You’re like book ends, the pair of you…
I find ending things almost impossible. There is something so agonizingly finite about putting a final stop to something, a fullstop. Books, films, football matches, friendships, relationships, life – all have to end, to reach a final destination, a place to stop…forever.
Writing books is a thing that I consider that I can do reasonably well. Don’t take from that the impression that I am a great writer as that would be a lie. I write books as a way of proving to myself that I can capture or create a story and can then relate it back to unknown readers. I ‘get’ characters, plot-development and can throw the odd theme into the flames of creativity as well. What I can’t do is end a book properly. Endings are never satisfying as they mark the point where nothing else exists and beyond that ‘be dragons’.
As I write, I am grappling with an ending for my latest book. I’ve let it rest, stew, for a while, but still it won’t come. My protagonist is in a state of limbo and, as that protagonist is autistic, limbo is not a place that I want to leave him.
Here’s the ending so far:
I had to go back to the beginning, or somewhere near. The beginning was not at Sandham. I had moved from my school back into the home where my parents and my elder sister lived. We had a dog and Dad had another woman. She was the one who came to see him every day. She was the one who persuaded him to sleep in a different bedroom from Mum. And she was the one who probably persuaded him to leave.
Mum had gone silent. She would not speak to me, which was not so unusual, but she also would not speak to my sister.
“What’s your sister’s name?”
Why did they keep asking those stupid questions? My sister didn’t have a name, was just that thing that lived in her bedroom when I was not at school.
“What’s your sister’s name?”
It was the same question but with more insistence.
“Can you remember your sister’s name?”
“And why is she so important? Why should I remember her name? All she ever did was take my parents’ attention from me.”
“We need to put the pieces together so that you can resume your life. Piece by piece, we’ll get you back.”
It hadn’t occurred to me to question the identity of this questioning voice. All I remember thinking was that it was someone who was caring, a voice that had my best interests at heart. For some reason I was being treated as a jigsaw case, a puzzle that needed remaking. And the thing with puzzles, the jigsaw type, is that at least you get to see a picture of the thing that the completed puzzle is supposed to look like before you set off pushing any old piece together.
Dad had gone and I had a sister who never came out of her room. And Mum stopped calling me and the boys left the school, so I was left with what painters call a blank canvas. There was a wide old space around me that needed filling in, but I had never managed to master the art of art, the skill of painting that moved beyond the manic expulsions of primary colours onto any indifferent surface. I couldn’t even remember the name of the artist whose techniques I so readily followed.
“You need detail,” the voice said. “You can do all that messy stuff once you’ve mastered detail.”
“Is this an art lesson?”
“It’s a life lesson.”
I could not see but I thought that this new voice was one that had always been there.
“It’s a lesson about your life and how you can put the pieces back in place. It will not be possible to get you back into your life if you have no understanding of what that life looks like.”
I wanted to blurt out that I knew what it already looked like – it looked like Sandham.
“Sandham?” The caring voice questioned.
Yes, Sandham. Sandham was my school. It was where I spent my years of confusion, the years where I had no understanding of who I was and what the world was all about. Sandham had walls and it had long empty corridors and halls into which I could put my worries and fears. Outside, I could see the ancient tree that Had once been struck by lightning which sent its branches into a fury of flames. The tree that had been in the ground for hundreds of years. It had seen the passing of the dark ages, watched on as kings and queens grew their power beyond the edges of their control and then still further. It had seen the rise of machines and the coming of darkness once again, and still it lived on. The tree was there long before the school and it had stood sentinel over centuries which had come and gone with only the traces of their passing being left behind. The world came and went whilst the tree continued to grow. Only nature could halt it. And on the night of August 29th1976 the great drought of the summer came to an end. The rivers that had dried to their beds, the fields that had been deprived of moisture and the tarmac of the roads had melted, but on the Sunday of the last week of August, just as the sloth of bank holidays were approaching, the drought broke.
It came like all endings came, with a distant rumble and the a thunderous clap. The world transformed from endless summer into apocalyptic darkness that strode across the horizon with punishing speed. Before fear was able to step in, the storm enveloped the world. As with all events of this near-extinction level, the storm was of unreasoned ferocity – fire and flood were the instruments of choice, the great oak just served as a burning bush, a reminder of the powers that existed outside of man’s limited imagination. But after some time, the storm passed and the flames burnt themselves out. The tree stood dead but was still rooted. And it watched whilst others could not. And it waited until the boy came.
“Tell me about Sandham.”
The voice was pleasant and I found that my trust could be placed into it. I told everything that I thought I could remember.
“Do you remember anything before Sandham?”
I remembered my father leaving.
“Where did your father go?”
You know that fathers aren’t the only ones to leave.
“Tell us about it Dominic.”
I thought that she had got the name wrong. She had somehow confused me with somebody else, with my little companion, The Anti-Christ.
“Yes, Dominic went as well. He was with me in the school and we played lots of games. We broke into the caretaker’s office and found the keys for the kitchen. If we had not done that we would have both starved, I certain. He was funny until he became too dark. Then, he became really scary and he started setting fire to everything. He wanted to burn all the books in the Great Hall, start a fire that nothing could stop, burn the whole place down with both of us in it.”
“Are you afraid of Dominic?”
“At first, he was a welcome distraction, a diversion from the endless nothingness that resided in the school alongside me. He was more real than the boys who hid in their rooms, the thing at the end of the bed and the drum that kept banging when I woke.”
Yes, that’s what I first thought it was.