Sunday, March 13, 2011

Short Story - Words

The wind grew stronger. It howled its way into the gaps of shut windows and doors – a path otherwise monopolized by sunlight – but there wasn’t a sun this afternoon, or maybe there was, hidden behind the angry, dirty clouds, but from the ground, it was difficult to say. In the distance, thunder clapped, as did the errant tin roofs of makeshift shanties.

Inside the old, crumbling mill, where the air smelt of rotten moss and animal excreta and where nobody had entered for any definite purpose in years, apart for vagrants and stray dogs, the two men stood facing each other. One of them wore a gray woolen cap, through the sides of which, strands of silvery white hair crawled out. The other man had a gun in his hands.

“How was that then?” asked the man with the gun.

The man with the woolen cap and silvery white hair did not immediately respond.

“Sounded alright,” he said finally, “you always have had a way with dramatic imagery. Woolen cap - Gun in hand isn’t bad at all! Sums up our situation here, quite effectively. Those first few lines though – the shut windows and thunder claps and all that – that sounded to me like you’ve been reading, or maybe rereading, Cormac McCarthy lately.”

“That has nothing to do with what I wrote!” the man with the gun fumed, “you condescending bastard!”

“Ah! So I take it that you have indeed been reading McCarthy, yes?”

“Sonofabitch!”

“You might as well have included some Spanish dialogue, while you were at it. Given me a sombrero to wear instead of the woolen cap, perhaps?”

“Sonofabitch!”

“Repetition. You already used that just now.”

“I am glad I am going to kill you!”

“So it appears.”

“Sonofabitch!”

“Oh come on.”

An old mill. Abandoned. Walls smeared with soot and piss on both sides. Doors and windows fallen away, leaving behind ugly, blank gashes. A good thing in this gale. The wind’s fiercest gusts dissipate through there, the path of least resistance, letting the crumbling walls hold fort against the rest. Dry leaves, bits of paper and plastic blow in through the gashes. A smell of stagnant water, rust and piss. Strangely, there aren’t any cobwebs. There were once floor tiles, or maybe just stone slabs, but they’ve been stolen away, exposing the soil underneath, on which, now resides ankle-high undergrowth. Two men. Out of place. Middle aged perhaps. Difficult to say in the gloom. It is raining outside. They are dry. They must have been inside for a long time. One points a gun at the other. The other has his hands in his overcoat. Perhaps he has a gun too.

“You have a gun!” the man with the gun in his hand exclaimed.

The other man chuckled.

“I might. I leave it to the readers’ imagination. Unlike your narratives. All wonderfully described, all close-ended. No helpful pointers for the reader to exercise a brain cell or two.”

“Piece of shit!”

“Good. You are improving! Marginally.”

“Anyway, who’s to decide who described this better. I think yours is shit too. All lame showy minimalism.”

“I’ll decide. I am the published author here, aren’t I?”

“Bullshit!”

“You want me to repeat the entire Architect response to that from the Matrix film? I have it all memorized, you know.”

“You are just a pompous piece of shit!”

“And a published author.”

“And that’s why I am going to kill you.”

“You didn’t even win the bet!”

“I don’t give a damn. I believe mine was better. Besides, I have the gun.”

“I might have one too.”

“Rubbish.”

“The rain’s stopped.”

“What?”

“The rain’s stopped. The wind’s dropped. I can hear the sound of vehicles on the street again.”

“Why did you do it?”

“What?”

“Why did you do it?”

“Do what?”

“You know what I am talking about, asshole! Why did you ask the publisher to reject my manuscript?”

“It wasn’t any good.”

“Bullshit.”

“I didn’t like it.”

“You’ve never liked anything I’ve ever done.”

“I enjoyed your fifth grade essay on your brother very much.”

They smiled, both of them.

“You are such an asshole.” The man with the gun said.

“You shouldn’t lose hope.”

“As long as you are alive, I have no chance!”

“And after I die?”

“Oh! The world will mourn your death. They’ll all be shattered. And in all that nauseating sympathy and mush, I will quietly sneak in my book. Be quite poignant. Sell well, I believe.”

“I see. So you are going to exploit my name to peddle your sorry literature.”

“It isn’t sorry literature!”

“Who cares?”

“Yes, exactly. Who cares? It will be name on the book.”

“It is my name too.”

“Who cares?”

“Repetition. Again. Your lack of creativity appalls me.”

“Who cares?” This time, with a sly grin.

“Whatever happened to your self esteem?”

“What about it?”

“You want to use my name.”

“So?”

“The man you hate most.”

“So?”

“Ironic. Must be tough living with that knowledge. I am glad I am not in your position.”

“And I am glad I am not in yours. At least I will be living for a while yet.”

“And then? When the euphoria of the first work fades away? The remaining years wallowing in self pity?”

“I’ll publish more. Grow out of your shadow.”

“My shadow. Yes, precisely.”

“Sonofabitch.”

“I predict you’ll commit suicide before another decade is out.”

“We’ll see.”

“I had such a great obituary in mind for you.”

“Ha!”

“No. Serious. I’ve spent years perfecting it. In my head, of course.”

The man with the gun, momentarily unsure, looked down at his trouser pocket while he fumbled inside for a cigarette with his hands, then all at once realized his error and jerked the gun into position again. The other man had made no attempt to move.

“Don’t fuck with me now!” he said.

“I am not.” The other man responded.

“Then what’s this about an obituary? What’s that got to do with any of this?”

“Oh nothing. Just a thought.”

“Tell me.”

“What?”

“Fucking tell me or I’ll kill you right now.”

“I believe that’s what you intend to do anyway!”

“Tell me!”

“Nothing, really. I was just thinking, is all.”

“Go on.”

“I mean, this manuscript of yours, it isn’t that bad after all.”

Silence.

“In fact, I think it might actually fly. Become a classic even, given the correct circumstances.”

“Circumstances?”

“Yes. A legend around it. Like, maybe, a posthumous publication, you know. A premature end to what could’ve been a great career.”

“What?”

“Yes. It always works out that way. Look at James Dean. There are those who think there wasn’t a greater actor. And yet, he did only three films. If he’d done more, who knows?”

“Stuff your movie references!”

“I was only saying.”

“Saying what?”

“Saying, if only you were to die, and this manuscript was to be published afterward, it could bring the glory you always wished for.”

“What about the obituary! This started with an obituary! Don’t fuck with me man! Don’t you dare fuck with me!”

“Ah yes, the obituary. Be honest with yourself. Who else but me could write a better obituary for you?”

“I don’t know. Maybe.”

“Yes. So that’s what I was thinking. A tragic death. The publication of a masterpiece. The obituary as a catalyst. A great deal of dignity in that, no?”

“There is a cat meowing somewhere.”

“In Japanese myth…”

“Shut up! I know.”

“Are you crying?”

“No I am not! I don’t know.”

“What are you crying for, you idiot!”

“Shut up bastard!”

“Oh come on, you’re the one with the gun!”

“You might have one too.”

Chuckles.

6 comments:

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