May 22, 2011
When boundaries fade
Paul Edmunds had become a writer by default. It was a coping mechanism first suggested by his psychiatrist when, months after the tragic death of Paul's wife, Hannah, on a winter night of snow and ice, his psyche was threatening to refuse treatment and, instead, go to a place of endless sorrow and regret.
“I bought you this,” said Dr. Young and produced a neat, small notebook with its own pen attached in a narrow, fabric pocket.
Paul sighed as though the thought of movement – heaving his body forward to receive the offered notebook – was too much of a burden to bare. His hand extended and then he studied the book lackadaisically.
“What am I supposed to do with this?” His response, had his depression not been so evident, would have sounded peevish and child-like.
“You are to write in it, Paul,” said Dr. Young, smiling mildly.
“I don't know how to write,” resisted Paul. Dr. Young chuckled.
“It doesn't have to be 'art', Paul. It's to begin a dialogue with yourself and with your mind so that you see better where you are.”
“You mean, so I understand that my wife is dead?” Paul placed the book on the cushioned seat beside him, mentally discarding it.
“I think I already got that.”
“I know that, Paul.” Dr. Young frowned for a moment and continued.
“It's not so much about the past but about what you are feeling and thinking now. It will help to get that out in the open so we can discuss it better.”
“I don't have anything to say,” said Paul, petulant.
“You have a lot to say, Paul. All you need to do is start saying it.”
And he did.
He filled up the notebook, astounding himself at each sitting with the bitterness that emerged. He filled a second notebook and his outlook began to improve. He wrote often of his loneliness for his wife but, in time, that sentiment morphed into a bitter-sweet longing – its painful, cutting edge dulled to an ache. He began to heal.
Three years later, no one had been more surprised than he when, after some initial positive feedback from peers, one of his short stories was published in a local magazine. Others followed and gradually, while maintaining his career as a human resources manager, he became a reasonably well-known writer of short fiction.
Paul sat happily at his computer and the keys clicked violently under his rapidly moving fingers. Just beyond the raised lid of the laptop, a picture of his wife gazed, smiling, from a silver frame and, now and again, he smiled back or made some comment to her about what he was writing.
He didn't know why but, as he had cast about searching for a genre that interested and suited him, he had found himself drawn to 'gothic horror' but he also dabbled elsewhere. It was the heavy, dark atmosphere of 'gothic' along with the pervasive sense of melancholy, not unlike a night of heavy fog in Victorian London or grief for a lost loved one, that, for him, made the scenes so rich and pregnant with a sense of impending catastrophe. However, instead of period pieces set in London, Paul enjoyed the rugged, Atlantic coast of Canada's Newfoundland where there was the additional advantage, under rain and cloud, of the constantly pounding surf against precipitous cliffs plunging into the sea. One could, he felt, almost smell the sea-foam and hear the crashing waves.
At present, his character, Vivianne, had arrived in St. Luc-sul-Pointe from Montral to the isolated home of her grandmother only to find the house deserted and having the appearance of not being occupied for years even though she had spoken to her grandmother by phone just days before. After being dropped, under an insistent sleet, by the taxi which then turned and fled back to the small, coastal hamlet two kilometres away, Vivianne, in the waning light of day, soaked and shivering, had gained access to house and, finding no phone or electricity, proceeded to explore by candle-light. Later, exhausted and distraught over the disappearance of her grandmother, Vivianne had fallen asleep, lulled by the sound of waves and patter of rain, in the high-peeked, upstairs bedroom situated beneath the widow's walk.
Paul had arrived to a point of giving poor Vivianne some nightmares, waking suddenly and hearing the metallic squeak of the bedroom doorknob turning. He carefully chose words and description, the sentences alternating long and short in imitation of breathing or a heartbeat. He pictured Vivianne jolting upright in bed, her hand pressed to her breast and her eyes wide in the darkness, with the squeak of the turning doorknob driving daggers of terror into her.
There was a loud click and Paul's head jerked to the left. The door-handle of his apartment, visible beyond the length of the living room, slowly returned to its rest position.
“What the Hell?”
Paul launched himself from his seat and, arriving at the front door, put his eye to the peep-hole. Beyond, the hallway was deserted. He threw back the bolt and flipped the door block, opened the heavy door and stuck his head into the hallway. Looking in both directions, he could see no evidence that someone had been there – much less, trying his door. Paul shook his head, closed and locked the door.
“I must have just imagined it,” he proposed, “- autosuggestion.”
Still, returning through the living room to his computer, it seemed strange to him that such a thing could happen and, sitting again, he remarked on how, while oblivious in his writing, the weather had deteriorated. The sky had grown dark and low and even the overhead, hanging, reading lamp above his computer seemed to lack the energy to cast its light into the room.
“I thought it was supposed to be sunny and beautiful today,” he commented amidst a patter of wind-driven rain against the windows. He glanced at the picture of his wife and she smiled back. An idea – an experiment – was forming in his mind and a chill of trepidation ran down his spine to then nestle in his groin.
Soon after beginning his journaling, Paul had discovered the power of words to evoke a response and create a world – a universe – in the mind of the reader. He remarked on his own words, the ones he had written in the first journal, and their ability to return him to the state of hopelessness and loss in which he had formerly existed. He knew also how others – his readers online and in print – complimented him on the sense of depth in his stories; the sense that not only was the story true but the reader became personally involved with the characters and situations. Why not, he reasoned, take that a step further?
He opened a new document and began to very carefully peck out the words, describing his own surroundings, himself and the tempest that now blew outside. The day grew darker and the world beyond the balcony disappeared in mist and rain. He implied his own tension by choice of word, perceiving the stuttering motion of his hands and clenched jaws.
'The wind howled, sending a chill of apprehension through Paul's body and a gale of rain against the windows. A knock came at the door, heavy and foreboding.'
Paul jumped and looked toward the door which, in the semi-darkness, appeared far away as at the extent of a long corridor. The sound which caused him to start had mirrored that which he wrote – a single knock.
'The knock came again and Paul rose, daring to hope amidst his fear that it might be true. Arriving behind the door, his breath came in short gasps and his skin crawled.
- Hannah? His voice was barely a whisper.'
From the hallway there was a croaked response.
Paul stood, trembling and scarcely able to move. He became aware of a thick odour of decomposition but, at the door, he was already fumbling with the lock.