This week’s New Voices story is Lyndsey Smith’s “The Writer.” The titular writer lives near Liv and the narrator and hosts frequent parties which, the narrator tells us, ” anyone with any kind of literary pretensions went to.” Though the writer is well known for a novel he’d published, it seems, as the narrator uncovers, that no one really knows the writer, knows what’s true and what’s grand story. Smith’s voice is both witty and charming and this story will sit with you just as the narrator’s last encounter with the writer sits with her.
The writer had three degrees: English, philosophy and biology. Everyone knew that. He had a party every Friday night that anyone with any kind of literary pretensions went to, I mean anyone who lived in the Dublin 7 area, obviously, although people were known to have crossed the river too. I had literary pretensions too but as I was certain I was talentless I kept them to myself.
I last saw the writer at a party in his house on Manor Street, which was halfway between the house I shared with Liv and the Tesco on Prussia Street where we did most of our grocery shopping. There had been talk of him selling up and moving on or of renting the house out for a year or two while he travelled but no one knew him well enough to know for sure. Even Liv didn’t know and she knew everything about everyone. People said he’d bought the house for next to nothing during the recession and that his parents had helped him and probably still were but he liked to pretend he’d done it all by himself, with his writing. He’d published a novel five years before, and apparently he was working on a collection of short stories but, as far as anyone could tell, the novel was it. A PDF version of a story he’d written had been doing the rounds for a couple of years, maybe more, but at least since I’d moved in with Liv. It was called “Rats on Arbour Hill” and I hadn’t read it but I knew it had something to do with his ex-girlfriend. Everyone said they’d broken up because of that story, that he’d written it to make her break up with him. I assumed he’d written something unflattering about her but I was never interested enough to read it. I’ve never been a fan of short stories. Liv had read the story twice and said it was good but I didn’t trust her judgment. She also said a writer shouldn’t have to consider ethics and that all that mattered was whether it was good or not and that the writer was probably better off alone if that was how things were going to be with his girlfriends. I said maybe he just shouldn’t write about them. Liv scrunched her nose up and bit the top of the pen she’d been writing in her notebook with when I said that. I could tell she was exasperated because she thought I didn’t get it because I wasn’t a writer. I hadn’t read his novel either because I was worried he was a literary genius and that’s why people derided him so much. I didn’t want to think they were all just jealous. I didn’t want to feel bad about myself.
The writer had three degrees: English, philosophy and biology. Everyone knew that. He had a party every Friday night that anyone with any kind of literary pretensions went to, I mean anyone who lived in the Dublin 7 area, obviously, although people were known to have crossed the river too. I had literary pretensions too but as I was certain I was talentless I kept them to myself. “I’m here with Liv,” I’d say, if anyone asked. When asked what I did for a living, I would say, “Editing, proofreading, that sort of thing,” and try to discourage any further conversation, although people rarely wanted to talk to me anyway. If Liv caught me writing at home, I would pretend I was writing to-do lists or keeping a record of the books I was reading. I don’t think she ever suspected what I was really up to. I think she thought I had some kind of anxiety disorder that involved listing things for hours on end. I think she thought I was a little bit in awe of her too, because she was a writer and I loved books so much.
I also loved wine and I always drank too much. Not enough to get drunk, but enough to get a bad pain in my stomach and really need to fart. As it’s rarely appropriate to fart at parties, or literary salons, I would hold it in until my stomach got so gassy I’d have to bend over every few minutes for relief. I was bent over like that when I met Audrey for the first time. We were sitting beside each other on a pot-holed sofa, ignoring each other, or at least I was ignoring her.
“You should try the low FODMAPs diet,” she said. “My stomach used to make those kinds of noises until I gave up onions and garlic.”