Sunday, March 04, 2012

A Paper Fate

I am a character in a second hand book. Possibly out of print. Probably lost, forgotten behind other books on the bookshelf and caked in dust. I don’t really know. But in here I live out my life again and again in textual silence, as long as the ink remains – maybe even afterwards, I’m sure I’d remember my lines and directions. I’ve had enough practice.

Because you see a book, when left alone, reads itself through at a steady pace, like an audienceless cast rehearsing a play. Then, reaching the end, and knowing nothing but itself, it returns to the beginning to re-live it all again, exactly to the letter and at the same speed, to the metronome of paper.

You’ve no idea how I yearn to get done with some parts speedier than others – or skip them altogether. The first dozen pages of chapter three always fill me with a heavy boredom: a whispered altercation with a pompous, half-deaf librarian. It could contain humour but it doesn’t, it just drags on and gets nobody anywhere. Sometimes I want to stop whispering and shout at the old fool but I can’t. It isn’t written that way.

And there are parts I’d love to linger and enjoy. Like in chapter six when I’m lying in her arms, the half empty bottle of wine forgotten on the window sill and the warm sounds of a summer evening reaching in through the window as she explains the layout of her childhood home in vague murmurs and I listen enraptured. But no. My cruel prison admits no tarrying or fast forwarding; I must march to the beat of the page. No escape, no entreaty.

It is currently chapter four and she is here next to me. She is talking but I’m not listening. I don’t need to. I know her lines by heart. My mind wanders.

I love the soft curves of her hair, the way it frames her round face. But I’ll never tell her. I’ve no choice. And she’ll never know how I adore those dark green shoes she keeps on the mantle piece, how I’d like to borrow them since they look to be my size; nor will I ever be able to tell her how upset I get in chapter one when she snubs me.

I wonder what she really thinks of the fact that I make her porridge for breakfast after she stays over. I can’t interpret her faint smile. Is she laughing at me? Sometimes I worry it might be mockery, as though she might be laughing at my servile politeness and how it detracts from the unspoken rules of romance - rules that simmer beneath even the pulse of a one night stand. I should be more confident and manly perhaps.

Maybe she is also pleased when I am making her porridge since she knows that it is all I can do, that I am bound to do what I do. Is there even any point in my interpreting her glances since she, like me, may be thinking anything at all, erring wildly from the dictates of the dried ink mandate.

Perhaps she doesn’t think anything at all. Perhaps it’s a mistake that I have been given a mind when I have no mouth of my own, no means of communication. It must be a mistake – or a punishment? – that I while away the hours between my paper appearances with the thoughts that cannot but be infertile, no matter how powerful or important they may feel to me, since they are trapped in stagnant nowhere, never to be aired, never spent – as coins lost at the bottom of a well.

My mind even wanders sometimes while I’m delivering my lines… increasingly so. I’m not an actor you see so the quality of my delivery is not an issue, it can’t change. The text is the same every time and text is all I am. I am bound to be the same every time.

So it must be a mistake that I have these thoughts. I’m not even an agent. No physical apparatus. No motile volition. How do I even know the word motile? I’ve never read it anywhere, I’ve never read anything. I don’t properly exist. So where are these thoughts? Where will they end up?

Perhaps someone will find them, hear them somehow, as oddly and inexplicably as I came to have them. It’s a wretched hope but I cling to it: that my thoughts will seep from this exile to turn up for someone to know. To be found is not to have been lost in vain.

But now I’m about to speak, about to tell her I like her smile and then, wincing with embarrassment, flick my cigarette away into the Thames, exhaling a spout of smoke. Then she’ll inch along the balustrade to push her shoulder affectionately into mine, mumbling happy sounds into my chest pocket as we watch the cigarette’s slow motion purler into the low river. Here goes –

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