This is For You An autobiography of sorts
The new novel by Pedro Silmon, serialised, exclusively for you on The Blog
As previously explained, the characters within this book are fictitious and any similarities to persons living, or dead, are coincidental but, like many first novels, This is for you, is an autobiography of sorts. At 26,000 words, it is relatively short, however, it was written, re-written, edited and refined over a five year period, spanning 2001-2007, in Germany and the UK. I am endebted to David Miller at the prestigious UK literary agency, Rogers, Coleridge & White, to whom I was kindly introduced by Sarah Spankie, Deputy Editor of the Condé Nast Traveller; having read a draft of the text, David suggested a few changes which improved it enormously.
Part 1 continued…
Bede managed to get a place at a good university on the strength of his writing talents, having, much to his own bewilderment and annoyance, just scraped through the entrance exams. Once there, he expected to become something of a shining light, but soon realised that many lights shone far more brightly and attracted more attention than his. He tried hard, but never managed to become anything more than a distant satellite of the in-crowd, the select club that was never going to accept him as a member. He told himself that he was an individual, that he did not need them, and that, anyway, they would come around eventually. They never did. Nevertheless, he did gain some followers of his own. They were excited by his apparently nihilistic attitude, by the fact that he really did not seem to care about anything. His admirers failed to realise that he was taking no political stance: apart from his collecting obsession, he genuinely cared only about himself. He used them all and ruthlessly took advantage of anything they had to offer. To him they were idiots, and later, after the degree ceremony, he dumped them.
During Bede’s undergradute years, a growing sense of disillusionment was building up throughout the country, against the long-serving, centre-left government. At Bede’s university, as at many others, the student union became more and more radical. Its leaders, who would have no truck with the right-wing opposition parties, loudly condoned anarchy, and urged the student body to take part in anti-government marches and rallies. To raise funds, which they claimed were to support anti-racist organisations, homeless people and striking miners, they held concerts with live bands, in the main hall of the college every Friday evening. It was the punk era and things tended to get a bit wild.
At one such event, when, as usual, the band sneered and spat at the audience frantically pogoing and slithering around below them on the beer-swilled dance floor, everyone, including Bede, got very drunk. The first floor hall was jam-packed and the music was fast and loud. Close to midnight, when the event was scheduled to end, he found himself staggering through and down towards the toilets. A group of two or three figures, one of whom he vaguely recognised, hurried towards him. At the very last second, they grudgingly separated to allow him to pass. Unusually, the lights on the stairs, on which he now slipped and fell and got soaked, had been switched off. There was water everywhere. He struggled to his feet and reached the ground floor. In the dim, greenish light emanating from the open door of the toilets at the far end of the corridor, he could make out large, sodden pieces of heavy, cream-coloured paper, floating past his shoes. During its four-hundred-year history, the university had amassed a world-renowned collection of ancient and modern books, prints and manuscripts. Ex-students who had gone on to become national, and sometimes world-famous authors, had donated many signed first editions to the archive. In front of him, the doors of the university library stood wide; an abandoned fire-hose lay uncoiled on the floor between them. Bede switched on the light only briefly, but for long enough to see that someone had been inside and thoroughly drenched the lot. He ran outside and threw up.
Bede looked himself up and down in the mirror. In his adolescence, he knew that he was never going to be very big, but he told himself to think tall and was sure that it had at least made some difference. And though he eventually grew to only average height, he was certainly not small. He stood very straight, walked with his head held up and shoulders back. His body was not noticeably muscular, but he had reasonably broad shoulders; he was slim and had what he considered to be a nicely shaped bottom. Bede made the best of himself. Clothes looked good on him. He took great pains to dress well, to go to a good hairdresser, and to make sure he was always clean-shaven. He considered that he was lucky to get few spots. To ensure his skin retained a smooth, even texture, he used a moisturising cream every day and ate a lot of fruit. He regularly trimmed and buffed the nails on both his hands and feet, and always removed any stray hairs protruding from his nose or ears. Having read somewhere that it was the done thing, he even thought about trimming his pubic hair, but the idea of actually getting down to doing it, made him cringe, so he never did.
