Benjamin Hewitt’s New Short Story – Send Her Away

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writers_block

Send Her Away

The literary agent fake-clears her throat. “‘The rain droplets on the windows,’” she reads, “‘filtered some dim light from a street lamp not too far away. The sound of the rain merged together into something like the slow splintering of wood.’” She puts her iPad down on the coffee-shop table and looks at her client.

He shrugs his shoulders.

“What would it be now, do we reckon?” she asks.

“This is ridiculous.”

“‘With the rain outside I cuddled up and…’” she waves her hands about, thinking, “…fucking…I dunno, ‘squeezed my sweetheart a bit tighter in my Armani shawl to keep us both warm.’” She shakes her head. “Ugh…”

He chooses his words carefully. “I can still write…”

He was supposed to be the newest Social Realist messiah.

“…and I don’t buy Armani.”

He had written stories about old homeless men with red beards and fat faces who he’d fought with for Big Issue space a long time ago.

“Not yet, you don’t.”

He had been asked to show the reader in the fewest words possible how a man like that would sit cross-legged and cold on the ledges near Victoria coach station, wishing everyone a happy new year on the thirty first of December whilst asking for change. He would have juxtaposed this with a young bride on her wedding day, chain smoking outside a weathered registry office, full of nerves and unexpected doubts.

“‘The patience it took for her to look at me for so long in the middle of the night,’” the literary agent reads, from the middle of her client’s new manuscript, “‘it gave me enough time to count every spot and line on her face’…what the fuck?”

“That’s still realism,” he says. “It’s…melancholy, beautiful-,”

“It’s fucking pillow-talk, and no-one wants to hear it.” She slams the manuscript down and closes her eyes. “We’re fucked, we really are.”

A year ago he was commissioned to write a novella about a Scottish woman with no teeth who froze to death while camping out on a wasteland in Dudley.

The literary agent sighs. “You used to say that you were tired of smiling when other people talked. You actually said that in a fucking interview, you know. What happened to the dreary guy I used to know?”

“I’m just more…I dunno.”

She rubs her forehead. “You’re what? You’re getting…married?”

His novel about his time as a street cleaner was covered in the Times Literary Supplement for two weeks running. George Monbiot from the Guardian said that he was an important voice in austerity-hit Britain, praising the ‘grey emotionality’ of a serialisation in which a neo-Nazi and Bangladeshi family who live next door to one another both subsist on four pounds a day.

“You’re no good now you have money,” she says. “You’re no good now you have love.”

Somewhere a creative writing lecturer is asking their students to read a short story where a dying fifty year old alcoholic tells a stranger about how he once shared a prison cell with Ted Bundy.

“The problem is that until recently, everyone thought you were still poor.”

“What do you expect me to do?”

She clears her throat. “‘After all the things I’d seen, she felt the roughness of my hands on her face and somehow she smiled’…”

“And?”

“The market doesn’t accept rags-to-riches anymore…Bill Gates giving his money away at his own discretion, A Streetcat Named Bob…Plan B…I dunno, Levi fucking Roots. It’s meaningless.”

“Levi Roots..?”

“No-one likes a sell-out. Your work is poverty, your work is sadness, your work is…despair.”

He was the counter-voice to the X Factor false Capitalist aspirations. Krishnan Guru-Murphy called him the ‘poster-boy for reality’. A video of him telling Jeremy Paxman there were ‘only so many spaces at the high table’ got two million views on YouTube. #Hightable is still trending on Twitter.

“I can make this new stuff political.”

“All the good influence you’ve had will be lost if you go through with this marriage. I’m telling you straight. If you carry on moving up, it’s over.”

“This is insane.”

“This is about your brand,” the literary agent says, “and not selling out is very big right now. Huge. Living alone and single in a dusty flat, staying true to the story.”

“Where do people think the royalties go?”

“Maybe you’re paying off old gambling debts. Always subservient. Always in debt.”

“I’ve never gambled.”

“You’ll write a story about it. Semi-fictional.” She flaps the new manuscript in his face. “They’ll shit on you for this. No-one wants to go onto your Wikipedia page and read that you’re engaged, that you’ve got this whole new wonderful life, that all of the other shit is behind you.”

“I am engaged. I am happy.”

His short story about a homeless Chinese woman who burned down an Apple store was published in eight different high-brow literary journals. Charlie Brooker said it was a ‘scathing critique of spatial dislocation in the information age’.

“Your work is important. You can change it all, you know…but you have to sacrifice certain things. I’ve spoken to your publisher. They agree with me on this.”

“I’ll self-publish,” he says.

“You need us, if you really want to reach the people. Imagine billboards with incendiary slogans on them advertising your books, spreading your ideas. TV adverts ripping the idea of TV adverts to shreds! This is powerful stuff.

He doesn’t say anything. He looks at the table and shakes his head.

She snatches the manuscript back up from the table. “‘In her blue eyes I could see the world,’” she reads. People in the café begin to stare. “‘In our love I could see some vague hope that if everyone could see the way she looked at me, there would be some way out of the double binds and the shackles and the misery that hold us all together in ignorance and apathy’…what the fuck were you thinking?”

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