It Don't Come Easy

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

Craig Davies was always in his brother's shadow. His brother was the success. All Craig had was his stories.

Craig Davies thumbed through his paperback book as the bus trundled across Salford. He tried to concentrate on the novel while also keeping an eye on where he was. He really didn’t want to miss his stop. He completed his journey, half in the real world, and half in the noir world of the gritty thriller he was engrossed in. As he read, ideas for stories of his own popped in his head, some were twists on the story he was reading, others were completely different, random ideas for strange tales. His writing often went off in bizarre directions and odd tangents.

He had been writing stories for years. He wrote for his own amusement. Ideas came to him and he’d write the story. Once typed up and printed and filed away, he would move on to the next. As his bus stop neared, Craig pushed the button on the rail and scrambled towards the front of the bus.

He thanked the driver and stepped out into the night. Moments later, Craig turned on to the street his parents lived. The bus had been on time for once, and he was arriving exactly as planned. He reached the front gate to the terraced house when a car pulled up beside him. Craig recognised the shiny BMW. It was his brother, Steve, also arriving bang on time. Steve climbed out of the car, smiling when he saw Craig. He sauntered across the pavement.

‘Alright, mate?’ asked Craig.

‘Hey, man.’

Steve pressed his key fob and his car beeped and locked behind him. Steve was still wearing his work suit, his silk tie pulled down an inch. The look reminded Craig of Frank Sinatra in Las Vegas, and made him feel scruffy in his faded check shirt.

Steve rapped on their parents’ front door and went in. Craig shuffled on behind him.  His mother met them in the narrow hallway, a tea-towel on her shoulder and a smile for her boys. She pecked them both on the cheek and as they went through to the kitchen, called out to Steve.

‘You look very smart, love.’

‘Cheers, Ma.’

They found their dad in his usual spot at the head of the long dining table, reading the Manchester Evening News. He folded the paper as they entered. The brothers sat down. His dad waved the newspaper at Craig.

‘Its jobs night, pal. Take the paper with you, if you like.’

‘I already have a job, dad.’ Craig shrugged.

The glance his dad gave him almost said, yes, but not a proper job.

Craig had been in exports for a few years. He saw it as a job, but not a career. His job paid the bills and afforded him paperback books, beer and curry.

‘How’s your job going, Steve?’

‘It’s going really well, actually. I had a meeting with the board this morning. There are a lot of interesting developments.’

Craig managed a polite smile. He hadn’t had a work meeting in years and he got the feeling the board of the shipping company didn’t even know his name. His mother placed a large pot of stew in the middle of the table and set about dolloping out bowls for everyone. With his mouth watering, Craig added spoonsful of pickles to his steaming bowl.

Steve took a mouthful of stew and groaned in appreciation.

‘This,’ he said. ‘would go lovely with a bit of Focaccia bread.’

‘We’ve got a toastie loaf in the bread bin, if you like.’ said his dad.

‘Bagsy the crust.’ Craig said.

Craig grabbed the sliced loaf out of the 1970s metal bread bin. He plonked it on the table, and fished out the wonderfully thick crust. He dipped his slice in his stew and noticed Steve declining the type of bread on offer.

‘There’s a wonderful baker around the corner from us. They do the most amazing croissants. Some Sunday mornings I get the newspapers and then stop for some fresh-baked croissants and coffee from there. It just sets you up right for the day.’

Craig nodded, saying nothing. He was usually too hung-over on Sunday mornings. He couldn’t help wondering quite when he and Steve had started to change into such different people.

Despite feeling like he was constantly in competition, and losing, to his more successful sibling, Craig had quite a pleasant evening and a good catch-up with his family. Craig had to concede that even Steve was on good form too, when he dropped his try-hard hipster pretentiousness. Beneath the façade, Craig knew that Steve was a decent bloke. When he wasn’t trying to impress his circle of friend, he was good company and a nice feller.

On the bus journey home, Craig couldn’t help feeling like a failure. Steve seemed so much more successful compared to him. He seemed to have it all. He was thriving at work, drove the flash car and had countless foreign holidays. The exclusive gym Steve went to was more like a country club. Craig wasn’t a member of a gym. He frequented his local kebab shop as regularly as Steve went to the gym. And they both had the physique they worked for.

As the bus rattled on across the city, Craig pulled his notepad from his coat pocket. His pen hovered over the page. His mind suddenly went as blank as the page in front of him. What was that idea? What had he been about to write? The story, the idea, seemed to fade as though being wiped from a chalkboard. He sighed and stuffed the pad and pen back in his pocket. Sometimes the ideas came, falling like rain on a Manchester Bank Holiday. At the start of the year, though, he’d gone for weeks without a single idea drifting across the skies of his mind. Gradually though, the ideas, the stories, the characters, had returned to visit him as they always had.

A tired looking mother in her early twenties, boarded the bus, pushing a double push-chair. The air was thick with the sound of screaming twins. An idea popped in his head like an internet pop-up advert. Craig reached for his notebook once again.

