Friday, 7 September 2012

The Desk (1000 word short story)


The light is clear, crisp and sea-washed bright as it falls through the bay window and across the desk. Perfectly lit. A stage setting, almost. The perfect light for the perfect desk in a writer's room. Not an office, no, not a some stuffy ashtray-coffee-cup-dog-end muddled cell. Not a library heaving with all the words you can never ever hope to write. But a clean, clear, quiet space. As hopeful as a blank page and as empty, apart from the desk.

I had bought the desk on a whim, who could resist such a thing? Its deep layers of varnish peeling, its grooved and pitted surface carved by years of neglect, rain-washed into ravines of broken misuse. Apparently it had stood outside for years until the previous owner thought there might still be some value to the desk Dracula was written on. Hoping it might still be ink-stained with the blood of terror. A touchstone for a writer. A memento mori for someone like me.

My publishers are kind to the point of indulgence. Like parents spoiling an only child. Another week, another month, another three? Fine, take all the time I need. Their smothering platitudes and mollycoddling deference only serving to bind me tighter in the self-loathing straight-coat of plot impotence. Writer's block. Twelve best-selling horror novels, worldwide sales in the millions, book signings, tours, literary festivals and after dinner speeches, a household name in the top ten best-sellers for years and now; now my adoring fans need a thirteenth book. Thirteen, unlucky for some.

My fingers rest on the deeply scored desk either side of my laptop keyboard. But no words fall from my fingertips. No magic today. As my wrists lie on the desk edge, I can feel the slow drum of my pulse, a deep and bruised vein of unwilling blood. The sunlight is too bright, my temples hurt, the fierce light making even my bones ache. There will be no writing today and I abruptly turn away from the desk feeling the drumming blood recede into a whisper as I walk away.

It is becoming a ritual now. Each day of this hot summer I enter the room and sit at the desk. Each day I try and write. A few hundred words, fifty, one. Each day nothing save the sound of my blood and the weight of my flesh on the desk. Weighing me down as surely as if I am drowning. Drowning in the sunlight, gripping the desk, a life-raft to my dead weight.

There is a heatwave outside, no rain for a month. A long hot dry spell. Tell me about it, now even the weather forecast is a perfect metaphor my writer's block. Still the calls from my publisher, from my agent, from my publicist, from all of those who feed off me, always wanting more. I am in the room, in front of the desk but the light through the window is too fierce and I don't even bother to sit down. I shall try again when it is cooler, darker, maybe an evening breeze from the sea will lift the air. Breathe new life into old words.

The night air is wrapping itself around me, I can feel the heat of the day leach out of the room and the desk, still warm from where the sun caressed it, soothes my nerves. Now the blood flows in my veins, now my eyes see clearly. Now I know where the story lies. My fingers find each key and words spill in bright clarity across the screen. One, fifty, hundreds.

Not finished yet. I'm only work at night, can they not understand that? These human leeches sucking the life from me. The phone always ringing. The story is not finished yet but the summer is nearly gone and the light, once sharp and clear is addled and fly-blown. Autumn lurches towards me with fistfuls of dead leaves and the skies are filling up with thunderclouds. A storm on the way.

The final chapter is within my grasp. Somewhere a clock chimes midnight, one, two, then three and still the words pour, my lifeblood in words. The whole desk drums with the rhythm of my typing, breathing life into my story. At last the final words and I am done. Exhausted, my head slumps to the still warm, worn desk and I sleep as outside rain finally starts to fall.

The cleaner unlocks the door to the house and lets herself in as usual. The writer who has rented the house for the summer has started to keep odd working hours, often working through the night so she is mindful to tread quietly up the stairs past his office. The house is very quiet and the air sharp after yesterday's storm. The cleaner guesses he must be out as there is no reply to her knocking on the door. She steps into the room to find it empty apart from the desk and a laptop computer, screen open onto the final page of a story. A fly buzzes near the window and, for a moment, she could have sworn the desk was wet, as though someone has spilled a bottle of wine over it, forgotten and coagulating into a pool of drying crimson. But is is just a trick of the light, patterns of yesterday's rain on the window, and the desk is dry and warm to her touch. She can feel her pulse, raised in sudden alarm, slowing where her skin touches the surface. There is no sign of the writer.

At the end of the summer, the writer's belongings are packed up and sent home but the desk is left behind. The new book is a literary success, not least because of the ensuing mystery surrounding the writer's sudden disappearance. When the summer house is rented out again, the desk is thrown out into the back yard where it waits, rain-washed into ravines of broken misuse, for a new story.


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