Wordsworth

by Michael

        Wordsworth was the kind of fellow who would still use the term “fellow” though it has long since become passé. He probably should have been a professor at a small college somewhere in Britain, though he wasn’t a professor nor British; just an odd sort of American fascinated by the stories of Holmes and the life of Lewis. Instead, he was a library clerk at a small university in New England. Imagine a quiet evening in mid September, the air as chunky as the clam chowder and just as fishy. The fog makes halos around every headlight and street lamp you pass by. A murky evening that would cast a dreary feeling on anyone unfortunate enough to traverse the corridors of chilled night air just a bit disparaging, but nonetheless glad about the warm fire and brandy waiting at home. That’s exactly how Wordsworth felt inside as he traipsed up the steps to his front door on a mild spring evening.
        Glad to be home for the night, Wordsworth set to work preparing a humble plate of fish ‘n’ chips for dinner. Leaving the small mess he had made to enjoy its brief existence he grabbed a beer and a tray for his plate and headed for his recliner. Wordsworth found some dinnertime entertainment in the form of old Twilight Zone reruns. He ate quickly for someone with nothing to do but watch TV all night. He slipped into his own little twilight zone as each well formed and oddly punctuated word escaped Rod Serling’s lips. Tired, full, and light headed, Wordsworth slipped further into his own world the further he slipped under his covers.
        Dreams of mannequins coming to life, of the end of the world, of a four-dollar hotel room flickered across the empty theatre of Wordsworth’s eyelids. Pain encircled his fitful sleep. Like a car in the distance speeding toward him was his pain, and when it was almost too late, he woke.
        Settling his double vision with a sharp slap in the face, Wordsworth fought hard not to remember the nightmares from which he had come. He regretted this as he became aware of his surroundings. His sheets were cold and damp from sweat save for the spot around his right hand, which was uncomfortably warm. Looking down the pain and the hole in his hand met with one another for the first time. He stared for a moment in disbelief at his hand as though trying to imagine that what was before his eyes was not real. But there was the hole, the pain and the pen.
        “How in the world?” Wordsworth muttered as he picked up his assailant. Somehow he had managed to stab himself with a ball-point pen in his sleep. Aside from the pointless questions such as what happened or how he could do this, Wordsworth grappled with why. Nothing in his conscious, or even unconscious mind, could give a reason as to how or why he would willfully stab himself in his sleep. Wordsworth was relieved to hear someone say, “It wasn’t you.”
        “Thank God!” Wordsworth sighed when he heard this. Then with a start, he pushed back on his bed and turned in the direction of the voice. He managed to greet this person with, “Who the hell are you and what have you done to my hand?”
        Before him stood a man, but not one that he could easily profile except to say that he embodied everything that a suspicious character might. He was a tall man, but rather a bit too skinny for as much altitude as he claimed, with a bowler hat and a trench-coat to hide his scrawny frame. His face though, was that of a business man. Clean shaven, eyes slightly sunken and red, but nonetheless expressionless and unmoved by whatever state afflicted him internally.
        “Before you speak,” the man began, “I will tell you everything you need to know. The wound you now possess is a reminder. I gave it to you also, so that you will understand that this is a serious matter and that I will not tolerate foolishness. I am here, Mr. Wordsworth, to see to it that you complete the writing you began some time ago.”
        “The… the writing?”
        “Yes Mr. Wordsworth, the writing you began now–” The man calculated quickly, “Twenty-one months and nine days ago.”
        “You mean that so called book I wrote three paragraphs of?” Wordsworth exclaimed as he blinked incessantly in recognition of the matter to which the man was referring. “But why? It’s worthless.”
        The man sighed. “I honestly wish that I could make sense of this for you Mr. Wordsworth, but you couldn’t possibly understand. There is a reason, and you will understand it in good time, but I will not be the one to reveal it to you, nor will it be soon that you grasp what is going on here. Suffice it to say that this ‘meaningless’ work of yours is important enough for me to come here to ensure you complete it.” The two men stared at each other as this sank in. Wordsworth shrunk away his gaze and the man said, “Come now Mr. Wordsworth, be a good sport and pick up your pen.”
        “You expect me to go on like this?” Wordsworth gasped as he lay clutching his right hand, twitching and spasming as blood seeped through the cracks in his fingers.
        “No, not really. I just stabbed you with a pen and asked you because I thought it make for a good laugh. Now pick up the damn pen.” The man’s voice was still calm but exasperation and excitement were beginning to sprout on the outskirts of his tone.
        “For what purpose? What are you after? Why are you doing this?”
        “You’re wasting time. What you hope to gain with the answers to those questions? They mean nothing, least of all to you. It’s in your best interest to pick up that pen and finish what you’ve started.”
        “My interests?” Wordsworth pondered. “I fail to see how anything happening here has anything to do with my interests.”
        “It’s your writing isn’t it?”
        “It was my writing. I gave up on it.”
        The man’s voice rose as he replied, “And that’s why I’m here. I can’t afford to wait any longer. Wordsworth, I need you to finish it!”
        “Ha! So it’s about you now is it?”
        Calmer now, almost as though he was about to faint he began, “Mr. Wordsworth, nothing is selfless, and yet, nothing is entirely selfish either. I’m through with this; get up please!”
        “I won’t! I have no reason to… Gaaaaaah!” Wordsworth screamed as the feel of cold metal punctured his left thigh. He curled up whimpering.
        “Mr. Worsworth, think rationally. Experience ought to tell you that procrastination will only lead to more misery. I’m not going away so you might as well get up and finish what you’ve started.”
        “Do you think that more suffering will make me want to do anything you’re asking?”
        “Come now Wordsworth, if I wait for you to want to finish, you never will. That’s the very reason I’m here.”
        “I do not dabble in pointlessness. You came here with no name, and a penchant for injecting ink into my bloodstream. This makes no sense. A sensible man might introduce himself, explain how he has come to know about my work in the first place, and might offer to help me.
        “People aren’t sensible Wordsworth, and the world isn’t rational.”