The following week Steve text Craig suggesting a few pints in Manchester city centre. Craig had had a bad day at work. Everything had gone wrong. The warehouse had crumpled a pallet of drums as though they were discarded drinks cans, and it had been left up to Craig to sort. And so, the idea of a cold beer and a catch-up had been too good to turn down.

Craig weaved his way through the crammed bar. The place was packed. There were office workers having post-work drinks, and others who were just starting out on their evening, dressed in their fresh finery instead of stale office clothes. One guy in his mid-forties had clearly been out all day, and was slumped at a table, with a half empty pint glass next to him.

Craig got himself a pint of over-priced lager and scanned the room for his brother. He found him on the far side of the room, perched on a stool at a high table, staring at his mobile phone. Was Craig the only person that still read books these days? At one time people would read a book while they waited for friends, these days they seemed to scroll through pages of social media posts instead.

‘Alright, Steve?’

He hopped onto the stool facing his brother and took a sip of lager. Steve was drinking a fancy pale ale in a glass that was more like a thin vase. The beer and the chat flowed easily. They were so similar in a lot of ways, that despite his brother’s changes from the lad he used to be, from the lad Craig felt he himself still was, they still got on so well. In their younger days a lot of people referred to them and Liam and Noel. Craig hoped they would grow up with less animosity toward each other than the famous feuding musical siblings.

When Craig returned from the bar with a fresh round of drinks, they clinked glasses with their usual toast, Live Forever, Steve clicked his fingers.

‘Oh yeah, I’ve got some news.’ Steve said.

‘What’s the goss?’

‘The board called me for a meeting.’

For a split second Craig wondered if his high-flying, executive brother had been laid-off. Perhaps he’d have to get a job in a supermarket or something. That would suit Craig, but Steve would consider it such a step down.

‘I’ve been promoted to area manager. It is a big step up. If I play my cards right I could be on the board by the time I’m forty.’

Craig had put himself forward for one promotion and had been rejected. The position had been given to a young lad almost ten years younger. Since then he hadn’t put himself forward for anything so much as a first aider. And here was Steve, climbing the corporate ladder like something from a business reality TV show. Craig took a long swig of his pint and plastered a smile on his face.

‘Mate, that’s great news. I’m made up for you, bruv.’

They clinked glasses in celebration. Craig was genuinely pleased for his brother but couldn’t help feeling even more of a failure than he had before hearing of his brother’s promotion.

‘How’s your work going?’ Steve asked.

Here we go, he thought, here comes the prep talk.

‘Just the usual, really.’ he managed.

‘Any chance for you to progress? You’ve been there long enough.’

‘It’s shipping, mate. I’m a clerk, a pleb. There’s not really anywhere to progress to, and the one time I did try they knocked me back.’

‘What about a more sales orientated role?’ Steve suggested.

Craig shrugged, saying nothing. The idea of a sales position sounded awful. He preferred a more operational job. Despite its lack of prospects, Craig did quite enjoy the hustle and bustle of exports. Selling the service instead of controlling them really did not appeal.

‘Apart from the big promotion,’ Craig asked. ‘what else have you been upto?’

‘I played golf at the club last weekend. I came seventeenth, and had a slap-up lunch afterwards.’

‘Excellent, mate. I’d join a golf club but I haven’t got any bats.’ replied Craig.

The two brothers erupted into laughter. It was like they were young teenagers again killing themselves at some silly joke.

‘I had a belting curry at weekend from the curry house over the road. The keema naan was just amazing.’

‘We’ll have to go, you and me. Suzanne and I went to a Vietnamese place in the Northern Quarter a while back. It was just divine. The Pho was so authentic. It took us back to when we were touring Vietnam and Cambodia.’

A few pints later, Craig mentioned his writing.

‘It’s weird but a few months ago, back in January, I was struggling to write anything. The ideas had dried up and I could barely get a sentence down on paper. Thankfully, whatever fug I was going through passed, and its flowing again I’ve got my mojo back.’

‘Ah, the old writer’s block.’

‘It was so strange, but nothing was happening at all. They say it’s a myth, that it doesn’t exist, but nothing was doing at all. Now, though, yeah, stories are coming, so it’s all good.’

‘That’s fantastic. Are you any nearer having something published?’

‘No, but I’m writing again. It’s like the taps have been turned back on. My writing is in a good place. They say that on a good writing day, nothing else matters.’

‘Never mind, Craig. They say Stephen King took years to get published. He used to keep the rejection letters on a nail above his desk. You just have to keep going. You’ll get there.’

Craig nodded in agreement but couldn’t help feeling his brother was completely missing the point. He was a writer. He wrote stories purely for the buzz of it. There was something magical about the process. Ideas would come to him and he would write the story. He recalled a quote by legendary author Ray Bradbury, you must stay drunk on writing so that reality cannot destroy you. He wrote for the stories, the pulsing tales he was telling. He didn’t write these stories in order to be published. Perhaps he should, or could, do more with his stories, but as long as the stories kept flowing, and as long as he kept writing, Craig was happy.

