So, as I have previously mentioned, I am attempting to write a novel. As I have also previously mentioned, I have struggled to get back into the writing of said novel since the exam period. In the last post I just linked to, I signed off by saying I had an idea that I was going to go and write down, here is that idea:
It isn’t my best. It turns out writing is really hard. For the first half of the first half of this year, I was strict with myself, making sure I was writing a certain amount every week. Not only did this increase the quantity of stuff I was producing, but the quality was higher too. Annoyingly, practice does seem to make perfect, or at least, practice makes the average standard higher.
Today though, really-truly-actually-pinky-promise-hands-on-the-keyboard-ready-to-type-today, I am going to start again. I almost certainly won’t write a great deal, it’s been so long since I was properly in my Achieving December flow that I’m going to read through what I’ve already got before starting something new. But, it feels good just to be doing something.
In this vain, today I am posting the first scene for AD, (both literally the first scene of the novel and the first scene of the story I have posted). It is a first draft, (although as I submitted it as part of a piece of coursework last year it might be slightly more polished than most of my first drafts), and I know there are things I want to change about it. Regardless, I’m putting it up in its current state as part of efforts to get back into writing it.
I hope you enjoy.
I’m going to die. In 333 days, I’m going to die.
I count it out again, whispering aloud to try and get the figures right. I need to find the mistake. Surely there has to be a mistake? From now until the end of November is 333 days. That can’t be right. The paper shakes in my hands. I’ve only read one line, the DOD, 30/11/2007. It must be a typo, everything else seems to add up. I know there are more words on the page, but I can’t read them. Everything is starting to move. It’s like I can feel gravity for the first time. Like it has suddenly got stronger and my legs can’t take it. They crumple. I’m on the floor, still holding tight to the file as if doing so might change something.
‘Can I help you sir?’ The girl from the desk is standing just to my left. She’s pretty. I’d thought that as soon as I’d seen her. She has this long auburn hair that flows down over her shoulders and rests on her chest. I’d felt guilty for looking earlier, but I couldn’t help it. Her uniform, a cold grey knee length dress, had bulged invitingly where the hair fell and, compared to all the other staff here, who seemed to be old, glasses wearing, librarian types, you couldn’t help but stare. I’d even joined the longer queue at Hall 8 reception to get to speak to her. Some guy in front of me had been telling her jokes, her giggle was amazing and I couldn’t wait to hear her voice. When I got to the front though, the words barely came out. Why was talking to girls always so hard?
In the end all I managed was, ‘Rodgers, Joseph Rodgers’, like I was the world’s shittest James Bond impersonator. She’d been sweet though.
‘Aisle 272’ she’d said. ‘Don’t be nervous lovely, I’m heading down that way myself in a bit. I’ll come check you’re getting on okay.’
I’d walked off berating myself for being so awkward, determined to think of a funny joke in case she really did come see me later, she’d called me lovely after all. I knew she probably called everyone that, but I’d wanted to hold on to it nonetheless. Now though, I’m sitting, quivering on the floor, unable to get up. I don’t feel in any way lovely and none of the cracker jokes I’d remembered from last week will come back to me. All I can do is stare at her. Her badge says “Hi, my name is Catherine and I’m here to help”, but I know no one can.
She stares right back at me, expecting an answer, an explanation of why I’m on the floor. I can’t do it though, I can’t bring myself to say anything, not even a lie. My mind is too distracted by the tension building inside me. My arms start to shake, like they always do when I get angry. Mum used to laugh at me when it happened, which only ever made it worse. She’d joke that the chicken look wasn’t great and I should probably stop flapping my arms around before I took off. I used to get so annoyed with her I’d storm away and calm down in my room. I guess that was the point. But Mum isn’t here now and she hasn’t made a joke in a while anyway. I’m on my own.
As I realise this, the need to lash out gets ten times stronger. This anger is too close to fear to be contained. I know it isn’t Catherine’s fault at all, but I need to do something. I want to yell at her, scream. Ask why she has done this to me. Ask why she wants me dead, why she is waiting till the end of the year, why she doesn’t just slit my throat as I sit here helpless on the floor. I can’t ask her any of that of course. Not because she wouldn’t have a clue what I was going on about, not even because I know that none of this is her fault, it’s just because I’m not ready to say it out loud. If I do, it might make it true. But, I do need to scream, scream at anyone about anything, it doesn’t matter what. And she is here, young and pretty Catherine is standing here, cannon fodder for my rage.
‘This whole system is fucking archaic! Haven’t you people heard of the internet? It took me two fucking hours to get here today. Do you know how difficult it is to use public transport on New Year’s Day? It’s shit. It’s all shit. Why can’t I read this at home?’ I thrust my file towards her and she takes it, looking confused. I don’t want her to read it, but I can’t hold it any longer, like it’s fire in my hands. They are tingling, almost as if it really had burnt me. My whole body just feels wrong. Like getting my Date has changed something inside me that I don’t know how to fix.
