[personal profile] hwrnmnbsol
I got the call today from the hospice. It certainly wasn’t an unexpected call, but it was jarring anyway; I felt numb as I hung up the phone. Bonnie stood in the doorway, drying a plate. She took in the expression on my face.

“How long?” she asked.

“Not long,” I said. “They’ve…” I struggled to maintain my composure. “They’ve made it as comfortable as they could, but it won’t be long now.” I took off my glasses so I could wipe my eyes. “They told me… I should hurry.”

“Oh, honey,” said Bonnie, coming over and resting a hip on the table. She put her arm around me, and I leaned into her, sniffling a little. Bonnie ran her fingers through my hair and kissed my head.

“I know this is hard,” she whispered.

“It’s horrible,” I said hoarsely. “No writer should ever have to outlive their writing project.”

But of course that’s the way of the world, isn’t it? No story lasts forever; it has a beginning, a middle where stuff happens, and then there has to be an end. Writers want to believe we get to decide where the end happens, but we really don’t. The story has its own existence; its own shape and form. Writers are the vehicle to bring what we write into the world, but once we’ve gotten it started, its fate is largely out of our hands. Sometimes the story lasts a long time. But sometimes it’s short.

We knew the writing was on the wall, metaphorically of course, early on. My writing project was so beautiful to me in those first few days, so new and fresh and full of life. But I knew what the specialists had told me. My project’s clock was ticking, and it would be up soon enough.

As the season turned to autumn, I saw the first signs that my writing project was flagging. The old energy just wasn’t there; the youthful enthusiasm had gone out of it. Oh, it still lived its life joyfully enough, playing with words and phrases that amused it, but I could tell it was getting weaker by the day.

The first spasm came in winter. One night I checked on my writing project a few minutes before the daily deadline and found it idle, inert; not a single word had been written that day. I got it to the computer and somehow revived it; we were able to churn out a 100-word story and keep things going until we could get in to see the editor the next day. The editor was kind and optimistic, but he took me aside and told me that we needed to be realistic. My writing project’s time was short, he told me, and we needed to be realistic about the future.

My writing project was moved to the step-down literary nursing unit two weeks ago, and was discharged to the hospice last Thursday. Of course we did everything to make it feel at home there. I brought it all the science fiction novels that inspired it over its short life, and I made sure the staff let it drink all the Diet Cokes it wanted for stimulation. It kept turning out short stories, every day like clockwork, although some of them were hard to recognize as works of fiction, and in some cases were indistinguishable from gibberish.

Bonnie and I went in to see the project in the hospice earlier today, after the call. Bonnie brought it flowers. I had some music that we used to listen to together, and the words would flow especially productively when it was on. It was trance electronica, with no voices – just the thing for zoning out and listening to one’s inner voice and writing. The Chief Editor greeted us in the lobby and smiled.

“I’m glad you could make it,” she said. “It’s really good that you could be here with your project. This is the hard part, but you being here will make it easier.”

“Thanks,” I said woodenly. “Can we see it?”

“Sure,” said the editor, then hesitated a moment. “But I don’t want you to be shocked. Your project has had it rough, especially in the last forty-eight hours. Right now all it needs from you is your support.”

“Okay,” I said. She nodded, then led us into its room.

Despite her warning, I drew up short when I saw my writing project on the computer screen. It looked so small, so shrunken sitting there. There were three hundred and sixty-four small Word documents, each less than twenty-five kilobytes in size. That was all there was left to it. It looked entirely static and inert.

“Is it?...” My voice cracked, a mere whisper.

“No, it’s not gone yet,” said the Chief Editor gently. “But it’s making a transition from being written to having been written. It’s a hard passage and there’s not a lot left to it. I don’t think it can hear you anymore.”

My project’s vital statistics were graphing on the computer screen. The word count was crawling along, barely moving, and the number of characters was so low. Blinking, I handed my music CD to Bonnie. I wouldn’t need it. “Can I… can I still read it?”

The Chief Editor smiled. “Sure,” she said. “I think your writing project would like that very much.”

The Chief Editor left, and Bonnie did too, wordlessly, giving me and my writings these last few moments together. I sat down next to my project and read it – a story here, a poem there. There was still a thready pulse running through it, a hair’s breadth vein of life that I could feel in my project. I cried then, freely.

There was a tap at the door. I dried my eyes and looked up to see an elderly man looking into the room. He had the kind of face that had gained character with years; his wrinkles and crags lent him an expressiveness that younger persons could never mimic. “Can I come in?” he asked.

“Sure,” I said. “Are you an Editor?”

“No, I’m a writing coach. Father Cruz,” he said. Only then did I notice the white collar at his throat, and the gold Clarion pin on his lapel. He sat down stiffly in a chair opposite my writing project. “I’m here if you need me.”

I immediately felt defensive. “What, are you going to judge my writing project now?”

“No,” he said. “No judging here, I promise.”

“I should have done more with it,” I said. “I should have had more ambitions, should have worked at it harder.” I blinked away tears.

Father Cruz cocked his head at me. “You’re angry,” he said. “You have every right to be.”

“It’s such a young project!” I sobbed. “Why should this one end while other, terrible writings drag on and on? It’s not fair!”

“It’s not,” said the writing coach, nodding.

“I should go see the editors,” I said. “Maybe there’s something we can do to extend it a couple of weeks. Deadlines are arbitrary…”

“Are they?” Father Cruz reached across and put his hand over mine on the mouse. His skin was thin as paper with tiny crinkles lying over his hand’s tendons. “What purpose would that serve, other than to prolong this period of ending?”

I knew what he was saying was true, but I felt awful anyway. I put my head down and silently sobbed. Father Cruz got up and came to stand next to me.

“Listen, Andy,” he said. “I don’t know what your personal beliefs are, as far as writing goes, but in my opinion, there are no real endings.”

“Look,” I said, “if you’re trying to tell me that my writing project is going to a better place, you’re wasting your breath.”

“That’s not it,” objected the writing coach. “Look, a story ends. Then what happens? Are all the characters gone? Have the settings disappeared? They have not disappeared; they are still there. You have just stopped telling your readers about them. But that doesn’t mean they’ve gone away. The telling lives on, and the possibility for further telling.”

“Sure,” I said, “extending the story.”

“No,” said Father Cruz firmly. “I don’t mean making a story go on. Your stories ended where they needed to end. I’m talking about new stories. There are new beginnings all the time, and those are beautiful things. Every great story ever written had to start somewhere. But you can’t have a new story start without an old one ending.”

I looked at the computer. My project’s vital statistics were not moving. “I have to let it end,” I said.

“It’s going to end,” said Father Cruz gently. “You need to be okay with that. You need to look back at what’s been written, and be okay with that being over, so you can be okay with whatever comes next.”

The computer began to beep. An Editor looked in the room. There was no sense of urgency. There was nothing to be urgent about.

“Goodbye, stories,” I said.

The monitor flickered off.
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September 2012

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