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The man becomes a serious writer with a mystery: each autumn around the time of her death, his mother sends him a terrible fever that almost kills him, but not quite. He interprets this as an invisible note. He cannot decipher the note, but he also cannot stop trying.
The ordeal is not without reward: lying sweat-soaked, he burns high and higher until a new novel crystallizes around his sorrow.
He writes: “Nothing else has a place in this pattern of death, life, death.”
His editor deletes the sentence.
When the serious writer begins to have success, he’s coveted by many women. He enjoys them as companions and beds them with enough enthusiasm to make them stay, but when autumn rolls around, the fever grips him again and he will not stop shaking and shivering before the next novel is born. He knows his anger brings on the temperature, but he trusts the kill-or-cure treatment to summon the best he can give.
After spending the night, one woman says: “I really wouldn’t mind seeing your face every morning, eating with you every day and sleeping with you every night.” The serious writer has no reply, and the woman doesn’t ask again.
Critics call his work ‘absurdly comic’. He’s considered an arrogant recluse because he won’t explain himself. He knows it would be dangerous to do so: what if his mother stopped lighting his fire? Could he still write?
One day, everything changes, the same way the weather changes: for no knowable reason. He falls in love, she loves him back, she shares his anger and fear. That year, the serious writer forgets about the curse and the blessing that has kept him sharp for so long. He pays attention to the dying year for the first time, and to another person, too. Before he can even begin to worry about his health or his writing, winter’s here.
When the first snow falls, the serious writer sits at his desk and looks at white paper. In the next room, his wife plays the guitar and sings to herself. Suddenly, magically, letters appear on the page in front of him in his mother’s meticulous handwriting. This is the letter he’s waited for.
He shields one hand over his eyes, not sure he can bear to read it after so long. But curiosity wins him over. Finished reading, the words vanish and all his anger is burnt away. When he stands up, his back aching as if he’d lain in a coffin for years, his legs do a quick, unconscious dance step. His whole body follows and soon the serious writer dances and flies about the room like a blissful bee. As he bumbles about, words, sentences, entire pages fling themselves at him, and he absorbs them easily, lightly, without the fever he’s come to associate with writing.
The serious writer does not argue with this change, he bows to his mother and gets on with it. The best work always lies ahead.
published 3 October 2011
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