One of my apparent trademarks (labels), is a writer who writes about writers writing. It’s the party in my head, my depression, and making it my friend, so that I can talk to it. It’s teaching the teacher to teach. It’s telling a mirror it’s not a true reflection.
Such an exclusive and excluded way of life can reverse things, or turn a way of life inside-out. So I wrote a story in a story, about a writer writing about a writer, writing about a writer, writing about a recursive introvert within an extrovert…
THE GHOST JANITOR
I usually write at night, mostly ghost writing for other authors. This world was turned on its head recently, when I returned to my studio to find someone seated at my desk, writing on my typewriter.
I knew the man, Oskar. I’d met him at a writer’s retreat, and we had more in common than most, so we got talking. Oskar has what I don’t, and which I envy in him: a heart which knows nothing but love. He’s like a big, friendly dog.
“What are you writing?” I asked.
“Oh, sorry,” Oskar turned around, “I didn’t have anywhere to go, so I let myself in.”
Sometimes Oskar gets lost, so I gave him a key to use in emergencies (these things are subjective). He turned back and continued typing.
“So what’s making the transit from human to machine?”
“A stage play,” Oskar replied, “It’s about a stage writer, who’s also the cleaner at the theatre he writes for. The thing is, no-one knows about him. Nobody knows he’s a stage writer, or that he’s the cleaner. No-one even knows that he lives at the theatre.
“If it wasn’t for a stage door being left open one night, Oskar would be homeless. He goes unnoticed because he lives under the stage, only venturing out at night, to clean up after the cleaner.
“The cleaner employed by the theatre is an old lady, and she’s not very good. She spends most of her time smoking, drinking, and writing letters to her dead husband. Oskar knows this because he watches her from under the stage. Then when she goes home, he cleans the theatre so that it’s done nicely, and the cleaner keeps her job. It’s Oskar’s way of paying his keep.
“There’s an old typewriter in the theatre director’s office, which looks out over the stage. That’s where Oskar writes most nights. In this story, he’s writing a stage play when the director walks in on him, not in her office, but she sees him through her window on the stage. She notices the main spotlight is on, then she sees Oskar, holding his hands aloft and taking a bow before an invisible audience.
“She spots the paper in her typewriter, and puts it in an envelope. She goes down to the stage and asks Oskar what he’s doing, and he says he just switched the spotlight on to clean the stage. Then the director says, “I found this in my typewriter. I don’t remember writing it, so I wonder if I could leave it with you.” He asks her, why him. “Because I think you were looking for it,” the director replies, “and you’re the caretaker.”
“So Oskar takes care of it. After the director leaves, he finishes his stage play. It’s the story of an understudy, someone who stands in for actors on stage. One night, the actor playing his role is ill, so Oskar is given the part. It’s not the starring role, he’s just in a group at for the final musical number. Oskar can’t dance or sing, because he’s funny, like me, and he’s called Oskar, like me. But at the end of the show, the whole audience stands up and claps. Oskar gestures towards the rest of the cast, then raises his hands and takes a bow.
“No-one ever noticed Oskar, but he could write about people who could. He could create an audience. When he took that ovation, just for a moment, the whole world was Oskar’s.”
Oskar turned back to the screen. “So what do you think?”
“I think Oskar gave the story a happy ending, for himself and his audience.”
“And the theatre director,” Oskar said, typing again, “I’m just going to write an encore, for when Oskar comes back on stage.”
I left him to write while I got on with some cleaning. When I’d finished, Oskar was gone, back to wherever he lived whenever he wasn’t in my studio, which was every night but this one. He’d left an envelope on my desk. Inside was this story.
And Oskar had written his encore:
I wanted to call this story ‘Down, down,’ because it’s what’s inside me; a feeling that people duck when I’m talking to them, because I’m just a big, soft, pillow, stuffed with feathers, and they think I’m silly; and because in the end, the theatre audience liked him. I thought of calling it ‘Audience syndrome’. But I can’t play the lead role, because people will see me, which means the twist doesn’t work. But then if they just see me and not my syndrome, I’m the star. I can’t get the story out of the story. I’ll leave it up to you.
© Steve Laker, 2019