I got up from my chair and shuffled across to the water-damaged wall of my flat. Above me, cobwebs and mould, elaborate sculptures of neglect. Inside me, the same.
I crouched, my knees protesting, and scooped-up the balls of crumpled paper. A metal bin, matches. A jug of water at hand, the scale faded, an inaccurate vessel. Now, a fire; a mini-bonfire of my vanity.
Who the hell did I think I was? Seven years on a single sentence? Only James Joyce could get away with pulling a stunt like that.
I frowned at the frayed sock dangling from my unwashed foot and decided to burn that too. I pulled it off, tossed it in and watched the synthetic fibres melt. It was a strangely satisfying experience.
‘You have chosen pain,’ he said. ‘It’s as simple as that.’
Nils was an existentialist.
I say was, I mean, he probably still is.
‘You could choose joy, but you have chosen otherwise. Perhaps you are unconsciously punishing yourself for some transgression.’
He was a Freudian existentialist. Still is. Probably.
‘I…’ I said.
‘Yes, indeed, I. It is all about the I with you. The self, the ego, the decision to be tortured.’
It was the last thing he said to me. Pretty harsh, right?
I put the fire out and drifted to my bookshelves. My fingers caressed the broken spines of my many old friends, until they paused at one with a familiar name. My name.
Eight years ago, my debut novel was published. Nils worked for my publisher. He arranged the publicity for the book. That’s how we met.
I was Spencer Hannigan. I used to be him. Hotshot, prize-winning, genre-bending author of the hour. Then the hour passed, and I wasn’t him anymore.
‘Spence, you can do it, you did it before, just relax and let it come…’ That’s what they said. Nils; my agent; my therapist (earning forty quid an hour, as I slipped into penury).
Just one problem.
Just two problems, now.
I drove him away. I know I did. I chose misery and self-flagellation because I didn’t have anything else.
I couldn’t let him love me anymore, since it wasn’t really me that he loved, it was the words, and the words were all gone.
I must face up to what I’ve done.
I’m outside now. In my garden. I’ve built a real bonfire. The fuel has been chosen carefully. My first and only novel, the other failing sock, all the pictures of Nils I possess, my press cuttings. Everything that relates to the short, dazzling career of Spencer Hannigan.
The fire is blazing. I wish I could burn Spencer Hannigan, too, but the trouble is he’s already dead.
He was my best friend. He died young. I promised him that I’d get his book published. I kept my promise, but it made me an imposter.
I step into the fire and erase myself.
Adam Sear lives in Northamptonshire. When not busy earning a living teaching, he writes short stories and creative non-fiction. He is currently studying part-time for an MA in Creative Writing with the Open University. His interests include cosmology, sci-fi, history and the natural world. Strong tea, no sugar.