Dreams of Edith

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Other  |  House: Booksie Classic
When Carl, an aspiring author, moved into the flat on Edith Grove he had no idea how big an impact his time there would have on his life. The memories of those days would stay with him forever.

Submitted: April 29, 2019

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Submitted: April 29, 2019

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I first met Marlon Singer when I moved into the flat on Edith Grove. He opened the door with notepad and pen in hand, and a far away look in his eye.

‘Yeah?’

‘I’m Carl.’ I said.

‘Well, hello, Carl. What can I do for you?’

I lifted my suitcase.

‘The landlord, Mr Richards, should have mentioned I was moving in today.’

‘Right. You’re that Carl.’ He grinned. ‘Come on in.’

He tucked the pad and pen into his shirt pocket. He turned and headed down the hallway. I scooped up my typewriter and hurried after him. As we reached the bottom of the wooden staircase he paused and offered a hand.

‘I’m Marlon, by the way.’

I gestured that I didn’t have a free hand to shake. He laughed and gave me a playful dig on the arm. He had this cool air about him that I just couldn’t explain, I still can’t. Like me, he was in his early twenties, but he just had this confident way about him. Trying to explain Marlon’s vibe is like trying to describe a Miles Davis trumpet solo or how an Edward Hopper painting makes you feel. You can try but you’re never going to capture that spirit, that essence, that energy.

‘I’ll show you to your room.’

We trudged up the creaking staircase to the third floor. He swung open the door on a small boxish room. The ceiling sloped as we were on the top floor. There was a desk in front of the window. I tossed my case on the bed and gently placed my typewriter down on the desk. Marlon hovered in the doorway.

‘Are you a writer?’ he asked.

‘I write stories. I’m working on a novel.’

‘That’s jazz, man.’

‘What about you? Do you write?’

‘I am a poet.’ He flung his arms out wide.

‘Oh wow, have you had anything published?’

‘Alas, the world is yet to recognise my genius.’

‘You and me both.’ I laughed.

He pulled a pack of cigarettes from his pocket. He tossed a cigarette to his lips and lit it using a silver lighter. He took a long drag. He exhaled, blowing the blue smoke to the ceiling. Framed in the doorway, in the cigarette smoke, in his rolled shirt sleeves, baggy trousers and scuffed shoes, he looked every inch the poet. If I were a poet and not merely a storyteller, I would try and capture him in verse. As it is, my descriptions will have to suffice.

Marlon was just jazz. That expression would come to mean anything cool, hip, beat, just jazz.

‘We should throw a party to celebrate your arrival.’

‘Yeah,’ I shrugged. ‘sure.’

‘I’ll make a few calls. You’re gonna dig my friends.’

He clapped his hands excitedly before rushing out of the room. He raced down the stairs singing to himself. Finally alone in my new room I shrugged out of my jacked and tugged my tie loose a couple of inches. As I set about unpacking my case I could hear the muffled sound of Marlon on the hallway telephone. He chatted away about the party he was throwing. He declared to his friends that they ‘were really gonna dig my new housemate.’ I laughed to myself. He was a real character. I hung my clothes up and stacked my books neatly on the shelf. With my row of books in place and my typewriter set up, it felt like home.

I lit a cigarette and dropped into the hard-backed chair at the desk. I fed a sheet of paper into the jaws of the typewriter. Putting a fresh page into the machine always felt special no matter how many times I’d done it. for me the fresh paper was like untouched snow on Christmas morning. Just where would my footprints take me this time? The words descended like a fog. I was soon lost in  a world of my own creation.

I was disturbed from my writing by noise from downstairs. From the sound of animated voices, laughter and music, I gathered Marlon’s party had started. I changed into a fresh shirt and tie, threw on a jacket and left my room. The second I stepped out onto the landing I was right in the middle of the party. I mean it was right there. The landing was full of people, it was like a rush-hour train carriage. The stairway was crammed. People lined the stairs, sitting and standing. The air was thick with cigarette smoke. A woman offered me smoke. I took the French cigarette. She gave me a seductive smile as she lit it for me. I nodded, thanks.