‘I’m sorry sir. Please try not to get angry. I know it’s a pain, but I don’t think there is anything I can do about it. I’m just a trainee.’
She looks right at me, still helpless on the floor, and I can sense her worry. She really is very pretty. I know from down here she is bound to look tall, but her legs seem to be endless and her smile seems so inviting. She bends down, eyes full of concern. They’re brown, I’d noticed that at the desk, but now I’m closer I can see there is so much more to them. They have rings, some golden, some flecked with green. They remind me of tree trunks. From here, I can even see down her dress a little, the top of a cream and black bra is just on show. And I don’t care. Not about the bra, or the smile or even her eyes. She works for the Archive Ministry so she is part of this. She may not have set my Date, she probably didn’t even type it out, but she is one of them. I’m going to die and she is smiling at me and that can’t be right.
‘Sir’, she leans in, offering a hand I can’t bear to touch. She is too real. ‘Can I help you up? I can show you to a private room if you prefer, you could give this a proper read?’ She holds my file out towards me.
‘I’m fine. I don’t need your help.’ The coldness in my voice isn’t intentional, but I can see it offends her all the same. I push myself to my feet, holding on to the metal shelves behind me, still unsure if my legs can take the weight.
‘Can I get you some water then?’ I can’t stand the fact she is still being nice to me. It’s like I’m a child she’s mollycoddling.
Or a dying person she is trying to comfort.
The anger drains away as quick as it came.
‘Yeah, thanks.’ It’s all I can muster.
‘I’ll only be a moment lovely. You just wait right there.’
She’d called me lovely again. Me, this pathetic mess, holding on to a shelf for support while she treats me like some invalid. I can’t stand it. I breathe deeply, trying to steady my legs. I’m not sure it’s worked, but after thirty seconds or so, I take a few tentative steps down the aisle in the direction she went in. Now I’m trying to find someone in it, I notice properly how big this place is. I’d seen on the signs that there were 867 aisles in Hall 8, which is just one of 14 in the Archive Ministry. I’d come in at the main entrance on the Strand, just past the Adelphi theatre, but I’d had to take a lift down to the Halls themselves. They’ve all been built underground. Some right under the Thames. It makes them feel like crypts. Around me, millions of files are stacked, one for every person in the country. Most are far bigger than mine, filled with details of lives already lived. I can’t think about that now though, so I start to run.
As I get to the end of 272, I see Catherine. She is in the main corridor, heading towards the reception desk and holding my file in her left hand. How could I have been stupid enough to give it to her. She might look. She might see. Then she’ll know and it will all be real.
‘Catherine.’ I call out to try and get her attention, but she’s a way away and clearly can’t hear me.
‘Catherine.’ Louder this time, I need to get that file back and she’s almost at the water fountain. She still doesn’t hear though. ‘Catherine!’ I practically scream at her as she stoops over, starting to fill a plastic cup. She turns in a fright, dropping my file and the half filled cup. The papers, now drenched, sit loose on the floor.
‘You scared me.’ She clutches at her chest, her voice a little squeaky. She seems afraid. ‘Is everything okay?’
‘Yeah, yeah, everything’s cool, super cool.’ Super cool? Who says super cool? Weirdos, that’s who. She’ll realise something’s wrong if I keep this up. I need to be calm, normal, not a freak.’I just realised the time that’s all. I really should be getting off.’
My fake composure clearly isn’t working, she’s still looking at me like there’s something wrong. I can tell she’s still a little scared too. That’s probably what happens when you yell at a girl in a public place.
‘Okay then.’ She tentatively looks away from me and down to the papers on the floor. ‘I’m sorry , I got these all wet when I dropped everything. I can get you a fresh copy if you like? Just give me five minutes and I’ll go look you up on the computers.’ She starts to turn, to head back to the desk. ‘What’s your name again? Joseph wasn’t it?’
I panic. She’ll definitely see if she does that. She’ll know I’m little more than a corpse waiting to be made. ‘No.’ The volume has come back into my voice, composure gone. ‘Don’t do that.’
‘I’m just trying to help sir.’ No more lovely for me then. I guess that’s another byproduct of shouting at girls, they become less inclined to be friendly. ‘You can take the wet copy if you like.’ She shoves my file into my arms and, without waiting to see if I’m holding it, turns and stalks back to the desk. I can see that she is talking to one of the other archivists, pointing me out as the source of the commotion, but I don’t care. Sure, earlier I’d had wild fantasies of telling her a joke, getting her number, maybe even going for a drink where I’d get served immediately without showing ID and impressing her further with my wit, but none of that is important now. All that matters is that I have my file and my Date and that no one else knows.