It was the windiest day that year. The boy and the girl stood next to each other at the top of the hill. Neither of them spoke. The sun looked like it was falling down the sky, melting towards the horizon like butter being tilted in a pan.
A little way down the hill a tree stood behind a lamp post. Each time the wind blew, the tree bent towards the lamp post, which appeared to wobble slightly after each swirl of wind. The wind grew stronger and the lamp post began to flicker as the sunlight dimmed, and dusk settled in and made itself comfortable. Dust bin lids flew open, plastic bags teased each other in the air, playing a game of kiss-chase none of them would win. The wind grew even stronger and still the boy and the girl did not move.
As the lamp post’s fitful glimmers became a fully-fledged beam, the wind blew an almighty breath and a sharp clatter of a fallen dustbin caught the girl and boy by surprise. She jumped and he stumbled and in the precise moment their attentions were diverted, something changed. The light shone brighter for a split second, the wind blew so hard they were frozen in time. When they recovered it was as if something had been unlocked. They both felt it, both saw in the mirrored shocked expressions that each could hear the same voice as the other, and each instinctively knew that it was unmistakeably the voice of the tree.
All the trees around them were blowing with the wind, blown by it, but this tree always bent in the same direction. She rocked towards the lamp post, no matter which direction the wind blew, no matter how hard the fight against the elemental force and the other trees all blowing the same way. This tree blew towards the lamp post. This tree had a voice and the girl and the boy could hear it.
They heard her heartfelt plea to the lamp post for him to notice her. They heard her wailing and crying and straining, encouraging herself to reach the tree, to push just that little bit further. They heard her moments of defeat as she thought of giving up and moments of strength as she tried ever harder. They saw in a flash the years she had spent bending towards him. They were knocked backwards by the weight of so much feeling. Her roots disrupted the earth beneath her and every word she uttered was about the lamp post.
On and on the tree stretched and her branches cracked in their strain. She looked each time as if she would get there. All it would take is one twig-tip but every time she was just too far away. The wind whipped her back just a little and however hard she stretched she could not reach the object of her desire.
The boy and the girl heard her trying to speak to him. They heard the story of the tree growing up behind the lamp post. Years spent, shy and waiting for him to one day turn around and notice her. They heard how she had finally found the courage to talk to him. They heard her ask him if he would consider turning around, just once to look at her, see her and maybe one day feel for her the longing she feels for him.
The girl and the boy and the tree waited. They waited as the lamp post wobbled. They waited as the tree continued to strain against the wind, to strain against the feeling that her courage was futile. They waited for the lamp post to answer. And as they waited, the boy and the girl felt another surge of strength in the wind around them, saw the light brighten once more, and they heard a voice that was not the tree. It was a voice that echoed through their minds with a clang of metal and a spark of fire.
They heard the lamp post lament to himself that he simply wished he wasn’t so lonely. They heard how he waited, day in, day out, night after night for someone to come along and light the way for him, the way he lights the way for others so often. They listened to how he imagined he had someone to tower over him and make him feel small, loved and warm. They thought they heard him sigh with a creaking metallic groan.
The boy and the girl could hardly breathe. They looked back at the tree and willed her to shout louder, willed her to stretch harder to reach the lamp post who needed her as much as she wanted him. He just didn’t know it yet.
They thought they heard a clunking laugh from the lamp post. They looked back at him and heard him berate himself for being so stupid. For no one could really love a mute, deaf old post. How foolish he had been for thinking anyone could. He would always be alone with only his thoughts for company.
The boy and the girl both thought they saw the lamp post slump, almost imperceptibly. His light now seemed to dim, the orange glow tinged with sadness.
The girl and the boy looked back to the tree who had not yet given up. If only the tree could reach the lamp post with her branches then he might turn around and see her, he may feel her and know that someone wanted to give him everything he was waiting for.
The boy and the girl instinctively knew that however hard the tree tried she was just too far away. And however loud the tree shouted, the lamp post would always be deaf and could never hear her. He would never turn around and see her for he did not even know he could.
The boy and the girl stood next to each other at the top of the hill. They watched as the night wore on. After some time, they moved a little closer and held each other’s’ hands.
This was written September 2012:
I recently went to a book talk. Yes I know, I’m in my 20s and I go to book talks, settle down, I love books. Now this was not my first book talk nor do I imagine will it be my last. This particular one was like a lot of book talks in that it was promoting the release of a new book by the author – Zoo Time by Howard Jacobson – and unlike a lot of book talks in that the conversation, between Mr Jacobson and his agent, Jonny Geller, did not solely revolve around the writing of said book.
