A Novel Beginning

Thought I’d share a short excerpt from my novel-in-progress today. This, folks, is how it starts. For now.

I finally died
which started the whole world living
-The Bee Gees, “I Started a Joke”

He strode in a swarm of fireflies. He wanted above all, like the old joke, to shove a marshmallow on a stick in the furnace, while the flapping pigeon-winged books died on the porch and lawn of the house. While the books went up in sparkling whirls and blew away on a wind turned dark with burning.
-Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451

*

Dad, where am I?

Is this Heaven?

Are you close?

Daddy?

 

I’m coming Andy. Hold on sweetheart. I’m coming for you.

*

1.

The day I died I woke early. I hadn’t slept well and at 5.50am I had given up trying. Dawn was making a half-hearted effort to break over Sommer Hill.

I made myself a coffee and stared out the kitchen window and up the shared driveway to the street. Some bloody animal had knocked over the rubbish bin that I had wheeled out to the kerb the previous evening during a surprising but brief attack of efficiency. There was rubbish strewn all over the pavement, in the gutter and down the driveway. Egg shells and banana skins and expired TV dinners (mine) and dozens of chocolate bar wrappers (not mine) jostled messily for space. On the downside, I thought, I would have to clean it up before Mrs Hardy from the front unit tottered out on her vinyl stilettos and started screeching. On the upside, this would make me late for work.

I snapped on gloves and spent as long as I could scraping crap off cement. Then, for good measure, I hosed it all down. Lace curtains twitched. I gave them the finger and hosed rotten egg shells into Mrs Hardy’s kitset gazebo.

In the shower, I sloughed the stink off my skin and mentally trudged through the day ahead: process returns, stack shelves, morning tea at 10.30, lunch at 1, home at 5.30. Always the same, except for the stultifying quicksand that was the weekly staff meeting. God, I hated Mondays.

For ten years, five mornings a week (and sometimes six if there was an event on) I had coaxed my protesting Volkswagon towards the Bressington Library. For ten soul-destroying years I had worked (and I use that term loosely) between gloating stacks of other people’s literary achievements. I knew all there was to know about the Dewey Decimal system and how to collect fines and how to turn sticky computers on and off and how to clean toilets after a children’s story time session and how to advise certain clientele that “No, unfortunately we don’t have the latest release by [insert name of latest Oprah Book Club author], which is just as well because if we did I would rip out the pages and use them to wipe my arse.”

That last bit was a little fantasy of mine. It kept me going on those mornings when the coffee machine wasn’t working again and the latest Dan Brown paperback had arrived and there were six – count them – six school group visits scheduled.

On this particular Monday, thanks to a putrid pile of rubbish, I was running fifteen minutes late. I was driving along Preston Road, just gearing down to turn left towards the motorway on-ramp (I drove a manual in the stubborn belief that automatic transmissions were for lazy bastards), when barreling towards me – on entirely the wrong side of the road might I add – weaves Mr “I’ve been in the country two months, I don’t have a licence, I’m drunk at 8.20am and I don’t give a shit.” He was going so fast the impact was a sonic boom. Neither of us stood a chance.

At least Andy wasn’t with me. Sometimes she hitched a ride but that day she was still in bed, having studiously ignored my calls to move her lazy lawyer’s butt. (She was in her first year of a law degree. It did occur to me some time after I realised I was dead that shuffling off the mortal coil before having to tell people my daughter was a lawyer wasn’t a bad thing.)

When asked about my only child, I would say she was 18, funny, talented and beautiful. Some silly people actually believed me. In truth, I thought Andy was a recalcitrant, pretentious pain in the tit. She had been living with me in the weeks before I died because Robyn, her mother, had left on an I-am-Elizabeth Gilbert-and/or-Julia Roberts-reincarnated “self-discovery” trip to an ashram on the Gold Coast. I joked that my ex-wife’s trip was more Eat, Eat, Eat than Eat, Pray, Love. A photo Robyn had emailed to Andy (Since when did ashrams have computers?) showed she had put on at least ten kilos, all around the beam. Made my day.

For years Andy and I had adhered to an unspoken agreement. I pretended not to notice she was becoming more and more like her mother – unbearable – and she in turn treated me like a pile of excrement. So that was working pretty well for both of us.

I did care about her; it’s just that when I was alive I was never very good at it.

But let’s not get all hand-holdy just yet. I need to tell you what happened right after I died.

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3 Comments on “A Novel Beginning”

  1. Sara Crompton Meade September 20, 2013 at 6:34 am #

    And then what????????? More!

  2. belllettres September 20, 2013 at 7:37 am #

    Patience, my dear. And may all blessings be yours in the Lord. 😉

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