Laurie stood there alone in the middle of the cemetery for miscarried children. She left as soon as she saw a mourning couple entering that place. It reminded her of a short story she had written a long time ago which included mourning couple. She missed writing. But getting back to work by starting from scratch was not easy. The journey of a story is tricky. You draw a destination and a starting point on a map and then you begin to sketch out the trip.
In fact, once you’ve had a long break from writing, you’ll feel anxious about planning out that inner journey again. They say a talent doesn’t vanish; instead it gets buried in the basement and it will become darker if you ignore it. Her confidence to write fiction isn’t the same anymore. Whom does she write for other than herself?
Stephen King calls the person he writes for the “Ideal Reader”. Laurie knew where her I.R. had disappeared to, thus she started packing and took the next train to Lübeck.
As she knocked on I.R.’s door, she heard him say “come in.”
The door squeaked. She smelt solitude in the hotel room, intermingled with the scent of dusty roses.
“Hello” she murmured.
I.R. was sitting by his desk, scribbling something onto paper. He still looked beautiful as ever, but the sense of loneliness floating in that room made him appear distant.
“I knew you’d come back crawling one day” he said.
“I am not crawling.”
“You would, though.”
She smiled. She knew that despite her honesty toward the entire world, he was the only one to ever hear everything from her, even the meanest and most despicable thoughts.
Awkward silence hung in the air, making the room appear even bigger than it already was.
“You know things haven’t been easy for me,” she sighed.
“I offered you help, but you needed some space, so I granted you that.”
He carried on scribbling words down.
“They detected water on the baby’s brain. He was sick,” she said.
She noticed a pile of paper next to him on the desk.
“What are those?” she asked.
I.R. looked at her and smiled for the first time since her arrival.
“Well” he began, “these are ideas still locked up in the back of your head.”
“Yeah, with me inside.”
The moment she approached him, he stopped writing after a nervous flinch. It felt like there was a shield between them, separating two delicate worlds that weren’t meant to fuse with each other.
“Don’t” he said.
“How can I open the door?” I asked.
There were traces of fear and desperation spread on his face, followed by an insecure smile.
“Only I can,” he said.
He turned back to his writing, as though she wasn’t there. She stood there in despair, unable to approach him, unable to put her hand on his shoulder.
She remembered they first met when they were eleven and how they had been inseparable since. Now was the first time ever she felt that the connection had been cut off. Only trust would let confidence and determination re-emerge – hard work and consolidated teamwork would rebuild that broken connection.
“You’ve just read what King wrote. Sort out your tool box now and get started.”
Now her heart began to fill with hope.
“So you’re still my...?”
He gestured at the pile of paper on his desk and started to laugh.
“Well” he said, “first revitalize your language, sort out your grammar and work on your style. They are appalling. Your stories need a hell of a lot of polishing and you know it. I can’t open the door for you if you don’t start putting your shoulder to the wheel.”
There was a long pause between them again. Though, this time the silence had dissolved the tension.
“Will you forgive me?” she asked.
He laughed. “You are writing this now. You’re gonna make me forgive you anyway! Have I got a choice? But honestly…” he paused and then looked at her in earnest. “Don’t you know me at all?”
I opened my eyes. The blurry tartan patterns were dissolving in the air. How weird to see the patterns during daylight instead in darkness or semi-darkness. I must have had a bad dream, but I could not remember. My neck felt sore as I arose from the bed which was not mine. I hoped I didn’t do anything unreasonable, but then on the other hand I didn’t feel hung-over.
There was a man sitting nearby the window with the blinding sunlight in his face. As he tilted his head, his glasses threw the reflection of the sunlight right at me like high-powered laser beams.
“I’m sorry” he said and took off his glasses.
“Who are you?” I asked and started looking around this familiar place. It was a small bedroom resembling that of a student’s. I smelt a rose-like scent and wondered whether there was a cherry tree outside his window.
He lowered his head almost in disappointment, but then a smile appeared and he put a book down on the table. I recognised my own notebook.
“You’ve been reading my notebook?”
“Secrets are no crime” he said. “Well, not in this case anyway.”
