I have started work on a novel and I would very much appreciate your feedback on Chapter 1.
The idea I am wanting to explore is what happens when a man who has tried to isolate himself late in life starts to lose track of what is real and what is recalled and where the boundaries lie in between. He doesn’t think he’s mad or demented but he feels like he is living in a personal world where ‘truth’ is becoming elusive and he wonders whether that even matters anymore. And then the Police start asking questions about him.
If you have the time, it would help me greatly if you could give me your thoughts on:
- Does this sound like the premise of a novel you might want to read?
- Does Alex sound like someone who could be a real person?
- How would you interact with someone like Alex if you met him?
Alex had food in the house and he had less money than he did yesterday and he remembered Annie at the shop apologising for having to give him so many coins in his change. So he reasoned he must have gone shopping and talked to a real person.
It was increasingly important to Alex to have these reference points, these anchors, when he was navigating the world. As long as he could keep saying real things to the Anchors, it wouldn’t matter what he said to the Memories, all of whom had been real once but not any more. At least not tangibly.
The problem was how to tell the Anchors from the Memories. Not that he spoke to each of them differently; his brusque personality had been cemented long ago and he grew more impatient with what he perceived as stupidity with each passing day. Although sometimes he was not really sure whether a day or even several days had passed.
It was sufficient to Alex’s purposes that he believed he was alive and could appear sufficiently coherent, if a tad absent-minded, to Anchors. As for Memories, they could suit themselves.
His soul-grinding fear was that ‘They’ would put him away in some sort of institution one day. Who ‘They’ might be amongst the Anchors shifted constantly, usually prompted by a question he found suspicious. And he wasn’t sure whether the Memories had some way of communicating with the Anchors.
He didn’t believe he was mad or demented as much as disconnected from constants and attachments, which in his more reflective moments he conceded could be seen as madness by some. So he needed to be watchful and that seemed like a cruel and unusual punishment for a man who simply wanted to be left alone.
The postie, Brian, was an Anchor. Alex knew that because he had a new joke each day and because Brian delivered letters that Alex could touch and read again later. Tangible objects were greatly reassuring when he needed to get his bearings and to demonstrate to visitors of all sorts that he hadn’t lost the plot (whatever that might be). He would slip in a reference to his niece who lived in America and sent him postcards occasionally and say ‘The latest is on the table, have a look if you like’.
Annie at the shop was an Anchor. She was a vegetarian and gently chided him on not buying sufficient fruit and veg every time he shopped but she was kind and was never nosey about his past. Unlike Memory people.
Recently, Simone, his ex-wife, came visiting and wanted to know what the hell he was doing out here in the sticks. She hadn’t come for money; she knew he didn’t have any. She had come for what she called ‘facts’, things she needed to know to ‘resolve her feelings’, things that were stopping her from ‘being at peace with her past’.
Simone said ‘Where is she?’ Alex didn’t reply. ‘That puppy-eyed slag that you left me for. Or has she already woken up to you and buggered off?’
Alex sighed and said ‘I’ve told you before, I didn’t leave you for anyone. I simply left you because I knew you didn’t love me anymore and had stopped trying to disguise it. And what was left of the Catholic in you would never contemplate the embarrassment of divorce, so I moved on, hoping to end my days in peace.’
‘Liar’ Simone hissed. ‘I stuck with you through thick and thin and then you ran off with a piece of ego-boosting arm candy, you selfish bastard.’
‘Any other ‘facts’ I can help you with?’ Alex said drily.
Simone’s eyes narrowed. ‘Did you ever come on to my sister? She says you did one night when you were both pissed.’
‘For me to come on to that harridan, I was probably so pissed that it’s unlikely that I would remember. So perhaps you can chalk that up as a fact. Naughty Alex. Happy now?’ He paused. ‘Of course not. Because you don’t believe it either.’
Alex stood and said ‘I’m tired. I need to go to bed. Please leave.’
Simone laughed. ‘You’re already in bed, you idiot. That’s when I always come to you. Yes, I’ll go and leave that mess to rot in your head. Good luck sleeping.’ And then she wasn’t there. Alex knew because he couldn’t smell her perfume. Odours were Anchors too.
At least Simone was vaguely manageable, unlike Barry. Petty, vindictive, professional martyr Barry. Barry liked to come early in the evening, before he passed out drunk. When he was a purported Anchor in the hazy past, he would ring and accuse Alex of heinous sins, like leaving skidmarks in his toilet bowl when he last visited. He would then trot out a litany of good deeds he had done for Alex in the past for which he had received not an ounce of gratitude. Not one.
When Alex moved to the country he blocked Barry’s calls and he had a few years of blessed relief from Barry confessing all of Alex’s sins. But the snarky old dipsomaniac must have finally shuffled off the mortal coil and felt free to visit whenever he liked.
‘You’re a prick, Alex. You need to know that.’
‘How could I forget, Barry, when I have you to constantly remind me.’
‘Don’t come the smartarse with me, mate. When you and Simone split up, Jane and I were there for you. Listened to all your woes, fed you, let you drink our cellar dry, let you sleep for days.’
‘As I recall, I paid in full with your eternal patronising contempt and snide remarks about the shallowness of my achievements.’
‘You always were an arrogant tosser. All that talk about overseas travel and saving the world, as though Jane and I were nothing and nobodies.’
‘Well, if that’s how you saw it, then perhaps you were. And are. Good night, Barry. Don’t try to visit again. I’ve erased you. You’re no longer even a Memory.’
And Barry disintegrated in the failing evening light.
The next day (was it the next day?), Alex was in his otherwise arid garden, digging up soil and adding compost and fertiliser and thinking how pleased Annie would be, when the wheels began to fall off his always shaky wagon.
He met Brian at the letterbox and, instead of the daily joke, Brian said ‘A couple of detectives came into the Post Office looking for you yesterday. We had to tell ‘em where you lived. Naturally.’
‘So, what do ya think that might have been about?’
‘I don’t know, Brian.’
‘Just seems a bit odd. Have they come to see you yet?’
Alex thought carefully about how he should answer the question before he replied ‘Maybe. I went fishing yesterday so they might have called when I was out. If they did, they didn’t leave a card.’
As Brian drove off, Alex thought it was Brian who was doing the fishing.