Tuesday, October 23

I’m A Sick Man

An acquaintance who I mentioned a couple of weeks back asked to see some of my writing. Finally, tonight, I obliged. I looked through my writings and found it so thoroughly unsatisfactory that I am disheartened. I don’t know what to do. I feel so miserable when I read Chekhov, Woolf, Anderson, Dostoevsky. It is all too much to bear, sometimes. I suppose all one can do is give up, or continue, struggling harder to be better and better. So here is the first few paragraphs of a piece I am working on. Reading it over I think I will begin again. Here it is, anyway. And that is that.

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I’M A SICK man – a heartbroken man. I am looking out of the train window at the scenery that I pass by. The train is taking me away from the village and the scenery is flat, colourless, lacklustre; I cannot bear to even look at it; I only stare at it. Very soon the city will be back around me and I cannot tell you how that makes me feel. The city will disengage me from this foolishness and the speed of it will save me, wrap its concrete arms around me and I doubt that I will feel as terrible as I do at this moment. But perhaps I should go back to the root of why I am feeling like this, why I must declare to you, first of all, that I am a sick and a heartbroken man. I don’t want your pity but I just want to tell you the worst love story I have ever known and, throughout my twenty-seven-years, it is the only love story I have ever known. But I do not want your pity, I must make that clear. I just want to tell you the story. So I shall begin…
‘And what do you do for a living?’
One of the gentlemen on the other side of the table had kindly – and not after an entire meal of failing to acknowledge me – attempted to integrate me into the conversation. At that moment I was looking around the hall for the waiters; they darted here and there, distributing pots of coffee and tea to all of the guests and had not yet come to our table. The coffee smell filled the big hall. Coffee would sober me up, if only a little. His question caught me off-guard, because, as I have already said, the seven other people at my table were conversing fine without me, over their starters and mains and desserts, laughing at in-jokes or discussing very mundane things that I could not follow or understand. They spoke a lot about the village and of village life. Nonetheless I was polite enough to top up the glasses next to mine whenever I topped up my own. There was nothing else to do but drink.
I cleared my throat – congested by my silence and spoke up – ‘I work in the toy industry.’
This interested them tremendously and those who hadn’t paid attention to the question, who still chose to ignore my presence, as I am a young man to whom great presence has never been bestowed, turned and took notice. It was a little unnerving. They were strangers to me.
‘The toy industry, eh?’
‘Yeah.’
A woman I presumed to be his wife asked – ‘Do tell.’
I do not like talking about my job, finding it a most boring occupation compounded by the fact that people always think it sounds very interesting. ‘You know how some toys make sounds when you press a button?’ They nodded in unison. ‘Well, I’m the guy who sorts out those sounds … you know, gets them recorded right, edits them, programs them into whatever software they’ve got going.’
Some jobs are difficult to explain but mine wasn’t and I was impressed at how succinctly I had summed it up.
‘What’s going to be the number one Christmas toy?’
‘Suzanne, he’s not going to know that. It’s July.’
‘But they order them months in advance, don’t they?’
I didn’t know.
‘They do.’
The waiters arrived with the coffee. Thank god. As soon as it arrived it was leapt upon by everybody else. It must have been the coffee-lovers table because no one went for tea. By the time I got my hands on the pot there was hardly any coffee left. I had to drain the dregs out of both pots and most of it was the grounds. I waited for the grounds to settle in my cup. They continued to talk.
‘What company do you work for? Would we have heard of it?”
I told them the name of the company I worked for. Some of them had heard of it, nearly all of them. One of the men asked for a business card, either for my contact details or, most likely, because he did not believe me. I told him that I did not have any on me, and apologised.
The coffee tasted good. They once again excluded me from the conversation – some even turned away from me – and went on talking.
I was at an old friend’s wedding. I had not seen him in some time. We had been very close once upon a time, during sixth form, but had, as people do when they go to separate universities, grown apart. That is why I was sitting at a table where nobody remembered my name. I had some minor friends elsewhere but none that I was close to. It was my own fault, though. At university I withdrew and severed contact with a lot of people. Even now the reason for this evades me but I will tell you that I do not regret it, for in order to regret something one must feel bad about it. I don’t feel bad about it. I do feel a little bad about not feeling bad about it, though. I considered all of this as I watched the seven people at my table talk without me. The ceremony had been scenic. My friend had always been one for appearances. It had been held at his parents’ village church. The reception was in an old lingerie factory a half-hour walk from the church, on the outskirts of the tiny village. I found it most peculiar that the village had an old lingerie factory in it. Now the place was let out for scenic weddings. The hall we were occupying was used for balls for all the lingerie staff back in the day. I tried to imagine what that must have looked like at the time. The roof was high with old wooden beams running across it, wrapped in white ribbons and ornate white flower arrangements dangling below. The guests talked over a string quartet that was playing chamber music. Their oppressed sound forgave me and offered a small breeze upon which I daydreamed while the people on my table ignored me. Its sweet sounded rang in the high ceiling and off the tall leaden windows but the conversation still drowned it out. Some people may have thought the quartet was too much, pretentious, grandiose, but I thought it was the best thing about the reception. A handful of children ran around, screaming, bored and uncontained from the chore of having to sit through a three-course meal with coffee.
The music played on, faintly, it sung off of the walls.
The speeches started up.
All chairs faced the head table. I was embarrassed when my friend, the groom, had his turn to speak. The jokes he told were not funny. Everyone laughed.
I began to daydream and too further the hall. It was, perhaps, too big for the guests. We were lost in it. The tables were spatially arranged and still there was a lot of vacant space. A long table had been set up for gifts; lying there, elaborately wrapped, bows, shiny paper. Another table that had been covered in flutes of champagne and bucks fizz for the children was now empty, having fulfilled its duty. The waiters continued to scurry about. Most of them checked that everyone had champagne with which to toast. Holding the champagne in my hand, I wanted to drink it, to sink it. I had to wait. The first toast was raised – a toast to the bride and how beautiful she looked – and every one in the hall cheered and raised their glass and took a sip. In the background a stern and broad waitress ordered the others around.
That was when I noticed her.

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