Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Life Sentence

He started typing it, but after only a couple of words he quit without saving. A sentence as good, as perfect, as this one deserved to be written the old fashioned way, with ink onto paper.

It took him a while to find his old fountain pen. He was worried the sentence would leave his head during the search, but it remained in place, patiently waiting for him. With a sheet of blank cotton-rag dug out from his art supplies he was ready to write it down.

He started slow, just the first four words. He wanted it to last. He paused, had a sip of wine, then wrote a little more. After the eighth word his passion took over and his pace increased. He tried to control himself, but all too soon he had arrived at the climactic full-stop, driven into the paper with such force he caused some splattering.

He looked at the completed sentence, which was still wet to the touch. He hadn't smoked in years, but really craved a cigarette at that moment. He drank some more wine, and sighed a deeply satisfied smile.

Sometime later he woke up from an impromptu nap and discovered he had reached out in his sleep and grasped the paper, creasing it slightly. He felt energized. So much so that he grabbed his pen and wrote the sentence again. This time it lasted a bit longer, but he still splattered the full-stop with the force of his pen, unable to contain his excitement.

He looked down upon the glistening marks on the paper. It was beautiful. It was the perfect sentence. The kind of sentence that demanded something substantial written around it. It couldn't just belong to a short article or magazine puff piece. Even a short story or novella wouldn't be enough for a sentence of this importance.

He started to sweat. This sentence was going to demand nothing less than a novel. That was quite a commitment for a sentence that had only been written twice in the heat of artistic passion. And what if the novel was a success? There'd be a demand for a sequel. He was not ready to write a sequel. Or worse, sequels!

He made his excuses and left the house to run some 'errands'. In reality he went to the nearest pub and downed a few quick pints and two packs of chips. Just the little packs. He just wasn't ready to be tied down to a novel. That was the problem. So what if he'd found the perfect sentence. There'd be others. Maybe not as good, but then that would mean they'd be less intense, less demanding, less scary.

It was late when he staggered back home. The sentence was still waiting up for him. The alcohol had emboldened him, and he grabbed his pen and tried to write it down. He blurred some of the words, started again, misspelt 'goulash', crossed it out and had another go. On the fourth attempt he made it most of the way to the end, but faded out well before the full-stop and fell asleep, ink pooling on the sheets.

The next morning he decided to make a clean break. It was never going to work out. He would never write the sentence again. He started up his laptop and wrote a short article on the size of chip packets in pubs for a Men's magazine, and followed that up with a spec piece on the global economy and the size of chip packets for a newspaper. The sentence was gone. It was for the best.

Years later he saw the sentence again. It was in a novel. A novel with three sequels, just as he had feared. He smiled as he read it, remembering the passion of their brief time together. Then he put down the book, turned on the TV, and feel into a dreamless sleep.