I’m not sure how I can add longer stories and fragments of the novel on this page, but will work on upskilling my technical abilities!
For the time being, here is the long version of The Storyteller, which I have posted as a flash fiction elsewhere on this blog. Caution: disturbing content (not really about writing)!
I can write. I can write. I can make stories out of anything. I carry my suede notebook with me everywhere – not for me the gaudy flowers or tinselly glitter of WH Smith – and I scribble in it all day long. A thought, a quote, a random person in the street will catch my fancy or my eye. How I swoop, whir, flutter in like a vulture. To dissect, examine, pin down. I need no thesaurus, I carry all words with me always.
Give me a word, any word, and I can find ten synonyms for it. ‘Brew’ coffee, for instance. How else to make that beverage? To boil, steep, percolate it? Or to hatch, concoct, scheme, plot, cook up or contrive some evil conspiracy?
Give me another word and I can use it in ten different contexts. Or describe its origins in detail – some may say in ‘excruciating’ detail, but they would be wrong. For ‘excruciating’ derives from the Latin excruciare, or take down from the cross, so it’s a relief rather than a pain, it is the intense and exquisite freedom from agony. It certainly is anything but awkward, embarrassing or tedious, as people believe, those uncouth herds intent on using ‘excruciating’ in this way.
I do not love words, no! I own them. I analyse them, I pour over them, I roll them about on my tongue, tease them out of my memory, linger over them with my pen as if I were undressing a coy lover. Sometimes, quite frequently in fact, I hate them, with their wriggly, slippery ways, their lack of precision and nuance, for daring to resist me and my art.
One day I am going to write her into a story too. Ever since I first saw her, I have not ceased to attempt to describe her in my notebook, in my dreams, on my tongue. Peach fuzz skin, all blushed and flushed. Perfect heart-pout of fulsome lips. Unconscious flick of silky, shimmering hair. Nostrils flaring slightly when she repeats, ‘Cappuccino for you, sir!’ I always pretend not to hear the first time, so that I can hear her voice again. Music her every word, poetry her every gesture.
For the first time, my inner thesaurus fails me. For weeks I have been trying to capture that magic, to nail that butterfly in its exhibition case. She brushes against my clumsy fingers and flies freely into the summer sky, almost laughing at me as she does so.
‘Chocolate on that, sir?’
Each time she escapes, the aftertaste gets more and more bitter. Like truant words, her essence escapes me and my soul becomes enraged.
I go into that coffee shop every morning. She is there most days and she knows me, how could she not? I can tell from the way she smiles, not quite looking at me, her faint intake of breath when she very nearly touches my hand giving me the change. Fleetingly caressing, grazing my fingers, making me yearn for so much more. I am faint with desire as I imagine stroking her soft skin, fondling her delicate wrists, pouncing and catching her fluttering fingers. How to make her mine? How to capture the essence of her? How can I ever describe her to others, explain what she means to me?
Ask her out, I can almost hear you thinking. You would, would you? You would tarnish the dream, dispel the illusion, forgo the longing… What if she said no? I could never go back in that place again, embarrassment growing between us like a pregnant woman. And what if she said yes? What if we went out and she disappointed me? What if she was a woman like all the others? No, everything is much better, much clearer and cleaner in dreams.
Which French writer was it who said of objects that, once they become our possession, they are fated to disappoint, because they are ours? Anything worth possessing must evade us. One pounce, one capture, and interest is lost. So how can you make sure that your treasure stays hidden, a secret joy for you and no one else?
Schoolboy tricks, that’s what. Spitting in someone’s food to make it yours. Or lessons from the animal kingdom. Peeing to mark your territory. It’s all about spoiling the thing you covet so you can free yourself of your desire. Destroying the thing you love so that no one else can love it. That man in the news recently, who poisoned his children rather than return them to his estranged wife. Pioneering soul. So few can understand but I!
To recapitulate… no, no, hateful word, for that means to surrender once more. To recommence then: the direct approach won’t work for me. But if I continue to sigh, hint, retreat, never quite dare, at what point will she exhibit that sly smile, that wink, that nudge at my expense…? Oh, she will, I am certain of that, as night follows day in the temperate climes. When I spot that glint of irony in her eyes, that belief in her own superiority and invincibility… that’s the day I will die. Or, better still, captivate her.
Once she is safe with me, I will name her. What a wide array of possibilities awaits me! Margella Vergisoras – Latin beauty, teeth like little beads sparkling in the grass. Amazonia Rivers – full flow of hair and breasts and bite. Riverdon Ferry – slim, androgynous, with perfect American dentistry and immaculate grooming. Lucrezia Rave-Holland – Sloane Square accent with a shopping bill to match, working in a café to while away the time between extreme parties and Vanity Fair covers. She can be all, none, more or any of these. Because she does not exist until she has been given a name. By me. And that name becomes our secret link, a sacred bond between the namer and the named. You get your soul, your place, your personhood when I bequeath you your name.
