Readers Like You
John sat down at his desk, his lap top staring back at him like ‘an ex-girlfriend that you have confirmed her already low suspicions of you, once again’. He immediately wrote down that quote for future writings.
Unscrewing his bottle of Thai whiskey and popping a bottle of Chang-branded sparkling water. It was his pre-amble to starting work on his novel.
After 7 months he was on his 7th chapter and, although it was in no shape to be read, he was happy with his progress. That night he started writing around midnight and stopped thirty minutes later to check his social media page and then his email account. After replying to an email from is parents, he was about a quarter of the way through his whiskey, and in a conversation with someone on social media about some Kickboxing fight. Midsentence the power in the apartment failed and outside his window a perfect crash of lightening gave him an answer as to why. Bangkok’s weather regularly took out the power with its daily rainstorms.
John continued to write and drink by the dull glow of his laptop screen, with the sound of torrential rain clattering against the metal awning covering the window. He wasn’t sure when the words started to blur, it was about half a bottle down, but he found himself hitting the ‘Backspace’ key more often than anything else.
John opened his eyes and he was no longer at his desk, he was lying on his bed in his underpants. He rolled over carefully and stared up at the ceiling, knowing that there were tell-tale signs of a brewing hangover.
His wife walked into the room and laughed at him, spread eagled on the bed.
“What time did you get to bed last night?” She asked.
“I’ve no idea.” He replied, rubbing his eyeballs.
“I am heading to work now; can you do the laundry?”
“What other plans do you have?”
“Edit the novel, go for a swim.” John groaned on the encroaching pain. “Try not to die.”
“Nice, how many laps today?”
“Going to take it easy today, 40 is too many to do again.” John said. “I might do 10 or 15.”
“Smart, you don’t want to push yourself.” She climbed onto the bed, patted his gut affectionately and kissed him on the forehead. “Right, have fun and don’t get into any trouble.”
John lay there for a few minutes more then passed out.
He eventually got out of bed at around midday when the throbbing in his skull had subsided. He struggled out of bed and into a T-shirt. This was the last of the T-Shirts that still fitted him from the original group he had brought with him when they had both started travelling.
He half-walked/half-stumbled through the living room and made himself some cereal before slumping back at his desk and trying to parse his drunken writing. The first page was solid enough but the second and third pages were almost unworkable, this was fairly normal but what stood out was that the final paragraph was completely unrelated to the rest of the story:
‘When they requested I show my qualifications, this is when the insult to me became too much for me to tolerate. So, the next day I walked into the University and, in front of some students, I shot both of the professors who had accused me of this misconduct. Two weeks after that I was almost caught by the police and turned the gun on myself.’
John deleted the paragraph and then mused over the rest of the mess. This involved him tightening up the pages, then googling how a dog’s sense of smell is supposed to work.
Satisfied, John got into his swimming trunks and went for a swim. As soon as he left the comforting air-conditioned hum of the apartment and into the mid-afternoon Thai heat he started sweating. The heat seemed to wrap itself around like ‘a warm, used condom — sticky and cloying’. John was waiting for an opportunity to use that in the story he was writing.
He waded into the shallow end of the pool and started swimming, by the time he got back to the point he started at, he stopped, clambered out of the pool and had a cigarette.
Later in the week, John headed down to hang out with a friend and co-drinker Pete in their favourite haunt — an open square with a good balance of Fareng (the slang for foreigners) and locals. This meant that the prices were still pretty low but there was food that didn’t burn out your skull and ‘made you feel like you were shitting blood the next day’. As Pete was talking, John took a swig from his large bottle of Leo and made a note to put that blurb down somewhere.
“Fucking work is brutal right now.” Pete opined.
“Yeah, my first two classes have changed over and they now love misbehaving.” Pete said. “It is too fucking hot to have to put up with that bullshit.”
“Yeah, you warned me about the heat, but I don’t think I was prepared for the humidity.” John took another swig of beer.
“Well.” Pete said slightly dramatically. “Could be worse, one of the other teachers could have come in and shot me.”
“Ha, wait, what?”
“Yeah. Didn’t you hear?” Pete said, John looked at him blankly. “College professor shot two other guys. Then, today, he shot himself instead of being arrested.”
John frowned then explained the paragraph he had written. As he got to the conclusion Pete gave him a funny look:
“So, you are a psychic, fortune teller?”
“I don’t know. It is a weird coincidence though.”
“Well, that or you read about the original shooting online and then made up the rest.” Pete offered.
“I guess. Still weird.”
“I wouldn’t worry about it, mate.” Pete drank some more. “You aren’t psychic.”
“Hmm.” John grunted.
The two of them drank for another couple of hours talking about random shit, Pete suggested that they go play pool but John decided to head home and focus on his novel.
John picked up a bottle of Whiskey on the way home. His wife was asleep by the time he got in so he sat down and started drinking.
He woke up with the sun streaming through the bedroom window, his wife must have already gone to work. He went through routine, but got a beer at the same time as cereal and went to his laptop and brought up his novel.
This time there was almost an entire page that was unrelated. At first it seemed like a stream of consciousness but the more he read of it, the places described, the people (including himself), led John to believe that it was an old school friend of his. His name, if John was correct, was Charlie Boyd.
Charles Boyd had been one of his English Language buddies and they had collaborated on a series of short stories that had got published during their college years and propelled Charles to fame. The reason that John recognised the narrative was because of a direct reference to the story that Charles wrote exclusively himself. The tirade itself was something vague about it being all for nothing and he was just a conduit, it wasn’t entirely clear.
The story ended with Charlie throwing himself to his death.
John immediately looked Boyd up on social media and was relieved to see him posting something about rising costs of living in South London. Charlie seemed to be engaged as well. John checked his fiancee’s page and she seemed to have lots of pictures of the theatre production she was putting together, interspersed with updates about her cats.
