Authors: Aidan Chambers
ALSO BY AIDAN CHAMBERS
FOR YOUNGER READERS
The Present Takers
PUBLISHER’S NOTE: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Cataloging-in-Publication Data has been applied for and may be
obtained from the Library of Congress.
Text copyright © 2012 Aidan Chambers
Book design by Robyn Ng
Published in 2012 by Amulet Books, an imprint of ABRAMS. All rights reserved. No portion of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, mechanical, electronic, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without written permission from the publisher.
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“COULD I TALK TO YOU?”
“You’re a writer?”
“I need your help.”
“You see the sign on the door?”
“What does it say?”
“No visitors without appointment.”
“Have you an appointment?”
“Then I suggest you make one.”
“Could I make an appointment?”
I couldn’t help laughing. Anyway, there was something about him, an indefinable quality that instantly appealed.
“What sort of help do you want?”
“With my girlfriend.”
“I don’t know anything about you, never mind your girlfriend.”
“I can explain.”
“Young man. I’m seventy-five. Happily married for over forty years. What would I know about girls these days?”
“You write about them.”
“You’ve read my books?”
“So how do you know?”
“My girlfriend told me. She’s a fan. And I looked you up on the internet.”
“Really? Well, at least you’re honest. But in any case, the girls in my books are fictions. I made them up. They don’t have minds of their own. Real girls do.”
“The help is just for me, really. Not my girlfriend.”
“Look, if we’re going to continue this conversation, which it seems we are, you’d better come inside.”
Rooms are a fixed size, which can’t be altered without pulling down walls and building new ones. They should be unchanging in shape and proportions. But sometimes they do change depending on who’s in them.
I led him into the sitting room. He was tall, well built
but not bulky, not overbearing. I was surprised, because the room didn’t shrink as it usually did when visitors came in. It got larger.
When we’d sat down, he on the edge of the sofa, leaning forward, elbows on knees, eyes looking at his hands clasped as if in prayer, me in the armchair facing him, I asked again how he thought I could help.
“My girlfriend wants me to write about myself,” he said.
“About myself. Inside.”
“What? You mean your feelings?”
“My inner secrets, she said.”
“She quoted something at me.”
“Can you remember it?”
“‘How can you call them friends when they do not know their mutual feelings.’”
“That’s good. Did she say who said it?”
“Aristotle? She’s read Aristotle?”
“Maybe she picked it up from the internet.”
“She does read a lot. She’d like it here,” he added, looking at the shelves of books.
“She’s some girl, if she’s read Aristotle.”
“Well, yes, she is.”
“Or maybe she’s just good at finding quotes.” I let that sink in before I said, “So what do you want me to do?”
“Help me write the stuff she wants.”
“Why can’t you write it yourself?”
“She says she’ll only go on with me if I do. She’s made a list of questions she wants me to answer. And I have to do it in what she calls full-dress English.”
“Yes. Proper punctuation, spelling and stuff. And printed out. I hate doing that. It’s torture.”
“Not that bad, surely?”
“Yes, it is. And, anyway, I don’t know what to write.”
“What do you want me to do, then? Make it up?”
“No! … But that wouldn’t be such a bad idea, come to think of it.”
He looked at me and smiled for the first time and said, “Only joking. But still …”
“Dunno … Well, I do, to be honest. There’s a problem.”
He examined his hands again, fiddled with his fingers, took in a breath, and gave me a defiant look.
“Ah!” I said. “I see.”
Defiance turned to apology. “I have trouble writing. Not reading so much. But writing. Things get jumbled.
Not just letters and words. The sentences and the thoughts as well. Something happens between what’s in my head and what comes out when I try to write it down. It’s torture.”
“Your parents know about this, and your teachers, of course?”
“My parents, and the teachers did when I was at school.”
“You’re not at school?”
“How old are you?”
I’d have said sixteen.
“What do you do for a living?”
“I’m training to be a plumber.”
“I see. What’s your name, by the way?”
“Karl. Karl Williamson.”
“Haven’t I seen you around?”
“We did some work in a house up the road not long ago. I used to go past your house. You were in the garden a couple of times.”
“I thought I’d seen you. And your girlfriend, what’s her name?”
“Fiorella. Fiorella Seabourne.”
“Fiorella. Unusual name.”
“Italian. Her mother’s Italian.”
“And she understands? About your dyslexia.”
“She doesn’t know.”
“You haven’t told her?”
“Then tell her.”
“Don’t want to.”
“That’s not good enough. If I’m going to help, you have to level with me.”
He sat back, deciding, I think, whether he wanted to go on with this, after all. Then:
“Like I said, she’s a big reader. And a big writer as well. Always at it. She wrote to you once. An email.”
“Really? Did I answer?”
“You’ve read it?”