Whoever was calling would have to wait until tomorrow. Felix was now home from the hospital, to which Nicholas took his leave and returned to his lonely house several miles down the road. What he neglected to tell his family was that his divorce was now final, and he had moved out of Japan as a result. Everything in that country now made his skin crawl, though he felt a sickening yearn for her deep within that only worsened when he checked his phone to see she had still blocked his number.
It still angered him. Yes, their relationship had fallen apart due to their rushed marriage and reliance on impulse, but she did not listen to reason. True, he had imbibed a lot of alcohol after his failures of writing a follow up to Empryean in Infancy, but he never once raised his hand to her. Their arguments eventually became bitter and personal, and he remembered the moment when they first looked upon each other not as husband and wife, but as complete strangers. He could have died then and there, and the memory would follow him into the afterlife. It was strange how much he loved her, yet he didn’t really like her when all was said and done. Perhaps the deepest cut was, after he moved back to England, she cut off all levels of communication. The fact she already put their apartment up for sale meant he had no way of seeing her again, which was the most painful realisation. Back in his country of birth, he could only muse on his loss and procrastinate instead of writing, though he had no issue with the latter.
“I peaked too young.” he said, to no one in particular. His living room was mostly bare, save for a bookcase of thick volumes he felt bored just glancing at. There was a television gathering dust, but he gave up after only one session as the advertisements made him feel ill. Seeing all those touched-up, beaming people just depressed him even more.
Now, what to do when everything is boring? He had not read a book, much less written one, in quite a long time. It was only ten in the morning, which meant alcohol was out of the question (he wasn’t that far gone) and it was too rainy out to justify going for a stroll. So, he sat there, semi-luddite and cocooned in his sadness. Weirdly, he wanted to see his younger brother Felix, and even a visit from his sister Adelaide would be preferable to this loneliness. Just not from his parents, as his mother would fuss and fret about his former marriage and his father would click his tongue about his lack of writing. He was deep in these thoughts, feeling slightly frustrated by his predicament as he slowly bit into the knuckle on his left forefinger. Most of his days were spent reading over unfinished drafts of a novel he had been kicking around in Japan, before his issues with Tomiko caused him to give up on it. It wasn’t too bad, and he did like rereading certain chapters though it became an exercise in masochism now that he no longer called Japan a home. The problem with writings based on ones on life meant your progress was contingent on how you lived it.
Then, a reprieve. The door knocked, and a bulge of letters clattered onto the old welcome mat. He rose from his chair and saw more letters than he expected. Concerned, he picked them up and saw some were pockmarked with untidy scrawl. He could guess their contents without reading them, as he had been receiving them by the bulk since he became famous in the literary world. Mostly, it was hushing praise peppered with requests of further material, would you read my novel, I think we could be friends etc. etc. which he had become very numb to. Even so, he still felt a relief that at least someone was thinking of him, even if they didn’t really know him.
He sat down in his favourite armchair in the living room, taking care to get comfortable as he began. It was when he opened the third letter, barely paying attention to the inky stamping and messy handwriting, that he felt as though he were pulled from his self-contained depression. Her penmanship was lacking in parts, yet he felt there was a charm that only few had. Though he held onto her letter as though it were porcelain, his entire body tensed as though it were the universe its self.
I hope you take the time to read my letter. Or that it reaches you. I’ll be touched that you even read half of it, because it’ll be nice I made it further than South Korea, even in letter-form. I haven’t written to an author since I was a child, and I think it’s the first letter I’ve written in a long time even though I love doing so. I’m the same age as you now, and you made a pretty good career out of it, while I’m still stuck in this boring office job. Considering you probably get lots of fan-mail, let me get to why I was inspired to write this. I hated your novel.
He paused, not in offence, but surprise. His lips curled into his first real smile since he left Japan and he read on.
Don’t get me wrong, I love your writings. Just not your novel. Since I was a child, I read English literature because I wanted to move abroad and live in Europe. I never really became ‘well read’, I just picked books that looked interesting and read them. I ended up reading Zadie Smith and J K Rowling and Nick Hornby. Sometimes I would cheat and read a novel by a US author, but I do not ever want to go there. I think you’ll understand why, seeing as you promoted your book everywhere but there.
Laughing, he nodded as though she were sat before him. The whole country felt like an alien planet and he did not want to go there just to feel detached.
