Legacy: A Love Letter to Literature

He wondered, far from the first time, how his eulogy will read. Laura will probably write it; everyone considered her the next big writer in the family, due to the financial success of her latest novel, and her years at The New York Times – which was where it will probably be published – even though Anna’s novels are far better, despite their relatively poor success. Laura had so rarely flown home before he told her about the cancer; she didn’t know him half as well as Anna did. The signed copy of Sharpe’s Gold was evidence of that, though he felt guilty for not appreciating it more. She had, after all, taken time out of her busy schedule to travel 150 miles upstate to the signing of an author she didn’t care for, for a present she thought would bring him joy. It was a warm gesture, even if he’d lost interest in Bernard Cornwell over a decade ago. 

It wasn’t that he would object to Laura writing his eulogy, only that he knew her writing style well. Her vocabulary wasn’t too strong, as she drew more influence from watching action and thriller movies than reading good literature, so her writing came out a little plainer, like the neatly groomed grounds of a middle class townhouse compared to the overgrown rainforest of Anna’s style, dripping with colourful description and emotional resonance. He thought Laura’s prose might paint him as a boring man; just your average fifty-year-old man who (used to) read Bernard Cornwell, never let go of classic Rock, and had a string of New York Times best-sellers in his late thirties. He imagined to his distant relatives and old acquaintances, the persona they would mourn would be that of the writer, rather than the individual. They would stand under their black umbrellas (it better fucking rain on his funeral; if there was any time for pathetic fallacy, it was a writer’s death) and reflect on his novels as an impression of his life. But they wouldn’t understand.

For one, the writer in him died at the end of every novel he finished – typing the last word of the final draft was the dying breath of the man that had conceived it – and the person that lived on was one shedding the skin of his past self. And secondly, the literature was not his life, but the lives of the dozens of characters who had shared his consciousness for a short while. It was the emotion and sentiment he was compelled to purge himself from, so that he could walk a step of his life without dragging behind the weight of the world. And if his family and friends came only to reflect upon the people he’d held dear to him between those lonely and monotonous years he spent locked in his study with only his current Word document for company, the Eulogy may as well not mention him at all. Hell, they could just type one for Liam Fletcher. His fans knew Liam better than they would ever know him. 

Perhaps Laura and Anna would co-write it. And who knows, Laura might have a good working relationship with him again by the time he popped his clogs. It could be a few years yet. More likely not. 

He supposed he didn’t really care how his life would be remembered. To his fans, he was only the writer. They did not care about what he personally experienced. Only that he continued to write engaging novels. But that was okay. He cared more about how his family and friends remembered him, but even then not so much.

He would be dead after all.

What would it matter to him? And why did he keep wondering about the Eulogy? What he really cared about, he supposed, was how he perceived himself. He’d considered both his latest novel and novella his final words, yet here he was half-way through the final draft of a new novel.

What if he knew the exact moment he would die ten minutes before, and a pen and paper were thrust at him. What if he could write his own Eulogy? What words would he scribble frantically onto the legal notepad? 

He would probably first set the pen and paper in his lap and close his eyes. He would tell himself, as he had with his last two projects, that it didn’t matter if anyone read his words, or if his last breath fell between the lines of prose. It was not the finished novels in which he found pleasure. In fact, they pained him to think about. He imagined them as the rotting carcasses of his stillborn children slumped on a bookshelf rather than glimmering trophies of dedication and love. He was a writer, and a writer writes, so unless his eyes pulled shut for the final time the second he typed the last word of a novel, he was going to leave an unfinished project behind him. It was the journey he enjoyed, after all, because once you arrived somewhere, there was only so much to see. 

So perhaps he would take up the pen and stare down at the legal pad with curiosity in lieu of desperation, and as the writer in him indulged the scenario, he imagined he would find it too tempting not to write. And like travelling, there were more places to go than he could ever visit in his lifetime. He could write some great joke that would suggest some transcendental realisation but whose punchline never emerged due to his final breath freezing the pen in his hand. Something along the lines of: I’m slipping into the other world, and for a brief moment my consciousness exists in both realms. We’ve been wrong all this time. The meaning of life is…

And there he would pretend to die, placing the pen down on top of the paper with a grin, and sliding further down the bed to feel the soft coolness of his covers against his face one last time. He thought Melissa might discern his mirth – she knew his sense of humour too well – perhaps Anna, too, but he would spook everyone else.

