She sat at the computer and stared at the screen in front of her. Who to make the hero this time, who the villain? What meagre aspect of her normal life could she twist out of all resemblance to reality. What curl of drudgery could she wow them with this time? She was fed up with it, sick and bone tired, of being always expected to come out with something new. Or with something old, just dressed over to look different. How much of her life could she stand to see put down in print on a page, how much of her past pain would these people swallow before they realised that it was all false?
There was only so many times she could see the look in her friend’s eyes as they read her words. She didn’t want to watch any more. The thrill of seeing tears brim had faded quickly to revolt that she was shaming them so. What right did she, to tell of the pain so publicly? The days of wishing she could stand and scream on the rooftops had gone, along with the days of waiting on a miracle to end it all.
She did it by stealth, let little bits of her truth filter out, hidden in a flood of fiction. Those that cared, knew; knew what she did. She shamed them by revealing in public all those little failures that had built up into the biggest of all. Her failure to be what they had wanted her to be.
She didn’t want it any more, that knowledge of what she was doing to them, those she loved. She couldn’t even love them enough to stop, because she kept going. After all, her public expected it, waited for it. The days when she could be silent for months at a time, her fingers moving over the keyboard for nothing but work were gone. This was her work now. Now she spent her days using her pen to dig away at the scabs of normalcy, till her full strangeness lay revealed for those who chose to see it.
What had turned her down this path? No therapy had spawned this version. No guidance counsellor suggested the pen as alternative to the razor. When had the sweet girl become bitter? Her cynicism – British humour, or neurochemical glitch? Whatever had happened, this wasn’t the truth or the reality, no matter how many journalists she told it was.
It was a fine line, the distinction between author-public, and suicide-private, but it was there if you took the care, and just enough people were left to know where to look. In the past she’d tried for a full-scale abandonment, but one or two had clung on, like so many barnacles. Unnoticeable till she tried to run, and then they caused enough drag to make the difference between clear get away, and guilt-ridden confrontation.
She kept saying to them, telling them to back away, that she didn’t want them around. But still, no matter what her desires, they knew best. It actually made them proud to read her latest work. Thrilled them a little bit when they could trace the arc of reality through the space-battles, or relate a minor character to some mundane feature of a life she no longer wanted.
Tell me what to do to make it right. Tell me what to do to make the voices stop, to make the pain go away, to make it all clear.
She was tired, shattered, beaten, worn down, and they didn’t even see. Those who professed to love her best didn’t see that she was being slowly buried alive under their expectations. She knew what they wanted for her, and it was so simple, which made it so much worse. She couldn’t even live up to their one simple request. Be happy. Two words, three syllables, a rush of endorphins…
The crucial switch in her head was stuck on “off”.
Long ago she had taken to writing it down because, on the page, or on the screen, something of the incomprehensibility faded, and she was able to see patterns. She had discovered her gift at the same time as the assorted transmitters in her brain had decided to take a few decades in vacation. Her gift, when she chose to look at it like that, was that she could also make other people see the patterns. There was something wonderfully gothic about the way that she could make other people understand what was going on in her head better than she herself could.
All they had ever wanted for her and she’d failed at it. But she was good at things, good at this. So she somehow managed to translate the randomness in her head into prose people enjoyed, but that wasn’t living. She made money, but so did street-sweepers. Not everyone could write the shit they saw behind their eyes, and not, it seemed, everyone, could be happy.
Tell me what to say and I will say it to you, I will do it for you, I will burn this house down. I will burn us to the ground.