A pile of blankets began to stir, slowly disentangling one part from another until a single hand turned towards such light as managed to bully its way through a blind and a heavy curtain. The fingers, bruises on the knuckles, nails stained a shade of yellow rarely seen outside of retirement homes, found first the carpet and then an open tin of tobacco. The fingers expertly gripped the rim of the open tin, lifted it towards the pile and made it disappear. A box of matches and pipe followed and with a groan and a barely murmured expletive the blankets themselves began to smoke.
Had the blanket creature eyes, it would have witnessed an event previously unknown to any earth-bound physicist: light itself slowed to a visible speed, and then stopped. After a few decades of diligent effort and a lot of expensive equipment, light had previously been slowed to a visible pace in a lab, for a few seconds. Had they known this would be exceeded using window fittings, old socks and takeaway food wrappings, the majority of the physicists would have retired to a monastery. (Of course one of them did so in any case, but as he played the bongos this was no surprise and everyone was pleased to see him go).
Oblivious to all of this, the blankets began to cough, splutter and spray glowing embers over itself. In a burst of evolutionary prowess that would have left Darwin breathless, it quickly developed four limbs, a head and a fine vocabulary of four and eight letter words which it swiftly weaved into a dazzling tapestry of annoyance. Once several small fires had been extinguished and an upright position reached, the blanket creature revealed itself to be a male member of the apelike species known as homo sapiens. It was for him the work of a moment to exchange the blankets for clothes chosen at random from the floordrobe*, and begin the search for nourishment.
As soon as the apelike creature left the room, the sunlight, with one heroic push, made it past the sock and briefly illuminated the green wallpaper of the far wall before realising there was no one there to appreciate it. Startled by finding itself on the wrong side of the curtain, it went back through the window at roughly the speed of, well, light. Kevin, for that was the creature’s name, continued his slow progress down a staircase which had one step which didn’t creak and a bannister which one used as a guide rather than an aide to balance.
The major feature of Kevin’s living room was the lack of anything that could be considered a major feature, aside from a bookcase containing a large number of books, as one might expect, and a slightly smaller number of mugs, which one only expected if one had seen the bedroom. Like many of his kind, Kevin seemed to consider it a sin to drink from the same mug twice in a month, and as a result not only the bookcase but also the floor around the solitary armchair was decorated with numerous mugs of coffee and glasses of water. All were of varying ages, perhaps a day or two on the table to the immediate right of the chair, a few days on the floor directly in front of it, of indeterminate age on the bookcase. As with the rings of a tree, increased age was indicated by distance from the centre; the centre being a comfortable looking chair with a book or two positioned on either arm. The small television hidden in the corner was a nod to inevitability rather than a form of regular amusement. Kevin watched as a spider slowly attached one end of a web to a corner of the screen and began the process of coaxing a fly down from the lightshade. Oh yes, Kevin thought with equal parts relish and trepidation, breakfast.
The reason for his trepidation confronted him the moment he sneaked, almost unnoticed, through the door into the kitchen. A pile of plates, kept aloft only by its private gravitational field and dotted with stray cutlery, towered above the sink and dared him to tackle it. As a boy, Kevin’s sensible nature had been mentioned in several school reports. It was his inherently sensible nature which led him to turn on the hot tap, add a squeeze of washing up liquid, and leave things to soak for another week or so**. The philosophers’ knot of cables around the plug socket yielded both the toaster and kettle within less than ten minutes, proof positive if proof were needed that the day would be a positive one. A day like this, Kevin decided, needed careful handling if it was to continue as well as it had started. With this in mind he chose the least stained of his mugs, and afforded the pile in the sink another apprehensive glance before spreading peanut butter on his toast with the edge of a playing card which providence had placed next to the kettle.
Once he was settled in his armchair, with everything in easy reach, Kevin felt able to begin the tasks of the day: he set one of the volumes from the table over his lap and began to read. Good, bad or indifferent, all days were essentially the same for Kevin: words, words and more words. He introduced match to tobacco and when they had become fast and fiery friends, he sank into the aged leather and allowed the words to work their magic. Books were by no means limited to the shelf; they were to be found on the window sill, the table and even on top of the television: Kevin’s sole lasting relationship was with words. Unsurprisingly, his major ambition was to contribute in some small but lasting way to the volume of words that cluttered every available surface and several unavailable ones (such as the top of the fridge, which currently providing a resting place for two volumes of Asimov short stories and a vegetarian cookbook). Kevin was of course a writer; no day was allowed to pass without the production of a few thousand words, in a doomed attempt to balance the tens of thousands which he absorbed in his armchair.
