself. I find that surprising. I thought you’d want to leave with all of humanity in one catastrophic end.’

‘Sure. Something I’ve always dreamt of, to die with millions. It would make it so much more bearable.’

Dorsett frowned at the sarcasm.

‘You’re an insensitive moron.’ replied Garbutt. ‘And if you had even a morsel of imagination you’d realise that no one dies with anyone. Everyone dies alone, just as they were born alone. It’s their own hearts that stop, their own minds that fade. Besides, if I die with everyone else, who’s going to mourn me?’

‘What would it matter?’ said Dorsett. ‘You wouldn’t hear the eulogies, anyway- providing you had any.’

Garbutt looked at him blandly. ‘Just tell me why you’re here, will you?’

‘I’m ending this story.’ said Dorsett. ‘I just want to know how you’d like to go.’

‘With a fucking Genie in my pocket. Does that answer your stupid question?’

‘You’re lucky.’ Dorsett told him. ‘How many people have the choice to choose the way they die? Most of us never see it coming.’

‘That’s the way it’s supposed to be.’ said Garbutt, ‘To not know.’

‘I thought you’d say that.’ said Dorsett. So if that’s what you want, you can have it.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘I mean, you don’t have to know.’

‘But you’ve just told me I’m going to die.’

‘Of course. You are. We all are, that’s inevitable. Once I leave this story for good, you’ll live on just as you did before I came into it. Just as it was before I met you at Menzies, before that missing step on the stairs.’

‘So then why the hell did you ask me how I’d like to die?’

‘I was curious, that’s all.’

‘You’re the last person on earth who should ask that. How would you feel if your creator asked you the same question?’

‘Privileged.’ said Dorsett, ‘And I’d tell him I’d like to die peacefully in my sleep.’

Garbutt reconsidered.

‘In that case, I’ll have the same as you, then: Death in my sleep at an old age.’

‘I thought you just said you didn’t want to know when?’

‘I don’t.’

‘You’ve just given two conditions: in bed and in old age.’

‘Yes, but I didn’t say when.’

‘You don’t think old age is a time?’

Garbutt seemed uncertain.

‘Well, there’s a lot of room to play with. I mean, old could be fifty. It could be a hundred. A hundred sounds like a nice round figure.’

‘So does a thousand. But it isn’t likely.’

Dorsett turned his head aside after hearing the pub door open. The new arrival looked familiar, but a question from Garbutt turned him away from further scrutiny.

‘Look, could you just make sure I don’t suffer a slow death from a disease? I’d settle for that.’

‘Another condition?’

Garbutt didn’t reply. He was watching a man approach close by, place his beer down behind Dorsett, and stand there. Dorsett suspected it was the familiar face that had just entered and didn’t turn round, waiting for him to put money into the gambling machine. But when he noticed Garbutt was still staring into the stranger’s face, he turned. The man was standing erect, hands in trouser pockets, looking down on the both of them. Dorsett recognised him and cursed to himself.

‘You must be fucking joking.’

‘Hello, Dorsett.’

Garbutt didn’t change his uneasy expression, uncertain of the reason for the intrusion.

‘You two know each other?’

Dorsett closed his eyes and lowered his head as if a moment’s silence would readjust everything.

‘I know who you are.’ he heard Mason say to Garbutt. Garbutt’s reply wasn’t friendly.

‘Do you now? And what should I care that you know who I am? Those strangers over there know who I am, yet we never speak.’

Mason looked over to the Irish corner, but before he could respond, Dorsett intervened.

‘This is Mason, Garbutt.’

Mason held his hand out and Garbutt took it grudgingly.

‘And now I know who you are.’

‘I doubt that.’ replied Mason.

Garbutt released the clasp, still trying to understand the ground on which the three of them were standing.

‘What you’re looking at there, Garbutt,’ said Dorsett, ‘is my creator. You asked me once, remember? Well, there he is, in the flesh.’

Dorsett turned and slapped Mason’s chest heavily with the palm of his hand, causing the beer in his full glass to spill over his fingers and across his shoes. Garbutt attempted a joke.

‘My grandfather, is that it?’

‘In a manner of speaking,’ answered Mason, wiping the beer from his hands with a tissue. Dorsett still wouldn’t face him.

‘But just like a real grandparent,’ said Dorsett, ‘he’s going to tell you that he has no direct influence over what happens in your life. Isn’t that right, Mason?’

Mason moved away from the gambling machine and stood beside them, the tallest by several inches.

‘I think you can see the resemblance, though.’ continued Dorsett. ‘Garbutt has your eyes. Can you see that?’

Mason looked at Dorsett directly, bored with the game.

‘Have you finished?’

