NaNoWriMo 2014 – Day 2

There is no doubt that I was in a place in my life at that point where my close friends had been encouraging me to reach out to Fran’s family and re-forge the connections that had been there during her life, so that I had a place for both my grief and my happier memories about her, but I had been hiding up here in Norfolk, nodding when people said such things and steadfastly not doing anything about it once they had gone home or hung up the phone. As Andrea spoke I could feel myself wanting to know her, not in any kind of yearning way, and certainly not as a surrogate for my dead wife, but simply as a way of making the connection I still felt to her somehow more real and present, rather than allowing it to continue to languish in the dark, ignored and denied.
“I’m glad you came; sorry Jareth gave you a hard time.”
She laughed, and suddenly I was looking at a younger version of my dead wife, and despite my expectation that if Andrea reminded me of her I would be plunged into an ice-cold lake of pain, the pain did not come. Instead I felt an immediate wave of affection for her;
“Do you have somewhere to stay? I mean I don’t want to be inappropriate or anything, but I have a spare room and I don’t imagine that we are going to feel as though spending one afternoon in a coffee shop is enough time.”
She smiled and nodded before answering;
“I have a room at the hotel on the promenade, what’s it called? The Cliftonville, that’s it, but I could only afford one night. I suppose I didn’t really think that far ahead, I just took a guess based on your Twitter feed that you were here and then made for this place.”
“Well, if nothing else you are turning out to be a pretty good detective, I’ll give you that! The Cliftonville is lovely, but I’m not surprised you could only afford one night, it’s the priciest place in town. Will you let me settle your bill and we’ll move you into my spare room for a few days?”
“That would be great, but I don’t want to get in the way of your writing or anything and I can pay my own bill, I mean I didn’t come to find you for that, yeah?”
I took a breath, and studied her face, keen to divine whether or not I had offended her, but it seemed to me that she was simply making it clear that she was not gold digging and that pleased me no end.
“We can argue about the money later, if you like you can take me out to dinner or something, but you came to find me, to connect with some kind of family and now you’re here I think that you deserve the same level of hospitality as I would offer anyone in my family, heck even most of the people I call friends. If not, then what’s the point of being a slightly successful author?”
She laughed boisterously at the last part of that, which did my ego no end of good and then relaxed completely into her sofa, no longer worried that she was going to have to pitch me any more. She picked up her Latté and wrapped both her hands around it to warm them, taking sips and allowing herself to look around the place and take it all in. After a few moments she spoke again;
“So is it true, do you write here all the time now?”
“I suppose it’s a as true as anything else. I tend to come here most days for most of the morning or afternoon. I do write every day, and I suppose to the extent that I do it here I have a routine and habits that I have found useful, but the media perception of me camped out in the window from opening to closing, wearing out my laptop keyboard are a caricature at best. I suppose I write for about three or four hours a day, and if I am here in Cromer I will tend to do it here in Goblin King’s, but I do write at home sometimes, particularly on the weekends as it gets ridiculously busy in here on the weekends in the summer. Then of course if I am on the road for a book or a speaking tour I write on trains and planes and in hotel rooms and strange coffee shops and the homes of friends, so I cannot really say that I do all my writing here, but I do write here a lot.”
More laughing ensued. I was not offended, but I was surprised;
“What?”
“You just gave me an answer that could have been dialogue from one of your characters, I mean that was vintage Geraint, from Transom. You really are a writer, I guess. I mean I knew that you were and I have read your books, but here I am talking to you and I can see your work actually in you.”
No one had ever said something so simultaneously wonderful and damning to me, ever before, and yet even though there was a kind of judgement in her comments, it was clear to me that she was trying to say something nice and something that she meant.
We finished our coffees and I packed up my stuff so that we could head back to the flat that I tend to refer to as my loft. My loft is a top floor conversion with a reasonable living space, two bedrooms, a kitchen and its own bathroom I had considered myself lucky to find it on the market when I had made my first trip up to Cromer after doing little more considered than the twenty-first century equivalent of throwing darts at a map with Google Maps.
