I found a snippet of a draft of a part of a story I posted somewhere, somewhere I don’t even remember. It was four years ago. This is it:
Henry started it.
Henry quit writing.
Things you’d think: So what. No one would miss him. There were too many writers, already. People were probably pretty happy.
Things you’d be wrong about: the above.
Henry was a magic writer.
Magic. That’s a girly-word now, for talking about fairy lights draped through trees and gardens full of tiny blossoms and wispy, curling fog and light and all that. But I mean it. I mean magic.
First, every word fell after the next word in weird, perfect order and by the end of a paragraph, without hardly trying, there was a window or a wall or a doorway or a gate that belonged to some foreign place and you’d almost have to stay and snoop around. By the end of a story, you just couldn’t go back to what you’d thought before.
Second, what he wrote. Stories. They weren’t those love poems to our all-fucked-up psychologies, the ones where you could hear ice cubes melting in cheap whiskey in the background. the ones that made you think we might never escape all the little, ugly fears.
His stories. You were barely in them and the light was a color you’d never seen before and the air smelled of things you hadn’t thought of since you were a kid and everything was exactly how you would have imagined it if you could imagine things so perfectly. He wrote stories that gave you ideas and made you think: I want to be like that. Do that. See that. Say that. Be there.
Every morning, he came to the diner and had 3 eggs and toast and oat meal with cream. Oh, and coffee. He could have had the espresso stuff over at the Crow’s Mascara but he came to our place and drank ours. That’s how he was. And he wrote and he didn’t talk until he was done.
And you never saw him sneaking an eavesdrop. It’s because he didn’t care what was going on in people’s heads. He told me so. He said: they’re already amazed by it. They don’t need me to pretend I am, too.’
I remember my head wobbling. My head wobbles when I sort of disagree, but don’t know why. I had a Milk Dud in my mouth, so it took awhile for me to say: I thought that’s what being people is for. Don’t we want everyone to know what we’re thinking?
Henry smiled. He never smiled like he was smarter. He smiled like he was happy to know you. He said: That’s always the question, Patti. Is what we want what we need.
He was beautiful, I thought. Beth thought something else: Eeew. Jesus, Patti. He’s so scruffy. I mean, he’s super nice, but … eeeew.
So, anyway, that doesn’t matter.
What matters is he quit writing. At first, I was upset, like you would be, all: Noooo! and thinking, without really thinking it over, that he just needed encouragement and support.
But he didn’t. So then I got a little annoyed and sort of yelled: I thought writers had to write, like you couldn’t live without it.
He dropped his head and just looked at me, like he was looking over the top edge of his glasses. Only he doesn’t wear glasses. He just wanted to look at me that way. I couldn’t tell what it meant until he said, very slowly: That’s bullshit.
And that was it. He quit.
Things started changing pretty quickly. You shouldn’t be surprised. If wings on a butterfly can stir up storms, than think what Henry putting down his pen could do.
Because of how much I read – and it was so much people said I probably read more than I breathed, which was obviously not true – I noticed it almost right away. Stories started not appearing. They just weren’t there. The old ones were still around, still in the library and stuff, but not anything new.
First, it was the writers of short stories. They quit. Then writers who wrote books. Novels. Then playwrights. Then screenwriters. And it took awhile, because there are some songs that people call written but they’re really just a bunch of words about aching and crying and missing and there’s no story at all, but even songwriters stopped.
And that’s when it got really bad.
People, who weren’t saying such wonderful things to begin with, started talking like – and I don’t want to be mean – but like know it alls who didn’t know it at all. Not at all.
They still knew words – at least, then they did, but even if you read or listened to them for five minutes straight, you’d still end up thinking: what the hell are you talking about?