Wednesday, 7 January 2009

The Items Required to Write a Short Story

The cathedral organist was testing out the monstrous pipe organ, testing up and down, down and up, testing the entire range of the instrument. David rubbed an eye. Some of the bass notes were present in his stomach rather than his ears. Sound reduced to nausea.

David mounted a set of three low red stone steps, and sat on the top one. He was sure that this part of the cathedral was called something other than simply steps: all the features of churches had names that were different from those of normal buildings. Chancel. Nave. Transept. Until he had started researching a story set in the cathedral he had had no idea what any of these were.

A teenaged Chinese girl was edging around the inside perimeter of the building, one hand constantly in contact with the brickwork, the other holding a camera in front of her, as if it were an auxiliary eye. She reached the great girth of a flying buttress - another term David had learned from research - and let her camera hang on a cord around her wrist, using both hands to feel around the base, groping as if blind, drinking the coarse sandstone through her fingertips. She took up her camera once again, stepped back and photographed the lower portion of the buttress.

David photographed the Chinese girl. The unseen organist hit his highest note, and began to descend again. A small boy kicked a stone off an unknown bridge into an unknown waterway in the centre of Copenhagen. He rubbed his eye, bored, waiting for something to happen, he didn't know what. He tried to kick another stone, but his feet weren't there, so he shrugged as the Chinese girl rounded the corner into the north transept and disappeared. David whistled an imperfect counterpoint to the organ's scales without realising he was doing it and stood up slowly, swinging his camera in increasing circles. He pushed open two heavy glass doors, sat down at a table in the cathedral's little cafe, took out his notebook and pencil and began to write. In an unseen part of the building a Chinese girl bit her lip in soft appreciative thought as she ran a hand along the angle of a wall, unaware that she was being photographed by a young man in a checked shirt who was in turn unaware that in Copenhagen a boy on a bridge thought himself into non-existance.

On the bus David looked through the various items in a plastic carrier bag. These were his notebook, a book about neo-gothic architecture, a pack of arborio risotto rice, two fine ballpoint pens, one HB pencil and the Lonely Planet guide to Denmark. He took out the notebook, the guide to Denmark and one of the ballpoints, and flicked to the required page in the guide, preparing to make notes as the young boy reappeared on the Copenhagen bridge. Where had he been? He felt he may have been floating somewhere over the cold, sprawling low-rise city, although he had no actual memory. He felt he knew the patterns of the streets and the incisions of the waterways, the green splatters of parkland and the great grey harbour. A knowledge of the names of things came back to him, or to him for the first time. He knew the heaving waters of the Ore Sund and the umbilical ribbon of its bridge, Hans Christian Andersson's Boulevard and the Langebro, where he had stood forever while David sharpened pencils, looked at foreign maps.

Some time after midnight. A young Chinese girl wakes, finds herself fully clothed in a cold building, her camera broken on the floor. She is aware of someone watching her. She move in the direction of the exit. In front of her: row upon row of pews, like a barrier. She attempts to negotiate the pews, finds that they have been arranged to form a maze. Their wooden backs are taller than she is. She heads towards the middle.

David woke early. It was not yet light. He reached for his notebook, intent on continuing the story he had researhed the day before. But he instantly felt the cold drowning death of writers' block. Doodling an intricate maze in the dark, he thought about his dreams and decided to write them down.