i figure i might as well share this, since it's been a while without sharing a new piece of fiction here. this isn't exactly new, but it's new-ish, which is close enough for me. it's something that i didn't intend to write, but something that just came out one time when i started typing. most of the time when i do that, i end up with some sort of strange fragment that doesn't go anywhere but which may end up being folded into a larger entity at a later date, like adding the filling to a layer cake.
it wasn't until afterward that i realised what i wrote so unintentionally is a story about someone who gets famous for something he didn't intend to write. i didn't intend for that to happen.
this one is tentatively named "the icon", but i'm not completely sold on that. and i feel like if i give it a permanent name, it should be something that comes to me by accident, something i never intended to be a title. that's really the only way to go with this, right?
once again, please remember that i don't publish finished things here, so there are probably mistakes and all that crap, etc...
All I ever wanted was to sit in a bar and make snide remarks about everyone I saw. I wanted to be a wit, to scribble down acid phrases that burned through the paper and into readers’ minds, but I wanted to do it from the comfort of a bar stool. Not a coming of age or a reflection of days past. Not treasured, human characters to whom the masses could relate. I never wanted to be acceptable in junior high schools. I wanted people to twist their faces away with each bitter, cutting phrase and then turn back, unable to imagine what could possibly come next.
How did this happen to me? I take my place at the bar and order a gin and tonic from the bartender who smiles at me with her doe’s eyes, the bartender I’d try to fuck if I thought she’d be anything but repulsed by the wiry and watery-eyed old man who mutters his orders and nods when she brings them. She probably thinks I’m unfriendly. She probably thinks that I don’t notice her. But she might be curious about me if she knew who I am. She might ask those same dull questions all university students ask me. So I don’t talk to her, because I don’t want our perfect relationship ruined.
Every year, a few news organisations contact me for my views on something. Mostly I turn them down, or I turn up hungover and irascible and angry and they wonder why they called me in the first place.
“But he’s a Canadian icon,” a producer will whisper. “He’s eccentric, but consider who he is!”
No, bitch, who I am is the asshole being difficult in your studio. The person you’re talking about is some fiction, the same as the only book of mine you’ve read.
I sometimes pick out something from the jukebox at this place, something rowdy and angry, done by young men or mannish young women with spit and vitriol to spare. I pick things that have curse words, as clear as the speakers can make them. I hope that people know it’s me choosing those songs. I want them to see what the man who eased their passing from childhood to young adulthood has always been.
“He’s really slid,” one bright-eyed young woman said mournfully to her companion (not knowing that I could hear, of course).
No, dear, I never slid. When I was banging out the words you held in your heart, I was thinking of banging sweet young things, trying to get in the pants of the departmental secretary at Bernard & Sons manufacturing. I got fired for how little I worked, and because the secretary eventually started talking to people about how persistent I was being. I got fired and left with the book that would make me famous, something I never thought I’d write.
It’s Alasdair’s fault. He bet me I could write something nice if I tried. He thought I had it in me. Something sweet about a boy becoming an adult in the grand old days, the fifties and sixties when everything was simple. And he was right, the bastard. I wrote it for him, only man I ever loved, wrote it to prove him wrong and I failed miserably. And having seen it, having sat in our favourite watering hole and read this milksop missive in a single night, he looked up over his rimless spectacles and said, “Well Isaac, you have to send this to your agent now.”
He bought the goddamned postage, stood over me until he saw the manuscript go into the mailbox and clapped my shoulder as we walked away.
“Just you wait,” he said. “Just you wait and see.”
I honestly thought it was terrible. I meant for it to be terrible. I meant for it to be saccharine and simple and boring and it was years before Alasdair told me what had really happened: enough of me had seeped through, enough of my shadow had been cast over what I’d written, to taint the sweetness just a little, to give the silver cloud a grey lining. That was what he’d meant when he said that I could write something adorable. He meant that even trying, I couldn’t help but be who I was- who I am- and that that would make the end product too memorable to pass up.
He never begrudged me any success. He’d never wanted to be successful himself. He was happy to be the crusty old professor, writing impenetrable stuff for half a dozen academics and me. I’d scratch out something crazy, misanthropic, drug-addled and he’d nod, tell me the rawness and the rage was becoming and then remind me that no one would agree to publish it. Always right, that son of a bitch.
I shared every penny I earned from my embarrassing success with him until his heart and liver finally gave out. When the Parkinson’s got too bad for him to teach, when the drugs started carving up his brilliant mind, I paid his rent. I fed him and took him out to the pub and watched his eyes, ever glassier, flitting around the room and had the only unadulterated pleasure of my life when he would smile a little in recognition.
I wished him dead for the trick he’d played, of course, and the truth is I was killing him by letting him mix whiskey and pills, but it was a death I knew he wanted. I kept the Parkinson’s from getting him. He died in his sleep with a smile on his face, like his last dreams were beautiful things that he chose never to leave. Bastard. I’m still here, suffering success and waiting for madness to take over.
I still love you and miss you every day, old man. When I eye the bartender, I imagine we’re thinking our dirty thoughts together and chuckling in that throaty, diabolical way we developed that acknowledged we were on the same wavelength and that we might as well laugh, because nothing would ever come of those thoughts anyway, so why shouldn’t we feel entitled to think them. (And his female students, even when they were stung all over with the fever of political correctness, loved him, gave him glowing reviews, praised his sensitivity and open-mindedness, because they could see through his cantankerous exterior to what he was inside. The bile was always mine. He was the hero.)
I drink to his health and then laugh to myself about it- drinking to the health of someone who’s dead. Now that is something I should put in a story. That is something that I could get behind. Last words of a false god.