The talk seemed to be mostly of art, poetry and poets. One guy in a black turtleneck read his own composition from a small notebook. I noticed that despite the hour, and the only light coming from the bare bulb overhead, a lot of the revellers were wearing sunglasses. They all looked to be in their twenties, and all seemed to have an effortlessly cool artistic vibe about them. I found myself wondering how they all knew each other, how they met? Was there an advert in the newspaper for cool, happening cats? Maybe there was a poetry group? Maybe a jazz club?

I pushed my way through and wound my way down the stairs. I stopped saying excuse me every two seconds as I waded through the sea of people. The house was just packed. I went into the rooms on each floor. The three storey house was full of these beautiful people. Jazz music pulsed through the house. It was as though the building itself was alive. I couldn’t see the record players or anyone turning the LPs over but the throbbing jazz beat was relentless. And again in every room, despite the lamp and candle-glow casting long shadows, a lot of the people wore sunglasses.

When I’d arrived earlier that day the house had seemed like any other building. Now, though, with the party in full swing, it was like I was in some multi-storey hip jazz club. Each room on each floor was buzzing with such energy. In one room a woman with long dark hair, dressed completely in black, placed a hand on my chest. She stared at me with such intensity.

‘Do you have sixpence?’ she asked.

‘What for?’ I asked.

‘If you give me sixpence I will let you hammer an imaginary nail in an imaginary wall.’ she purred.

‘Thanks for the offer, but I think I’ll leave it.’

As I turned away a thin man in round wire glasses said he’d give her an imaginary sixpence.

I found Marlon in the next room. He was speaking to a group of people about a French film he’d seen recently. They listened closely as he explained about the complexities of European cinema. When he saw me he stopped speaking. He pointed a hand, cigarette in his fingers.

‘This is the feller I’ve been telling you about. This is my new housemate, Carl.’ He beamed.

I didn’t know quite what I’d done to impress Marlon so, he really did seem to think quite highly of me. Maybe he liked that I was I was a writer, a feller struggling artist. He threw an arm around my shoulder.

‘Carl is writing a novel.’

I was suddenly the focus of the room’s attention. They coo’d and called out encouraging words. I felt like I was holding a book signing for a novel I hadn’t even bloody completed. A guy with a goatee beard and glasses raised his hand.

‘What’s your novel about?’

I thought for a moment before answering.

‘It’s about four hundred pages.’

The room erupted into laughter.

‘Come on, Carl.’ said Marlon. ‘Let’s grab a beer.’

As we squeezed through the revellers I gave Marlon a nudge.

‘How do you know all these people?’

I had to shout to be heard about the jazz music and the chatter.

‘The universe brought us all together, man, just like it brought us together.’

We shoved our way into the kitchen. A woman in a flowing white gown was reciting a Rimbaud poem in the original French. Marlon yanked open the fridge, the yellow light illuminating his features. He reached in and grabbed two bottles of beer. Kicking the fridge door shut, he twisted the caps off both bottles and tossed the caps to the floor. He handed me a bottle, clinking the neck of his against mine, cheers.

We went outside into the backyard. The narrow yard was empty and quiet. I sighed in the darkness. I was glad of the chance to catch my breath and get away from the bohemian chaos of the party. The night was cool and dark. I took a swig of beer. Marlon was watching me, grinning. He waved his bottle in the direction of the house and the continuing party.

‘You dig my friends, then?’

‘They’re cool.’ I said. ‘You know a lot people. Are you close to all of them?’

The smile on his lips flickered. He shivered, I sensed not from the cold.

‘Am I close to them? What does that even mean? Who is honestly close to anyone?’

I took a gulp of beer and looked at the stars overhead. For a while we stood there in silence, leaning against the brickwork, drinking our beer, looking up at the Milky Way. Maybe Marlon, as eager as he had been to throw the party, needed to take a breather now and again too. I wondered how many people in the room had seen this quiet, sensitive side of him. Perhaps for a lot of the people he knew only saw the outgoing hip side. I felt honoured that he’d let his guard down with me. We had a connection, somehow, despite only having known each other a very short time.

‘I think,’ I said eventually, ‘that I’m gonna enjoy living here.’ 

He downed the last of his beer and jerked a thumb at the backdoor.

‘Are you ready?’

I nodded.

Back in the busy house I lost sight of Marlon almost instantly. He disappeared as he drifted off among his vast number of friends. I helped myself to another bottle from the fridge. I tossed the cap to the floor the way Marlon had. I crossed the packed kitchen, taking a mouthful of beer. I felt the beer having an effect. The house party now had a kind of funfair quality about it and the walls swayed gently in time with the music.

