We’re jumping forward in time now to when Justine and George are married and she is expecting their child. As I stated a few chapters back, I still have to write a couple of chapters which deal with George and Justine’s courtship and engagement as well as the early days of their marriage. We’re back in George’s voice now.
“I’ve been thinking, George,” Justine said to me not long after our wedding when her bump was starting to show, “that we should redecorate the study, redo the carpet, hang new wallpaper.”
“Whatever for? I’m perfectly happy with it the way it is.”
“Once the baby comes, I’m going to be preoccupied with my new role as mother. It’s the perfect time for you to get back to your writing, something that’s been difficult for us both since – well – you know – since – at any rate, it’s worth a try. You’ll have someone to leave your stories to now,” she added, patting her stomach. “You’ll be writing with the future generations in mind. Having the study redecorated might give you a little push in the right direction.”
“It seems like a lot of upheaval at a time in our lives when we don’t need it.”
“Don’t be ridiculous, George,” she chided. “Now’s the perfect time. I’ve been thinking it the whole time I’ve been readying the nursery. Besides, it’s not like we’d be doing it ourselves.”
I looked at her incredulously.
The woman never ceased to marvel.
I was sure it was the pregnancy but in last few weeks, Justine had had a surge of energy, tidying the house, cleaning every nook and cranny, preparing the layette and turning the back bedroom where she’d slept as maid-of-all-work in our infant’s nursery. She’d hired a man called Mr. Tate to paint the walls an eggshell blue, then lined the shelves with children’s books and toys. If I had any criticism at all, it was that she seemed too perfect in her devotion to upcoming motherhood. And she wasn’t throwing herself into preparing for that role alone. She was a doting wife as well, coddling me at every turn. She’d even taken to filling up my inkwells every day to encourage me to write. Her dotage was insane.
“Oh, go on then,” I said with a wry smile. “You can do whatever you like with the study. What colour were you thinking?”
“Emerald green,” she immediately declared. “There are lovely wallpapers about.”
“I trust your judgment,” I responded. “It’s a damn sight better than mine.”
“Very well then, George,” she said. “I’ll talk to Mr. Tate, the man who did the nursery, and see if he’ll come in to do it. I’m sure he will. He’s very thorough with his work.”
“If it makes you happy, it makes me happy.”
“It makes me happy,” she said with a wink.
And that was that.
A few days later, Mr. Tate and two helpers were in the study, taking everything down and packing it in boxes which filled the other top room and lined the little hallway outside. It took them several days to hang the dark green paper, lay the wine-coloured carpet and put everything they’d taken out back. Justine herself had made new velvet curtains for the little window and purchased two new lamps which graced the far ends of the mantelpiece.
“An inspirational place to write,” Justine declared when the study was finished. “Warm, cozy and utterly luxurious. There’s nothing like a wailing infant to send one running for cover.”
When she said that, I flinched because it showed she knew what she was talking about. She’d been through it before with Sidney. She knew what it was like to lull a wailing child to sleep.
It had been so long since I’d written. As I’d expressed to Justine on the evening of the dominoes, I’d tried to write, but always in fits and starts, ending with my poor, fragmented passages going up in flames. With a wedding ring on my finger, a woman in my bed, a baby on the way and ink continually glimmering in its well, I could feel the creative force returning slowly.
For months, I’d seen things for what they were. Since Ada and Sidney had died, a room had been a room. A chair had been a chair. But now? With all this new life teeming through, I was seeing beyond the things before me. The chair, for instance, was some plush sex-scape for awhile before it was the deathplace of a man. It was in the past, but in the future, sitting in a reader’s mind.
“Let’s talk about writing,” I said to Justine one night as she sat knitting for our baby.
“As long as it leads to you actually writing,” she said over the clicking of her needles. “For now, the study is ready and waiting for you. The ink is calling, George.”
“Thanks to you, I feel it calling.”
“To write what?” she asked, looking at me.
“My life,” I replied. “But that’s what I wanted to discuss with you tonight.”