When he was still living at home, his father and mother had pressured him into doing something to help out around the house. They had become angry when they found Bede loafing about, apparently doing nothing, so they attempted to make him do little jobs. However, he was always doing something; most of the time his mind was totally occupied with thoughts of girls, or in trying to devise ways of avoiding any type of work that they might thrust upon him. He spent many long hours dreaming up schemes that would enable him to simply come by money, rather than earn it, so that he could afford his various pleasures, including buying more books for his collection.
Bede was fond of ironing his own clothes. He regarded ironing as a pastime rather than a chore, and derived great pleasure from carefully fastening the top button of each freshly-ironed shirt as he placed it lovingly on a wooden coathanger to air. He even ran the iron swiftly over his underpants, and occasionally his socks, before arranging them in their appropriate drawers. This obsession had begun from the dissatisfaction he felt with the way his mother ironed his shirts: the fabric on the cuffs was always creased, and where she ironed over the buttons, shiny indentations appeared on the reverse side. One day he decided to intervene. He stepped in – oblivious of the upset he might cause – and usurped his mother’s position at the ironing board. He would have gained nothing by doing the washing-up or the vacuuming, activities which he loathed and had so far managed to avoid. Taking over the ironing of his own clothes had been a calculated ploy, which resulted in a smarter Bede never being asked to do anything else at home.
At university and when he began working, ordinary, regular leisure pursuits existed perhaps less in Bede’s life than in those of his peers, with the exception that, every morning, almost without fail, even in the most atrocious weather, he would get up early and go out jogging. He could not bear the thought of ever getting fat, and went out and spent a lot of money on the right sports clothes, because he felt he could perform much better when he looked good. His hair was straight, but it was the kind that stuck out in all directions after it had been slept on, and, as the thought of wearing a hat was repugnant to him, his departure was always delayed while he attempted to flatten it with water. He tried to run normally, but he could never come to terms with what normally meant. Most other people, he noted, seemed to have no problem with the concept, and just got on and ran. Why, then, he asked himself, did he find it so much trouble just to let his body and limbs do their jobs to create a running motion that simply propelled him from A to B, without his ever having to consciously think about it? He did not really know. It was like that, and there was nothing he could do about it. Nevertheless, it bothered him. If all went well – if he was not chased by a barking dog, or accosted by a pervert – he would be away for about an hour. Afterwards, he would shave, shower and have a leisurely breakfast, during which he would read one or other of the books he was trying to get through so he could move on to the next.
He had dismissed the idea that he might one day need glasses: always having had an amazing ability to pick out details at very long distance, he had boasted that he had perfect vision, although he had never, since he was a small child, had an eye test. The fact was that, as he entered his twenties, he slowly became conscious of being no longer capable of focusing on anything close up to his face. Attempts to do so, especially in poor light, resulted in his becoming irritated and developing a fuzzy headache. Lying in bed at night with a book propped in front of him he found that he had to hold it farther away than before, in order to be able to read the type. It was only a matter of a few centimetres, but all the same it worried him.
Bede stared at a tiny red-and-white house at the end of a long driveway, while three little puffs of air, which made him start violently, were directed into each eye. The optician explained that this was to check the eye pressure. He sat before a large machine in a darkened corner, as the optician scurried about, making adjustments to it. She had helped him to place his chin in a little plastic mould, and made sure that the seat height was properly set, so that he could lean slightly forward, comfortably, with his head in an upright position. To him, the dim light and her close proximity and gentle prodding, made for an intense sense of intimacy.