Dorsett drew his face close so that his voice might have less volume, but some words erupted in suppressive bursts.

’The question is, Mason, have you finished? And while we’re on the subject, where the fuck is Steve?’

Customers around them turned to the confrontation and watched warily, stepping back a little further. The landlord peered over the heads at the bar and gave a warning look as Dorsett moved away from Mason to edge deeper towards the ledge.

‘Who is Steve?’ asked Garbutt. Mason smiled and tried to explain.

‘You live in Dorsett’s creation, Garbutt. Dorsett lives in mine. I was Steve once.’

‘So none of this is yours?’ asked Garbutt, moving his finger like a windscreen wiper.

Mason shook his head. ‘This is Dorsett’s world.’

‘No.’ challenged Garbutt. ‘I’m the resident of whatever dump this story is in.’

‘But Dorsett made it for you.’

‘So how the hell are you in it, then?’

‘Because he’s here. Where he goes, so can I.’

‘But if you wrote his story,’ said Garbutt, ‘then you led him here.’

‘I created him and the story, but I have no influence in its direction.’

‘Of course you have.’

‘How?’

’By being here. Say you have an argument with someone and punch him. He falls to the floor and cracks his skull. The three of us would be arrested. This story would change because that happened. You’d be involved.’

Dorsett corrected him.

‘You forget that Mason here has the ability to morph into other people. Only you and I would take the consequences. He would just-’ he clicked finger and thumb for effect. ‘-disappear.’

Garbutt eyed Mason suspiciously.

‘Is that where Steve came from?’

‘Right.’

Garbutt turned to Dorsett.

‘So then what’s to stop you from being someone else?’ he asked him.

‘Nothing. I’ve just never played it that way. Mason used to be our home help cleaner. He interfered with my poems about the beginning of the Universe before he left abruptly. Then he reappeared as Steve and made a fool of me. He also lost me someone I was very close to. All I did in your story was remove a step to nudge you into giving credible suggestions about the Nonsense Question. I even gave you a small fortune for your trouble. Apart from the episode with Derek and Isabella, yours was a happy ending. Mason had something more painful in mind for me.’

‘Why would you do that?’ Garbutt asked Mason.

‘Because all stories are not the same.’ Said Mason, slightly puzzled.

‘Maybe no one will want to read your stories, then.’ suggested Garbutt.

‘They’re reading them as we speak.’ said Mason. ‘They have to be. Otherwise, what’s the point in being here?’

Garbutt looked at the people around them.

‘Maybe your maker is here. Ever thought about that?’

Mason did a quick survey of the room.

‘You might be right. Who do you think it is?’

‘Some meddling piece of shit.’ said Garbutt. ‘Then you might know what it’s like to be toyed with.’

Mason looked at Dorsett.

‘That’s nice. Your own character has empathy.’

‘That’s the kind of man he is.’ said Dorsett.

Garbutt looked hesitantly at Dorsett but received a blank expression. Out of a wish to be independent, he addressed them both.

‘Fuck off. I feel the way I do because I have no choice.’

Mason smiled at Dorsett. ‘I see we’re all in agreement regarding preordainment, then.’

‘I think he’s referring to the way he feels.’ replied Dorsett.

‘So you wind him up but he goes where he wants.’ smiled Mason. ‘Or thinks he does.’

‘You are starting to wind me up.’ said Garbutt. ‘You’d better watch your mouth.’

Mason ignored the remark. ‘Let’s get back on track, Dorsett. I read your poem. You’re still looking for evidence of preordainment, aren’t you?’

‘So?’

‘I think you might find it.’

‘You’ve got proof?’

‘Not exactly. But you’ll certainly believe it. Proof won’t really matter.’

‘So it’s faith, then.’

‘If you want to call it that.’

‘What else can it be? If no proof is there but I’m still convinced, then there’s nothing but faith left. A poor replacement.’

‘Why do you insist on rejecting it?’

‘Because it’s something that can’t be gripped.’

‘Proof is nothing but facts as we understand them. Playing by rules made by us for our games in our existence. What we don’t understand we don’t include, which is petty, not to mention dangerous. But faith, that’s personal. And your man Garbutt here, your own creation, said that whatever it is that’s made all things around us can’t be shared. It’s the answer to questions never asked. How much do you want to experience that discovery?’

‘To see God?’

Garbutt corrected him.

‘You forget; eyes can’t see it.’ he said.

‘Or hands touch it or words describe it.’ added Mason. ‘And yet you can still understand it. What would you sacrifice to reach that insight?’

Dorsett paused.

‘I don’t know. What have I got to give? Until I know the value of what I’m supposed to understand, then I can’t answer the question.’

‘Surely the answer to everything is beyond price.’ said Mason. ‘Isn’t that enough to tempt you?’