In the crowded hallway one guy stood out. He was the coolest cat in the place. He had a striped t-shirt and sunglasses. I waded over to him.

‘Hey.’ I said. ‘I’m Carl.’

‘Ellis.’ He said.

‘What’s your story, man?’

‘I’m an artist.’

‘Aren’t we all?’ I laughed.

‘I’m a painter.’ He explained. ‘I work primarily with prints.’

I nodded, letting him continue.

‘My latest work was prints of baked bean cans.’

‘Why baked beans?’

‘I wanted to make the point that every day life in art. Tooth paste is art, bus stop is art. Baked beans is art. The question is why not baked beans. Besides, everyone likes beans.’

‘Have you sold many?’

‘It would seem that people don’t like baked beans that much. And you, what’s your story?’

‘I just moved in.’

‘You’re the novelist?’

‘That’s right.’

‘Remember me when you hit the big time. I could illustrate your book.’

‘It wont have illustrations.’

‘I’ll do the cover, then. I’m assuming your masterpiece will have a front cover.’

‘What do you have in mind? A tin of baked beans?’

‘Carl, you read my mind.’

The rest of the evening was a jazzy blur. I drank a few more beers, talked to a few more interesting people.

 

I woke the next morning with the familiar punch-in-the-face hangover. My head hurt and my ears were still ringing from the loud music and shouted chatter of the night before. I tugged on my trousers and threw on a shirt. With my head still throbbing I padded barefoot downstairs. Considering the party of a few hours earlier the place was surprisingly tidy. No glasses and bottles littering the tables and shelves. Even the ashtrays had been emptied. I wondered if Marlon had hired a post-party cleaner to tidy up.

Marlon was in the kitchen. He was sweeping the floor with a hard brush.

‘You’re up early.’ I said.

‘I’m up late.’

‘How so?’

‘I haven’t been to bed yet.’ Before I could answer he went on. ‘We need breakfast.’

‘Breakfast? If you haven’t been to bed, you need supper.’

‘It’s past dawn, man. Time for breakfast. I don’t make the rules.

I flopped into a chair at the table while Marlon grabbed a frying pan.

‘What are you up to today?’

‘I’ve got writing to do. It’s flowing well right now. I want to get it down.’

‘There’s an exhibition at the Lowry gallery. We should go.’

‘I really have to work.’

He span on his heels, to face me, waving his spatula, a serious look on his face.

‘How about this, we go to the gallery late this afternoon? You can work until then. And you’ll probably be ready for a break by then anyway.’

‘Agreed. We’ll go this afternoon. That will be fine. I tend to do my best work at night.’

He turned back to the frying pan.

‘The writer is a nocturnal animal.’ He said.

‘I always have been. I always write at night. Some nights I can’t sleep for the ideas in my head. What about you? When do you work on your poems?’

‘I write when the Muse speaks to me. She doesn’t keep regular hours.’

He scraped the burnt bacon and eggs out onto plates. He plonked them down on the table and poured coffee into chipped mugs. I took a sip of coffee. It hit the spot. Despite being chargrilled the breakfast was surprisingly tasty. Maybe it was the hangover. Maybe a fried sock would go down okay in my current condition.

 

We rushed up the steps to the gallery, eager to get out of the lashing rain, our long overcoats flapping out behind us like capes. As we neared the top I lost my footing. One moment I was racing up the steps, the next I was tumbling through the air. I hit the steps hard. I swore. I got to my feet, hands stinging.

‘Carl, you really are an embarrassment.’ laughed Marlon.

‘Me? You’re the one standing there in the pouring rain wearing sunglasses.’

We stood there laughing in the driving rain. With my hands still throbbing we went through double doors and into the hush of the gallery. The guy behind the desk tutted as we shook the rain from our coats. I trailed behind Marlon as he went up to the desk. The man brushed his moustache and glared at us over his reading glasses.

‘Well?’

‘Yeah, I’m fine thanks. How’s your day going?’

The man said nothing.

‘Two for the gallery, my good man.’

The guy slapped a leaflet about the exhibition in to  Marlon’s hand. He shoved it in his hand like a parking ticket.

‘Thank you, kindly.’ Marlon chirped.