Next, he had to sit at another machine and identify various numbers of little spots of light that were flashed up in different positions behind a glass screen. This was, apparently, to check his peripheral vision. The optician then steered him towards another, much smaller, slightly less dimly-lit room, and asked him a series of standard questions, the answers to which she carefully wrote down on a printed form, and there was a lot of ticking of boxes. Though it was so crammed with furniture and equipment that their knees almost touched as they sat facing one another, the room was well organised and had a peaceful, capsule-like atmosphere. Rapt, Bede felt far away from the outside world. She placed a complex adjustable spectacle frame in front of his eyes. As she rapidly tried various strengths of lenses in each side, he heard her slightly husky voice very near, enquiring gently the whole time, as to how each change affected his ability to read some small text. When this was done, she leaned towards him and came very close up to his face, so that she could shine a light into his eyes. As he swivelled them from side to side and up and down, according to her quiet directions, almost totally enveloped in the blurry, voluminous mass of her dark hair, all that he could hear was her light, even breathing. Unwelcome, harsh, bright sunlight stung his eyes, when she abruptly drew back, pulled open the Venetian blind and sat down in her seat. It bounced off the shiny equipment and created little, twinkling rainbow effects around each of the lenses scattered about the desk. She smiled, telling him that he needed only reading glasses, handed him a slip of paper with his prescription written on it and that was that.
Never imagining that he would ever have to wear spectacles, Bede had previously dismissed all spectacle-wearers as inferior, but now, faced with having to don them regularly himself, he was filled with unexpected excitement. He never wore jewellery of any sort, although he liked to have a few neat, unflamboyant wristwatches. The reading glasses would have to merge smoothly with his image.
As with most good-looking young men, he was attractive and attracted to good-looking girls. During the courtship period, when he was not so sure of himself, he made a point of being exceedingly charming, but he was careful to end each date by saying vaguely that he would be in touch. Then, as soon as he felt that a girl was hooked, he pretended that he was very busy and was not really bothered whether or not he saw her from one week to the next. Occasionally, his method failed and he never saw the girl again, but for the most part it worked insidiously, so that, after a few weeks, he achieved his aim of seeing them regularly, two or three times every week.
At first, he made no fuss if a girlfriend smoked, but he detested it. He derived tremendous pleasure from kissing, but sour, nicotine-laden breath made him retch, and before long he made it evident that he was not happy. Mostly, the girls reluctantly gave in and stopped, because he was such a good kisser, and they did not want to have to forgo their pleasure. There were a couple of independent ones, however, who just would not take the hint, and had to be given the cold shoulder. However, as he matured, he began to realise that the tougher ones were more intriguing: they represented a more interesting game, and he gradually became aware that it was their intelligence that he found irresistible, so he began actively to pursue them.
By the time he reached his thirtieth birthday, there were around five thousand books in Bede’s collection. He had rented a lock-up garage in the eastern sector of the city when he first left home, and, although at that time the space had been adequate to accommodate his books with room to spare, it had quickly filled up. Lock-ups were in great demand and not that easy to come by. When he found himself in need of additional storage capacity, it was only after dogged persistence that he eventually managed to find another, tucked away in a remote area that had been given over to well-tended allotments, way out on the distant fringes of the city’s endless suburbs. The isolated and almost rural location appealed to Bede’s appetite for secrecy. The garage was in a reasonable condition when he took it over, except for some dark-red smears and scratches on the wall at the back. Not that the knowledge of its former use would have made much difference to him one way or another. If he had been the kind of person who read the tabloids, or paid much attention to the television news, he might have been aware that, some months before, the police had raided a lock-up in that vicinity, which had been being used as a torture chamber by a sadistic rapist.
Bede’s only concern was to secure safe storage for his beloved books. He was not really the most practical sort of person, but when it came to looking after his collection, his relentless enthusiasm made mincemeat of any problems that blocked his way. His new garage contained some old tyres and a few oily bits of car engine, and there were used and half-empty, spray-paint cans lying about on its stained concrete floor. Having noticed another, rather neglected-looking, garage further along the row, which had no padlock, he looked inside. There seemed to be quite a lot of vacant space around the dusty old car that had been left there to die, so he filled it with all of the junk from his.
His doors did not fit very well, and he was afraid that the rain might blow inside through the gaps so he tacked odd off-cuts of linoleum, which he found abandoned at the side of yet another lock-up, all around the inside edges. Very soon, the garage was neatly weatherproofed. Oblivious of its recent history, he sluiced down the walls, swept the floor and stacked his first boxes of books inside. Before leaving, happy with his work, he broke into the tiny store of provisions he planned to leave there, and made himself a well-earned cup of tea.
©Pedro Silmon, 2011
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