On Living Authors
by Leah Bobet
He says I'm a different man now; you knew nothing about me, and everything you knew is wrong. He says I was just twenty-nine then and now I'm forty-seven, and my dreams are forty-seven-year-old dreams. The man you loved so died, in a birthday, long ago, and I crawled out of his corpse arachnid and new-made: to follow different trails. I do not know his stories, and in truth, you don't want mine. There is a special pain for the writers who just stopped. Not death, or illness, or sharp calamity: but a long, slow drifting away from hearth and home, to walk rough forest trails that never lead you back. The readers, waiting, torn at your success, hearts cracked with thirst and envy, left unable to grieve. I know you have a family. I know you need to fill college funds, hearts, pantries with more than abstract praise. But please: creep down the steps, like we all did when we were new; when our nets cast out imperfectly and brought in weeds and clouds, and in the slime and softness sometimes, waiting, were our words; trailing like maps into the night, beyond our fingers, to the sea. Start, in those crannies, in whispering, again. Tell us a bedtime story. Tell us where you've been. He says it is no small enterprise to set out flatware for your own funeral, drape the mirrors, draw the blinds and slip out the back, fog-footed, before the rest come in to feast. Keep walking, past the gardens, past the rail tracks and ruined bridges, into the fields. Into the snow, where our tracks fill up with ghosts. Where winter eats words, numbs hands, freezes up our mouths. So you see, it is too late. I built my house anew. But my mouth's open. I swallowed you. I tasted your phrases like private ghosts and they seeped through my stomach and here— Here they come, through untutored hands like wingbeats, and don't tell me to write those feathered words myself because we both know it's not the same. One more. Oh, please; I'll ask for nothing else. Just tell us a story. Just tell us one more. He says I unpicked that language, stitch by stitch, from the corners of my mouth: unlearned its stops and roundings to make way for something new. Let's level: I am not dead; you're selfish, clinging to a thing that never was. So read again, O careful reader: Day is coming. Magic's ebbing. Things don't go back to the way they were. Climb the bridge and face that void; stand the door and face your nothings; dig the grave and face its body; (But—) Face it. Turn around. But— she says, sword-cut, sliced through, words spilled like spiders down her arms, her hands cupped empty, open like wings. My soul, she says. My soul.
Leah Bobet's first novel, Above, was nominated for the 2013 Andre Norton Award and the 2013 Aurora Award. She lives in Toronto, Ontario, where she edits Ideomancer Speculative Fiction, picks urban apple trees, and works as a bookseller and civic engagement activist. Her second novel, On Roadstead Farm—a literary dustbowl fantasy where things blow up—will appear from Clarion Books (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) in late 2014.
At the time of this writing, Leah was reading Ross Macdonald's The Name is Archer.
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