Or what else would he write? He could describe his feelings on his deathbed. It would probably be interesting for his fans, most of which were morbidly inclined already, but why should he spend his last ten minutes writing something for somebody else? Writing for other people was the price you had to pay to grow a bigger audience and become big enough that you can write what you want to full time. He wanted to write for himself in those last ten minutes. He wanted the last word stolen from his fingertips to be a word that filled him with euphoria and connectedness as it swam out from the recesses of his unconscious in the shape of the final missing piece of a jigsaw. 

But what was it that he liked to write most? It had always been therapeutic for him: an endless exorcism of the darkest parts of his mind. But in death, he knew that the darkness would fade anyway. And it was only in retrospection that we felt pain and regret, so who was the therapy for, if that were the purpose of his writing? 

Didn’t it also bring him pleasure? The childish imaginings of a lucid dreamer? For through his characters, he could change the world, grow old with the woman he loves and a family who adore him, or even indulge the darkest pleasures of his mind? The ones his rational mind told him were evil, sinful pleasures. Would he write an explicit account of violent sex and murder, akin to Marquis de Sade’s 120 Days of Sodom? That didn’t seem sentimental enough, though, and humans are a sentimental bunch. We think we’re so fucking important in everything we do, that it wouldn’t surprise him if he searched for some great truth he could express to the world in his last words. But what did he know? He knew the importance of love in a world one vice away from annihilation. He knew that creating a good world was within their grasp, if they could just get people to see the similarities in each other rather than the differences. He knew that kids needed to spend less time staring at their phone screens and more time losing themselves in the magic of good books. But greater men than him had shared any truth he could conceive of, and they would continue to do so as he rotted in the ground. 

So what would he write? Well, he supposed it really didn’t matter. As long as he wrote. Because with every scratch of biro, with every keystroke, he tore a slit in this bleak reality, and glimpsed the blinding light behind it. 

The recurring question, he realised, was just one of the many manifestations of his dread, yet with a smile spreading his lips, it dawned on him that, he couldn’t possibly be afraid of leaving this world, when he’d never lived in it to begin with.

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Forsaken

The realisation that life is slipping through your fingers is a queer feeling. At first it’s a thick gloopy papier mache glue slowly oozing between your fingertips and though it seems to be falling slowly from your hands in lumps, it’s just as sure as the fine rain that follows, glancing off your empty hands and slipping through your open fingers as though they barely impede the inevitable rain. By the time you realise you’ve lost everything, you’re kneeling on the ground, your trousers torn open at the knees, staring down at your numb fingers, barely aware of the storm raging above you, or the rain pouring down on and around you.

You’re so lost that you are truly indifferent to living or dying. Your broken heart pulses in a lacklustre process, providing just enough pressure to pump cold blood around your plastic veins. Your sodden clothes cling to your skin, it would have been uncomfortable at any other time but you’re just beyond caring, and though your clothes cling so tightly to your skin, you feel naked, flayed in the street like a falsely accused rapist, angry eyes tearing you open with every glance. Where your skin was, only a shining reddy orange remains. All your defences have fallen like a curtain, crumpling on the floor and leaving you exposed. Indifferently so.

The life that you once knew belongs to another man. His wife, his house, his family, his… happiness. You aren’t living. Your heart is beating (just) but this isn’t living. Everything is distant. You can just make out the ghost of your life, like a faint light at the end of a blindingly dark tunnel. You reach out your trembling hand. As your fingers line up with that dim light, you close them into a fist and for a second everything you’ve ever wanted is in your clenched fist, locked away from you by your own caged fingers. But when you open your hand, there’s nothing there, like a wisp of black smoke drifting to the sky, and to try and grab hold of it again would be just as pointless. The light at the end of the tunnel fades and it hits you with a slight coldness, like a candle blown out by the wind, that your life is long gone.

