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The Race to Write

by Tim Boxer 2 years ago in literature
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Disadvantaged school boy, Zavier, fights against the odds and discovers a hidden talent, and a superpower.

My pen presses hard onto the paper and I write: "Once upon a time there was a little black book." I stop and grimace remembering what Parker had taught us only last semester. “Never start with ‘in the beginning!” he’d declared, scratching out a list of Better Beginnings on the blackboard.

I fling my pen in frustration toward the window, and hear a crack as it impacts the glass. I step over to examine the window. Please God, no - there’s a faint pen smear on the glass and a tiny chip where the pen hit. Without thinking I grab the pen and throw it again at the floor.

I hear myself whimper as I crunch into a ball waiting for my chest to tighten. Like a stalker always lurking, these episodes began a month ago after Dad left and Mom's plummet into what Parker had kindly told me, “is probably depression”.

I spot the pen under the bed, and I know I have to see this through - I must write this story.

"Everything changed after Seli found a little black book during her nightly search through the garbage container. Dropping the trash she’d collected, she tied back her matted hair and fished out the book using a coat hanger tied to a broken broom. Beyond the reach of the street lamp’s orange beam, she leant against a brick wall and thumbed through dozens of hand-written pages, entranced by the intricate shapes filling every line."

I drop my pen and twist my hand clicking the bones in my wrist. Like a brick tapping on a pane of glass I sense panic knocking on my chest. I roll back my shoulders.

Deep breath.

Write.

"Skimming back through the book she found a word somewhere in the middle and stared trance-like at the artistry of it, all curls and whisps, scribed in black ink across the top of the page - ‘Grace.’"

“Zav!” Mum shouts, almost in time with her heavy thuds on the stairs. I reach to open my bedroom door.

“Yes, Mom?”

“What are ya doing?”

She looks terrible. One arm is draped over the stair banister, the other clinging to some stinking liquor. I stand still, staring at the person who gave birth to me, now ruined.

“I can’t do this,” I choke. “Leave me, please. I’m trying to help!”

I close the door on Mom, afraid an attack will cripple me again. But as I turn to my scrawny writing shelf, for some reason my panic is sliding off me like a stone thrown over thick ice.

Pen, paper, go.

"As she wondered who might have written these words, Seli heard something moving on the sidewalk. It sounded like footsteps so she disappeared behind the garbage can.

“Hello,” said a soft voice.

“Who is it?” Seli barked, slipping the book back into the trash and peering into the light. She winced as the outline of a man began to emit light brighter than the lamp above him. “What on earth,” she whispered, withdrawing back to the shadows.

“I can help you with that,” the voice called."

Here it comes again, so I spin around, trying to distract myself. My bed is covered with crumpled paper etched with words each one discarded, betraying my lack of confidence; last night’s endeavours. My penguin dictionary is staring at me from under the pillow and it slips into my hand.

I find that grace means, ‘unmerited, divine assistance,’ but I am not interested, so snap it shut. Out of loyalty, I set it down next to my paper and pen. My wristwatch is hanging from a nail on the side of the shelf. The digits are flashing 1947, and I remember Parker’s warning, “Late submissions will not be accepted”.

Write, Zav, write!

"“With what?” Seli replied.

“With your book - I can help you understand what it means.”

“That’s crazy,” she said, gritting her teeth, “leave me alone!”

“I know you looked at that word, and you want to know what it means, don’t you?”"

I tap the penguin’s beak with my forefinger and decide to trust Parker’s advice to let the story write itself.

"“I know what it means, but it’s trash. It's not real,”.

“It may not be-”

“What are you?!”

“Listen to me,” the man’s light was fading revealing kind eyes, “it may not be what you have experienced, but it’s what you need.”"

I stare at the wall in front of me, confused. My eyeballs flick back and forth as I think about what I just wrote and stare down at the paper, afraid of where this story is going. Time check - 2030.

I line up my first page of words along the grain of my writing shelf and flip it over.

My pen starts to ride fluid over the page as my brain at last gives way to my soul, bypassing every other distraction.

~

I wake with a pain in my forehead. Where am I? I remember the story, the writing, the contest and adrenaline fires through my arms and I jolt upright.

I check my watch whispering under my breath, Sweet Jesus, please… and try to kick my brain into gear as I read the digital numbers: 0801. I grab the competition slip Parker handed out last week.

“Entries must arrive before 9.00 am,” it read, “on Saturday 1st January”.

The sun is rising just above the jungle of brown apartment blocks in the distance and the chip on the window reminds me of last night’s episode. I tense, fighting a thousand thoughts: The landlord will kill you! You’ve ruined your family and now you’ll get evicted! Somehow I snap the thought-trail in two like how I snap pencils when I’m furious.

