How to almost shoot yourself in the foot
Right, so now we're in term 2, which means poetry is dead, vive le prose. Or something. And I've been shitting myself, quite frankly (proverbially, of course). Judging from past attempts, and just my general creative nature, it's my opinion that my prose is verbose, dull, technically incoherent, and just not realistic. Poetry is much more my thing because it's easier to be concise and meaningful, it's like writing songs. There is, of course, concise poetic prose, like Alessandro Baricco's Seta (or Silk, in English - there's a film adaptation with Keira Knightley and Alfred Molina out soon), but I really don't think I'm capable of such an amalgam. So this term is definitely going to be interesting.
Anyway, our assignment this week comes from a session last week where we had to write down a secret, then a description of someone else in the class, then a dialogue between ourselves and the person we described, where this dialogue is the first conversation we've had since learning that they know our secret. I've decided to put all my creative work in the quotation blocks from now on, to separate it from my other blog stuff, like the rants and the explanatory passages like this one. But I can't work out how to get the ending quotation marks - I've tried highlighting the whole passage and then clicking the button, but it only seems to format it and give the starting marks. Anyway, we were supposed to write 1-2 sides of A4. I got carried away, and so this is three, but George said we ought to resolve it, if we can, and I felt this scene certainly needed resolving - I say scene, because it definitely feels like part of a larger whole, rather than a short story. Anyway:
Nathan sat in the café, hypothesising. He kept trying to plan for all eventualities, but was too nervous to stop his train of thought continually derailing. His mind was like a fly, indecisively flitting between the crumbs of conversation scattered around the café, conversations which rolled across the tabletops like thunder over distant hills. On another day, he might have sat back, with a hot chocolate to combat the January winds, and drowned himself in that thunder. But today, he had to think. Damage limitation, that was the aim. Only he’d been sitting here for half an hour and hadn’t even planned his first sentence. Fear of exposure, of being dragged out into the light like so much dirty laundry to be poked and prodded and derided, and ultimately dismissed as a freak – this fear clawed at him, tearing at his resolve and distracting him from planning just how to deal with this mess.
It wasn’t so much that he was ashamed of it. If he were, he wouldn’t have done it for so long, wouldn’t still be doing it. And it wasn’t that he was ashamed of how he started doing it – that was another chapter of his life, experimentation long ago filed under the ‘error’ section of trial and error. It was his mistake, too, one he owned, one which belonged to him, one which had made him who he was today. His erstwhile lack of caution had gotten him ostracised from pre-adolescent society for the best part of two years, though perhaps ‘best’ part is stretching the term. But being an outsider had turned a brittle, over-sensitive 11 year old into a teenager unafraid to do and say whatever he felt like, unconcerned with seeking the approval of the mob. He didn’t care less, he’d just condensed the circle of opinions he cared about – only the thoughts of his few friends and family mattered, and so they mattered that much more. And he liked to think that the same was true today, even if the edge had been taken off that independence. But the truth was that he had to care. As an adult, he didn’t have the liberty to screw up in the same way a teenager does. And while it wasn’t an issue of his own shame, he knew all too well how most people would react to it. People he had no choice but to care about, whose opinions, whether he liked it or not, held water in shaping his future. Marty was one of those people.
“Hey, err, mind if I sit?”
Nathan was jolted out of his apocalyptic reverie – his head snapped up, eyes alighting on the source of the enquiry.
“Only you did invite me here,” Marty continued. “I understand if you’d rather talk somewhere more private, but-”
“No, here’s fine. Thanks for coming.”
Marty was a stout fellow, and had a little difficulty manoeuvring himself through the tight gaps between the chairs and tables to the empty seat across from Nathan. Slightly unruly, jet-black hair framed an inquisitive face with the same ease that glasses encircled sincere eyes the colour of mud. From their time together, Nathan knew him as a paragon of ambivalence: shy to the point of self-deprecation – “Oh, I’ve wasted my life” was a familiar cry, usually following some comedic or pop culture recitation – yet bold beyond embarrassment. Put him on the stage, and a Puck-like mischief overwhelmed that ocular sincerity, matched by a swagger that ought not to have worked so well, a slight upwards tilt of the jaw, an almost imperceptible slouch now perceptibly gone.
Nathan always got the impression that Marty had been left alone with books a lot as a child – it seemed the best explanation for his wild untamed imagination and taste for the fantastical. It was almost as if he’d grown up in a library, feeding on Manga, sleeping on a pile of Pratchett, Coleridge, Shakespeare and Adams, with a nice thick Stephen King as a pillow. And maybe wiping his arse with a Rowling or McNabb. And somehow the combined capacity for creation from all those authors had bled into him, a literary osmosis. This creative urge was a shared bond between them, and had always greased the cogs of their social encounters. Nathan hoped that today, that grease would be enough.
“Look, I just wanted to say that… well…” Nathan faltered, and wished like hell he’d kept his concentration enough to have come up with something to say. Marty fidgeted, his sincere eyes boring through his glasses for a moment, before flicking away. Marty was, in fact, pointedly not looking at him, in that idiosyncratic way Marty had which made you realise he would be looking at you if he didn’t have such a problem sustaining eye contact.
