I’m drifting. Somewhere in the middle of the ocean, there I am on a small boat, rowing, rowing, trying to get away from something, trying to make it home. I think to myself that I should have exercised more throughout the year because rowing is much harder than I thought it could ever be.
The water is at once clear and turquoise. I can see the shadow of my boat on the sand some three metres below me. Indeed, I can see my own shadow. And that of the other three people on the boat with me.
I let the oar down for a moment, and it nearly slips away and into the crystal clear water, just nearly. Before it does, Nowhere Man stops it, pulls it back into the boat, to safety. I’m exhausted, on the verge of tears, really. I’m so tired. I can’t go on.
She sits next to me, and puts her arm around my shoulders.
“You can’t give up now,” she says, “We’re nearly there.”
I don’t understand how she can look so amazing in this heat. Her hair is perfectly contained in a Holly Golightly bun, her makeup immaculate, her cream coloured flapper dress like it just came back from the dry-cleaner’s, its beaded fringes so delicate it’s almost like they’re floating around her. If I was feeling like myself, I’d throw around a compliment like ‘death becomes you,’ or something equally awkward and morbid. But I don’t feel like myself.
“I can’t,” I whine, “It’s too hard.”
She looks up expectantly at Nowhere Man for help. This Charming Man is also there, but he’s being less than charming. He’s still not over our last conversation.
“Sure you can,” reasons Nowhere Man. “You’ve come so far! Imagine – two and a half months ago you had nothing! Not a single word! And now look at you – over 26,000 words. Don’t underestimate that.” He looks very uneasily at This Charming Man in his tuxedo and white bow tie, and it becomes obvious just how much Nowhere Man would prefer to be at the bottom of the ocean rather than on the same boat as him. Trying his best to pretend nothing’s wrong, Nowhere Man says to This Charming Man, “Isn’t that right?”
This Charming Man gives in and says that yes, of course, 26,000 words is quite the achievement for someone with a full-time job. Softening a bit, he says I should be proud of that.
I burst into tears. I have no idea where I’m going with this; I ask them, “What am I going to do? What will become of the three of you?”
She pretends this wasn’t aimed at her, seeing as she’s dead and everything.
“Well,” begins This Charming Man, “I suppose this would be a good time for you to start looking at what you’ve accomplished so far and start improving on it.”
Nowhere Man and She look from him to me, hoping this suggestion won’t upset me. They know not every writer takes criticism too well. But this makes sense to me. I want to hear more.
“What do you think I should improve on?”
The three of them look uncomfortably at each other. She is the first to speak.
“You’ve got to do something about your narrating voice.”
This surprises me.
“What’s wrong with my narrating voice?” I ask them, “Is it the tone?”
She assures me the tone is fine. This is really mostly about the voice itself.
“Does it sound too much like me?”
They share another uncomfortable look, like they’re trying to decide who’ll be the one to break the terrible news to me.
“Well,” begins This Charming Man, touching his white bow tie like a nervous tick. Tiny droplets of sweat start to form on his forehead, glistening in the sun. This is new to me. I’ve never seen him sweat before. “That’s part of the problem,” he continues, “Your narrating voice sounds nothing like you.”
This is very unexpected. I look at Nowhere Man and She and they both avoid my eyes, looking at their beautifully polished shoes.
“What does my narrating voice sound like, then?”
My voice comes out hard and with a hint of threat. I could, after all, bring about the end of them all. She could confirm that. I could do it in less than a hundred words. She speaks again, trying hard to brush off my implied cruelty, and nothing has prepared me for what she’s about to say.
“It sounds like Alan Rickman.”
I wake up before I can ask them more about it, but this revelation sticks with me all day. I had never noticed this about my narrating voice before; inside my head, my thoughts are narrated by my own voice. I suppose what I wanted to achieve with their story was to tell it my own way, but somewhere down the road, I might have tried to make it sound like someone else – older, wiser, more sophisticated than me. Also more masculine.
So it’s really no surprise at all that they ended up in a story told by Alan Rickman. It might as well have been Sir Ian McKellen, if you think about it.
I really have to work on that.
Thank you so much for reading and have a great weekend!