‘Enough to tempt me, maybe. But not enough to commit.’

Garbutt listened to the exchange, and a thought came to him.

‘He’s already decided what he’s going to do, haven’t you Mason?’

Dorsett realised also.

‘Of course. You have, haven’t you?’

Mason finished his drink and gestured to the ones on the ledge.

‘Drink up. I’ll get these.’

They both finished what little was left and handed them over. Mason went to the bar and Garbutt prodded Dorsett in the chest.

‘And me, Dorsett. What’s going to happen to me? I’ve got a feeling that something is narrowing to a close.’

‘All stories have to have an ending.’ he told him. ‘But something’s telling me yours isn’t going to be as bad as mine.’

When Mason returned he brought with him only two drinks.

‘Had enough already?’ asked Garbutt.

‘I have to go.’ he said. ‘But I’ve come to give you something to think on, Dorsett.’

Mason lowered his head and spoke into his face quietly, a tense mutual understanding that might have been a trigger to violence.

I was transfigured before him. Who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen, nor can see.’

He stepped back away from him as if a secret had been relayed.

‘Quotes from the holy books now, is it?’ asked Dorsett. ‘I thought we’d been through all that?’

‘Yes, it’s from the bible. But the words don’t refer to any particular individual.’

’You said ‘him.’’ recalled Dorsett. ‘A man, like us.’

‘Ignore that. That’s only religion trying to enforce a connection.’ said Mason. ’Something was experienced at the same time that Christianity was born, the belief was translated with conviction and it became infectious. The countless parables that relate to it are dubious at best. But it all started from something so powerful it left an impression that altered history. It twisted into dogma, instigated countless conflicts, and cost the lives of millions.

The forms of religious worship we have today are nothing but Chinese whispers continued over the centuries. They’ve been stretched and detached, continuously repaired, and stretched again. So much, that everything’s unrecognizable from that first revelation. But you can have that original miracle if you want it, the one that's hidden beneath all the manufactured wrapping.’

‘Even though it has a price I may not be able to afford.’ said Dorsett.

‘You’ll realise that what it will cost you will turn out to be of no use, anyway.’ said Mason.

‘It can’t be money.’ said Dorsett. ‘That’s too obvious.’

‘It isn’t money. Money doesn’t mean anything.’

‘It never does when you’ve got too much of it.’ remarked Garbutt. Dorsett kept at Mason.

‘This thing that will be no use to me: what is it?’

‘I won’t lie to you. You’ll consider it precious. Even though you’ll need to lose it to have something better. Something that will make your loss inconsequential.’

Dorsett became irritated.

‘Why are we even discussing it? It’s going to happen, isn’t it?’

Garbutt confronted Mason.

‘Can’t you see how poor your offer is? Exchanging something even you acknowledge is precious for something unknown.’

’Of course it’s unknown. If I could describe it, then I would. But I can’t. It’s an awareness. An understanding.’

Dorsett searched for meaning.

‘So you’re working on the assumption that, up till now, nothing we’ve done, or will do in the future, will ever be understood. We will all continue to live on without this understanding, or whatever the hell you call it.’

‘Yes,’ agreed Mason. ‘We’re blind. All of us. Because we’re limited by what we can only see.’

Garbutt coughed up a laugh.

‘Blinded by sight; that’s a first.’

Mason looked at him seriously.

‘Yes,’ he said, ‘that’s exactly what it is. It sounds contradictory yet makes perfect sense.’

‘I’m glad something does.’ said Dorsett. ‘We’ve been tested on questions referring to Universes, their ends, and beginnings, their directions, and purposes, even whether they’re infinite. We’ve considered pre-ordainment and determinism and finding answers to the ultimate truth about all that’s ever been, is, or will be. Now you’re saying that we’re blinded by sight. It fits perfectly.’

‘You can’t see the wind.’ Mason said. ‘But you know it’s there.’

‘That sounds familiar.’ said Garbutt, remembering what Dorsett once said to him.

’Yes, but you can feel it.’ replied Dorsett.

‘Exactly.’ replied Mason. ‘You feel it.’

Dorsett turned away, exasperated. Then his expression changed in a second as if stunned by a punch.

‘Hold on.’ He said slowly. ’You said you can’t see the wind.’

Mason would not answer him directly but only repeated part of his earlier quote.

Dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto.’

Dorsett finally understood. ‘I can’t do that.’ he said, almost in shock. ‘You’re insane to even consider it.’

‘Do what?’ asked Garbutt, baffled. But Dorsett knew he was a man already falling and nothing would stop it happening. He looked frightened and spoke to Garbutt as if pleading for help.

‘I can’t do that.’ he said. ‘I can’t.’

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