        Wordsworth would have given anything for his life to have been a dream or better yet, a TV show. Instead of having to face more frustration as he pleaded in vain for the man to explain himself or leave, he could have had a subtle montage of highs and lows as the banter progressed. He would relish how much more quickly the relief of bandaging his wounds, and though it repulsed him, how much sooner he would have given up and started to do as the man asked. Most certainly, he would have wet himself with glee at the onset of the fade out; anything for a break in the wearying debate and the subsequent flurry of writing that began.
        Days passed, and though very much aware through all of them, they were but a hazy blur of activity as Wordsworth pained through aggressive writer’s block succumbing to the numbing feeling of reworking draft after draft. When he finished, the paltry aggravation that made him give up on this project in the first place was all but a joyous memory in contrast to sheer spite and disdain that left a palpable taste on his tongue for his writing. It was supposed to be a labor of love, but instead it was the bastard child of hate and misery.
        All this time the man sat with Wordsworth, taking care to feed him and give him time to relieve himself, but always watching and always keeping Wordsworth on task. The man showed no more hostility once Wordsworth complied with his demands; though he hardly showed any signs of friendliness. When it was finished the man took Wordsworth’s manuscript in his hand and rose from his chair.
        “Leaving so soon?” Wordsworth asked slightly puzzled.
        “I think I’ve quite overstayed my welcome.”
        “Might I ask if you are going to explain this whole thing to me?”
        “You might.”
        “Ha! Fine! What’s all this about then?”
        “I’d really love to stay and chat—no, that’s lying. I really wouldn’t, but in any case it’s time for me to go, and as I said, I’m not going to be the one to explain this. .”
        “Can I at least have your name?”
        “Perhaps next time.”
        “There’ll be a next time?”
        “All depends on you.”
        “I’m afraid I don’t follow.”
        “You will. You might want to go see a doctor and get some rest. Goodbye Mr. Wordsworth.”

        Wordsworth stood in silent protest as the man took his leave. Questions marched rank and file through Wordsworth’s head, and with only moments to ask them, he managed to get none to stand at attention. Not that it would have done any good. The man would have strolled on whether Wordsworth had asked or had stood with the best fish face imitation he had done to date. He stared incredulously as the man insouciantly walked out the door and out of Wordsworth’s life.

        “Hello?” Wordsworth croaked into the phone. “Yes, this is Mr. Wordsworth. I’m sorry come again.”
        “This is Marshall Rawlings with Donavin Publishing, we’ve received a copy of your manuscript, and we’d like to discuss the possibility of publishing your work.”
        “Really? Why?”
        “Mr. Wordsworth, in all of my years I have never come across a piece like this. It has to be published!”

        There comes a point where all writers, all men must face their failures. Much has been said, and much is yet to be said about mankind’s fears and failures and the great potential that lies in them and beyond them. Wordsworth was in a loosing battle with his, and with each day more was being taken from him. When in the bottom of his mediocrity he thought he met a more painful fate, he instead found redemption nestled within a ball-point pen cradled safely in his hand.