“Then let’s discuss,” she said, setting her knitting down on the footstool.
“How honest should one be when writing an autobiography?”
“Quite honest, I should think,” she said decidedly. “Honesty makes for a better read.”
“Yes, but think about it, Justine. If you’re truly honest when writing about your life, you have no choice but to turn in other people by osmosis, people who do not want their vulnerabilities and secrets bared. If you protect those people, you cannot be honest. There will always be gaping holes in your writing. There will always be blind spots. For those who strive to be kind, dishonesty is part of the process.”
“Your job as a writer, George, is not to be kind. It’s to be truthful.”
“Look,” she said with a sigh. “Anthony was a good, hardworking man but he silenced me because he was frightened of what I might find with my pen. For him, it wasn’t so much about him not wanting me to bare his secrets for he had none. For him, it was more about wanting to keep me on the surface so I wouldn’t sink into the truths of myself. But whatever the case, in my few attempts to write when I was married to him, I was always circling around these big black holes, turning out nothing of any consequence. People don’t want to read about a regular day in a normal life. They want to read about the blood and the guts, the pleasure and the pain of it all.”
“Well, you can hide your own mess in fiction,” I said.
“I’m telling you now, George,” she continued, leaning forward, and reaching for my hand. “When it comes to writing your life, you have my permission to write anything you want about me. I won’t put you through what Anthony made me endure. Write me naked if you want. Script every detail of my lust and shudder. Give the future generations something to sink their teeth into. God knows they’ll need it to feel their solidarity with the dead.”
“And I’m telling you now, Justine,” I responded, “you have my permission to write anything you want about me. Write me naked. Script every detail of my lust and shudder. When it comes to your pen, be free.”
I felt like the words we just uttered meant more than our wedding vows.
“No blind spots, darling,” she murmured.
“No blind spots,” I returned.
Keeping her left palm on her stomach, she thumbed my middle finger with her free hand.
“I have my bump,” she said, rubbing the bulge of our infant. “And you have yours,” she added, caressing the place where my writer’s bump used to be. “I remember so well when it used to be risen, smudged with blue. In fact, I remember your father having the same bump. It’s like a tiny world, that bump, don’t you think? A miniscule globe – beige and blue – formed from ideas. Bring it back, George.” Her voice lowered to a murmur. “Bring back that world on your finger whilst I nurture mine.”
“Once our infant is older, bring back your writer’s bump too.”
“I will,” she promised, releasing my hand, and returning to her knitting. “But whilst your world is the study, my world is Foxglove. That is the place that inspires me.”
“I know,” I said. “The view from Foxglove’s back window is beautiful.”
“It is to me.”
“You’re fortunate that John Winterbourne allows you to take care of it. I shouldn’t think most former fathers-in-law would go as far as that.”
“But John isn’t most former fathers-in-law,” she declared without looking at me. “Now why don’t you make the most of your redecorated study and write the first chapter of your life?”
“Very well then, darling. I will.”
And with that, I rose, walking up to the study.
That afternoon when I entered the study, I thought it looked like a garden. It was a secular Eden for a writer.
The wallpaper, a deep emerald green, was flocked with thick velvet vines curling up toward the ceiling. Justine had placed vases of roses everywhere – between the pitcher and the basin on the bureau in the corner, on the edges of the mantelpiece, on the hearth, beside the inkwell and the silver letter knife on the desk and between the parted curtains on the windowsill. The sun came through the pane, illumining the paper and the velvet vines, the water, and the leaves.
Everything was glowing. Tiny particles of dust lingered in the shafts of light like bygone constellations. Was my father in them? Or myself as a young boy? Was Sidney somewhere in those sparkles? Or Ada even? And, what about Justine? And, in a hundred years or more, would someone with a similar disposition marvel at the stars of dust, deducing we were drifting in them?
“By Jove,” I murmured to myself. “Particles of us will linger.”