Finish, Zav. Go!

I start re-reading what I must have written through the night.

"Seli’s hair shone bright yellow in the street lamp as she walked arm in arm with the angel-man down the sidewalk.

“There is much to learn, but the greatest lesson lies in that black book on the centre page.” The girl was subdued, like a street orphan who’d returned home for the first time in years.

“And once you have forgiven all those around you, you must forgive one last person.”

“Who is that?” said the girl, staring into his deep-set eyes.

“It is yourself.”"

0830

I shuffle the papers to find what looks like the last page and read the final paragraph.

"Seli’s smile radiated through her whole being as she realised for the first time she could go home. She thought she’d blown it. But now as she strode up the narrow cobbled street to her parents’ house - the place she was born - Seli felt free; not only from her parents’ betrayal, but from her own guilt. And as she placed her hand on the cast iron knocker, she smiled, grateful to the angel-man that at last she truly felt ready to meet her parents."

Billions of thoughts race through my head, but there simply isn’t time. I can make it to Parker in ten minutes, if I run.

I fold up the wodge of papers, swing open my door, and fly down the stairs landing by the front door where two brown envelopes stare up at me, both marked Brooklyn Detention Complex. I ignore them and squeeze out onto the sidewalk, throwing closed the front door behind me.

Outside the tattoo shop, I pause for breath resting my arms on a garbage can. My legs relax and a picture of Mom and Dad embracing, the only time I’d seen it, plays on the screen in my mind. Then, out of nowhere, there’s a shift and I feel something leave me, but I cannot place it. I must go.

0857.

Bridge High School is in sight and students are walking across the front lawn onto the sidewalk. I dash through the front gate and past the competition banner strung on the railings, “Win $20,000! Bridge High School chosen for historic writing contest. Enter now!”

The double front doors are closing slowly and I manage to slip through into the lobby, past reception where Miss Male glances at me and then the clock, and I slow to a jog.

Parker’s door is open and he’s upright, knees tucked under his partners desk wearing his tweed suit, staring straight ahead. On his desk there’s a stack of papers weighted down by his heavy brass alarm clock.

I lurch forward as the battle cry of the brass bells click into life and Parker is staring at my hands, shocked. I’m confused. I reach my hand forward to add my papers to the pile but in a split second I see what he sees and the shift from earlier outside the tattoo shop, makes complete sense.

“Where is it, Zavier?”

“What?”

“Where’s the story? Where is your submission?”

My heart has stopped. I know where it is.

I must look like death because I can hear Parker saying, “Zavier, sit down!” and he is sliding a chair towards me, but my vision is blurred and I can hardly see his face.

Parker has never touched me, but I feel a hand so wide it almost covers my whole back, and I hear myself sob and sob and sob.

~

I endured five days of darkness wondering what would have happened if I’d handed in my story, still mystified by what I’d written.

There is a loud thud at the front door and I freeze, my neck tendons tensing as a vision of Dad’s arrest flashes through my head.

“Mom,” I shout.

“It’s that school teacher,” she says, as I shuffle down the stairs.

I can see Parker mouthing something through the window as I open the door slowly, confused by the collision of two worlds here on my doorstep.

“Zavier, I need to talk to you,” he says, and I assume this has something to do with Dad. “Can I come in?”

“No. Just say it here,” I hold up my hand. “Please.”

“The competition-”

“Please don’t-”

“No, it’s good,” his voice is warm, I know that much. “The other entries were disqualified because they were over the word limit. It is heartbreaking. But, the school has been given the prize money anyway-”

“Why are you telling me this? Please leave.”

“Because, Zavier-”

“Please don’t do this...I can’t!” I shout back.

“Listen!” Parker booms, locking his hands around my arms. “I know you want your Dad back…” I shake off his hand and fall to my knees, slouching against the open door.

“Zav, the school wants to award you this money,” his voice lingers like a strange fragrance I can’t quite grasp. “And I believe you deserve it.”

I know that is a lie but Parker’s vast hand is on my back and his voice is soft. “I just need to know,” he pauses, “if you will accept it?”

~

The light is fading and my heart is melting as I think about Dad. I scrunch the envelope from Parker into my pocket and open the front door; I know it is time to get him.

I have almost forgotten about my story by now but think, as I approach the tattoo shop, it would be good to at least read all of it. Maybe it’ll become a book, I dream.

And then I think I see the garbage can from last week - it’s been pushed down an alleyway. Just behind it, crouched by a brick wall, I'm sure I see something, and I’m sure it is a girl.

literature

About the author

Tim Boxer

Tim is UK-based writer of all things family, faith and adventure.

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