You’re dancing with her. A handsome, brightly lit hall, with chandeliers hanging from its high ceiling. Her arms around your neck. You can almost feel her fingernails brush the hairs on the back of your neck. Yours on her hips, firm but relaxed. You feel the warmth of her body, the soft fabric of her dress that almost floats upon her figure. Your feet lift effortlessly as you sway gently like a feather in the sky on a light spring wind. The floor you dance on barely feels there; you’re dancing on a cloud and you’d tear the stars from the sky for just another second pressed against her warmth. But she’s gone, her skin blisters and cracks, her body melting to the ground and rising in that same black smoke, till you’re left with only a yellowed wedding dress hanging limply in your numb fingers.The hall is cold and deserted. Spider webs arch around the high ceiling and dust covers everything in the room; broken, upturned furniture, shattered glass on the wooden floor also covered by a thick coat of dust, or maybe ash. The hall is dark, devoid of natural light. Only thin beams of light shoot across the ceiling, carrying dust in its beams, from holes in the roof. Your feet stop and your arms hang at your sides. You’ve been dancing on your own. The ring on your finger cracks and turns to ash. A faint band of pale skin remains, a reminder of what you once had.

It’s a bright summer day, the trees are in bloom. You’re pushing him on the swing. He’s too small to push himself properly but he kicks out his feet as he rises into the air. You see his bare ankles between his shorts and socks. He wears small brown shoes, kicking them in front of him as if reaching for the clear blue sky. But his height is only momentary; the swing falls back and soon your hands touch him, warming something deep in your heart. They push out with enough force to send the boy flying again. His back is to you, but you can imagine the beaming grin on his face as he yells ‘higher, higher, Dad!’ The boy soars forward and up, kicking his little brown shoes out ahead of him and your heart breaks as you realise he will never reach the sky. As if at that realisation, he is gone, gone in a blur of smoke. The smoke rises, heading for the blue but the smoke dissipates and fades, not making it ten feet toward the sky. You scream inside your head, hate and destroy yourself for not holding onto the moment for another second. The small wooden seat, hanging from the tree’s limb by two strips of rope swings back to you, empty. Your arms are still outstretched uselessly, but the swing passed by them and swings back out. It’s fall now and the leaves are falling from the trees. The child is long gone but the swing still sways in the wind.

With a crushing realisation, you finally understand. Your wife is gone, your son, your life. Everything you have ever loved or cared for has turned to ash and is falling around you among the black rain. Falling, light as feathers and you know that when they hit the ground they will be dead and gone forever. Your outstretched hands clench unconsciously and then open again. Though your heart and mind have given up, a trace of instinct, of muscle memory, remains. Yet this is only the final cherry on top, oozing blood red into the remains of everything, a cruel reminder that you are so helplessly lost, so forsaken by the world that time has ceased to exist. It’s irrelevant. Even in the second that your knees hit the concrete, tearing open fresh cuts on your already broken body, you’re completely and utterly lost and nothing else matters when this realisation finds you. It could be an eternity that you kneel there, your world falling around you but you are armed with one final defence, one last weapon, a shard of glass clenched in your desperate grasp; the knowledge that once your life has crumbled all around you, once you are truly forsaken, you know with every icy inch of your existence, that you have nothing left. And a man who has nothing left has everything to gain.

The realisation that life is slipping through your fingers is a queer feeling. At first it’s like a thick gloopy papier mache glue slowly oozing between your fingertips and though it seems to be falling slowly from your hands in lumps, it’s just as sure as the light rain that comes next – glancing off your empty hands and often slipping through your open fingers as though they barely impede the inevitable rain. By the time you realise you’ve lost everything, you’re kneeling on the ground, your trousers torn open at the knees, staring down at your numb fingers, barely aware of the storm raging above you, or the rain pouring down on and around you.

You’re so lost that you are truly indifferent to living or dying. Your broken heart pulses in a lacklustre process, providing just enough pressure to pump cold blood around your plastic veins. Your sodden clothes cling to your skin, it would have been uncomfortable at any other time but you’re just beyond caring, and though your clothes cling so tightly to your skin, you feel naked, flayed in the street like a falsely accused rapist, with angry eyes tearing you open with every glance. Where your skin was only a shining reddy orange remains. All your defences have fallen like a curtain, crumpling on the floor and leaving you exposed, indifferently so.

