Allan is a PhD student at Victoria University Wellington, where he studies creative writing and English literature. His short stories and poems have been published in a number of journals and magazines, and he has won or been short-listed in several writing competitions. You can find him online at www.allan-drew.com.
I caught the bus into the city today to have coffee with a friend. She has a kid, a rampant non-sleeper, and another one silently (but apparently frantically) gestating. We talked about the trouble in Baltimore and then about ponytails, and then a bit about writing. She writes and reads, too, in between things. Suddenly, she had to go somewhere, so she said goodbye and took off.
I went to the central library to read my book and wait for something exciting to happen on my phone, like a text from someone I hate which would allow me to ignore them, or an email from a publisher providing an opportunity to play it cool. The library was full of people all doing very quiet things that had nothing to do with books but everything to do with WiFi. It’s a great service, public WiFi. I walked to the bus stop.
Behind the bus stop on the corner of Wellesley and Queen Streets was a guy in floppy shorts and an acrylic-wool jumper expertly cleaning the windows of Topshop with one of those telescopic-arm squeegees. Topshop was a big deal when it opened; it was covered in the Herald. And behind the window-washer was a man and a woman, holding hands, watching with their mouths open in fascination. And then I said to myself: story.
At first I thought, these tourists are great material. I had immediately assumed they were tourists, of course, on holiday from some country that either lacked windows or considered window-cleaning to be embarrassingly bourgeois, or ignominious—something that is to be done strictly in private. I don’t mind if they do it in their own home, but must they make such a display of it?
I mean, who else but tourists would stare in fascination at some idiot washing windows? Maybe the story was about these tourists? Or perhaps the story was about the weirdo window cleaner, with those shorts—maybe he was the thing.
But, probably not. I wrote the story in my head on the bus home, and it became all about the guy watching the scene. Or, to put it another way, all about me. This risks being grotesquely narcissistic, and in fact is, but also isn’t—which is a bit how writing goes. As the story formed I was no longer me and, instead, the ‘me’ had become the story’s lovable but flawed protagonist—someone (or anyone) else—who goes around looking for material where none exists and then misjudging it when it presents itself. Suddenly there is a guy who thinks that exciting things happen on phones, who wonders whether libraries are being misused, and whose seemingly objective observations reveal hidden biases, prejudices, and a superior, judgmental nature. Some guy who goes around making up stories about going into the city to have coffee with his pregnant friend and seeing maybe-tourists being mesmerized by unlikely window-washers.
Some guy who thinks the story would be excellent, if it were ever written, but who intentionally leaves it on the bus when it’s nothing but unfinished sentences, ideas and mind-vapour, and then forgets to tag off.