Jason Bendix had finished writing his new novella the evening before. It was the first mature work that he had written. For nearly three years he had been trying to find his voice and to whet all artifice from his sentences. Thirteen, fourteen stories had been his apprentice work. First, he had written stories of two or three thousand words each. Then, he had managed a few five-thousand-word beasts of burden. The three ten-thousand worders had been monstrosities which cost him dearly.
He lost twenty pounds which he could ill afford to lose, and missed many nights’ sleep. He took too many stimulant pills. Coffee all day on an empty stomach gave him cramps in his lower back, and his hands shook. While his wife was away visiting his mother-in-law, their three cats went unfed for whole days; — he failed to hear them bawling outside the laundry-room door. Two springs back, Bendix had put a small wicker desk in the laundry. He put his laptop on it across from a window. He faced around to the wall opposite the window. Jason had wanted the breeze but not the view.
His penultimate narrative had run to over twenty-one-thousand words. With that one he had begun to see and feel what he was getting at with this writing business. But was writing a business or a calling? He felt conflicted. He had a wife to support! But he had a muse too, Art herself, and the afflatus She graced his life with, for which he owed a debt of gratitude to Her.
His wife left when he told her he had it in mind to start a novella. She would not listen anymore to his apologies and polemics glorifying privation and sacrificing standard emoluments for art’s sake. Fortunately for his art, Jason had nothing left to recommend him to his wife. He insisted that if she must go please to take the cats with her. Her leaving gave Jason just the contour he needed to complete the gestalt of his puzzling tale.
Like Ivan Denisovich’s brickwork, the thing came together systematically, rapidly, and symmetrically. Jason wrote only three hours a day now — starting after breakfast in the morning and going from 9:30 to 12:30. He could type two and a half compact blocklike pages of succinct paragraphs in those three hours and reread them over twice before going to lunch. He took Saturdays off, and on Sundays read and revised in the afternoon for a couple hours or so. At this rate, he could guarantee two thousand words of corrected prose a week. Before five months were gone Bendix had his spartan story down in black. The corrected copy amounted to forty-three-thousand-ten words, just a whiff shorter than Gatsby!
Immediately Bendix finished rereading the novella after completion, he thought that he had said too much. It was sleek—urbane—but also down to earth. It was sophisticated and pedestrian, somewhat like the metro. Still, despite the work’s laconic character, Bendix began to reconsider how he might say the same thing—tell the same tale—with fewer words. He thought of removing adverbs ending in -ly, and that seemed a sensible idea; so he did it. Of then removing all adverbs, and he did that too.
He was still dissatisfied when he looked it over after removing the adverbs. So he removed all conjunctions and replaced them with full stops. He replaced all semicolons with commas and all colons with dashes. By the end of three hours he knew there was much to delete before being sure this was the story the world deserved. Bendix could not stop thinking of the noisy thing—and broke schedule—going back to work after wolfing down lunch, “to give the thing a final working over.”
It was no use. He’d have to rewrite the whole thing to compensate for all the holes left in the plot by taking out so much: It had needed retyping anyway. He had known the story was cockeyed the first readthrough, as he reached the homestretch of the first draft of the typescript.
“To suffer, after all, is the writer’s privilege,” Bendix recited to himself like a mantra. He had again begun to neglect his hygiene and health. He took an extra vitamin in the morning and skipped lunch, eating when muscle and stomach cramps would not leave him. His hair grew long on the back and sides and wispy-thin on top. When his wife came to visit, she said he looked like a ghastly Emmett Brown. Jason got a kick out of that—laughed hysterically a long time.
The days passed and the sun rolled in and out of view, lighting up the sky, darkening; stars followed light, piercing darkness with pinholes. It had been at least three months since Jason had begun paring-down his manuscript. After another week he had shaved off the consonants so that what was left was something of an aboriginal chant resembling, upon recitation, all the splendid voices of the rainforest, a shakuhachi moan of dry desolation, a Peruvian piper’s paean to sheer Andean cliffs, the heaving groan of the sea. On Sundays, Bendix spent a couple of hours rereading Hudson’s Green Mansions and for a week or two was calling his composition ‘Rima’s Song’.
Bendix had repeatedly changed fonts until he struck on the smallest conceivable. He would not be satisfied with others’ recommendations. He must search through the lists—see every font—himself. Indeed, the smallest was exactly the one the librarian had suggested he try. Nor could the artist be content with the smallest font style, but he must reduce the point size, infinitesimally.
Many, many months hence, the anomalous narrative was reduced to a single syllable. Yet, due to the strain of rereading the continually shrinking type, Jason Bendix’s eyes weakened so that they could no longer make out what he had written. He invited his ex-wife to recite his finished product to him, but she could not read it either. —It was just so small…
The writer spent his final years recalling what he thought he remembered as the final version of his great labor. Bendix was never emphatic in his erudition. No. —He maintained sufficient modesty never to assert that as he remembered it was exactly as it had been written.
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