Monday, June 4, 2012

But the work of a moment


Elizabetta wanted Jonathan to write something. Like it was a trick he could do, like there might be a coin in his pocket that he could make disappear and reappear again. She gave him a brief. She wanted something quick. The work of a moment. Nothing more than that. And not too many words.

So Jonathan sat at his desk, pen poised, not quite touching the paper, not yet. And he waited. Held his breath. Expecting something to happen. Like maybe it could be a trick and something appear suddenly at the end of his pen and spilling onto the page.

There was a woman. Her name was Elise. Jonathan did not know where that had come from, for there was no one he knew by that name. She was not young, this Elise. Nor was she yet so on in years that people thought her old. She was a writer, too. She was sitting at her desk, a carved oakwood writing desk, sitting just as he was, only she was writing. The words fell easily onto the page in front of her. She was remembering something. A moment from her own life. But whereas moments in the real world are fleeting and fast, in the writing of them Elise lingered over the details, stretching the time of a moment across several minutes of work.

She was not aware of where she was, not in the moment of writing, not aware that the light was thinner and the air more chill. The fine hairs on her bare arms stood on end. The curtains at her window lifted a little in the draft. And dropped paper on the floor – the discarded early drafts of the moment she was recording – shifted a little. Elise was bent over her work, not quite seeing everything clear. The sound of her pen was a scratch-scratch against the paper and the words she wrote did not quite sit on the feint blue lines of the page. She breathed in at the start of every line, held her breath and exhaled only when she reached the end, each exhalation something like a sigh of pleasure. She did not stop to read over what she had written. It was a moment of inspiration and she was not sure where it was going, had to let it run to its end.

A miscreant curl of hair slipped free of a plain silver clasp, fell in a twist across one cheek. Elise brushed it back behind one ear, a delicate movement of her index finger, something practised and unconscious and so simple. She bit her bottom lip and the small furrow of her brow deepened a little. She adjusted her position in the chair, the sound of her dress shushing to quiet the sound of the wood complaining.

Then suddenly, when Jonathan least expected it, Elise laid down her pen and it was done. Jonathan laid down his pen, too.

He did not think it was quite what was wanted. There was no story and maybe that was what Elizabetta hoped for, a story. 'The work of a moment,' he would tell her. 'Something quick and not too many words.' That was the brief. What was Elise writing, what was she remembering, that is what Elizabetta would ask. Jonathan would shrug. ‘Elise is not real,’ he would tell her. ‘That is the trick. I made her appear and then disappear. The rest is a mystery even to me.’