I woke up in the middle of last night with my heart thumping. Could it be possible that my books are as awful as those of Julius Pettigrain, Jack Stanza and Martin Cornfed?
I’ve spent the past week re-proofing Alfons’ oeuvre – written under those absurd pseudonyms – and all that’s happened is that my heart has filled with doubt about my own work. If this vain idiot can’t see how awful he is, then perhaps neither can I. And even if I’m not that bad, won’t people assume I am?
And yet my readers seem rather fond of my stories. Are they lying? Are they being polite? Disastrously kind?
When I got up, I had a desire to rid myself of the Pettigrain/Stanza/Cornfed books once and for all (I have been editing existing books, not manuscripts, and I don’t believe there’s a single page that hasn’t got a pencil mark of some sort on it), so I stuffed them in a plastic bag and left them outside Peony’s door for her to return next time she and Alfons “communed”.
I had restricted myself to grammatical errors, not stylistic ones. I didn’t have the stomach to dissuade him from some of his more colourful dialogue. Besides, so much of it is hilarious. I wasn’t going to deprive potential readers of gems like: “You’re so easy to read, Pamflett.”
I explained that one to John as we walked to school this morning and we had a good old chortle. When I got back, Peony was at the kitchen table prodding away at her phone.
“You know, you ought to tweet, Mum. It’ll get your name about a bit.”
My spirits were already low. (I’ll tell you why in a moment.)
“I wouldn’t know what to tweet about,” I told her, sitting down to finish her crusts. “I mean, what on earth do people have to say to each other every ten minutes that’s so important?”
“Err wake up. It’s the way we communicate with each other these days. Great thoughts are no longer etched on tablets of stone, oh ancient mother of mine. Now ordinary people can share their eureka moments with a huge audience.”
“You’ve just tweeted something, haven’t you?”
“Well, go on. Let’s hear it.”
She composed herself and stifled her grin.
“I wrote: Is there anything worse than a coleslaw burp?”
“Is that it? Is that what you’ve shared with your admiring followers?”
“It’s already got seventy five likes and earned me dozens of new followers. I’m causing a bit of storm actually, with people chucking in their own contributions. Some bloke called Eddie Bottram claims a mackerel burp is worse. That’s caused a bit of a backlash, let me tell you.”
I waited a moment.
“I’m going to my study,” I told her and got up.
“You can’t,” she called after me. “Grunma is doing her pilates in there and doesn’t like being disturbed.”
Where can I go in my own house? Who do I turn to for sympathy, for companionship?
And that’s why I was so low this morning. You see, as I had walked back from taking John to school, I had called Laurence on my mobile. I hadn’t talked to him since Mother had booted him out and wanted to reassure him that she was senile.
But a woman answered his home number and told me that he would be away for a long time.
It wasn’t the fact that a woman answered that upset me, but the words “a long time”.
A long time.
But it took such a long, long time to find you, Dr Lorenz, and now you’re gone and even Ken Tray refuses to come out in the morning, because you’re not there to meet us in the cemetery.