I got into your short stories because my local bookstore had your collection. I was having one of those days and I wanted a new book to read. I wasn’t expecting much, because the cover looked plain and worn, but the stories I read were some of the best I’ve ever experienced. You brought English to life, and it felt so real to me. I didn’t feel like I was alone anymore. This is why I didn’t like your novel. It didn’t have that same feel of your short stories which appealed so much to me. Maybe it is just me.
It’s not just you, he thought, as he slowly became enamoured with her words. Not even the unauthorised collection she mentioned managed to anger him, like it had in the past. He fought tooth and nail to stop the production of that collection, but it went ahead in certain countries where he had no jurisdiction. But seeing as she was so touched by it, he changed his stance almost immediately. If only his lawyer was present, then he could apologize for his ranting. When writing Empryean in Infancy, he became very absorbed in the more intellectual writing style that made him exhibit a snobbery to his older, more honest short stories. She hated his novel, loved his earlier works and he agreed wholeheartedly.
I hope you do return to short stories in the future. I know everyone treats you like some genius recluse, but I would appreciate that if you had the time, maybe you could respond to my letter. It would be nice to have at least a response because if I had to read your novel, you can write a response. My details are as follows…
Now, setting the letter down with great difficulty, he was howling with laughter. How liberating it was to call his novel awful, it felt amazing. She had signed the letter ‘Kym’ which was both a familiar and foreign name to him. Her address and mobile number were written in green ink, which he had been told before would aid in recall. He thought, would it be worth calling her? The envelope stated the letter came from Singapore, would she even be awake at this point? If so, what if she was at work?
But, with the promise of a boring day ahead, he decided to give it a try. Worst case scenario, it was a stilted effort of few words that would end with him feeling worse. So, much to lose, but plenty to gain if her personality was truly imprinted on that page. He reached for his phone and typed her number, almost deaf from the thundering of his heart. It rang three times before a soft, yet angular voice answered.
“Hi. Is this Kym?”
Guarded. “Yes? Who is this?”
“I’m Nicholas Blackmoor. You sent me a letter recently? I just wanted to call you.”
“Oh,” she said, her voice briefly dropping out, “is it really you? I never expected you’d get my letter.”
“I’m just amazed someone had my address. I didn’t think anyone knew I’d come back to England in all honesty.”
“Well, I sent it to your publisher, and they must have forwarded it. I had no idea you were out of Asia.”
He remembered speaking to his agent when he returned, asking for no calls and only admitting his address as a way of ending the call. James was incredibly persistent and had a way of earning Nicholas’ ire and getting what he wanted at the same time.
“That was nice of them. I’m glad you hated my novel though, seriously.”
She laughed, and he lightened. “It was my displeasure. When are you going back to writing short stories?”
“I have no idea, in all honesty. I haven’t written anything in a while.”
“Write something then. Anything. You don’t want to be that guy who lives off one achievement all his life. The Language of Flowers was easily one of the most beautiful things I’ve read, as well as Japanese Christian. Just write more things like that and do what you do best.”
Again, he laughed. It only takes one person to turn crippling pressure into something silly and dramatic.
“I guess, maybe. I just don’t feel like it. You should ask my little brother, Felix. He writes short stories, even if they’re all morbid. Give him time, he’ll write what you’ll like.”
“You’re afraid of writing.”
“You’re afraid. You are nominated for one Pulitzer and you think you’re on top of the world, but you suddenly leave Japan and you’re hiding away in your home country. Be brave, you were before. You’re selling yourself short.”
“Settle down. You’re awfully judgemental for someone I’ve only just met. I’ll write when I’m ready, I’m just dealing with too much right now.”
It was Kym who laughed this time, and he admitted to himself he much liked hearing the sound of her laughter. It was like some form of accomplishment, to get her to laugh when she seemed like such a stern person.
“I’m sorry, I just read in your novel that you liked criticism. I think you should be more decisive, you know? Be the bear, not the honey.”
“I’ll take your advice to heart. Thank you.”
“Listen, I have to get ready for my dinner date. I’m meeting my girlfriend, and I have to shower. Would you like to talk later if you’re free?”
“Yes, yes please. That would be lovely.”
“Alright. Can you call me in around four hours? I should be home by then.”
“I will. Have a good night.”
“Thank you. Have a good day.”
She hung up, and he felt a euphoria that had been alien to him for the longest time. In this home he rented, he had few possessions and for the first time, he was grateful he wasn’t terribly materialistic. On impulse, he would have taken the first flight out to Singapore but decided to wait until mid-afternoon to call her. Pocketing her letter, he felt enthused enough to visit his brother and see if the cast had come off.