My name is Andrew Wilts and my Dad used to say, “It’s called the past because it’s passed. Always look forward and never look back. Live in the now.” He always insisted on that: he believed it was a lesson that everyone should learn. He never understood that sometimes the past doesn’t pass, sometimes it holds on for dear life and it doesn’t let go. Sometimes, it’s all there is.
I used to be one sixth of one happy family. One sixth of one whole. Two parents, two sisters, and one little brother. Kelly, Mary, Steven and me, the genius. I was the only one of us that had a talent, I had a gift with the pen. Ever since I could read I wanted to write and ever since I could write I wanted people to read what I had written.
Steve used to watch me work. He’d watch me for hours and then read it through when I was done. He’d look at me with awe in his little eyes like I was a God. “How do you do it?” He’d ask me and I’d reply with the truth. “I don’t know, I just do.”
The years passed and I continued to write. I never got anything published, not even a single rejection letter but it never put me off. When I left home and got a job I kept on writing. All this was just a run up, I knew it, I was building up speed then BOOM! I’d be respected, I’d be successful, I’d be happy.
It was a beautiful morning in June when an aneurysm killed my dreams. I was talking to my Mum when it happened, I didn’t see any change or even a flicker: one second she was there and the next she was gone. She’d left her body long before I heard the crack of her head bouncing off the flagstones.
The funeral was a dream; a dream dressed all in black, a dream that was more real than anything I’d ever experienced before. Our faces were like those of the dead; everything was muted and everything was wrong. Reality had suddenly shifted to the side and it hurt.
We were waiting for Dad when Steve’s phone started to ring. He answered it and I remember his eyes were sparkling. He mumbled something and then a big grin spread like a gaping wound across his face. The words fell out of his mouth, “I’ve just sold my first story!” All I did was stare. Steve didn’t write. Steve didn’t do anything.
He took control at the funeral. He greeted people with a smile and a hug. He told stories of how Mum used to dance and sing. He made everyone laugh with the awful jokes she used to tell. He even gave a eulogy, bowing his head as he spoke, the picture of a perfect son. Then we said goodbye to her and it was over. Like cowards we swept her away beneath a carpet of dirt. Out of sight and out of mind.
And then, like nothing had ever happened, life began to move on again. I tried to find comfort by disappearing into my words. Steve’s success helped fuel me for a while but the nights that I couldn’t write quickly became more common than the nights that I could. I was empty: all the words had gone from my head and any hopes I had of finding inspiration were crushed when just a few months after Mum left us, Dad stopped breathing.
Once again Steve rose to the occasion. He told everyone at the funeral that it was a broken heart that killed our Dad. He kept everyone entertained and he made people forget – if only for a moment – what had happened. Afterwards he pulled me to one side and told me that he’d just sold his first book. I could only stare.
He sent me a signed copy when it came out and I noticed that he had dropped the ‘v’ from his name in favour of a ‘ph’. He’d always thought it was more sophisticated that way. He always used to get pretentious and sophisticated mixed up. What I managed to read of it was good, that’s why the rest of it went into the bin.
He left the day after the funeral with a smile and a wave. He was leaving to begin his new life and I couldn’t help but feel that it was my life he was leaving with.
This time the past didn’t pass, it just sat like a demon inside my head, reminding me over and over again of everything that I had lost. More than anything I needed to write. I had to write but I couldn’t. I needed to forget but I couldn’t. I watched as Steve’s book became a best seller and all I could do was see-saw between denial and grief. The two unhappy halves of the hole that was me.
Steve’s call came out of the blue. “Hi Andy, you missed me? I’m working but not getting anywhere. I thought I’d catch up with the family and see if it triggers something, you know what I mean? Of course you do. You still writing?” I ignored him. “Have you got Kelly’s number?” I recited the numbers and listened to the scratch of his pen upon paper (my pen, my paper). “Thanks Andy you’re a lifesaver.” He hung up and I listened to the line die.
I almost lost my mind when we got the call that Kelly was in hospital and in critical condition. We didn’t have long to say goodbye; I didn’t ever want to say goodbye to anyone ever again. “It’s easier to say goodbye when you’re saying goodbye to pain.” Steve had said that. Steve and his endless wisdom.
He called that night asking how Kelly was. I didn’t talk to him, I couldn’t, I was a mess. Mary took the phone from me and began demanding why he wasn’t here. We needed him, Kelly needed him. I heard the calm tone in which he replied. He wasn’t coming, he was in the middle of making a deal, one that would change his life. Mary started to scream at him then, she screamed so much that she tore her vocal cords, and when she couldn’t scream anymore she hung up on him. In the silence that followed I heard the demon whisper, “Steven blooms while Andrew Wilts…”
When it was over all we could do was go home. I tried to go on but I could feel dread hanging over me, knotting my belly and knotting my mind. I was on edge constantly: my nerves were about to snap. I spent hours pacing back and forth, I developed nervous twitches, stutters and shakes. I knew I was falling apart but I couldn’t stop it. I lost my job and I sold everything, every memory and every dream just to be able to afford to live. To exist.
Then one day, Mary stopped answering her phone, she stopped answering her door too. She’s listed as missing on the police database but I don’t think she’s missing. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking…
I didn’t tell anyone where I was going, I just left everything behind and ran. I ran as far as I could but no matter how far I went I always saw Steve looking out at me from the covers of newspapers and out through TV screens. He’s just sold the film rights to his first book and the world loves him. He doesn’t use the name Wilts anymore; he’d always wanted a name that was fit for a king.
I ran and I ran and now here I am. The past has run away like water beneath a bridge and I’m sat here in this dirty room listening to the fat flies dancing through the air. I’ve fallen a long long way but I think I’ve almost reached the bottom.
There’s more that I could say: about how I see Steve in all my dreams, his mouth wide, ready to eat me up. I could write about Kelly’s funeral but I can’t bring myself to do it. There are some wounds that are too big to bare alone and right now I’m the loneliest that I’ve ever been. I remember thinking once that I’d do anything to get the words back. I didn’t mean it, nothing is worth this.
Steve knows where I am. I know he does. I know because a letter came this morning; the only letter since I’ve been here. It was addressed to me. It was from his highness, Steve… he asked me how I was. He asked me if I was happy…
He asked me if I could help him find a little inspiration.