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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