This was life. Cups of coffee. Taking things out of cupboards. Putting things in drawers. Groceries. Poignant glances. Terse dialogue. Whimsical events. Cats entering rooms, turning tail and walking out again. Anonymous clothes. More dialogue. A little magical realism.
Then one day one of my characters brought a gun into one of my stories.
He pulled it out mid-sentence and waved it vaguely; vaguely threatening.
“What are you doing?” I hissed. “Put it away.” I didn’t want him spooking the other characters. They all regarded him, warily.
“It’s death man!” he said. “Stop fucking around.”
Obviously, there was death. I had not been keeping death out of my fiction. But this was not it. A quiet death at a convenient point in life, that’s what I was in favour of.
“Sit down,” I told him. “Do what you’re told to do.”
Instead, he held the gun up and pointed it to his own temple. The rest of the imaginaries stood and watched. Gawped. There was maybe a little nervous laughter. I had a whole narrative I wanted to explore with this group, but my plans had been railroaded and the other characters were starting to drift away, scared off by this kerfuffle.
He lowered the gun and stuffed it in his back pocket. “Lets get on with this bullshit.”
But ‘this bullshit’ was ruined now. The rhythm of the piece had been demolished. We called time on the day’s work early.
He hung around after everyone else had gone. One of this character’s defining traits was that he always spoke out of one side of his mouth, something people have told me I do as well. I worried that in giving him this I had created too much commonality between us – now he thought he was superior to the other characters, some kind of proxy for the author.
I made my way home, but he followed, right on my shoulder. We wrestled, physically and mentally. The presence of the gun was making me uneasy.
“Where did you get a gun from anyway?” I asked.
“Here and there.”
“I didn’t give you a gun. That wasn’t part of the story. I don’t write about people with guns. I don’t write about people shooting other people.”
“Well, this gun shoots horses!” Everything he said sounded like a joke only he got. I wondered where in my imagination he had crawled out of, brandishing his guns and doing everything he could to disrupt my story. But what if I didn’t let the gun be a weapon for disrupting the story? I could do that. I could repurpose his intentions.
“Ok,” I told him. “Lets go and fire this gun of yours. Try it out. See what it can do.”
“Yeah?” A look of surprise came sideways out of his face. “Yeah! Lets do it!”
The way he walked was a funny lurching scamper, always at my shoulder and at my heels. I don’t know what he represented.
“Where are we going anyway?” he chirruped after a while. He was getting fidgety.
“Somewhere.” I was terse and inscrutable. I thought he would like that.
We left the town behind us and got out into the country. I was looking for somewhere horses might live. Eventually, I found a nice empty field where our gun-shooting wouldn’t cause any fuss or commotion. We vaulted the gate and stood, surveying the empty space.
Though there was nothing for him to shoot he seemed happy. He took the gun from his pocket and started waving it about, shooting his mouth off about how he was going to cause so much death. I was starting to get the hang of this character now – essentially, he wanted to come across like a tough guy, but he didn’t know anything about anything.
“Go on then,” I said. “Fire it.”
He aimed the gun into the middle distance, his hands shaking as he held it out straight in front of him. Something had rocked his confidence. Somehow he knew that I had succeeded in wrestling back control of the narrative.
Finally, he pulled trigger.
There was, of course, the loud crack of the gun firing. Then there was a moment in which it was not clear – to him, at least – what had happened. That the bullet his gun fired had four legs, hair, hooves. It hurtled through the air, its legs gallop-treading the air before it landed and started running round and round the field.
“What the hell?”
“Your words,” I laughed. I was feeling pretty pleased with myself. “Your words. This gun shoots horses.”
In his confusion, I took the gun from him and fired it again and again. A horse the size of a dog came out, then a small inflatable horse, then a cardboard cut-out of a horse and then a small plastic toy horse. That gun was no danger to anyone now.
I handed it back to him and he fired it a few more times – a horse made of fluff and finally a horse made of smoke. He tossed it in to the long grass.
“You’re an arsehole,” he said. “You think you’re so fucking clever. Well, screw you. You’ll find out, sooner or later. One day this is all going to catch up with you.”
I had been smiling, but somewhere along the way I had stopped. I knew he was right.
One day all this was going to catch up with me.