We dripped along the white corridor and in to the first exhibition room.

We worked our way along the walls, studying each spot-lit painting. We discussed and debated, deciding if the work was any good. Marlon and I would stand in front of each artwork, arms folded, deep in concentration. If the piece was particularly outstanding Marlon would click his fingers, just jazz.

‘Marlon!’ a voice called out from behind us.

We turned to see a woman walking towards us. She had shoulder-length dark brown hair and wore dark glasses. I smiled to myself, unsure why I was suddenly the odd one out for not wearing sunglasses.

‘Joyce, my dear, how are you?’

As she replied she kissed him on both cheeks.

‘Oh, I’m struggling on.’ She purred.

She tilted here head in my direction, like a dog waiting for a treat.

‘And just who is this?’

‘Carl,’ Marlon said. ‘this is Joyce. She’s a writer too. Carl is working on a novel.’

‘Really? How fascinating. How is that working out for you?’

‘It’s going really well, in fact, it’s almost finished.’

‘Great art is never really finished.’

‘What do you write?’ I asked.

‘From the heart, Carl, from the heart.’

As we strolled to the next painting Joyce hovered at my elbow.

‘What’s with the shades?’

I pointed to her sunglasses.

‘They help me see the world the way it really is.’

We moved on to the next painting. Even with the glasses obscuring her features there was something captivating about here. I must admit the connection and attraction was there almost instantly. And I sensed it was mutual. I had thought that living with Marlon would be interesting but I’d had no idea that the interest would become romantic. We went to view a landscape picture. We studied the artwork, Joyce in between me and Marlon, deep in thought. Joyce chewed on a thumbnail. That was the moment I knew I was smitten with her. She smiled at me, raising an eyebrow over her glasses.

We pushed through the doors and back outside. Darkness had fallen and the streets were bathed in an orange streetlight glow. Joyce lit a cigarette. In the streetlight, cigarette dangling from her lips, and the dark glasses, she looked like a French film star.

Marlon had clearly been inspired by the artwork we’d seen. His eyes were wide and his smile even more crazed than usual. He took a lungful of night air and sighed.

‘Art is good for the soul.’ He declared.

‘Dear boys,’ Joyce said. ‘It’s time I was leaving.’

She leaned in and gave Marlon a smoky kiss on the cheek. She paused in front of me. She pulled down her shades, giving me a glimpse of those deep green eyes.

‘Goodbye Carl.’ She whispered.

My heart pounded as I watched her stride away into the night. I could hardly catch my breath.

‘Do you think she likes me?’ I blurted out.

‘Joyce likes everyone.’ Marlon said. ‘Come on, you’ve got writing to do.’

We drifted through the darkness heading for home.

 

Back home Marlon curled up in an armchair with a book that looked older than the house. I mumbled that it was time for me to get to work. He didn’t reply, already lost in the words. It was time for me to do the same. I went up to my room. I clicked on the desk-lamp, my writing space was now lit like the smallest stage in the world. What would tonight’s performance be?

I sat down at the typewriter like a pianist in front of ivory keys. And the words started to flow. I smoked endless cigarettes as I pounded the keys. I was soon shrouded in smoke and a world of my own making. This could be another of those evenings where it was story, and not sleep that nourished me.

In the wee hours there was a knock at my door.

‘Hey Marlon.’ I called. ‘Door’s open.’

My housemate poked his head around the door.

‘How’s it coming along, man?’

‘I’m on fire.’

He recited a poem about spindrift pages and moonlight.

‘Beautiful words, man.’ I said.

‘I’ll make a poet of you yet.’

And then he was gone, closing the door behind him. I turned back to my novel and my characters stepped out of the shadows.

 

Just after midday the next day the front door bell rang. Marlon was out on some random errand or other, so I went to answer the door. I just hoped it was a door-to-door salesman and not one of Marlon’s eccentric friends. I didn’t feel up to making small talk. For me, worlds always came easier when written, rather than spoken. I forced a smile on my face and opened the door.

Standing on the doorstep wearing a navy blue beret and dark glasses was Joyce.

‘Good morning, Carl.’

‘It’s afternoon,’ I laughed.

‘I haven’t been up long, dear.’

I showed her through to the kitchen. As I made the coffee I asked what plans she had for the day.

‘That’s the reason for the call. I have tickets for Macbeth at the Exchange theatre.’