For the rest of that week, Craig immersed himself in his writing. When he wrote, when he put pen to paper, he escaped the real world. He was no longer in his small Salford flat, with the leaking taps and rackety boiler, the awful day at work seemed like a bad dream. When he wrote he was in a world of his own making.

One rainy Tuesday evening, Steve called him for catch-up. They rambled n for almost an hour, chatting about television, films, books, music, even politics. Steve explained how Suzanne had started doing Yoga at the local sports centre.

‘She loves it, mate. While I’m making a brew, she’s there hopping into some random pose on the rug.’

‘Brilliant. You’ll have to go with her, mate, give it a go.’

‘Nah, mate. Our William has started doing Karate, though. That’s more up my street.’

‘Oh aye, wax on, wax off, eh?’ said Craig.

‘That’s what I said.’ Laughed Steve.

Steve paused a moment, before continuing.

‘And, he said finally, ‘I have been writing stories.’

Craig felt sick. No, just no.

‘Have you really?’ he muttered.

‘Yes, I’ve written a few stories over the past month or so. There’s a guy I know at the golf club, he works for a publishers. He’s had a look at them and says they’re good enough to publish as a compilation.’

Don’t do this, thought Craig. Let me have my stories. You can have your flash cars, luxury lifestyle, designer suits, and your golf club, I really don’t care, but please, don’t encroach on my writing.

‘Oh, wow, that’s fantastic.’ Craig said. ‘You’ll have to get me a signed copy when it comes out.’

Steve laughed and promised he would.

 

As Craig tried to sleep that evening his brother’s words went round and round his head. I’ve been writing stories. Good enough to publish. Why did it have to be writing? His brother had everything else. He was good at whatever sport he turned his hand to, when they were kids he would hardly study and pass exams in flying colours. Craig, on the other hand, would have to revise late into the night for months, just to scape a pass. But writing had always been his thing. Craig had his writing. It was his. When the world and life in general got him down, when things like his brother’s success and ease at everything irritated him, Craig would console himself that writing was his craft, his art. And now, it sounded like, with writing, like everything else he did in life, Steve was naturally talented. Craig had been writing for years, for his own satisfaction, and had not even come close to getting published.

The next day Craig was even more angry and upset. He couldn’t quite explain why it bothered him so much. Writing had always been his thing. He was the writer. He may have worked in shipping, but in his head, as far as he was concerned he was a writer. And it felt like his perfect brother was trying to take away the one thing he had.

He called one of his friends that afternoon. He had phoned for a general catch up, but soon after exchanging pleasantries, he found himself explaining how his brother was stepping on his toes.

‘Mate, writing is what I do. Why can’t he just let me have this? If he wants to be arty, he should try painting.’

‘Perhaps you’ve inspired him.’

‘Surely not. He’s got everything else, though. Can’t he just leave it alone?’

‘I think you’d be surprised. I reckon you’ve influenced him.’

Craig said nothing.

‘I want you to do something for me.’

‘What?’ asked Craig. ‘I’m not phoning him to tell him how I feel. This isn’t some ITV2 reality show.’

‘Craig, go and grab the file.’

‘What?’

‘Go on. Get your file with your latest stories.’

‘Hold on, then.’

Craig jogged upstairs and went into his spare room. He reached and took down the lever-arch file crammed with his most recent stories.

‘Well, what now?’

‘Have a look inside, mate. What do you see?’

‘My stories.’

‘So they’re still there?’

‘Yes.’

‘And your brother’s writing hasn’t erased them?’

‘No,’ Craig laughed. ‘of course not.’

‘You are still the same writer you’ve always been. Your stories are still there. Nothing has changed, despite what your brother is doing.’

Craig had to admit that his friend had a point. His writing was still his, regardless of what Steve or anyone else did, regardless of what they thought of his writing.

‘All you need to do is write your next story.’

Craig thanked his mate for sorting his head out and hung up.

 

Craig was having a Friday night beer and watching a documentary about Jack Kerouac when his mobile phone rang. His brother’s name popped up on the small screen. What now, he wondered, was he ringing to gloat about now he’d been short listed for the Booker prize?

‘Hello?’

‘Hi, Craig. I’ll get straight to the point. I’ve been talking to my publisher friend at the golf club.’

Here we go, thought Craig. He was sure he was about to be given another example of how effortlessly his brother went from one success to the next.

‘Is he sorting you out then? Are you gonna see your work in print?’

‘Not just me, mate. I’ve told him all about you. I explained that you’ve always been a writer and how much you have inspired me.’

‘I have inspired you?’

‘Are you having a laugh? Of course you have. It’s been tricky living in the shadow of my brother, the writer.’

‘I honestly had no idea.’

‘Anyway, the publisher wants to meet you. He’s extremely interested and thinks you will do well.’


Submitted: April 01, 2021

© Copyright 2021 CTPlatt. All rights reserved.

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hullabaloo22

Nice with the difference in characters of the brothers, CT.

Sat, April 3rd, 2021 6:25pm

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Thanks as always for your comments!

Sat, April 3rd, 2021 12:39pm

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