The man flinched, nearly dropping his book. How could I have startled him? I’ve been here a long time. “I’m sorry, I thought you knew I was here. I see you every day” – I tried to apologise.
He straightened himself up but refused to look anywhere other than into his book. He is always here this time of the day, on this same bench, in the same suede coat furiously scribbling into the same notebook. For several weeks, I’ve sat next to him, hoping for perhaps a smile or a nod – really anything that’d give me a chance to pitch in but in vain. He never seemed to register anything in the world outside the pages of his book and the screeching of his pen. Not today though. Today, there was no screeching. The pen had barely moved in the past hour and I took the silence to be the welcome sign I was hoping for. I’ll be damned if I let it go to waste.
“I’m Edward.” I introduced myself again looking straight ahead, two can play at this game. After a long silence, as my impatience was almost about to get the better of me, “Henry,” he responded in a grovelling baritone that barely qualified for not a whisper.
“Nice to meet you, Henry, what are you working on?” This is good, we are making progress. Slow is smooth and smooth is fast, right? “My book,” came the reply after a weighted pause.
“Ah, I’ve always wanted to write. I have so many ideas but can never find the time,” I said turning towards him slightly, not to spook him again but he sat fixed, barely noticing. As long as there are men like him, the tortured artist archetype will live on as well. “Writer’s block? Your pages seem rather blank today.”
His eyes slightly darted to the other corner, seemingly more out of caution rather than a quirk in behaviour. There was no one around for him to be cautious of. He noticed that too. “Yeah, of sorts,” he said closing his pen and leaning back into the bench. He wasn’t so rigid anymore but still wouldn’t look at me. “What are you writing about, Henry? Maybe I can help.”
“No, I couldn’t impose. Thank you.”
His replies were getting quicker but heavily tainted with hesitation nonetheless. This is a man who prefers his solitude, I could see that clear as day but I really felt a strong urge to help. “Let me guess, you have a character and need help coming up with a name. Am I close?” If I can’t make him comfortable, I’m going to make him curious.
“Yes, that’s- that is exactly it. How did you know?” he asked, his gaze glancing my side but instantly returning to his notebook. So curiosity worked.
“Let’s just say I’m very perceptive. Have you seriously never noticed me sitting next to you?”
He looked visibly worried. Recluse or not, he really is polite and the thought of offending a stranger must be too hard to bear. “That’s okay, I admire how dedicated to your work you are,” – I tried to reassure him – “Walk me through your process, maybe it’ll help rid your block or at the least would be a helpful tip for a novice writer like me.” I put on the friendliest smile I could. He did not notice but I have a feeling he felt it.
He drew his breath in and began, “I can’t take too much of the credit. My problem is the opposite of yours – too much time and not enough ideas,” his sentences were drawn out as if he had to carefully word them in his head before speaking them out loud but his voice was audibly getting louder with each phrase, “I go about my day not thinking much until out of nowhere an idea fills my head, you know?” I only nodded and yet he somehow knew to continue. “It’s like having a hundred voices in your head, each filling in a little part of the story but screaming it all at once, repeatedly, until I get to their part. It’s hard to notice much else with all the noise in my head.”
Tortured artist, just as I had guessed. I waited for him to continue.
“I’m almost done with this book. The voices have mostly died down. All but one final detail. I can’t decide what to name the main character,” he came to a pause.
I had to ask, “How do you write an entire book without ever naming the lead guy?” He threw his palms out in exasperation, “I don’t know, the voices never mentioned a name. So I carried on. The last voice seems to be rather shy,” he almost chuckled. Almost.
I was silently beaming at my triumph. I had not only managed to make my forlorn old man talk but almost got him to smile. This has been a good day. It would be better if he had looked up at me once though. I guess you can’t have it all, can you? “I hope you get it, Henry, maybe you just have to take a moment and really listen. You’ll hear it. I’m right here.” I felt like my job here was done for the day.
Henry gazed into the blank page of the notebook with his brows pushed together. Out of nowhere, all the muscles in his face relaxed at once. He pulled out his pen, quickly made note of a word in his book and breathed a sigh of relief. He confidently turned to his side and smirked at the empty bench. It was time to go home.
I’ve always felt the same way, like not much of what I write is my own. The ideas always seem to come out of nowhere, like having someone else recite me the lines from inside my head. This set me wondering on what might happen should one such voice in my head attempt to give me an idea but I refused to notice? Writing this piece was fun because I knew what I wanted to do – personify a voice inside a writer’s head – and I had to follow the internal logic that comes with such a situation – the voice and the writer essentially have to know everything about each other and don’t always have to say things out loud, the writer will be conscious of talking to himself out loud in public etc… – but at the same time I can’t make it too obvious until the end. Coming up with a reason for dialogue was tricky as well, essentially the voice had one purpose, to give him a name and that’s the first thing it utters. Only when he fails to notice, does the conversation starts to flow. Reading the story again, knowing that Edward was the voice in his head all along probably will make you appreciate the nuances more.
Also props to any rare soul who caught the Dr. (Henry) Jekyll and Mr. (Edward) Hyde reference.