The talk was far more interesting than that. It was set up in the style of Desert Island Discs but it was Desert Island Books. Mr Jacobson took us through the books he would choose to take with him to a desert island in one of the most fascinating talks by a writer I have ever been to. Mr Jacobson took us through Dr Johnson, Jane Austen, D H Lawrence, Charles Dickens and Joseph Conrad into the depths of his childhood, be it real or reimagined, through relationships with people, writers and books and right up to the writing of his own literature. It was a literary journey told in the most compelling way, by a charismatic man who is passionate about the reading and writing of books.
I was at times literally on the edge of my seat. I was enthralled. But when the floor was opened for questions, I noticed something interesting. I recognised the archetypes of the people who frequent these book talks. The phrase “there’s always one” came to my mind for almost every person who asked a question. Why are there these people who seem to play the same roles at this type of event? Why is it they always feel the need to speak, to repeat the same patterns? Here are the people I have found at book talks, over and over again:
The Furious Note-Taker:
He or she will sit with a pad and pen, scribbling down every word the author utters, occasionally leaning over to you to ask “what did he say?” when something utterly crucial or insignificant has been missed because the note-taking has overtaken concentration. The sad thing about this is that this person has missed the point of a book talk. It’s not supposed to be a lecture – it’s a show to be experienced and a good book talk will provide a show, keep you engaged and stop your pen on your pad because you’re being made to think in the moment. This person may have the talk verbatim on their pad but he or she will have missed out on experiencing the character that is the author.
The Unpublished Author:
This person will come up with any question they can think of, however irrelevant and moronic, just to mention the fact that he or she is an unpublished author. “Um, hello, my name is Sam Smith and I have read a couple of your books, this new one too, somewhat enviously of course because I myself am a writer, as yet unpublished but I’m not bitter or anything and I was just wondering, with regard to your book, my question is: what is…the time? Also here is my manuscript, please read it or get your agent to read it, you have to take it now because we’re in front of all these people aren’t I clever for foisting this upon you.”
The One Who Has Read Everything:
This is the person who has read every book, essay and article by the writer. This is the person who claims to know the books better than the writer himself and will ask the longest, most complicated question in the most elaborate language, taking the most circuitous route to ask a very complicated and important philosophical question about the writer’s style, philosophy, belief, tone, structure, essence of being. This person is pretentious. Most people stop listening after the fourth sentence and even the writer begins to look bemused after the ninth. This person is obviously a thinker and intelligent. Unfortunately this person is actually trying very hard to be a thinker and thinks he or she is more intelligent than is actually the case. This person will not get a satisfactory answer to the question and will try to argue a moot point until somebody smart and in control of proceedings moves the questioning on.
The One Who Has Read Nothing:
This person has not read anything by the author and announces this very proudly before asking something about the state of education and literacy in this country that the author cannot possibly hope to know.
The One Who Reveals Too Much:
This person is a tricky one. On the one hand he or she is incredibly brave for being so candid and honest in a public environment. On the other, he or she is socially naïve for revealing so much about his or her life and being so candid and honest in a public environment. This is the person who reveals his or her very personal reading experience, often (but not always) relating to the death of a relation and usually involving tears. It is both moving and painfully awkward to listen to and feels a lot like it should be a private conversation between the writer and the reader – something to go up and speak about afterwards, not announce in front of the other 100 people. The room is left feeling an odd mix of social distaste and human respect.
I wonder which of these categories I fit into. I asked a question, I took a couple of notes down about things that made me think and to all intents and purposes I am an unpublished writer. I’ve not written a novel nor do I have any intention of writing one but I feel that is beside the point. Maybe I’m “The One Who Goes Home and Writes a Blog About It”. I’m sure there are more like me. I’m not judging any of these people nor am I suggesting I’m any better than them. I’m obviously one of them in some way and in fact, I’m rather fond of them. There is a comfort in knowing that someone will plug their unpublished novel, talk nonsense at the author or reveal too much of themselves. There is a comfort in the familiarity of it all. I wonder exactly who these people are? Perhaps it’s just the same few, going to all the book talks…
…No that’s ridiculous of course it’s not. But maybe there’s a novel in that.