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Reflections of a working writer and reader



A Waste of Time

There’s a coffee bar next to the University library and during the summer I wander up there from time to time. They have benches and tables outside, close to the bridge and you can look over into the road and watch the students come and go. The coffee’s not the best because they use boiling water and in the marketing mind their ideal customer is undifferentiated from bacteria.

But nothing is perfect.

I’d finished my coffee when I saw Sue Sainsbury come out of the library and begin padding towards my cluster of tables. She lives a few doors from me, in the same street. She has had something taken away from her in life and never got it back. I don’t know what it was she lost, or how she would be different if her catastrophe had never happened.

She sits beside me, draping her shapeless body over the table, her arms and hands mingle with the debris of past customers. She crosses her legs and one of her shoes falls off.

‘What’re you writing now?’ she asks. ‘Another novel?’

While I’m composing an answer she continues, her voice louder than necessary, intrusive even to the people at the far table who glance behind them, wondering who she is.

‘I’m writing a poem,’ she tells us. ‘A sonnet, actually. Maybe an ode. I haven’t decided yet.’

‘Interesting,’ I say, pulling off an irony-free delivery.

‘Yes, about life’s spirals.’

Deep inside me there is the howl of a huge maimed beast.

I’d forgotten about him, believing him to be tamed. But he’ll be out again tonight, seeking fresh flesh under a wispy moon. Those around us have some intimation of the stiffening cartilage in my joints, the broken blood vessels staining the whites of my eyes. There is nothing obvious, but a shift in atmosphere takes place, something inevitable and impossible slithers among us. Without knowing why everyone, even those who have not yet had their coffee or croissant, want to be at home.

Sue Sainsbury is oblivious to all of this. When the others have left and we are sitting alone with the the sun dipping below the horizon, she asks me about the challenges of using an omniscient first-person as the narrator of a novel.

The clock nibbles away at the minutes of my life.

I can never forgive her. She reminds me that I am without compassion.

5 Responses to “A Waste of Time”

  1. blue girl says:

    I’m sorry you had such a rotten experience. But, I have to say, I love this post.

    Your pain, my gain! 🙂

    jb says: I love making people happy, blue girl.

  2. Ann says:

    Do your work and be kind.

  3. Jim Murdoch says:

    Nicely constructed piece, John. I do get the feeling though you spend more time than is probably good for you in cafĂ©s. I know that feeling of being buttonholed by someone like that in fact as the moment I’ve found myself backed into a corner by a guy in India who’s discovered a know more than a thing or two about Beckett. It doesn’t seem to matter what answer I give (or the closest approximation to an answer I can manage considering the subject matter) he’ll always have another off-the-wall puzzle just waiting to ask me.

    One thought about your story: the word ‘lost’, I know it does the job I just I stumbled on it on the first read and positively tripped over it on the second. Considering the metaphor you develop later of the wild animal, albeit inside the narrator, how about something along the line of ‘ripped from her’ or maybe ‘torn’ – you see where I’m coming from? You use ‘nibbles’ when it comes to the time so it might be an idea to expand your animalistic imagery slightly. The girl does come across as a bit like a dog with three legs. Just a thought.

    jb says: Hi Jim, and thanks for the feedback. I do intend editing these pieces at some later date, so your criticisms will be useful then.

  4. faustin says:

    Nice article, I’m still thinking about Sue. what was taken away from her life?

  5. Robin Lozano says:

    I haven’t noticed this blog that where I have found it and why I am here but after reading a few posts, I am speechless. how someone can afford to miss it. I have a few things in my life without which I can’t survive and your blog is going to be one of those. What I said is really not controllable.

    jb says: Hi Robin. Thanks for stopping by. Control is often over-rated anyway.