Andrea made all of the right kind of low-key, polite noises about how it was a nice place that confirmed to me what I already knew; it was clean and cosy with nothing whatsoever about it that could make it seem special or ostentatious. In fact it could reasonably said that I live year round in a holiday let style apartment in the top floor of a Victorian three storey townhouse above the Cromer promenade, and so seeing it offered Andrea almost no insight into me, unless it was to leap to the conclusion that this was where I lived, rather than in any way being my home.
I settled her into the spare room and then gave her some privacy while I went to find a bottle of wine in the kitchen. I was sitting at my desk a few minutes later, making slow work of my first glass of Shiraz and checking Twitter when Andrea came into the room, fresh from the shower, and picked up the glass I had poured for her;
“Is this for me?”
I nodded and gestured with mine towards the sofa.
“How do you feel about some takeaway food this evening, I’m not in the mood for the rest of society?”
“That sounds great, as long as it’s Chinese”
The sly grin on her face was enough to sell it and I called the Jade Dragon.
We made small talk before and during dinner, I learned that there is still nothing fun about flying trans Atlantic if you do not have the money for business class, and that growing up in the north of New York State is not as much fun as sitcoms from the seventies and eighties might have suggested. I also learned that Andrea’s father had actually passed away, and that was why she had been clearing out her room at her parents’ home. Under the same banner of smalltalk I had admitted that I was living the life of a monk since Fran had passed – well apart from occasional visits to what I want to refer to as call girls rather than mere prostitutes, not that I told Andrea about them – and that I was having some fairly serious problems with writing in the last few weeks, but was putting it down to the usual block I would tend to suffer as the days grew shorter. In short we spent the time becoming comfortable with one another.
After we had demolished the ‘Emperor’s Banquet’ and Andrea had helped me clear away the debris I put the coffee machine on and broke out my rolling box. Andrea had already copped to being an occasional toker as we chatted over dinner so I was not worried about tipping my own hand, and it was nice to have someone to smoke with; day to day I rarely indulged finding pot a much more pleasant experience in company. I skinned up a classic, two-skin cone, poured us each a coffee and made up a tray with an ashtray and the spliff, the coffees a small jug of milk and a bowl of sugar, and a plate of chunks of CDM, in readiness for the munchies. I carried it out into the living room and set up camp on the coffee table between the sofa where Andrea was curled up and the armchair that she had intuited was my spot.
I tapped the spliff a few times on my lighter and then lit it, enjoying the ceremony of it all, a kind of western and slightly boho alternative to Chinese tea ceremonies and the like. I held the first drag for as long as I could without falling into a spluttering heap, and then hung onto it for a couple more drags until I started to feel the beginnings of my high and then I offered it to Andrea, who took it from me with gleeful abandon.
She did not ask me the question until we had almost seen the whole joint off, passing it between us with yet more lightweight conversation, that was admittedly becoming more and more off the wall as the skunk did the trick and peeled away our inhibitions.
“Caine, can you tell me what happened to my sister?”


NaNoWriMo 2014 – Day 1

Jareth was engaged in yet another of his patronising seminars on the actual meaning of the various different variants of espresso based coffee; I almost felt sorry for the poor customer, a timid looking goth-girl with a laptop bag and maybe nineteen summers behind her, whose only crime had been trying to order the same kind of coffee that they would have normally ordered in a Starbucks.
“Macchiato means stained or spotted, so a café macchiato is a double espresso with a tiny amount of steamed milk. There is no such thing as a Half-Caff Skinny Caramel Macchiato, Starfucks made it up and we certainly don’t serve such an abomination in here, this is a COFFEE shop. Now, can I interest you in a Flat White, or perhaps a Latté, which in case you are interested is actually a shortening of Latté Macchiato, because the milk is ‘stained’ with the coffee?”
The somewhat stunned looking goth-girl just nodded quietly and handed over a tenner; Jareth snorted and assumed that it was a Latté that she wanted and set about its creation. The fact that he ground the beans and weighed the grounds to ensure the perfection of her coffee, that the espresso machine was stripped and cleaned every night, that the beans were roasted in the back of the shop, that the milk was locally sourced and organic, all of these facts were wasted on her. She just wanted a sweet, milky coffee and a place to get out her laptop and check Facebook, so not only was I a little sorry for her I was also confused as to why Jareth let her and other customers like her raise his blood pressure. Not everyone can be bothered to be a coffee fanatic, and no coffee shop can survive solely on the coin of the fanatics.
