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It is not as if any of what is to follow will matter.  Because nothing does.  I have always known this is true.  And so have you, but one of us still believes in their illusions.

Over the years, the Director has turned his hand to writing.  A short story here and there, a poem or two when nobody’s looking and of course the oft begun but never completed novel, which I’m told we all have in us.  Well, let’s face it, it’ll take a pretty strong purgative to get my magnum opus out at this stage. Much as we all wake up one day to realise that we will now never play the Dane, our lives are often characterised by scrabbling about to recover what it is we only have the faintest inkling we’ve lost.

The opening to today’s column is taken from a short story of mine which I thought might as well go up above there as anywhere else.

Here’s another opening from a story of mine which was published some time ago.  It’s called,

The White Glove.

Every year, in those years when I was a girl, there used to be a fair held on the last Tuesday in July in the village of Axminster. I cannot say for how many years the fair had been held there prior to my being aware of it, since these were the days long before technology, when knowledge of these traditions was therefore passed on in the oral fashion. As you know dears, anything passed on orally is bound to be rebarbative when it comes to being historical. Nevertheless the tale you are about to read has stood the test of time and is passed on to you in as true a form as it was passed on to me all those years ago. It is a tale of death, and as death comes to us all in the end, I do think it wise to understand something of its ways before we must ourselves take it by the hand and travel to what Hamlet called, “that undiscovered country.” Personally I think it stands to reason that it’s actually a very discovered country indeed, since it must have been visited by very many, if not all, of those who have died. But I shall not argue with the wisdom of Shakespeare on such matters. Apart from anything else, he is dead after all.

The remainder of this story is available upon request.

So, what’s the point of including some of the Director’s meagre words in today’s column? Well there’s no doubt that reading and writing are forever intertwined.  They are the Caduceus of the Literacy world. Being a better writer means you will be a better reader, and vice versa.

Often we ask our students to undertake writing tasks. With this in mind and in the spirit of solidarity, I have decided to devote this week’s column to my effort at the story which we have just asked our Yr 11s to write. 45 minutes including planning and checking.


Everything begins with a question, doesn’t it?

The fading light did nothing to hide a greying, balding, and spreading round the middle aged man who sat alone in the corner of the meeting room softly intoning words that came naturally enough to him.  Here was someone for whom Life had always contrived to live itself beyond his reach.  A man’s reach should exceed his grasp?  No, Mr Browning with your beard and Victorian sensibilities, that is not what a heaven’s for.  Nothing so vulgar as reaching or grasping round here thank you.

On an unbidden signal, as definite as the Fall, one kind of stillness ends and the man who is to be our lead actor for today, obligingly leans forward, before his bones, or his destiny, call it what you will, take over, and he stops.  There was once upon a time when he had been graceful, but these days any style was only accidental.  On those days he moved much as that tower did shortly after the Mayor of Pisa drew back the curtains and presented it to the expectant Pisans.  

With gravity’s inevitability, his elbows came to rest on the table and he placed his head in his venal hands, blocking at least for a moment, the chorus of the lost that was his soundtrack today. Like poor dead Jacob Marley, he only ever saw the lost and gone.  And there are few who could ever share that kind of tale.  The table rocked slightly and he compensated.  Soon a kind of stillness came upon him again, albeit counterfeit.  He felt the familiar hardness of his palms against the sides of his face and almost let himself recall how those hands had held other faces once upon other times. But despite the truth that he and pain were allies, they were not friends.  And he didn’t get fooled about that kind of thing.  Well, maybe once, but there were extenuating circumstances then which could never be repeated.  He took no delight in remembering the way life had been when he had been fully human.  And, out of respect, neither will I.

Old habits do die, this much is true, but they also put up a fight, and so he raised his head and scanned the room; his tired eyes slow dancing to an internal tune as they registered movement.  He had sat in this very spot incalculable times and knew each table, each chair, each potential client, each lost possibility, so very well.  

Yes, old habits die hard.  “Unlike me”, he thought.  And then the words came again as softly as before but now perhaps less unbidden.  Ironically enough they sounded like a prayer but then again, why wouldn’t they?  He was in the soul retrieving business after all, whether anybody liked it or not.

