Journalism was my husband’s profession. His name was Alan Worley and the ‘six honest serving-men’ gave his work the acuity and aplomb that propelled his novel, ‘Uprising in Eden,’ a tale of human duplicity in the garden of Eden, to fame. Following its prodigious success, he’d pulled the plug on his newspaper work and devoted himself to lecturing and giving readings, although after a year they had dried up. After all, one can only talk about the same stuff so many times, before running out of people who want to hear it. Then Alan had withdrawn from public life to work on the novel’s successor.
Every morning he’d go into his study with a breakfast tray and lock the door. Save for answering the call of nature, he’d stay there until he’d written two thousand words. Sometimes I’d hear a call, “Jude, get me some more toast, and don’t burn it!” other times, “That tea was foul, too much chlorine in the water! Make me some fresh with distilled water.” I was charged with buying it and heaven help me if we ran out!
One thing he always said was, “If inspiration doesn’t strike, I’ll write ‘I don’t know what to write,’ just to get my pen going.” Yes, he was of the old school, “None of your new-fangled computer gubbins for me, thank you very much! Shakespeare didn’t need a bloody computer!”
Then, his writing done for the day, he’d take our dog for a long walk. After tea, he’d work on his model train set and watch TV. Save for our annual two-week holiday in Iceland, that was his routine for the next twenty years, Christmas Day and his birthday included.
He never published another book. “For God’s sake, Jude, it’ll be ready when it’s ready, stop yammering on about it!” Money grew tight and we had to forgo the waterfalls and lava fields. Then liver cancer struck. Three months later we were burying him in a lavish ceremony, attended by literary lions who likely neither remembered nor cared about him.
“Hey, Steve, I just got a call from Jude Worley, Alan’s widow!”
“The guy who just died. Uprising in Eden!” said Martin Simmons, CEO of Whartons Publishing.
“Oh, yeah, what happened with him?”
“Well, Bill gave him an advance on another novel but Worley never came up with anything, a big fat nada! Bill just let it go in the end. He got his golden handshake, why bother about a has-been novelist? He’d made us big bucks in any case.”
“What did she want?”
“Says he left a cabinet full of writings from the last twenty years and would we be interested in coming to have a look?”
“Jesus Christ! Yes, tell her yes!”
The staircase is narrow and the carpet a faded pastel green. The landing is silent, save for the low tick of a grandfather clock. “It’s through here,” I say, leading the two men into the study.
“Good Lord, this is like a time capsule!” says Martin. Nothing in the room looks like it’s been purchased within the last thirty years. In the corner of the room stands a large steel cabinet.
“It’s locked,” I say.
“Do you have the key?”
I go to an ancient desk and take out a sealed envelope. “He made me promise never to open it. He said to have the cabinet destroyed after he died.”
“Why didn’t you?”
I sigh. “Money ….”
“Look, go downstairs, just relax, we’ll give you a shout.”
Well, they can’t have been up there more than ten minutes when I hear a call, “Mrs Worley!”
“Coming!” My hands are shaking. My gut tells me those manuscripts must be pretty valuable. I imagine standing by the thundering waters of Dettifoss once more. Watching water boiling out of the earth and exploding a hundred feet into the air at Strokkur.
I tramp up the worn staircase, past the old grandfather clock and into Alan’s study. Both men, Martin and Steve, are standing by the desk, which is now piled high with manuscript books. There’s something odd in their demeanour.
“Mrs Worley, do you know what your husband was working on?”
“Well, he didn’t talk about it and I didn’t like to pry. Do you know if he wrote many novels yet?”
The men exchange glances. Martin hands me a volume. “Take a look.”
I open the book with eager anticipation. Then I understand. Tears course down my cheeks. “Sorry.” I dab at my eyes and whisper, “Are they all like that?”
“I’m sorry Mrs. Worley, really sorry,” says Martin. “Yes.”
I look down at the page again, now stained with tears. On every line, of every page, of perhaps one hundred volumes, is one line, endlessly repeated. ‘I don’t know what to write.’
Featured in the book, To Cut a Short Story Short: 111 Little Stories
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