The life that you once knew belongs to another man. His wife, his house, his family, his… happiness. You aren’t living. Your heart is beating (just) but this isn’t living. Everything is distant. You can just make out the ghost of your life, like a faint light at the end of a blindingly dark tunnel. You reach out your trembling hand. As your fingers line up with that dim light, you close them into a fist and for a second everything you’ve ever wanted is in your clenched fist, locked away from you by your own caged fingers. But when you open your hand, there’s nothing there, like a wisp of black smoke drifting to the sky, and to try and grab hold of it again would be just as pointless. The light at the end of the tunnel fades and it hits you with a slight coldness, like a candle blown out by the wind, that your life is long gone.

You’re dancing with her. A handsome, brightly lit hall, with chandeliers hanging from its high ceiling. Her arms around your neck. You can almost feel her fingernails brush the hairs on the back of your neck. Yours on her hips, firm but relaxed. You feel the warmth of her body, the soft fabric of her dress that almost floats upon her figure. Your feet lift effortlessly as you sway gently like a feather in the sky on a light spring wind. The floor you dance on barely feels there; you’re dancing on a cloud and you’d tear the stars from the sky for just another second pressed against her warmth. But she’s gone, her skin blisters and cracks, her body melting to the ground and rising in that same black smoke, till you’re left with only a yellowed wedding dress hanging limply in your numb fingers.The hall is cold and deserted. Spider webs arch around the high ceiling and dust covers everything in the room; broken, upturned furniture, shattered glass on the wooden floor also covered by a thick coat of dust, or maybe ash. The hall is dark, devoid of natural light. Only thin beams of light shoot across the ceiling, carrying dust in its beams, from holes in the roof. Your feet stop and your arms hang at your sides. You’ve been dancing on your own. The ring on your finger cracks and turns to ash. A faint band of pale skin remains, a reminder of what you once had.

It’s a bright summer day, the trees are in bloom. You’re pushing him on the swing. He’s too small to push himself properly but he kicks out his feet as he rises into the air. You see his bare ankles between his shorts and socks. He wears small brown shoes, kicking them in front of him as if reaching for the clear blue sky. But his height is only momentary; the swing falls back and soon your hands touch him, warming something deep in your heart. They push out with enough force to send the boy flying again. His back is to you, but you can imagine the beaming grin on his face as he yells ‘higher, higher, Dad!’ The boy soars forward and up, kicking his little brown shoes out ahead of him and your heart breaks as you realise he will never reach the sky. As if at that realisation, he is gone, gone in a blur of smoke. The smoke rises, heading for the blue but the smoke dissipates and fades, not making it ten feet toward the sky. You scream inside your head, hate and destroy yourself for not holding onto the moment for another second. The small wooden seat, hanging from the tree’s limb by two strips of rope swings back to you, empty. Your arms are still outstretched uselessly, but the swing passed by them and swings back out. It’s fall now and the leaves are falling from the trees. The child is long gone but the swing still sways in the wind.

With a crushing realisation, you finally understand. Your wife is gone, your son, your life. Everything you have ever loved or cared for has turned to ash and is falling around you among the black rain. Falling, light as feathers and you know that when they hit the ground they will be dead and gone forever. Your outstretched hands clench unconsciously and then open again. Though your heart and mind have given up, a trace of instinct, of muscle memory, remains. Yet this is only the final cherry on top, oozing blood red into the remains of everything, a cruel reminder that you are so helplessly lost, so forsaken by the world that time has ceased to exist. It’s irrelevant. Even in the second that your knees hit the concrete, tearing open fresh cuts on your already broken body, you’re completely and utterly lost and nothing else matters when this realisation finds you. It could be an eternity that you kneel there, your world falling around you but you are armed with one final defence, one last weapon, a shard of glass clenched in your desperate grasp; the knowledge that once your life has crumbled all around you, once you are truly forsaken, you know with every icy inch of your existence, that you have nothing left. And a man who has nothing left has everything to gain.

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