It didn’t take him long to spot who he’d been expecting to find.  Amongst the deflated and defeated, his prior arrangement waited. And so, with renewed despondency, he slid back in his chair and prepared to move. The table rocked again gently, as if enjoying its moment of freedom and release. 

He was ready to leave this world which had stopped caring what things meant and instead cared about what things were for. But not without who he had come for and what he had allowed to slip through his fingers so many years ago. How would it happen?   A cut and thrust, a parry, a live to fight another day kind of thing perhaps.  Who am I kidding?

The mirror above him flashed momentarily as he raised himself and pushed back his chair .  Given a choice he always sat under mirrors.  He appreciated a mirror’s potential for infinite shyness.  Put any mirror face to face with another mirror and you might imagine they would go on reflecting back at each other until you took one away.  But they don’t.  Put one mirror up against another and the reflections immediately start to try to escape themselves.  I heard it was their way of reflecting the curvature of the earth.  It isn’t.  You take a mirror and you show it itself and it will try to hide.  You would.  And so would I.  There’s a sadness in watching a reflection try to tear itself away from itself, chased by fear and dying to be free.  But then, that’s what we all spend our lives doing. There’s a comfort sitting under that kind of thing.  Anyone walks in a room while you’re under a mirror and you got a ready made expert in hiding, right there.  You could learn a lot from a mirror.

Walking slowly, there was no point in rushing, towards his final appointment, he was careful not to let his eyes linger.  Instead he used the short span of time it took to cross the short span of the room to let go of all the things that might weigh him down for the longer journey to come. 

Mr Stark had been waiting for Mr Plain to make his move. And so was neither surprised nor unsurprised to see him slowly stand and walk towards him, moving with the speed of inevitability. It was really rather simple.  Both had something the other wanted and neither would give it away, although both had already paid the price.  As empty transactions go, it was the mould maker. 

Outside, the day, such as it was, continued to die.  Traffic became imperceptibly more anguished and self-serving.  Pedestrians matched their paces to their own sense of time passing and going nowhere, only now slightly faster than before.  Darkness began and at its dawn, lights came on.  Man has always been afraid of the dark.  Or more accurately, what goes unseen because of it.  Mr Stark kind of liked it but wondered if all this was worth it anymore.

You have to wonder if it’s worth it.  And sometimes you wonder that question out loud and everybody gets to hear you do it.  And sometimes you do it in those woods where those trees fall when nobody’s around to hear the sound.  But allow me tell you, grief makes a noise and it doesn’t depend on there being someone there to hear it.  In fact, in my experience, grief doesn’t like an audience.  I mean what’s an audience for, except to confirm that something’s happening?  What a poor excuse for ‘being there’ or ’dasein’ as Mr Heidegger keeps on calling it.  If he’d been in the woods to witness it, that is.  Believe me, trees falling and mermaids singing and whatever else, they all make a sound.  I’ve heard them and so have you.  Just being alive makes a sound.  But at this moment, Mr Stark was more concerned about the sound being dead made.  Which was unusual to say the least.  It had never happened before.

So within thirty seconds or so Mr Plain was at Mr Stark’s table.  I don’t care what room we’re talking about, in whatever place you care to mention, thirty seconds is the standard measure of time it takes to get to one part of it from any other part of it.  And that’s a room fact.  Try it out sometime.  And yes, it worked in that gin joint too. 

There were only two people that could ever approach Mr Stark like that and one of them was looking at him right now.  Mr Stark knew some kind of time was up, and that was ok, but he was running this show.  Even if this show was about to close.  “Everything comes to an end.”  Isn’t that what people say?  Just goes to show that people know very little about ‘everything’. 

Mr Stark smiled the smile of a mirror. And the words came again, ironically enough, like a prayer.

“Hello Adam.  Long time.  You look well.  You ready?”

“Hello Eve.”

Game, set and checkmate.  Mr Stark was almost disappointed.  They’d clearly sent a novice to deal with him.  Only an idiot reveals what they need in the opening exchange.

And that’s where you come in.

So until next time, Happy reading/being free!