Overcome, I thought about the bible verse which Vicar Sterling had read at Ada’s burial. “From dust to dust,” I echoed. “But no one ever tells you dust itself is heaven. Just look at it. So quiet. So reverent. Iridescent. Floating.” If I had to choose, I moved to thought, between some biblical realm beyond the clouds or hovering here with specks of those I’d loved, I stay here stippled in the light forever. For this, the beautiful debris of everything we shed is how I wish to be immortal.
Sitting at the desk, I saw my shadow fall across the unmarked paper.
The soft grey shape of me was asking to be filled with its life story.
Lifting the cap of the crystal inkwell, I saw the dark blue sheen and pictured the Atlantic. I thought about my father crossing it to get to Mexico and then of Sid who’d never made the journey. And then, I suddenly understood. I’d never felt the need to travel overseas because the only blue I’d ever needed was here inside my inkwell. That ink? It was a thousand journeys thrown into the future.
Taking up a pen, I dipped it in the metaphorical sea, tapping the tip on the blotting paper before bringing it into my shadow. The instant I touched the blade of the pen to the page, I felt like I’d come home, but home into myself. I felt alive and that was unexpected.
That afternoon, I wrote more than I’d written in years.
I wrote about my childhood. I wrote about Justine. I even wrote about the dust and how each fleck was proof of our biology immortal. The more I wrote, the more I noted details I’d forgotten: the curls which Ada had left in her brush, the fingerprints still in my mother’s powder, my father’s eyelash dashed between two pages in a book, a hair of Sid’s adrift in some dim corner.
Page after page, shadow after shadow, I spilled the mindflow, opening each detail to find a million more: every line and every curve was proof of human-everafter, evidence of gesture, angst and all things unrequited, lost desire and rediscovered purpose. I don’t know what washed over me. Perhaps a realisation that religion is off course, for nobody needs god when godliness is in us. Perhaps a fierce awareness that we imbibe the afterlife with every move we make through this precarious existence.
I was humbled in the greenness of the room, in its quivering curves and textures. The walls seemed to be moving in the arcing glow and silver linings of the shadows. Green on green, the velvet vines were twisting up toward the rafters before their tendrils spiralled into wreathes around the edges.
Never in a million years had I expected such sensation. The world came back to me that day.
I had a vision.
Of my hand unfurling from the pages I was writing and reaching into someone from the future. It could be anyone, for anyone and everyone was sacred. The reader’s shadow would be on the same pages as my shadow now; my words would fill the soft grey figure in the future.
“Can you see me?” I was writing. “Can you see me at this desk and in this room? Can you feel what I am feeling? Wherever you are, you must hear me through this ink, these sentences, these fibres. You need to know I’m all around you; even if I’m gone, I’m here. The dust – the fingerprints – the wayward hair – the fallen eyelash – the traces of my body – the tear of blood stained on a sheet somewhere – in a nook the broom neglected – in the objects I once handled. I left before you came, but I’m beside you.”
As the weeks of Justine’s pregnancy progressed, I found myself in the study more and more, writing the story of my life. With the blessing Justine had given me, I was able to write freely, including all the intimate details of our sexual relationship. There was, however, one thing I did not write about and that was Sidney. For fear that Justine would read my writing, I deliberately left him out.
That wasn’t to say that there was no record of our love story in the house.
It was there for anyone who might ever suspect.
And, just because it wasn’t on the page, didn’t mean that it wasn’t in my heart.
The rationale I gave myself about the truth is that it had to be discovered. A writer couldn’t reveal every secret. The reader had to work for something. And with the growing story of my life, there’d be a space where Sidney lay. But not just lay. In the gaps between the letters of the alphabet, Sid would be there laughing, loving, pulsing in my shadow. I’d be split asunder as I chose to be with Ada and our fictitious infant, wishing I could be with Sid. In the study, I’d write him as my dearest friend, leaving our fantastic union up to the imagination. In doing so, I’d trust whoever would understand that there is more truth in hallucination never inked than in a library filled with pages.