“Who are you? And where the hell am I?”
His face expressed disappointment again making me feel bad for shouting. I touched my chest, noticing that I was wearing no bra underneath that cosy jumper. I glanced over at the radiator where my clothes were drying.
“Good to see how quickly you’ve recovered. Out of date medicine seems to work!”
“Why, what happened?” I asked. My throat was dry and my neck sore, or it was the sunlight piercing through my brain.
“You had a high temperature when I found you in the rain last night.”
“You found me? Where?” I asked.
“There.” He simply pointed out of the window without further explanations. Instead of asking any more questions, I tried to remember what had happened. My mind was blurry. I looked at the little night table on my left and noticed a pack of suppositories next to some papers.
“Out of date medicine does work” he said with a smile.
He stepped away from the light and came closer, his hands deep in his jeans trousers. I stared at him for as long as my eyes could bear without blinking. His dark hair and bright eyes bore a great resemblance to someone that I had once known, not to mention, loved. The scent of roses patently reminded me of it.
I got out of bed to get my notebook. “What else do you know about me?”
The way he said it didn’t sound ominous, but rather comforting. I pressed my notebook tightly against my chest as he slowly stepped towards me. I took a step back.
“I understand your sentiments. Sorry.” He retreated to the bed, sat down and ran his hand through his hair. He stroked the stack of paper which was on the night table.
“What’s your name?” I asked.
He chuckled while shrugging his shoulders like an innocent defendant. “Call me Ian.”
“Where did you find me?”
He again pointed swiftly at the window. “There.”
As I moved towards the window, I found it to be a bright painting illustrating dunes and I recognised the sea and parts of a beach. There was a big cigar burn hole through which the sunlight was seeping through.
“I’m glad you’re writing about me again” he said.
“I’m writing about you?”
“Why are you here then?”
“I don’t know.”
As I was sitting on the toilet I realised that I had woken up in a hotel room rather than a student’s room. There was a sign saying “Please place towel on the floor if you wish to have a new one”.
The shower head had a dual system allowing the guest to choose from having either a full drench or a warm light sprinkle, rain-like effect. As the water drizzled onto my face, I began to picture myself running in the rain the night before. Tears had disappeared in the rain while I was sprinting down the beach, listening to the waves that looked like dark claws or the mouth of an octopus. Imagine the soapy foam at the shore as a mouthpart of the moving shapes of darkness. The lights behind the railings were dim and shaky and reminded me of a scene where a girl sits at a counter in a diner with a latte. We’re outside in the rain looking at her through the window pane. She props her chin with a hand while staring obliviously into nothing, whereas the boy next to her longingly breathes in the scent of her hair.
Like a cast away I fell unconscious on a small sand dune, a low-lying area vegetated with plants usually catching windblown sands. That night they caught me.
For a final rinse off I switched back to full heavy rain. When I got out of the bathroom I saw Ian sitting at a desk, typing. It looked familiar. I approached the window again, but this time I saw real dunes, the real sea and a real beach.
“Am I right, you came here to see me?” Ian asked, without giving me one single glance. Although convinced that it was a familiar situation, I couldn’t quite capture the meaning of it.
“I don’t know.”
“You know more than you think, but as usual your mind is opaque and the back of your head is locked...” He took a deep breath. “So you came to see me.”
“Why did I come to see you?”
He turned around, but as soon as his eyes caught me wrapped in a towel, he was speechless. I grabbed my clothes from the radiator and put on my underwear almost instantly. I grabbed the rest of my clothes which smelt fresh and clean.
“Wait, did you wash my clothes?” I asked.
“Are you a nanny or something?”
Immediately he pointed at the door, the finger now looking firmer and angry. “Out! And get your story finished for God’s sake!”
I didn’t dare to ask any further questions, but the next thing I knew was that he had pushed me outside and slammed the door shut behind me. I hadn’t even finished dressing properly. There was a cleaning lady coming up my way with a cleaning trolley full of dirty towels.
“Hey!” I shouted and knocked against the door with my palm until it hurt. “My notebook and my money!”
Ian opened the door to hand me the notebook with a 20-Euro note on top of it. He had shut the door again before I could even look him in the face.
