– The Manuscript –
They say that everyone has a novel inside of them, just waiting to be spilled out. He had spilled his one out more than thirty years ago. He had come across the typewritten manuscript of it recently in an old box file. The manuscript was among some other papers, other things that he had written back then. He remembered thinking that the box file was like an unwanted heirloom: something which was of neither aesthetic nor practical use to him, but which he could never throw out because of its strong attachment to his past. So it had just gone with him from house move to house move over many years, always placed somewhere unobtrusive to gather dust until the next move.
He didn’t need to open the box to know that it contained the manuscript. It was his attempt at a first novel; his only novel, really. He had once been very proud of that manuscript, his creation, but now he was sure that it would embarrass him. He had convinced himself over the years that it wasn’t very well written; the language was too dense, the characters too shallow and wooden, the plot too obtuse. There were those obligatory lovemaking scenes; he had inserted them in order to ‘spice up’ the story – he was in his mid-twenties when he wrote it, after all – but they were bound to make him cringe now. And there were the political messages, of course; the propaganda. He couldn’t help himself; he was further to the right than Attila the Hun in those days, having been converted from a dyed-in-the-wool Communist in the space of a few years. His views had been so extreme when he was young; everything had been either black or white. And then, as he got older, he began to compromise, gradually forsaking the extremes, gravitating towards the middle, until he was neither one thing nor the other. Anyway, whatever the novel’s flaws, he knew that he would never destroy the manuscript; it would be such a waste of all that effort, that perseverance.
When he opened the box and took out the manuscript, he noticed that some of the pages had lots of handwritten changes in blue pencil on them, while others were pristine, as if they had been freshly typed. He appeared to have manually revised the manuscript and to have been in the middle of retyping it when he stopped. He didn’t know why he hadn’t gotten round to finishing the job, but it was all in a bit of a mess now. And then he remembered. He reckoned that he must have been at least twenty-six when he set out to retype the manuscript. That was the time when his first child had been born. It was also about the time when he received his first major promotion at work. It was the time when life suddenly got busier, and when house and family and job all became far higher priorities than writing for pleasure. And it had gone on like that: event after event after event, one tumbling after the other, with no space between them, it seemed, no time to pause. Two more children followed. There were more promotions, bringing more responsibilities, more work. There was the break-up, the divorce, the new relationship with Alison, another marriage, a fresh start. He became the co-owner of a company. He worked day and night to make it succeed. Then he helped to sell the company, enabling him and Alison to retire. And there he was, in that retirement, sifting through the pages of a project from long ago, an unfinished project, a project interrupted.
That was when he decided to complete the job. He had lots of time on his hands now. He would tidy up the papers, retype the whole thing on his laptop and thereby preserve the manuscript. But he wouldn’t just retype it; he would edit it as well – not so much as to alter the text significantly, mind you, but soft editing to correct the grammar and to remove the worst excesses of his prose. In that way, if anyone read the manuscript after he was dead and gone, perhaps they wouldn’t think that it was too awful.
– o –