Dirty Laundry #9: Writing Process

I loved getting my valentine from Samantha- I still have one she sent me about 6 years ago stuck up on my desk at home- a magazine-lipstick display page cut out into the shape of a heart. I can’t remember if I sent her one this year- I might have remembered a postcard… sorry Samantha, I’ll make it up to you next year, promise! So I wanted the story to reflect my appreciation of the humour in the photos. I made sure I looked at them on a larger screen before I started scribbling. I knew it was going to be a love story, but i decided i wanted it to be a love story involving some kind of love of place, to reflect the work Samantha and I have been doing with The Peripatetic Studio recently.

It ended up being about a man who loves a city a little more than his wife, until something new comes along. It’s longer than most of the other DL pieces: I think I’m still a little uncertain what an optimum length is to read with the triptch of photos. A thousand words isn’t really very much in response to the rich detail in three exuberant photos, but much more feels like it’s scrolled away from the photos for so long and readers would be bored. Any feedback on that gratefully received. I’d like a greater level of consistency around the length of the pieces I’ve posted, and reading back over them makes the editor in me itch to expand/cut/tighten certain parts. For the moment I’m leaving it alone though.

There’s a joy and a sorrow at arriving three quarters of the way through the project. I’m sad in a way that it can’t carry on forever, but I also feel like Samantha and I are getting ready to try our hand at something new, and to see what challenges arise from that.  I know she has very definite ideas in mind for the final three photo shoots, but then again, reading through her posts shows that quite often the idea she started with has to be thrown over or postponed, so I don’t know what I’ll end up being given to work with… she’s a sneaky minx to try to second-guess.

FIRST DRAFT

Cupid had not been kind to Jeremy; his heart had been torn up at an early age along with a home-made valentine. Shirley Bankside – most popular girl in primary seven – had made the scorning gesture publicly and he wasn’t the only one to remember it. All the rest of primary school; all through the long adolescence of the local secondary modern; the confetti memories stuck to his shoulders.

Despite the long memories of his circle of acquaintances, a series of mediocre girls had accompanied Jeremy to the cinema. Then to parties. Then – after a certain point – to family dinners with his giggling siblings. He is still friends with maybe half of them, on Facebook. Sometimes he sits down with a cup of camomile tea – during bouts of insomnia – and goes through their wedding photos. Jeremy clicks through to the websites of the companies they work for, and fails to imagine how life could have turned out had he not been possessed of a certainty that there was something else waiting for his life. Had all those relationships not ended.

Then had come the post-BA move from the big town to the small city and Jeremy fell in love for the fist time since Shirley’s fat, pink hands had held his card up in front of the class to score a point. The sights, the smells, the waves of cliché crashing over his head and half-drowning him in the sheer joy of the unfamiliar. Jeremy bought the right kind of shoes, found he had a knack for picking the right kind of bars to drink in. Most importantly, he never failed to turn up on time for the job he loathed.

Jeremy loved Manchester. Manchester (Madchester more like! It made him feel like froth! Have you ever been anywhere like it! Who knew life could be this much fun! And nobody, nobody at all, knew who Shirley Bankside was!) loved Jeremy. Then Jeremy met Karen and Karen – an exchange student wrapped in layers of wool with a semi-permanent cold and a brolly clutched tightly in her translucent fist – loved New York.

 

‘It’s not that England is provincial, exactly,’ Karen explained to Jeremy while he made hot chocolate for her over the orange coils of the electric hob in his flat. ‘But there’s a lot of countryside and not much – you know – breadth of opinion.’ With his back turned, Jeremy shrugged in answer.
Jeremy proposed to Karen exactly a year after they had met, during a late-night, long-distance call on his mobile, fuelled by rum and coke. He woke up the next afternoon to an email from her with her flight details and instructions to meet her at the airport with the ring. When they were both standing in the suddenly-too-small sitting room at his parents’ house his Mam asked exactly how he’d done it, what words he’d used, what Karen’s reply had been. Jeremy tried his best to fudge over the alcohol-induced memory loss but Karen picked up on it and there were tears.

