Writing every day also involves trying to squeeze as much pity out of others as is humanly possible! These days of austerity, and waiting for cash flows to resolve themselves neatly, sometimes result in pride suffering small demises: I accepted the hand-out of beer money (it had been my birthday recently!) and excused myself to the pub. I often take my notebook on such excursions. You never know what might transpire. As it happens I’ve been feeling itchy about writing again: fiction, that is. I’d been walking, thinking, trying to catch the name of a character I wanted to write. Until I knew her name I couldn’t place her anywhere. It would all unfold after a name. Other fictions, placed in reality, took hold though.
I sat with the paid for beer, writing the unfolding as it came. There is a pause for thought here:
There is only one trait that marks the writer. He is always watching. It’s a kind of trick of the mind and he is born with it.
— Morley Callaghan
The man at the bar had clearly been drinking most of the day. He skewed his face up at me. It wasn’t an aggressive stance: some people are affected in benign ways by alcohol. He wandered over, paused a few feet from me, opened his mouth, and then closed it again. Eventually he asked, ‘What are you writing?’
I wondered what I was writing. ‘I’m trying to find a word,’ I told him. It wasn’t a belligerent answer. He told me he could see that by the way my biro was held there, aloft in mid-air. We discussed some appropriate words. We sat and talked over more beer, albeit with a little slurring on his part: about Blues pianists; about mixing medicine and alcohol after failed root canal dentistry; about things men talk about in pubs and forget soon after. His eye began to wander around the place. Soon enough he’d made his excuses, getting up unsteadily. He wanted to go talk with the women who’d just come in.
‘Come on,’ he said, smiling at me. ‘Come on. Be my wing-man.’
I’m no wing-man, especially for others I’ve just met. I declined. He bounced his way around the bar. I watched out for him, mainly because a writer is always watching. Soon, in a flurry, he came bundling over with his finger pointed at me. It wasn’t aggressive. ‘Come on, my man. Let’s go. I need your help.’ I declined again. He’d lost count of how much beer he’d had, and which dentist-endorsed drugs he’d taken. He agreed that I was probably double figures in pints behind him, and so he bounced off again. I saw him peeking round the end of the bar, hoping out — perhaps — for me to come help.
The next time I saw him, through the fire place, he had sat himself down at the end of a table where two women were sitting and talking. He just waited until they’d acknowledged he was there. Now, I felt uneasy. The bar staff whispered to one another. The man waited, as was polite. Earlier, in a slightly less inebriated manner, he’d concentrated hard in telling me what he did for work: I registered the words ‘topology of computer . . .’ and then it all fell away into a mess of him trying to discombobulate me, and him trying to keep it all together for himself. So, the man was clearly intelligent, in ordinary circumstances. I wondered how he might see himself in the cold glare of day. He probably wouldn’t even remember. A little while later I watched him bounce out of the front door without a goodbye.
I expected to see him lying in the gutter, or wrapped around a tree some way down the road, later when I left the pub myself. He was nowhere to be seen though. I wonder if he got home the fifteen miles or so to the village where he said he lived.
We can start with fictions borne of complete imagination, such as characters who won’t divulge their own names easily; on the other hand, we can just take a notebook with us and sit and wait for characters to show themselves to us in other ways.