COMMENTS, not just welcome, INVITED.
Failure is a hard and unforgiving mistress. But failure was what he did best. It was the only thing he was good at, you might say. Failure was his cross to carry.
No-one would have thanked you for saying it but the truth was a close relative of failure and occasionally they paid each other a visit.
But on this occasion he didn’t fail. He held the evidence in his hand, a copy of an obscure short story magazine and there in black and white was the title of his story with his byline beside it.
Alright, so it was a long time coming. But all the sweeter for that, he thought. He showed them. They who said he would amount to nothing. They who said he would never get published. They who said he was on a hiding to nothing, not a prayer or a snowball’s chance in Hell. ‘They’ and ‘them’, he thought, ‘well, fuck them.’
Privately, in a shadowed recess of his mind, he agreed with them enough to doubt the sanity or judgement of the editor involved. But such thoughts were not to be entertained today. He wanted to take a copy of the magazine and give one to all of his detractors. That was never going to happen. He couldn’t afford it.
But there were a few people he would love to rub their nose in his prose, he thought. Father McNamara, in particular, the sad old git of an English teacher who humiliated him in public before his classmates over a school essay. He blamed McNamara for his five year reluctance to write fiction, diverting his energies instead to the arcane pursuit of medieval academia.
McNamara was a pompous fool with loose dentures, too fond of his own voice. McNamara with the stentorian drawl of a southern congressman, all bloated with hot air, piss and vinegar. He enunciated his vowels, consonants and syllables with exaggerated length and volume and an inevitable shower of saliva on those unfortunate to be standing within a one metre radius of him.
The dentures, on that occasion, plonked onto David’s desk as McNamara, in full pompous verbal flight, was giving David’s prose an unusually vicious shredding, even by his standards.
Of course, this diatribe was accompanied by a harmonious chorus of sycophantic chuckles from those around him who were either relieved to avoid the old priest’s ire or simply made a point of chuckling derisively as a matter of form in such circumstances.
David weathered the storm. He braced himself against the pelting rain of mucous and the howling rage of the decrepit cleric’s fury. He was the new boy. It was expected and he faced it with the resolve not to betray himself by showing his fear.
Revulsion and anger were kept in check too…too tightly, as it turned out. He locked away his creative impulses and put virtual handcuffs on his imagination. He devoted himself to the pursuit of history.
And discovered quickly that history is written by the victors and not the vanquished. Or at least so the popular belief was held. But if a person could control the writing of their own history then there were no losers, only victims.
Carrying the cross of martyrdom was no heavy burden compared with the prospect of meeting expectations or disappointing anyone. It was easier to live in the twilight than die in the sun, he told himself.
But the cross becomes a crutch and the fear of failure becomes greater than the desire for success. He remembered being presented with a leather bound edition of Alexander Dumas’ The Three Musketeers for an essay he wrote about the legacy of the glorious rebellion of 1916. It was the 50th anniversary and he was just 10 and already precocious, if occasionally inattentive and distracted.
He prepared his essay for weeks, studied the history and the newspaper accounts of the jubilee celebrations. He knew of the boyhood’s fire in his blood as he read of those ancient heroes and their heroic but doomed struggle. He read Pearse’s oration at the grave of O’Donovan Rossa. He could recite the proclamation as proclaimed by Pearse and his motley band outside the GPO on that Easter Monday morning to a crowd who were less curious than derisive in the face of their idealism.
He remembered his father reading his essay with care on the night before the writing competition, how he read and re-read his prose. How he paced his bedroom anxiously, anticipating his father’s caveats and corrections. How his father presented him with an abridged version of his work, subtly altered. How this was what he memorised before he sat down with pen and paper to compose his award winning effort the next morning under supervised conditions in the schoolhouse.
He remembered now, sixteen years later, how cheap and hollow his victory felt as he received his copy of Dumas’ fiction.
Old McNamara, he thought, did him no harm. He just placed another obstacle in the way of his advance. If he believed in himself he could have fought and resisted.
‘Riiinnnng, riiiinnnggg, riiiinnnggg, rii…’ the phone disturbs his reveries, like a pebble shatters a placid lake.
‘David? Is that you?”
‘Oh, hi Dad, how are you?’
‘I read your story…the one in the magazine.’
‘Oh…yeah…what did you think?’
‘I thought it was very good,’ in the pause that followed David found time to catch his breath as though he’d just leaped into a mountain stream, ‘it was …ehhhmmm…kind of morbid, wasn’t it?’
David felt himself exhale though there was little purchase in his efforts. This was more like ‘critique’ than ‘criticism.’
‘And the ending,’ ah, here it comes, he thought, ‘I could have written a better ending myself.’