Next, I will dress her. Clothes mean little in themselves, but say so much. We cannot not communicate by the way we dress. ‘When we wear a dress we narrate what we are… dressing is writing one’s identity on the body…’ And she will narrate what I want her to. She will become my canvas, my blank piece of paper, my story to tell.
That flash of rebelliousness? Cured like a charm. That insecure smile? Heightened to await my wrath or pleasure. I am God. I can give or take, build or destroy. Her happiness depends on me and me alone. Her life is mine to bestow. I can smile or withdraw and no one shall know how she ended her days.
She is not the first, but she is the best. The only one who will do. I have tried before and not been successful. I would not say I failed, for it would have worked (albeit with limitations) but for their timid vision, their narrow-minded fear, their lack of ambition. Why do women not see the big picture? Why do they abandon ship before you even reach the boldness of the open sea?
First the PE assistant … so slim, so blonde, light as a feather, lovely as the day, breathless even after minor exertions like blowing the whistle. How I longed to rescue her from the covetous looks and sour gripes of spotty teenage boys. She was scared of them, I could tell. A little uncomfortable. She avoided coming out on the fields with us on her own. She noticed that they were being extra noisy and punchy as soon as she approached us. And that hulking bully of a sports teacher would shout at her as if she were another of his lads.
She never noticed me. I was not good at sports. I was one of the last to be picked in teams, I couldn’t catch or kick. But I could muse and find words to describe her beauty, her murmured commands, her weary smile when the boys blew kisses as they said goodbye. I wrote her a poem and smuggled it into her locker. In retrospect, I was wrong to rely on poems. Poetry was never my forte: I should have wooed her with stories, for I can make them as gentle or as dangerous, as fantastical or as loving as to cater for any taste. Anyway, she ignored my paltry effort. She probably never realised it was me. I was a bit disappointed, angry even, but soon figured out that she was not worth my time. She was too sporty, earthy, unimaginative…
The practice nurse, however, was a different species altogether. Tall, firm, shapely, not a skinny wisp like the PE Miss, she had the most mellifluous Irish accent, smoothing and oozing thick like honey around my ears and soul. No blushes or hesitations there. She would grasp your arm firmly, find your vein in a split-second, then stab, draw and dab before you could even gasp ‘blood’. I never knew if the weakness I felt was due to the blood-letting, or because her pale blue eyes misted over into mine.
Alas, she was not flawless either! She was training to be a psychiatric nurse and she just could not or would not emancipate herself from her professional jargon. She had inklings of my family history and could not refrain from prodding verbally as well as hypodermically. I followed her home a few times and was pleased to notice she lived alone (well, with another student nurse, a fat placid creature, with a bovine disposition). I also found out which days of the week she went to college and that she liked swimming and bowling on her days off. For a while, I was a regular visitor to the surgery, getting all the flu jabs and blood tests I could inveigle. But in the end, her incessant sympathetic questioning about my mother’s health and my childhood memories proved her undoing. I could no longer continue a relationship with a woman who viewed me as a case study on her path towards professional qualifications. Her ambitions were too narrow, her adventures not bold.
My third was well chosen. She would not be missed. She arrived on a coach at Victoria Station from some far-off destination beginning with L – Lithua, Latvia – my love of words does not extend to foreign place names. It was her first time in this land of plenty, land of the free, and she spoke just enough English to ask me the time of day and where she could find a reputable boarding-house. She actually used that word ‘reputable’ and it had been so long since I had heard someone use that word in speech, that I fell in love with her on the spot. She knew two other girls in London, but they were not expecting her, so I invited her to stay in my flat. It was big enough for two, since my mother had gone into the nursing home. And I had cleared out all the rubbish, all the memories, stripped the personality off with the wallpaper. It was beautifully bland and blank, ready for the stories I would bring to life.
How easy it was to convince her to trust me! Later, I began to tell myself it had been too easy. I kept her cooped up like a caged bird, but she did not desire to fly out. I fed and clothed her, played with her hair, made up her face. I contorted her limbs into Twister-like games. And she just accepted it all, passive, uncomplaining… dare I say it… content! I had not deprived her of anything. There was no sacrifice there for our love, no leap into a realm beyond, incomprehensible to all but the most aware!
Her submission was gentle and complete. I tested her with razor cuts and detox days, marked my territory on her body, in her mouth. I even hacked off her beautiful long hair with blunt safety scissors. All the while, I told her stories, some of the best I had ever invented, and she smiled and acquiesced. I was not sure she understood. After a while, her obedience began to grate, and I craved a new challenge. I let her go. She faded like snow in the brown London slush.
This time there will be no mistake. This one is tremulous yet feisty, sensuous yet frail, a challenge and a maid to be rescued. I am so glad I did not content myself with less. It has been worth the wait – she will be perfect, she will go all the way. Today is the day when my story breathes fire and sets the world alight.
Remember my name.