“Where’s my wallet?”
“You lost it” he mumbled through the fine mahogany.
The cleaning lady was still there, staring.
“It’s not what you think it is” I said.
The breakfast at the hotel canteen tasted plain. My favourite type of rolls is the sunflower seed roll which I always have with slices of turkey, cheese and tomato. I couldn’t taste the actual richness of the texture, not to mention the saltiness of the turkey. Other people seemed to be enjoying their breakfast tremendously.
After I had finished I walked over to the catering man to enquire about the food that tasted like paper. His broad smile looked like it was a big part of him, some kind of a pre-studied habit that he applied in order to get paid.
“Excuse me” I said to him, but he didn’t react; his smile was still solid like the hyperreality of a wax figure. I pushed his shoulder lightly after which he fell over like an imbecile. He was a life size standing card board with an image printed on the front. All the guests in the dining room had disappeared, too. All they had left me with were pale, stiff mannequins looking like unhatched human cocoons.
I pressed my notebook hard against my chest and left the hotel as fast as I could.
I walked towards the dunes and the beach, enjoying the fresh air on a midsummer morning. I could smell the brackish water of the Baltic Sea – similar to ocean water really. Then all of a sudden the air was invaded by the strong odour of turpentine and oil paints. I soon discovered an artist standing in front of the railing that separated the beach from the public footpath. From the back I noticed his extraordinary big head. His elegant arm movements reflected the delicacy of his fine brush strokes. I carefully peered over his shoulder and saw that he had painted the dunes in deep purple colours, the sand was pale orange and the sea was green.
As the artist turned around, I saw that his head wasn’t just big, but deformed and filled with water. His eyes were gazing downward; his twisted mouth indicated a sense of anxiety and vulnerability. The idea of having water on my brain made me feel like drowning or shedding tears. I immediately swallowed the lump in my throat.
He then vomited on his feet followed by a nasty convulsion that made him fall on his knees. I kneeled down to hold him, to prop his heavy head which looked like it was about to spurt out water. He raised his trembling hand and pointed at his painting which had fused with the real scenery. I watched the vigorous waves moving in the square frame.
“Hang in there, hang in there!” I said. The man’s eyes had turned white.
He mumbled something I couldn’t understand. I laid his head down carefully and started to look in his painting bag where I finally found his lorazepam injection. I quickly pushed the needle in his thigh, and then waited for him to gradually relax.
Thirty minutes later he regained consciousness on my lap and I realised that I’d been crying. He shied away from me as though disliking human touch. He started to pack up his painting utensils, squeezed them all in his bag and pulled the zip.
Leaving me alone with his painting, he began to walk away almost instantly. He looked back at me once, uttering through his lips: “Dshu neet to find ththe mishing reel.”
He pointed again at the painting.
I took it and climbed over the railing to the beach. It felt like I had just climbed out through Ian’s window. I walked a mile down the coast, marvelling at the beautiful horizon where Uranus was talking with Poseidon. I rested on the sand to watch lost bumble-bees crawling into nowhere and flat stones being washed ashore. The salty sea air felt good in my lungs.
About thirty yards away I saw that a big man was approaching me. I could tell that his eyes were fixed on me rather than the beach. Fifteen yards – I realised he was wearing a red suit with tartan patterns and I also recognised a smile at the corner of his mouth. The tartan patterns hurt my eyes and made me delirious for a while.
“It’s nice to finally meet you” he said.
“Who are you?”
“I’m Tautou – the film maker.”
He sat down next to me and lit a cigar. His voice was clear; it was soothing to finally hear someone in this town speak lucidly, apart from Ian.
“I help you to visualise your stories. “
“Yes, I enhance the vividness for you. Let me show you something.”
He opened his bag and showed me his camcorder.
“I copied my latest short film onto this.”
Fade in. A woman travelled to find a man she knew in order to seek help. They argued a lot; mainly about her being clingy and bad tempered. One evening they went to a diner to find shelter from the rain. There he told her that they should stop spending so much time together after which she got upset and ran outside. She bumped into a man in red who placed his hand on her forehead. As he withdrew it, she began to run toward the beach where she lost consciousness on a dune.
