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The Scrivener: As It Was Written

One can have too much of words, and of a man who produces them, as Brian Barratt’s tale reveals.

For more of Brian’s sparkling prose please click on The Scrivener in the menu on this page. For further large helpings of delight please visit Brian’s Web site The Brain Rummager www.alphalink.com.au/~umbidas/

Helen had not wept at Peter's funeral. She had dressed in black and reverently accepted condolences. She had read each response from the prayer-book, as it was written. But her cheeks were remarkably dry.

The family assumed that she was holding back her grief, and would break up later. Poor thing, that's how bereavement affects some people, they said in hushed tones.

'And how are you feeling, dear?' her mother asked, when she called in for a consoling chat the next day.

'Oh, so so. Would you like another cup?'

'I suppose you'll be taking a holiday? To get away from it all?'

'No, not really. Life must go on, you know. Another biscuit?'

'Poor thing. You'll get over it. You and Peter were so close, weren't you? Please would you pass the sugar? The tea isn't sweet enough for me.'

Close, Helen thought to herself Close! It became bloody stifling. When she had first met Peter, all those years ago, he was a handsome reporter on the local paper. She was a librarian, and noticed how often he came to browse in the reference section. He always had his head in those books, and hardly seemed to notice her. Her natural reserve and professional attitude made conversation difficult, but she eventually took the plunge.

'What are you researching?' she ventured to ask, when he requested a particularly obscure record of past events.

She was startled when he looked at her directly for the first time. It was not that she had no experience with men. Rather, she had never really seen those dark, penetrating eyes, and now they seemed to be looking right into her, investigating her most secret parts. She blushed.

'Oh, it's just some local history. I have to get it right, for my book. I want to present it as it was written at the time.' He smiled.

'You're writing a book!' It wasn't the most intelligent reply, but Helen was unnerved and disarmed. No man had ever enticed her with a mere smile. Her reserve melted.

One thing led to another, as they say, and it wasn't long before they were seeing each other regularly. He soon invited her to his flat, where she felt at home between the book lined walls. Not only books, but stacks of note books and shelves of files.

'You're certainly doing a lot of research!' she laughed, idly picking up one of his files.

He moved quickly to take it from her hand. 'Must keep things tidy — everything has its place,' he muttered. Then, in a more friendly tone, 'Sorry. It's just that I like to know where everything is. If I lose track of one of these files, well, you know how it is.' Her professional mind understood. She was more than willing to overlook his little foibles.

The wedding was just a few months later. Both families heartily approved of the match. Two young people so committed to books and to writing, what more could one ask? And what wonderful parents they would be, with so much to offer their children when they arrived.

The children arrived, two girls and a boy. The neighbours in the street where they bought their first and only house, were impressed by this close knit family. They always seemed to do things together: picnics, outings, family visits, gardening, homework, housework. It ran like clockwork.

Helen's life was organised for her by her doting husband. There was nothing she could do without his attention, his help, and eventually his insistence. 'I think I'll pop down the road to the shop,' she would say. But Peter had planned a shopping trip at a specific time later in the day, so she dutifully waited.

'Time I visited Mum,' she told him, but that didn't quite fit in with his schedule, so they deferred it until the next evening. His first book was published and, naturally, took its place on the shelves of the library where she still worked. Other books followed, and his study overflowed with note books and files. She began to yearn for some time away from him and his words. The walls of the house, and of his mind, were hemming her in and now his books were staring at her in the library.

'Let's go to the north coast for our holidays,' she suggested. Peter did not think that was a good idea. They would go to their usual place, he insisted, because the children always enjoyed it.

When the children left school, Peter organised their various university courses and jobs. He was, however, visibly disappointed when all three of them left home to move in with friends or other students. That left Helen at home with him, just the two of them.

She relished getting away from his stifling presence, and finding some relief in the quiet confines of her library. Borrowers noticed that her efficiency was now tinged with a certain feeling of resentment, even sourness. Her doctor prescribed the usual anti depressants when she felt she could not cope with the increasing pressure of living with that man.

On one of her afternoons off, Helen crept into his study, to have a closer look at the note books. To her horror, she found that he had been recording all her movements, everything she said, as well as time tables and schedules in advance for their activities, even their conversations. The sinister realisation dawned — he had taken complete control of her.

'You must get away,' her mother said, breaking into her thoughts. 'I'll organise a holiday for you.'

'Don't worry! I've organised it myself, actually.'

'This tea tastes a bit funny. Is it the water?'

Helen's mother sat back and closed her eyes, just as Peter had done. The tea was indeed 'a bit funny'. He had rushed to the toilet shortly afterwards. No traces were found at the autopsy.

'Just as it was written,' Helen mused. There it was, on the packet of tea bags: Dispose of thoughtfully.

© Copyright Brian Barratt 2007


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