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Chapter 38

There had been a class at Edinburgh University separate to his English Literature course; a sort of bonus module that he had chosen from a list at the start of the year, but without Oliver, who had since left, and so had not participated. The students in his year all had to visit a large conference room in the Arts Building on the ground floor, where Carter had never been before. It had been lined with tables and scattered chairs, and behind the tables were the respective lecturers of each module, all cheesy grins and welcoming gestures, in case you showed the slightest interest in what they were offering.

Predictably, Carter had found himself drawn to the Literature section, and found himself talking to a lecturer he had had before on his course; a man called McAllister. He was offering a seminar of two hours once a week that would teach the finer points of storytelling and writing. Carter had instantly asked for the prospectus. As he had leafed through, he had seen a section headed ‘Fiction Or Nonfiction.’ He had then handed the prospectus to the next guy in line, and signed up for the class.

It had been an enjoyable experience, and a nice break from his ordinary lectures, especially when he had found that Lucy and several other familiar faces were also attending the class. Over the five week semester until their first break, McAllister and another tutor, a published author named Steven Ainsley, had talked about the nuances and trends and evolution of writing; how it changed with what was currently going on in the world; how it changed depending on the author and authorial intention; how it changed with the new meanings of words. Although Carter found himself wishing they could actually do some writing for Ainsley to look at and judge, he found the class interesting. He had sat next to Lucy, smiled, chuckled occasionally at the lecturer’s jokes, and tried to absorb everything. It wasn’t until after the break in the semester that they started focussing on fiction and nonfiction; the difference between the two, and how one impacted on the other in writing. When the customary essay for the last week of the term before Christmas and his return to America came around, on: ‘the parallels between non-fictional and fictional literature in terms of genre, era and style since 1960,’ Carter saw a unique opportunity to express his opinion on an opposite that had always intrigued him. For much of the essay, he stuck to a plan, and kept it down to size as much as he could. But for the conclusion, he wrote:

’So, taking these points into consideration, it is clear in my opinion that works of nonfiction and fiction share a definitive parallel of universal truth and relativity in the world outside their pages. As we see from some of King’s (4) character-profiling, particularly in Misery and Stand By Me, description in works of fiction owes a lot to what the reader interprets as ‘realistic;’ in essence, events that supposedly take place that could conceivably occur in certain circumstances. We must then draw the startling conclusion that works of nonfiction, though based primarily on real events and facts, are simply an author’s own account and at the end of the day just words on paper. At the same time fiction, through it’s use of realistic people, emotion and coincidence, can be interpreted as existing along very similar parameters, admittedly with the intervention of the author’s intention. Essentially, it is up to the reader to decide what they think is real in fiction and nonfiction, as Roland Barthes suggests in ‘The Death of the Author(7)’, and often this is challenging for the casual reader, as Murphy’s test (6) shows; 60% of reader’s could not tell of two pieces of writing which was fictional and which wasn’t. In my own opinion then, the parallel between both types of writing is entirely dependant on what the recipient wants to believe, the way fiction and nonfiction are delivered, and the effectiveness with which the fiction-author depicts events and emotions.’

As Carter handed the hard copy of this essay to McAllister at their final class of the semester, the tutor’s bushy eyebrow had gone up as he noted the finer points of the conclusion. He would always read a conclusion first to give himself a taster of what he was to be reading in the essay. Carter’s, on the other hand, was likely to offer something new, and not something that would gain him favour with the university’s presentation and layout policies. But he would have regretted not saying what he had said, and Carter did not want to regret anything he did at this point.

The month being December, the time being mid-afternoon, and the wind-chill being intense; all made for a cold and unpleasant walk back to the main campus, where Carter and Lucy were headed. She had had a dentists appointment in the town, and had made for the train station on the other side of the site. Shrugging, Carter had accompanied her. He had planned to sit in the warmth of the library until he got a call from Brian, who had promised to pick him up. Oliver had returned from time away with the RAF; his first leave of absence since he had been deployed over conflict zones in North Africa and Eastern Europe. Carter hadn’t spoken with him for a month, and hadn’t seen him in even longer. There was a slight feeling of apprehension in his gut, but he was determined not to let it bother him.

He and Lucy embraced at the ticket barrier, as if she was going off to war herself or something. Carter didn’t mind though; things were going great with her and besides, it was cold. She muttered something about calling him at the weekend, before turning and feeding her orange ticket into a slot, which ejected it and opened the barriers. Lucy had waved as she disappeared off towards the platforms.

It was times like the subsequent hour before Brian finally rolled up in his Land Rover that Carter secretly enjoyed. Those quiet seconds as an individual, a student, passing through the milling crowds, who in this instance, were wrapped up against the cold and clustering together like ladybirds. He liked nothing more, in fact, than to just sit on a wall or a bench, hands deep in pockets, eyes on the ground between his knees. And all he would do was sit and wait and listen. He need conjure no thoughts while in this state. The people walking past always did that for him. Often, they didn’t even need to make a sound. Just a glance out of the corner of his eye would tell him all he needed to know about them to consider their lives and achievements and goals and regrets. Sometimes, he felt a strong urge to run after characters he felt were particularly potent and ask them a bunch of questions to see how accurate he had been in his surmises.