All writers as a matter of course have a delicious sense of irony, as is displayed by their choice of profession. Of necessity, they are sensitive souls and, solitary folk by choice, their self-confidence is rarely high. Nonetheless, they choose a profession which more or less guarantees frequent rejection, thus demonstrating the high levels of irony and lack of practicality for which writers are famed. Once a month, no more no less, Kevin would review his crop of words and send them to a number of magazines along with a cover letter and all the hope he could muster. Invariably, he received in return a number of rejections and a crushing sense of failure. Over the years this sense of failure had had something of an effect on his writing. The optimistic tales he had churned out with impressive regularity in the first few months after university were a thing of the past, exchanged for a series of lengthy misanthropic descriptions of dystopia and destruction, squeezed with all the malice of a giro from the DWP, and almost as infrequent.
The clunk of his letter box distracted him from the work of others and directed his thoughts to his own; specifically last month’s crop of words which, in a rare burst of enthusiasm, he had sent not only to the usual magazines, but to an honest to Hades publisher. The chair creaked in protest almost as much as Kevin himself did as he raised to his feet and strode towards the front door with an unexpected optimism, and returned with four letters and an unaccustomed spring in his step which (coupled with the pipe and dressing gown) caused him to resemble a tartan flamingo.
The first letter did nothing to dissuade Kevin from his optimism, despite the DWP postmark: an apology for late payment and TWO giros for a hundred quid each. The next three however, performed the equivalent of a jab and uppercut followed by a swift, unprovoked kick to the testicles. If a moment before Kevin had looked like a perky, if oddly coloured, flamingo, his expression now was that of a bulldog who has been refused a piece of cake. He was used to rejection letters. The first two were similar enough to give rise to a long-nurtured suspicion that all magazines had, several years ago, drafted one standard rejection letter for use when dealing with talentless squibs such as him***. That last letter though, there was no doubt that it had been written specifically with him, Kevin, in mind. A publisher, he thought, the unforgivable arrogance of it, the boundless stupidity. He screwed up the letter and then smoothed it over his knee and read it again.
A standard rejection letter it was not, mentioning as it did several shortcomings in the plot of Kevin’s story, not to mention the purposelessness of his characters and the complete and utter lack of interest in, not only this story, but any future work Kevin was strongly advised not to bother wasting the letter-writer’s time with. Three pipes and a cup of coffee later, he managed to screw up the letter for the final time before hurling it towards an overflowing paper bin. It overflowed a good deal more once he’d finished kicking it around the room. Cretins! Morons! Each and every one of them. He had provided them with not only a story, but a world; an entire fucking universe, populated with races who had not only purpose but nobility and heart. And did they thank him; did they get off their editorial arses and make the tiniest leap of imagination? Did they balls, they asked for a more believable narrative; every day characters and a plot people could “relate to,” This publisher’s letter was only the worst symptom of an all too prevalent disease: “Fantasy”, this literary Samaritan had informed him “is dead.” In order to publish what was apparently needed was realism, dull, grey everyday fucking driv… Kevin’s foot stopped a quarter inch from giving the upturned bin an almighty wallop and a smile formed around the stem of his pipe.
This smile had almost nothing in common with the bright, optimistic grin that had dominated Kevin’s face prior to the arrival of the postman. This, it must be said, was more grimace than grin, and as Kevin flung open the back door and made his way towards the shed it widened considerably. The shed was where Kevin worked. All writers find it necessary to have their own space free from distraction, and Kevin’s shed was a perfect example of such a spot. It contained a single deckchair and a table which served as a burial ground for half empty biros, scattered with several sheets of cheap writing paper. Kevin tore one such sheet from a notepad and flopped down into the deckchair. If they wanted reality, then every day he would give them exactly that. He re-lit his pipe, picked up a pen and began to write: “A pile of blankets began to stir, slowly disentangling one part from another until a single hand…”
*A type of bedroom furniture preferred by single males due to its cheapness, easy availability and because it doesn’t require an allen key to construct.
**The phrase “leaving it to soak” is one used instead of “leaving it for someone else (female) to deal with”. In houses where no female is present, Roman Silver has been found still soaking.
***This suspicion is one which has occurred to most writers at some point in their lives. It is, of course, paranoid, conspiratorial, and absolutely true. Blah.