 

Jeremy loved Karen (of course he did. What’s a city compared to a woman? Right? Surely?) and Karen loved New York, so Jeremy knew that – given enough time – he’d learn to love it too. One big love affair with the movies, with artists, with the bankers, with the posh, rich twits on TV; Jeremy would learn to get in on that action.

He hid it from Karen as long as possible, but then she found his other credit cards and started asking where he’d been on those weekends away.

‘Business trip,’ Jeremy said. ‘I told you.’ Karen looked through the receipts and sniffed. Jeremy couldn’t meet her eyes. He took her out for dinner and she rested her head on his shoulder on the walk home to the subway and asked if he’d ever been happier.

‘I love you too,’ said Jeremy.
Next time Karen found the ticket stub in his pocket when she picked his jacket up from the dry cleaners.

‘Business.’ Jeremy bit the inside of his cheek. He made reservations but Karen said she had plans already so he spent the night alone, scrolling through Google Street View and wishing the ache in his gut would go away.
Jeremy didn’t realise he’d started talking in his sleep until Karen slammed down her coffee cup halfway through a particularly terse brunch and demanded to know who Shirley was.

‘Who?’

‘Shirley Bankside. Cut the crap Jeremy.’

When Jeremy said he hadn’t seen Shirley Bankside since he was eleven, Karen took his mobile out of her pocket (the minx! When did she nab that?) and showed him the number saved on speed dial.

‘I can explain.’ He could, but Karen didn’t buy it. Why would he nickname his travel-agent after the girl who treated him mean like that? Why was he flying back to Manchester just to walk the streets and feel like he belonged?

‘You’re not from Manchester.’ Karen’s voice was flat. Tired. She hadn’t been sleeping well lately, either. Jeremy suddenly wondered how long she’d been waiting to confront him with this.

‘I can’t help it. I love it there.’

‘I know, you’re madferrit.’ She smiled and Jeremy though perhaps, given time, she might be able to forgive him. He made a lot of promises they both knew he wouldn’t keep. He deleted the travel agent’s number. Karen promised a trip – together, maybe next year. They walked through New York hand-in-hand and Jeremy pointed out the places he now thought weren’t that bad really, and Karen occasionally laughed.

Those were the good times, before Karen quit her job and Jeremy got fired, and they had to move to the other side of Brooklyn. Every time they fought Karen said she knew he wanted to be somewhere else and Jeremy could never deny it as quickly as they both would have liked. Then Karen’s design business took off and Jeremy’s visa problems cleared and then. And Then. Oh my, and then…
‘I love you!’ Jeremy’s voice fell out into the wind. Nobody could hear him from this height – nobody could comment on how ‘cute’ his accent was, or ask him what he thought about the civil war. ‘I love you, you big fat bastard. I love you!’ He shifted his bare feet on the steel ladder, uncomfortable in Karen’s nightgown. The bourbon was starting to wear off and even in the cold air he knew that this hangover was going to take more than even the painkillers he’d swiped from his mother-in-law. ‘There’s nothing like you, but you know that don’t you. Bastardly, bastardy, bastard. I never knew I’d feel like this. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I love you.’ He kept screaming it out. Sooner or later someone was going to tell him to come down off the fire escape. Indistinct, down at street level, one of those dark figures was probably Karen’s cousin Jim with his camera. Jeremy screwed his face up and blew a kiss down to Jim, then flung his arm out towards the city and shouted again that he loved it. The grand gesture, all for the love of another woman. In his pocket his mobile went off and Jeremy knew it was probably Jim warning him that the cops were on their way – as if Jeremy couldn’t see those flashing lights from up here – but he ignored it. For the first night since he’d left Manchester, Jeremy felt complete again. ‘Completely insane, mate! All thanks to you! Thank you, you lovely bastard, thank you!’

About ten blocks west, Jeremy’s newborn daughter turns over in her sleep.