‘Sounds cool,’ I said. ‘but Marlon is out. I’m not sure what time he’ll be back.’

‘I wasn’t asking Marlon.’  She smiled.

I felt my cheeks burn red.

‘Yeah, I mean, sure, the two of us could go. That’s if you don’t mind.’ I managed.

 

We met outside the theatre at eight o’clock. When I’d mentioned to Marlon about my date with Joyce he had feigned disinterest and simply muttered that he was sure we’d both have a good time. I don’t remember much about the play but I do recall having a flutter in my stomach during the second half when Joyce took my hand in hers.

That was the start of my fling with Joyce. Over the next few months I grew close to her and also close to Marlon. He became like a brother to me. The three of us were just so tight. They really were golden days. Joyce would often appear unannounced, often in the middle of the night. She would spend a few days with me. We’d listen to jazz records and drink wine and talk. I would read out bits of my novel while she sat, eyes closed, wrapped in my words. We would catch foreign films at a tiny picture house in town. Marlon would come along. We would march along, a defiant trio, taking on the world, arms linked.

Joyce would inevitably disappear for days at a time. I got used to it. Marlon said she was like a cat going out at night. And in Joyce’s absence Marlon and I would live like the artists we were. We would read the classics, recite poetry, howl at the moon. We would go on pub crawls around the city’s dingiest ale houses. By closing time we’d be completely drunk and convinced of our genius and the idiocy of the world for failing to recognise it. Looking back now, I don’t think I’d ever been as happy as I was right then.

One evening I went to Ringo’s, a hip little jazz club in town. A trio were playing that I’d been dying to see. I got myself a drink and found a free spot in a corner of the bar. Then I saw her. Joyce was sitting across from me. She was with a man. The way they were sitting beside each other told me they were intimate. Her hand rested on his in a way that told me everything I needed to know. I felt sick. At that moment she saw me. She smiled at me, a sweet, sorry, sad smile.

I turned and pushed my way out of the club. On the street I paced up and down and tried to catch my breath. I couldn’t believe it. Joyce appeared a moment later. She looked concerned.

‘I didn’t mean to upset you, Carl.’

‘I can’t believe this. Do I mean nothing to you?’

‘Of course you do.’

‘But what we have means nothing?’

‘I am very fond of you, Carl, but it was never anything serious.’

‘It was to me.’ I replied, louder and harsher than I intended.

‘Dear boy.’ She said.

I raised a hand, just don’t.

 

Back in the house on Edith Grove I headed straight for the whiskey. Marlon came through to the kitchen. He was still carrying the book he’d been engrossed in.

‘Are you okay, Carl?’

I shook my head. Poured another large measure.

‘Joyce.’ I stammered. ‘I thought we had something.’

He tossed his book down on the table. He eyed me with sympathy.

‘That’s Joyce. She’s a free spirit.’ He shrugged apologetically.

‘That’s one way of putting it.’ I muttered.

He placed a hand gently on my shoulder. I raised the bottle and told him to get himself a glass.

And so, the brief fling with Joyce over, Marlon and I resumed our artistic, bohemian life. We would prowl the museums, café’s and galleries of the city. We would tour libraries, reading from thick volumes. I would stay up almost all night, typing away furiously. Hunched over the keys, smoking cigarettes, sipping whiskey, I poured out my soul onto the endless ream of blank pages.  While I was seeing Joyce, my head and heart were not focused on my writing. I now took to the page with a renewed gusto. And the completion of my novel neared. It was as though I was running the last mile of a marathon. I continued, exhausted, with the finish line in sight.

 

One day, around noon, Marlon came in to my room. He handed me a cup of coffee.

‘We need to get away, man. We should take a trip somewhere.’

‘I hear the south of France is just divine this time of year.’ I laughed.

‘A day out, Carl. What do you say? We should go to the beach.’

‘It’s the middle of winter, Marlon.’

‘We’re artists. It will be inspiring. The sea breeze will blast the creativity into our minds.’

‘My novel is just about finished. Need to change a couple of things, but it’s so nearly done.’

‘Come on, man. Don’t be square.’

‘How will we get there?’

‘We’ll get the train.’

‘We can’t afford the fare.’

‘I’ll sort it. I’ve got a friend that works at the ticket office.’

I took a swig of coffee and shrugged in resignation.