“Look, don’t worry about it.”
There was a pause. Nathan quickly wiped the surprised frown off his face, and fought to get his bearings. Already he could feel the conversation slipping away from him, like a child trying to catch sunlight in his hands.
“Seriously? Only it tends to make people see me differently.”
“Hey, what you get up to in the privacy of your room is your business.”
“Well, it’s hardly private now though.” Marty shrugged, and Nathan remembered to keep his voice down. “I mean, I’d told a few people, like Leo, and Sam, but I imagine everyone will know soon enough.”
“Well I won’t be telling them.”
Nathan paused again, taken aback by the candid, matter of fact nature of the claim. It’s not that he’d expected Marty to go telling everyone, or even threaten to – he realised he hadn’t known exactly what to expect. For all their time together, it dawned on him that he didn’t really know Marty that well at all. He got the distinct impression that he’d been shadow boxing his own fears. Maybe this conversation would turn out fine after all, entirely unlike the nightmare scenarios of blackmail and social assassination he’d envisaged. He realised he hadn’t spoken in a good while, and that Marty was again pointedly not staring.
“Thanks. But, errrm, how did you find out?” Marty winced, and drew a sharp intake of breath. The question was clearly one he’d been dreading, and suddenly Nathan knew that all chance of this meeting going as smoothly as it looked it might have five seconds ago just evaporated.
“Well, I really can’t tell you that-”
“Oh come off it, mate, you-”
“I can’t. It was told to me in confidence.”
“Well I only told it in confidence too. So someone must have broken my confidence to secure your confidence… Which means that confidence, your confidence, is null and void.”
Marty fixed him with a knowing look, mud-coloured eyes betraying a lethal intelligence Nathan knew he ought not to cross, even if Marty seemed too good natured to put it to good use. But today was not a day for ought – anger and fear were clouding Nathan’s judgement, and his mouth was two steps ahead of the brain whose job it was to filter out instinctive responses.
“It doesn’t work like that,” Marty countered, poking holes in Nathan’s logic. “Just because one of your friends was indiscrete doesn’t mean I-”
“INDISCRETE?” Nathan’s voice bounced off the plastered yellow walls of the café, was absorbed into the outer layer of a hundred different fabrics and resonated in the ears and minds of the neighbouring customers. He lowered his voice again, but the look in Marty’s eyes told him it was too late. Nevertheless, he continued in a half-whisper. “Fuck indiscrete, Marty, it’s downright treacherous… Look, I appreciate you won’t be spreading it, but unless I know who is, that’s not a lot of fucking help now, is it?”
“I’m sorry, Nathan.” Nathan believed him, which made it all the harder. “I can’t… I didn’t ask to be put in this position… If it’s any consolation, you’ll probably find out soon enough-”
“And of course it won’t be too fucking late by then. Oh no, I’ll be able to nip it in the bud right in fucking time. Fuck that, Marty, it’s ridiculous…” Again, the filter was two steps behind, though this time, it had at least managed to control the volume of the outburst, if not the content. Nathan could still feel several nearby pairs of eyes on him though, and knew he’d let slip one too many obscenities, even for the relatively subdued volume at which he was now speaking. Even if he hadn’t been drawing unnecessary attention to their conversation, he didn’t want to risk pushing Marty over the edge – the look on his face was an unnerving mixture of silent indignation and embarrassment. Nathan wondered if it matched the strength of frustration he himself was feeling. He took a deep breath, waited until the local interest in them had died down, and continued apologetically but assuredly. “It’s just that I want to reveal it to people on my own terms, as and when I trust them.”
“Not to be rude, Nathan, but clearly your judgement of trustworthiness is a bit lacking.” Nathan bit back a response. He felt like he’d been stung – not so much by the truth of the statement, but by the fact that he had pushed mild-mannered Marty to the point of such unabashed bluntness.
“If I really can’t persuade you to tell me, can you at least give them a message?”
Marty fidgeted, and glanced at his watch. Nathan wondered whether it was genuine, or whether he was just preparing himself an excuse to leave, plotting an escape route should things go sour.
“I’m not sure that’s such a good idea – there may have been mitigating circumstances, alcohol and the like…”
Marty fidgeted in his chair again, and a flash of insight snuck up on Nathan like a butterfly landing gently on his shoulder.
“Someone did tell you, didn’t they, Marty?”
“Look, Nath, I really have to go, I’ve-”
“You didn’t… see it?”
Marty was now pointedly not staring, but Nathan caught a flash of panic in his eyes, and a pink hue was stealing over his ample cheeks like a fresh bruise.
“You saw it, didn’t you? Through the window! Were you watching me? Spying on me?”
“I’m late for something,” Marty mumbled. He knocked over the chair in his hurry to stand up, and once again, Nathan was aware of eyes all over the room being drawn to their table, but this time he didn’t care. He sat, pondering, as Marty fumbled his way through the maze of the café and out the door, flicking a last look back over his shoulder that Nathan read as ‘I won’t tell’. As the other denizens of the café turned back to their own conversations, Nathan stretched his legs out underneath the table, a grin slowly crawling across his face as he pondered whether to get a hot chocolate, and wondered just how close he’d come to ruin.