The scene with the artist was laid parallel to the scenes of her previous miscarriage, depicting the death of her baby that suffered from hydrocephalus.
After that Tautou paused it for a while and placed his hand on my forehead.
Then we carry on watching in silence until the film indicates a missing reel. Afterwards it jumps straight to the end where the woman enters her car and drives off, whereas the man grabs for the ballpoint pen behind his ear and starts playing with it by pressing the spring quickly forward and back. He walks back into the hotel. Fade out.
“Why did you show me this?” I ask.
“I need your help.”
“You need to complete this story.”
I stare at the artist’s painting and hold it up against the sky, blocking the sun. Tautou, who is smoking his third, takes the painting and presses the end of his cigar against it until a big hole is visible. The sunlight is seeping through the painting now. I look at him in amazement.
“What did you come here for?” he asks.
“I have to go.”
I walk further down the coast until I notice dark clouds approaching the beach. I feel a sudden detachment from this place which incites me to think about Tautou’s question or what I.R. said this morning.
Slightly soaked through I reach the diner. Last night we had an argument in here resulting me to choose a rinse off by running through the heavy rain. It feels like last night hasn’t yet ended and that I’ve run back to the diner to apologise. I take a seat at the counter, grab for some tissues to dry my face and neck.
“A large latte, please” I say to the owner who smiles a familiar smile. He looks for something under the counter and then puts my wallet on the table. I open my wallet and see the picture of my ID with my real name written underneath.
My latte must have cooled down, but I feel no desire to drink it. I prop my chin with one hand while staring holes into the wall. I listen to people’s loud conversations until I only hear the echo of the words spoken. As if the noise somehow gets filtered through a long tube. All I can clearly hear is the rain outside. Waiters and waitresses dash by in a blur – fast and sometimes in slow motion. I don’t blink and suddenly see flickering distortions of the beach on the wall. Tautou is probably watching me from outside through a lens like a desperate stalker. I imagine the rain flowing across the lens.
I smell the scent of roses and feel warm breath tickling my ear. Immediately I turn to the side where I.R. grins at me with this “gotcha”-look in his eyes.
“I knew you’d be here” he says.
“Is it because I’ve told you?”
He shrugs his shoulders and folds his arms before placing them on the table.
“We’re great partners, don’t you think? I’m the architect while you’re the engineer and craftswoman.”
“And it will always be this way” I say quietly.
He props his arms with his elbows and both of his hands meet – they clasp and open. He won’t look at me.
“But,” he continues, “you don’t belong here.”
I begin to draw circles on the table with my finger. The latte must be cold now. Warmth is not something that you can fathom for as long as you’d like, but you don’t want to consume it either, because it’s beautiful the way it is. Warmth, however, is a transitory degree of heat. Everything will run out of energy one day; heat cools down, water runs dry.
“I’ve had a really good time” he says, “it’s good to see you in writing mode. I like the way you get your hand dirty.”
It is now that I notice ink smeared all over the fingers of my right hand. I’ve been painting real circles on the table. I immediately cover up that spot with some tissues. I.R. holds my inked hand and carefully touches the calluses on my middle finger.
“You should at least keep your finger nails clean.”
I burst out laughing. He laughs, too.
“Have you finally let go of the water?” he asks.
“The water on the brain?”
“He is doing fine here.”
I look I.R. in the eyes and recognise the trust which I thought I had lost.
“I think I should go back” I say.
Both of his hands are now lying flat on the table, as if assuring me and him that he is real.
“Thank you for completing this” he says.
The noises in the background have faded and I wonder what has happened. I turn around to the crowd and see nothing but naked mannequins, positioned in a way that they appeared to be kissing or hugging.
“Knock it off” he says while shaking his head with a choking giggle.
“I really should get going.”
“I think so, too” he agrees.
“So you’ll keep the door open for me?”
“Only if you promise to get your hand dirty on a regular basis.”
“Deal. I have your window anyway.”
Paula Cheung, 2010 - 2011
In dedication to King's On Writing
Fallen Angels - Dir. Wong Kar Wai (1995)