‘Fine. Looks like we’re going to the beach.’

‘That’s just jazz.’ He beamed.

 

The winter wind tore through the wide hall of the train station in icy blasts. I huddled against the brickwork in a quiet corner, the collar of my coat turned up against the cold. Marlon wandered up to the ticket office. He leaned in and spoke through the small hole in the glass. He returned patting his pocket.

‘We’re good to go.’ He grinned. ‘Platform seven, come on.’

 

We clambered on to the train and took seats facing each other by the window. The carriage was busy with people. Almost everyone was reading. There were a couple of people in office dress, men and women in dark jackets and overcoats. They browsed large broadsheet newspapers that they unfolded in front of them like road-maps. A young woman in heavy black eye make-up leafed through a music magazine and next to her a priest, complete with collar, read a battered paperback thriller.

‘When your novel is out, people will be reading it on trains, man. Then you will have made it.’ Marlon said.

‘People read on trains because there’s nothing else to do. And it means you don’t have to make eye contact with anyone.’

Marlon looked around us as the train shuffled and screeched out of the station. We rocked along with the swaying motion.

‘There’s something poetic about trains. A train journey, no matter how short, is epic.’ He said.

I leaned my head against the cool glass and stared into space. The train rattled out, leaving the grey city gloom behind and into green countryside. I was lost in thought, ideas for stories and titles for short story compilations. I wondered if Marlon would know I’d been thinking of him if I named a collection A Headful of Magic.

A voice called out from further up the carriage, tickets please. As the rest of the passengers rummaged in pockets and purses for their tickets I noticed the look of excitement on my friend’s face. He grinned like a gambler at the start of a horse race. I sighed. I knew what was coming. Marlon’s friend at the ticket office had been about as real as the tooth fairy.

‘Come on.’ he laughed. ‘The game is about to begin.’

We got to our feet and shuffled and pushed our way down the carriage. We excused ourselves to the other passengers as we barged our way past. One man with reading glasses and a thick grey moustache, tutted as we dashed by. He knew our game. The conductor made his way down the carriage slowly. He checked tickets and took fares from those without.  We squeezed through the door into the next carriage. Marlon turned and glanced back through the smeared glass.

‘Our chap is rather keen. I do believe we may actually get caught.’

We made our way down the next carriage. We reached the end. There was nowhere to go. Unlike the train, we’d reached the end of the line. The conductor entered the carriage. He called for tickets again and proceeded on his march towards us and our empty pockets. He fumbled with cash and coins and handed out tickets. He came nearer and nearer. I had no idea how Marlon was taking all this in his stride. Indeed, he seemed to be enjoying it. I hated anything like this. I was always the type of person who blushed when returning a library book late.

‘Good afternoon, gents.’ The conductor said. ‘Tickets, please.’

I turned to Marlon.

‘Good afternoon, sir.’ He smiled. ‘My name is Marlon. This is Carl. We are two struggling artists. We thought a day out at the seaside would do us good. We thought it would refresh our spirits, you know?’

‘Yes? And your tickets?’

Marlon paused for a moment. He glanced out of the window and tapped a thoughtful finger on his chin.

‘There is something profound and poetic about the coast, don’t you?’

‘Have you got tickets or not? I haven’t got all day.’

‘You are missing the point.’ Marlon sighed.

‘And what point is that?’

‘My point,’ Marlon sighed as the train shuddered to a stop. ‘is that we’re here.’

At that moment the doors whooshed open.

‘Have a good day, friend. It’s been nice talking to you.’

Marlon jumped on to the platform. I hurried after him. Laughing hard, with the conductor hurling abuse, we ran like playful children down the platform. We slowed only when we were out on the street. Once we slowed to a walk did the cold bite at us. I shivered as we strolled in silence towards the beach.

The vast gloomy ocean churned and crashed under the grey-white winter sky, the pale sand adding to the foreboding landscape. As we walked along, being battered by the wind coming off the sea, Marlon seemed like a different person. The light-hearted eccentric character had vanished on the wind. His face was pale and gaunt, his eyes as gloomy as the seas.  He trudged across the sand looking at the horizon.

‘Are you okay, man?’ I asked, shouting to be heard on the wind.

‘I dunno, I just get down sometimes, you know? I get to thinking, what’s the point?’

‘The point of what?’

