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 2 continued…
Bede was lying on his side. He woke with a start and felt the weight of an arm pressing down on his ribs. A man’s hand cupped his genitals. Loud, staccato snoring, which made the whole bed vibrate, came from directly behind his head. As he leapt up, his pyjama bottoms fell to his knees. The snoring continued unabated, and through the first dawn light he realised that he was in a shabby hospital ward. Two rows of beds were lined up along the walls. There were perhaps a couple of dozen in all, most of which appeared to be occupied. He had no idea what he was doing there, or how long he had lain on these disgusting sheets. Who was the fat slob who had been abusing his body? He had an urge to kill him, but was afraid of making a noise and, in so doing, raising the alarm. The man wore a grey overall and must have been some sort of attendant. On his feet was a pair of greasy-looking tennis shoes, which Bede carefully removed and put on his own.
The double doors to the ward were not locked. They hardly creaked as he gently pushed them open and slid out into the corridor. At the far end, someone sat in a glassed-in office with his back to him, apparently sleeping. No one else was about. Bede walked into the toilet and climbed out of the window. Through the mist he saw a small dog, which had been sleeping near the edge of an overgrown lawn, jump up and skitter across the gravel path towards him. He recognised it as the same one that had followed him after his beating. It made no sound, but seemed very excited to see him, stretching up, putting its paws on his knees and looking into his eyes imploringly. Bede leaned over and stroked its head, but clearly it was not satisfied: it rolled over on to its back, so he tickled its stomach.
Not far off, there was a decrepit-looking, low-rise housing estate. In the shadow of the buildings, a few burnt-out cars stood rotting at the roadside; rubbish from a dustbin had been tipped out into the street. Mostly empty, communal washing lines stretched between poles above the litter-strewn earth in front of each block. Bede inspected the meagre, damp garments. There were no trousers. After a moment’s hesitation, deciding whether or not he could possibly wear such ugly clothes, he grabbed a faded pair of shorts that had originally been jeans, a ripped T-shirt and a fuzzy, fake mohair jumper. He started to remove his pyjamas, so he could replace them with the shorts when suddenly the dog picked them up and ran off. With a great effort Bede sprinted after it, the dog enjoying the chase a lot more than he.
He had been walking for almost an hour. The sun appeared as a white disc floating in a milky pool, just above the horizon. Hundreds of moist cobwebs, which a second before had been invisible, sparkled and twinkled like delicate jewelled necklaces hung on every bush and on the dried-out plant stems that towered over the pale fields. The distant, solid line of dark tree shapes began to break up and separate. As the sky transformed into a clean, white sheet, here and there the angular silhouettes of buildings emerged, then took on three dimensions. Everything had been monochrome; now, suddenly, there were colours. Beside a weed-choked canal, where willow herb grew tall amid the long grass, a black-and-white cat sat motionless, staring up at the tattered remains of a pink kite that had become entangled in the overhead telephone cables. In desultory fashion, as if it was simply doing what was expected of it, the dog chased the cat, but soon returned to Bede’s side. A lugubrious heron, disturbed by their presence, rose a few feet into the air, then, with a sad and silent flap of its huge wings, sailed off over the treetops. A little farther on, the remains of a human body dangled below flaking rugby posts that had been used as a makeshift gibbet.
The allotments that enclosed the garages, occupied a large open area on the west side of a tall hill, and commanded a panoramic view of the city, which, in certain lights, seemed very close, yet just as often appeared remote. Head-high weeds crowded in, obscuring the narrow paths, which Bede attempted to follow through the abandoned plots. Brambles, heavily-laden with glossy, ripe fruit, grabbed and tore at his bare legs. There were obvious signs that the land had only recently fallen into disuse: burgeoning, overrun flowerbeds; a wild tangle of vermillion-flowered runner beans blocked Bede’s way. Grabbing the lush, bean tentacles in both hands, he dragged them roughly to either side, tore open a ragged aperture and pushed his way through. Big, bushy potato plants grew up through the gravel and broke easily as he lifted his feet and trod heavily on top of them.
The dog came into the lock-up and sat down in front of him. Wearing an expectant look, it stared up at his face, pressing its snout against his leg when it failed to get his attention. Bede, heavily engrossed in his book, pushed the animal gently away without looking down. It moved off a little, stood very still for a few seconds, and then scuttled around in a tight circle, nose poking inquisitively on the ground, as if arranging some non-existent blanket. Then it folded its front legs, lowered its head, and dropped its hindquarters to the floor. Raising its head once more to yawn, the dog flopped slowly on to its flank, gave a great sigh and almost immediately, began to snore.
