‘Hey, Fergie, writer’s stigmata!’

It snapped.  I don’t mean it snapped off, of course.  But I actually felt the bone in her finger break as I bent it back and slammed my fist down – and she screamed.  I have never so much as slapped anyone in my adult life.  I think the last time I hit someone on purpose was Joanne Browne and I was twelve and she told everyone I fancied Miss Potter the visiting art teacher.  And that was more of a scratch really.

I met her in the library. Wednesday nights.  MA creative writing.   I work late on a Wednesday so that was it really.  I do keep thinking that if I’d just done that swap with Simon and moved to Tuesdays it wouldn’t have happened at all.  But there we are.

She isn’t pressing charges.  I should be grateful but I’m not.  To be honest, it would give me something else to think about – a court case.  Because I’m not doing great without a job.  Gross misconduct, of course.  The union rep did her best with my disordered mental state as a defence but there was no way they’d keep me on.

The scream was heard down in the computer room on level one, apparently.  That’s six floors.   By the time those two blokes had run through from the 600s, I was just standing there with ink and blood all over my hands, and she was sobbing.   Even the policewoman said it wasn’t ‘a sustained attack’ and could have been ‘an over-use of force.’  I don’t know what I’d call it.  And it was all confused by the fact that I ended up hurting myself far more in my attempt to break the pen.  I wanted to snap it between my two hands but it was way too tough.  So I held it on the edge of a bookshelf and smashed my boot onto it.  It fractured in a messy, splintering way and the sharp end slid back straight into my hand.  Yes, the pen was much tougher than her finger had been and the break was far less pleasing.  I was quite taken with the ink and blood mix though.  It seemed apposite.

That was one of the things she said she liked about me – that I had a broad vocabulary. That’s patronizing, isn’t it?  On reflection, all the things she said she liked about me were accomplishments she wasn’t qualified to judge – even my writing.  And all the things I liked about her were fiction.  That’s why I needed the pen back – to stop her stories.

It started the day I was shelving a trolley of 823.914s – fiction 1945-1999 – and she was looking for a Toni Morrison.  I helped.   I don’t think she’d dispute that I helped.  I broke rules at work to meet her needs – extended loans, waived fines, put in endless inter-library requests and blatantly flouted copyright restrictions.  And beyond work, the regular habits and tablets that had kept me stable since those Antonia White, Sylvia Plath years, I broke those too.  Transgression everywhere.  And then the pen.

One hundred and seventy-five quid.  I’ve never, ever, spent anything like that on a present for anyone.  You could call me tight but really it’s just that a library assistant earns very little.  And no-one, until she came along, had ever made me feel like grand gestures.  The nib was 14 carat gold. You filled it from a bottle.  It was matt-black, elegant.  It was her.  I thought that she’d pour in ink and the pen, warm in her hand, would drip with luscious words.  And there I’d be, some small part of me, in the heart of her creations.

Well, I think her creations will be clunky for a while.  That long finger bandaged to the one next-door will be like writing with logs.  She’ll have to type.  My own hand is healing well but the ink injection has left me with a rough black tattoo on my palm.  I pointed it out to my mate, Fergus.

‘Hey, Fergie, writer’s stigmata!’

He had no idea what I was talking about.  But he bought me a pint and told me that the stationery shop has a vacancy.  I might get staff discount next time I want to buy a decent pen.

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