John went to the pool, sat on the edge with his feet and lower legs in the water and had a couple of beers.
Later that night, after his wife had gone to bed, tired from a long day of work, John started on the whiskey and made another attempt at writing. After the beers from the afternoon, the spirit went straight to his head and he found himself checking his emails, replying to his mother, and accidentally sending a porn link to his friend on IM.
It was 4AM when he drunkenly came back to Charlie Boyd on social media. It was then that he saw a number of messages on Boyd’s home page offering condolences to his partner, Gracie.
All the messages were along the lines of ‘he went too soon’, or ‘call me if you need help’, or ‘he seemed so happy’.
John found himself in bed with only vague recollections of how he got there. It was midway through his cereal that he remembered about Charlie Boyd and returned to his computer to make sure it was real. Sure enough, Boyd had jumped to his death.
Not sure what to do he paced around the apartment for a bit. He felt a little sick and confused, in need of a drink. He checked the clock, it was past 2PM so that meant that he couldn’t get anything until 5PM due to Thai alcohol laws.
He couldn’t figure out what was going on and he didn’t understand how this could be.
After finding some dregs in a couple of bottles, he went back to his novel and just went straight to the last page. It was another first-person narrative:
“I feel sorry for John as he has got himself deeper and deeper into this rut. He isn’t eating properly, he is drinking too much, and if he is exercising then it isn’t helping. When we started travelling he was happy and into it, but now he just seems sullen and aggressive all the time.”
John felt this involuntary wave of shame as he looked down at his stomach, rolls of it were over his belt, distending the T-Shirt he had bought at a market a month ago. He wanted to tell the narrator that he had written that she could go fuck herself just because he had been on a downward slant. John caught himself, had he been on a downward slant? Distracted by his embarrassment he then realised that there was more.
“I feel sorry for him but I am angry at him for me feeling sorry for him. He does this, tries to manipulate it so that he is the victim. Then he just starts grinding you down so that you agree with him. After that he just goes back to doing what he always does. So, it kills me that I feel bad for cheating on him, and that I don’t have the nerve to kick him out.”
The story ended there.
John couldn’t explain Charlie or the Thai professor but he told himself he had to be projecting, this was something in him that he was repressing.
He picked up his phone and called his wife.
“Hey,” she seemed to be surprised by his call. “What is up?”
“Yeah, just wanted to see how you were.”
“Haha, okay.” She sounded relieved.
“Do you want me to make food?”
“It is just that you didn’t mention yesterday whether you wanted me to make food or not.” He said. “Like, I might need money or something.”
“Well, I am staying late-
“Jeez, is that a problem?”
“No, I just want to make sure I have it ready at the right time.” He said. “If I don’t know when you are coming back I can’t do that.”
“Okay, so, maybe let’s just leave it for another night? Just pick me up some sushi.”
“Do you have any money?”
“Sure, just grab some from the bottom draw.”
John went back to his laptop and started to delete the crazy, as he did so more text started to appear at the bottom of the page. Previously it must have been on the next page, but as he had deleted the previous story it now moved up into view.
“It was disconcerting to have John call me as I was thinking about cheating on him. He never normally does that unless something is wrong. For a second I thought he was going to confront me on it, instead he just talked about making dinner.”
John closed his laptop.
Once it turned 5 o’ clock John went to the supermarket and got beer.
She got back late, the sushi was waiting in the fridge and John was suitably pacified.
“Sorry I am so late; it took longer than I expected.” She said kicking off her shoes at the doorway. “The women at work wanted to go out afterwards.”
They sat together as she ate.
“So, do you go out after your shifts very often?”
“Well, this might be the first time you noticed.” She said, in between sashimi.
“Yes, or no.”
“Yes. Of course, I am not like you, happy to sit inside all day and do nothing.”
“Well, maybe I would like to join you sometime.” John replied.
“Oh, okay.” She grinned. “You should have just said.”
“Now I have.”
For once, John went to bed early.
He was awoken by voracious mosquitoes. He hazily considered referring to them as ‘needy sucklers at my venous discharge’ but decided to save it for next time. As he itched at his kneecaps he walked to his laptop and go through his new messages.
Once bored, he tried his book.
There were two new pages added, his word document was open on the last page:
“She was right to leave me. I am useless. I can’t keep my shit together, I can barely dress myself, and I am a fucking slob. This book was supposed to be everything to me, but instead I am nothing.”
John stopped reading.
* * *
Piotr rolled off his mattress onto the wood floor, knocking over the bottle of hazelnut vodka he had gone through the night before. Waiting a few seconds before getting up, he wanted to ascertain he wasn’t dead.
He carried himself on hands and knees to the kitchen, where his housemate, Agnieszka, cackled at him.
“Look, it is the mighty Marek Hlasko ready to fight the world.” She remarked.
“Hlasko died in his late thirties, I am going to die now.” Piotr spat back.
“What happened last night?”
“I do not know.”
He made himself a coffee and poured some vodka in it and then went back to his desktop computer.
He had no recollection on working on his novel the night before but it was the first thing that greeted him. He was in the middle of writing his ‘great Polish realist’ book, so he was surprised when he was greeted by a wall of text in English. Some kind of weird Science Fiction:
“The computer started talking to me. It did it by typing out in my novel. It explained that everything I understood was a lie. It went into great detail to explain that I was just an input device, a reader. Like the ones on a credit card machine, the information was input into me and I was supposed to just type it out. My computer then explained that readers like me were broken and I was being recalled. My wife cheating on me, the novel was a fake, I was a broken reader.”
Confused and slightly bored, Piotr deleted the story without bothering with the rest.