But it was too cold even for Carter, and he made for the library like, he noticed, almost everyone else out there on campus. It didn’t matter so much. Though there were strict rules about being quiet and considerate in the library, there was a constant hum of conversation in the I.T. suites, as girls snuck on social networking chat-rooms, and scribbled notes to one another, and guys checked sports and news sites, headphones in, occasionally sharing a smirk with a fellow computer-user. It was all such a farcical show of stereotypes. Carter made for it anyway, seating himself away from the computers in a quiet reading area, where he sat and dropped his satchel between his feet. There was a book in the bag that he needed to finish analysing; Bleak House, but he couldn’t bring himself to take it out. The book’s title spoke for itself. A whole month of Dickens had taken its toll on Carter’s patience, and though he had tried to appreciate the lovable characters, miserly villains and generally foggy surroundings, he couldn’t help but think that the Brits had made an enormous fuss over what were extremely dull and repetitive pieces of literature. He never wanted to see Pip or Oliver or Copperfield or any of the others again. How could he pass up the opportunity to listen and imagine the lives of others around him in that moment, just to read about someone else’s fraught and over-elaborated imaginings?

But as it turned out, the ramblings of the computer-users around him were similarly boring. He listened intently for all of five minutes, before deciding against waiting for Brian there. With nothing to do, nothing to distract him from the Dickens, Carter got up, momentarily leaving his bag, and wandered ceaselessly. Time seemed to be passing in dribs and drabs, barely elapsing as he circled the quiet zone. There was a wall devoted to posters and fliers on one side of the room, where local charities and university societies had pinned up their invitations to events and notifications of job vacancies and ‘opportunities to improve your CV.’ A date caught his eye near the top; the date of that very day. Studying the poster, Carter found that it was advertising a live poetry reading, taking place in the Arts Building and starting in about five minutes. The man who would be presenting was an alumnus of the university called Niall Jackson, who grinned cheesily on the poster’s edge. He was black, with a Rastafarian-style beard and a string of beads around his throat. Making a snap decision, Carter grabbed his bag from where he had left it, and made for the room described on the poster.

It took him about twenty minutes to find the place, having already passed it twice, and he cursed silently as he pushed the door open. The room was half-full, and quiet, but for the booming voice of Jackson, already up on the stage and preaching. That was how he had described his poetry-reading on the poster; as being like the parables of the bible, with himself as the preacher-man. Carter paid a girl two pounds and seated himself at the back of the room, so as not to cause any disturbance. It did not affect his view of the man on stage, for he was big and loud.

“…And the Lord said down unto me, just put it down. Be a good boy, now, and put it down.

And the Lord through my mamma kept faithful to her words, and I like a brother kept

Faithful to my answer. And the Lord smiled down upon us as everything was well, and

At last we could live together as a family of God. But the Lord, seeing all, knew that

Trouble is forever abound, and that the hounds of hell are forever around, and that we

Once more would have to be saved. So the Lord took upon himself a messenger, and then

Another, and another, until he had twelve brothers. And the Lord taught each of his

Brothers the trade that he had wrought on the world, and told them to be as one Messiah

Like Him, but to spread with the vitality of the Spirit across seas and nations to appease

God’s anger at those bowing to the temptation of his foes, who were smote and thrown

To that fiery abode that God created in a hole in the Earth. There were around the bad

And those made bad; those willed against the light in fright of what lurks in the night. To

Those made bad by fear and doubt, those twelve brothers were to get their swords out

And strike down the evil entity on sight and so free the tormented from the barrage of sin.

But for those born bad, those who even He knew could not be saved, He told his

Brothers leave them be, and pray for Me, and my father in heaven, so that We… We may

Come on clouds of thunder and light to charge down the enemy and rid his stain from this

Blesséd Earth! He told his Brothers, “You will know him, as he will have no colour of this Earth.

You will recognise him, as he will be a puppet of greed and malice and war. And you will know

The hour that he comes, for a star will appear in the sky, such as marked the birth of Christ,

To mark the presence of the dark opposite. You must pray to that star, every one of you, or

Else the Destroyer will rise again, and fiery torment will be unstoppable. You must pray for his

Destruction, or else suffer your own.” This the Lord said to his Brothers. And they nodded, and

Shook him by the hand, that band of brothers, and set out across the land. Now I walk alongside

Them, to be ready when the inevitable day comes, when that star returns. For it is a day to which

We must all pledge concern, lest we learn the price we pay for giving up our faith.”

The preacher-man stopped suddenly, dramatically, his eyes scanning the vistas of the room. Carter was certain that, for a fraction of a second, the man’s eyes met with his own, before the room erupted into applause and Jackson was grinning and waving to the people around him. Carter did not applaud; instead he shook himself. One of his legs had gone to sleep as a result of his discomfort, and he had tried to force some life back into it.

He didn’t approve of all these religious nuts who thought that they could do poetry. There had been one at a Poetry Slam he and Oliver had gone to. Carter reckoned these people weren’t actually religious at all; they just chose the subject of religion because it contained lots of words that rhymed, like ‘might’ and ‘light.’

As Jackson started his next poem, Carter left as discreetly as he could. Brian had texted him and was waiting in the car park. At least, that was what it looked like. Brian had never been much good at texting.

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