To begin at the beginning.
No – let’s go back, back to before then.
It is an apricot day in the big whirly world, spring-sprung and parchment-pink. Dylan fills the doorway of his china-tiny writing room, buffalo-tired, refusing to budge to the write or the left, because the effort needed to activate motion in the huge steaming hulk of his frame is too much, too much to ask of a poet on an apple-dappled morning when the fags and potted-Scotch Bell’s ‘n Walker breathe (tell-tale talkers of last night’s lurid hours with who-knows-whose-whore or wife) still dulls the medulla-dogged dourness of our Dylan.
Now me. Standing blunted before him. Virginal in my poetry. The gigolo of juxtapositions, the seducer of sounds – Dylan, ‘Mr Thomas’ to him, drunkardly-dirty, hung over in the small doorway, is now looking at me.
His ugliness strikes me as hilarious, for a moment, like the sober regrets of the morning after. Unprepared I came for the confrontation with the physical form through which the beauty of all things is magically wrought into webs of wordy wonder. I am stunned by the size of his nose, which, if it had not been for this thing, might have left a gap for Nature to try again – this time, more lovingly. But he is unaware of my observations, and I am grateful, for I have not come here to find fault.
Now I am conscious of my mirror-studied assemblage, the mascara-ed lilt of my lashes, the dusky damasked shimmer highlighting reticent cheekbones. I feel heat bellowing from my bust. I should have worn pants, I think. I crush the iron-pressed fringe of my skirt. This is no way to meet Dylan after all this time.
‘When the October wind blows…’ I thought would be his first words, when those piggy eyes fall to the crabbed hand that clutches my skirt tight. I had hoped for such a beginning so that I might memorize, not fictionalize.
I reserve my wishes, in case they are numbered by the parsimony of genies, but I hope that wasn’t irritation in his voice.
Me: ’Remember, Mr Thomas? I’m the girl who wrote to you about writing…. You said I could….’
Dylan (interrupting): ‘Oh yes.’
The morning yawns in a wide-mouthed gape. Dylan moves into the small room, breaking the silence of the sunlight which fills up the spaces like the liquidity of a bath freshly-plugged. In that room, the morning is already stale, and longs to be allowed out to frolic in the October air. There are rumors in the scattering of shriveled paper wastes, of a strewn-strenuous frustrated night before.
Dylan has already shrunk into his writing chair, without inviting me in. His fat fingers drum lightly on its arms. The rhythm of Morning Mass. I notice, though wish I hadn’t, that his fingernails are dirty.
‘Come closer now….’ I thought he’d say. But instead, from the grave of his ashtray, he lifts the still burning stub of an already-the-eighth-today cigarette and eases it in between two huge liver-spotted lips. Its mouth-piece disappears like a suppository up a rectum.
I step inside the milkwood of his window-silled cabin. From where I am, I can smell the sweat of a poet’s craft and sullen art. He coughs like an orchestra tuning up and spits out his tobaccoed phlegm into a handkerchief with his initials DT embroidered on the corner in the periwinklest-blue cotton by a loving hand. No doubt Catlain’s in better days.
The day sidles into the room, and once-blue shadows blush at my gaze, seeping into pink and scuttle around the room like a mouse pursued. He motions to the only other chair. I am grateful for its hospitality and sit quickly.
Me: ‘Mr Thomas, I….’
He looks at me pityingly.
Dylan (interrupting): ‘Please call me Dylan…’
Me (embarrassed): ‘Dylan….. I have wanted to meet you for as long as I can remember. And that is from when I was old enough to read your poems. You have been a great inspiration to me.’
My own gushing has left me feeling naked.
Dylan: ‘Would you like some tea?’
My verbal offering so carefully rehearsed shakes the foundations of this god less than the juices of Earl Grey’s leaves.
Me: ‘Yes, thank you. That would be nice.’
The 7 Day Writing Challenge
WINGS: Words Inspire, Nourish and Grow the Spirit
He motions to the tray on a sideboard confettied with papers. ‘Help yourself.’
Dutifully, I get up from my chair and approach the collection of dirty teacups, some with flotsam of cigarette ash scumming the rims. I feel nausea rise in me. I suppress it and pour myself some lukewarm tea from the pot. There is no milk. I spoon in some sugar. There is no teaspoon to stir with. I watch the crystals cluster at the bottom of my cup and pretend it does not matter. I have, after all, not come here to drink tea.