‘Of anything, of writing, of art, of life itself.’

It was so upsetting to see Marlon like this. He was the leader of our group of friends. He was the dynamic force. He was the one everyone listened to. To hear him talk this was distressing. I had no answers to give so I found myself saying nothing.

‘What does any of it mean?’ He asked.

He shrugged and walked on out across the sand. I trudged alongside. He paused a while later. He stared out at the grey gloom of the crashing sea. He pulled a hipflask from his overcoat pocket. He took a hit of liquor. He offered me the flask. I winced as the whiskey burned my throat. We stood, side by side, in silence for a long moment. We watched the dark sea bubbling away. I watched a container ship on the horizon. It moved slowly, looking like a toy boat crossing a lake. The containers stacked on the ship looked like building blocks.

I turned to say something to Marlon. He was gone. I looked around in panic and confusion. I was completely alone on the winter sand. A horrid thought popped into my mind. The way he’d been talking, maybe he’d done something stupid. I looked to the sea. Had he decided to end things by walking into the ocean? I ran along the beach, calling his name, my feet digging and sliding on the sand. I searched all around, scanning the beach.

I found him on the sand dunes. He was just sitting there, hugging his knees.

‘Marlon! Thank goodness. I thought you’d done something stupid.’

‘Like what,’ he said. ‘write a novel?’

He forced a laugh and got to his feet. He brushed the sand from his palms. Without another word we walked back along the beach, heading back to the train station.

 

A few weeks later the telephone in the hallway rang. The series of phone calls that followed over the next few days and weeks would change my life. The publishing house had accepted my novel. It was such a strange feeling. I’d been writing all my life and had been working so hard on the novel, so to finally have my work recognised by a publisher was just astounding.

When I told Marlon he leapt to his feet in delight.

‘I’m thrilled for you, man. With your talent it was always going to happen for you.’

At the last two words I sensed a hint of sadness. For you. It was as though he knew success was something he’d never have.

 

Once I signed the contract things stepped up a gear. There were endless meetings with countless people, reporters, agents and goodness knew who else. I felt like a rock star beginning his debut tour, at the instruction of some massive record company. My time was no longer my own. I was thrilled at the interest that everyone seemed to be taking but I was spending less time at Edith Grove with Marlon. I was spending more and more time in the city. When I wasn’t being interviewed for a newspaper or magazine article, I was being entertained at some bar or restaurant. I was paraded by the publisher as the hottest debut novelist and my upcoming book was described as being hotly anticipated. I spent half my time travelling to the city and back.

Then I got another call from the publisher. Again, they had more ‘great news’. They had arranged for a small apartment in the city. The flat was ready and waiting for me. As soon as I packed up my typewriter I could move in. It was the smart move. It made sense. That way I would be close by and ready for the next interview or meeting. It was an amazing and very generous offer. And one I had to accept. But it meant my time at Edith Grove coming to an end. I thanked them for the offer and told them I’d be delighted to move into the city centre apartment. I hung up with a sigh.

I found Marlon scribbling away at the kitchen table. The table-top was cluttered with screwed up bits of paper. The discarded attempted poems lay all around like unexploded bombs.

‘Hey man.’ I said. ‘My publisher has been on the phone again.’

‘Yeah?’

‘I’m just gonna say it, okay. They’ve got even more meetings and interviews and everything lined up. They need me close-by. They’ve arranged for a flat in the city. So,’ I shrugged. ‘I have to move out.’

He looked stunned as he replied.

‘When are you going?’

‘The flat is ready today so, straight away, I guess.’

My friend looked distraught. His expression reminded me of a picture I’d seen in a newspaper of a man who had just been involved in a car crash. He dropped his pen. He stood up, running a hand through his hair.

‘You have to do what’s best, man.’

He nodded in agreement but the tears in his eyes betrayed him.

‘Are you gonna be okay, Marlon?’

‘Just jazz, man.’

He forced a smile.

He hugged me. We hugged like best friends, like brothers. I knew I’d never be as close to anyone again.

 

The last I heard Marlon was working in a hardware store. He would regale shoppers with his poetry. He would often leap excitedly onto the counter and recite his latest composition. My novel was published and released early the following year. I dedicated it to ‘the poet of Edith Grove’. I often wonder if Marlon ever read it. I guess I’ll never know.


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