Prologue: the story is over and now it can begin
Negotiations for the sale of foreign rights to Bede’s book came to an abrupt end, when the anarchist government closed our company down. From what we have been able to ascertain, not a single bound advance copy survived. Serendipitously, and to our great joy and surprise, a photocopy of the original, handwritten manuscript, which had been sent abroad to foreign publishers for their consideration, and had languished, forgotten, in a cupboard for more than twenty years, was recently discovered and kindly returned to us. Although the paper has yellowed and the writing is somewhat faded, the text is entirely legible.
Curiously, as we prepared for the book’s belated publication, a date-stamped set of the original printers’ proofs materialised. The plain, unmarked envelope containing the lightly-scorched bundle was pushed through the company’s letterbox late at night and contained no indication inside as to its origin. CCTV cameras had picked up the obscure image of what looked like an elderly woman on a bicycle passing close to the building at about the appropriate time but apart from her, there is nothing to suggest who might be responsible for delivering the package.
The handwriting style of the notes and the amendments on the proofs, in an assortment of inks and shades of mostly blues and black, some, but certainly not all, of which were clearly written before the scorching had occurred – bore remarkable similarities to that of the original manuscript. Although the central, anecdotal theme was left intact, significant rewriting had occurred in several places: the first chapter was almost entirely reconstructed, and included several additions; most notably, a final chapter had been appended. Bede’s recurring dream, present throughout, was also added later. Curiously, the detailed description of the eye-test is consistent with contemporary, up-to-date technology and methods, which would have been less sophisticated at the time the original manuscript was produced. Leading experts also believe that the references to the dog might well have been put in very recently, perhaps after the finding of the burned bodies of a man and dog had been reported in the media. Our initial inference was that, whoever amended the proofs – and, as the book’s publishers, we are convinced that this was Bede himself – had at least at some stage been keen to have the world believe that he was dead.
The savage attack on Bede in the park that appears in chapter one had been observed from a distance. The witness, an old colleague from his days on the newspaper, spread the word that Bede had been killed. Suddenly, Bede became a martyr – a man who dedicated his life to literature, murdered for the simple act of reading a book. It was impossible for anyone to publish anything about this at the time, but as word was passed around, Bede’s premature death gained him mythical status. But there is no hard-and-fast evidence that Bede is dead even now, or that he was the person who died in the fire at the lock-up garage. He appeared to vanish at a certain point in time when the anarchist regime were doing away with undesirables; therefore his ex-colleagues and acquaintances, having not heard from him, and having heard rumours of the attack, simply assumed that he had been killed. Their conclusion was based on little more than supposition.
During the revolutionary years, no police records were kept, and, although it appears entirely credible that the body discovered in the burnt-out lock-up in the southern sector of the city, belonged to Bede, positive identification has been impossible to establish. The conflagration, which consumed the garage and what appeared to be the countless books it housed, as well as the disintegrated body beneath the ashes and rubble, left few discernable clues. The charred remains of a small dog were found close to the blackened human skeleton. Forensic evidence suggests that the dog had been provided with a makeshift water bowl, casting some doubt as to whether or not Bede, reputedly no animal lover, had actually perished here.
When he was brought before the tribunal, the deposed leader vehemently denied any personal responsibility for sending the death squad to the allotments. Yes, he had been a contemporary of Bede’s at university. No, he had never known him personally.
In retrospect, the textual alterations, etc, might easily have been introduced with the express aim of creating confusion and a smokescreen behind which the author might conceal himself. It has also been suggested that Bede may never have been the original author. In our opinion, this is pure conjecture, and it is not our wish to raise controversy. However, we and the distinguished panel of experts we have consulted, cannot deny that certain slight inconsistencies in the style and writing technique found in the latter part of the amended version might suggest that a second author was responsible for completing the manuscript. The task would have required an intimate understanding of Bede’s complex persona.
The extreme paucity of book manuscripts of any value from before the revolution meant that we were very keen to put into production at once, the book – technically-speaking, a novella – based on Bede’s newly-discovered original manuscript. Our undertaking would certainly have been simpler had we just gone ahead and published. The continuing controversy notwithstanding, in publishing this first edition, entitled This is For You – these words scribbled, evidently in haste, across the head of the first page proof, may have been intended as a dedication, who can say? – we are confident that you, our valued readers, are being presented with the best possible, and most complete version of this work.
That was the ninth and final instalment of This is for you, the serialisation of which began here on The Blog on Friday, July 8th, 2011
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