I return with a handful of warm china to my seat.
Me: ‘Mr….. Dylan, thank you so much for your time. I have written a play. It’s just an idea….’
I watch for his reaction. To no avail. I continue.
Me: ‘It’s a play….. for voices…’
He unravels his expression, a flasher unbuttoning, enjoying my unease. His tongue protrudes to lick his lips in collaboration.
Dylan: ‘So you think you’re a playwrite?’
I do not know the answer to that question. I nod.
Me: ‘I’d like to be…’
Dylan: ‘And what do you think I can do for you?’
He winks at me. A pig with conjunctivitis. His breathlessness unnerves me. I laugh predictably. I regret it as soon as I let it go. I long to take it back, to Jack-in-the-box it down again. Dylan does it for me.
Dylan: ‘What’s it about?’
Me: ‘It’s about you and I…. and our first meeting….’
He laughs, bemused. But he does not correct me. He does not say, ‘you and me,’ not ‘you and I.’
My gratitude betrays me in a smile that does not mean ‘Put your hand on my thigh,’ but he does anyway.
The corpulence of his yellowed fingers thumbs my flesh. Dismay rises in me. My teacup rattles in its saucer even though I am holding it tight. I want to say, ‘Take your filthy hands off me.’ I don’t say it. ‘Filthy’ has six letters, just like ‘poetry.’ And the force that moves the hand to the thigh, too moves the hand to the fountain pen. And I am dumb to mouth ‘filthy’, when ‘poetry’ fits just as well.
Dylan: ‘Our first meeting…?’ His interest is kindled by the bareness of young limbs. ‘Well, let’s see what you’ve got.’
He holds out his hand for my manuscript. I become afraid. It is too soon. What if he laughs? What if he says ‘Unless you’ve got talent – Mozart had it, Salieri didn’t, then don’t waste my time or yours. Anyway, what’s a pretty girl like you doing writing plays, when she should be out finding out about what life’s really about?’
I know not what to do. My courage fails me.
Dylan is not a patient man.
He snatches the papers from my hand. And I am all a-tremble. The terror of my poetic innocence gurgles from my guts to my groin. I shiver with expectancy.
Dylan moves to the light as if he cares.
The sunlight lingers longer than his attention. He flicks through the leaves of my document as if he were in the counting house counting out the money. He strokes his chin.
My belly turns and burns in kinks and curls. When will Dylan speak?
I notice the cat. She winks at me, and puts her paw to her lips as if to say, ‘Shhh, I won’t tell…’ She licks her furry fingertips and yawns to show me the pale peach ridges of her kitty throat.
I reach out in sympathy to stroke this discreet feline. She moves to avoid my touch.
I look at Dylan’s feet. His shoes are old. His socks are older. I wonder if he has ingrown toenails.
My mouth is agape, as if trying to catch the sounds that ought to scramble from his lips. Dylan looks up at last. The burning bush in his trousers is risen from the dead.
‘Drink your tea,’ Dylan says, ‘It will get cold.’
I sip my tea. It is just right, so I drink it all up.
‘Go back to the beginning,’ he says. ‘Make each word count.’ That is all he says.
My cup is empty and Dylan is dismissing me.
‘Unless you want something else….’ He smiles. The heaps of my papers scuttle untidily on his lap, rising with the tide. The billow of his bullying art, elevates my work.
Dylan sits lower in his chair. My papers subside to the ground, drizzling a papery silence. I shake my head. Gather my discarded efforts. As I bend down to collect them, he sneeks a peek up my raised skirt.
But I am out the door, breathless in my shame, before he has a chance to say a word, make absurd my pantiless crotch.
Author, writing mentor, retreat leader. I’m an internationally bestselling author of nine books, inspirational speaker and writing mentor. I’ve had books published in just about every genre- fiction, non-fiction, self-help, memoir – by some of the top publishing houses in the world. My books have sold over 650 000 copies and have been translated in a range of languages. Two of my books have been #1 Amazon bestsellers, and at one point the German edition of Secret Mothers’ Business outsold Harry Potter- crazy, right?