I turned my attention to the hideous weather outside. I was in my usual spot, nestled in the corner of the comfier sofa in the large bay window at the front of The Goblin King Coffee Company, my laptop and notebooks on the table in front of me along with the third Long Black of the morning. On the other side of the glass the rain was coming down sideways, reducing the visibility so much that I could not even see the beach, let alone the sea. I had come to make this spot my daily home when I had first arrived in Cromer two summers before, and the primary reason had been that I liked to look up from my writing and look out at the sea without having to move. Today’s weather was not really conducive to my getting my money’s worth. I squinted, hoping that screwing my face up would somehow reveal the waves and the sea, but in truth the visibility was so bad that nothing was going to make a difference.
“Can you believe that guy?”
I looked up to see the goth-girl that Jareth had been educating standing over me, Latté in hand and an injured look on her face.
“Oh yeah, I can absolutely believe him. Sorry I am a regular, and anyway Jareth owns the place so there’s no one to give him a dressing down over his preaching the gospel of coffee.”
She cracked a smile;
“Is it ok if I sit here?”
I nodded and she put her Latté down before settling into the less comfortable sofa opposite me. For a moment I watched as she arranged her skirt and then started to get out her laptop and then I realised that I was staring and turned back to the awesome if utterly depressing show being put on by Mother Nature.
I was snapped put of my reverie a few moments later by another question.
“I’m sorry to bother you, but you aren’t Caine Foster are you?”
Busted. Even since quitting London this did happen every four to six months; a keen fan or an up and coming journalist would work out where I was hiding, namely the North Norfolk Coast, and come and find me. I should never have put the thank you to The Goblin King Coffee Company in the last book’s acknowledgements. Ah well, time to plaster on a fake smile and play the game; these days no one but Gaiman sells enough genre books to be anything but gracious and charming to fans or the press.
“I am, it was the acknowledgement to the shop we both find ourselves in, right?”
She blushed a little, which with the whole goth aesthetic seemed a little jarring, and then there was that smile again.
“Yeah, I admit I was rather hoping that you would be here, I’m sorry to kinda corner you unannounced, but it’s just that I really need to talk to you and I don’t want to freak you out or anything, but it’s about Fran.”
It was at that moment that I really started to regret getting out of bed that morning. I had awoken early and immediately known it was one of those bitter November days that would drench and chill me to the bone just walking the three hundred yards from my loft to the coffee shop, but I had made myself do it anyway because writing every day is an important discipline. Now I was wishing that I had stayed in bed with some porn and pretended that it was a weekend. I steeled myself for a bit of a confrontation and made the supreme effort to maintain my more friendly demeanour as I answered.
“I don’t talk about my late wife, I’m sorry I don’t mean to be rude but I would appreciate it if you left me alone.”
The girl nodded, but she did not seem to be going anywhere, and then she started speaking again;
“I understand that, and from everything I have ever read I expected you to say that, but you see Fran was my sister, well half-sister actually and I really wanted to talk to you about a letter that I received from her just before she died.”
This was not the way these conversations usually went.
Fran had died about three years before, just after my second novel “Transom” had been short-listed for the Booker. She had been coming home from her mother’s house, just a normal Tuesday evening after her weekly Bridge game, when Bradshaw had picked her as his victim. Now I was being forced to re-live every horrid moment of that experience in a heartbeat before trying to formulate something to say to this young woman on front of me.
“Er, I don’t mean to be rude, but I really don’t want to talk about Fran or even have to think about her, and even more than that I never heard her mention you… I’m sorry what’s your name?”
“Andrea. My Mum married Fran’s Dad after he left, I’m sorry this hasn’t started well and it really has not gone anything like the way I wanted it to. I’ll leave you alone, I’m sorry.”
She started to get her stuff together and I was about to let her go, but the wound was already open again now and it had clearly been a big step to come and find me, there was no way I could let her just leave.
“No, please, stay. I need to be better at talking about what happened anyway, and you’re family, so please stay. I am sorry, you just caught me off guard. Tell me about this letter, please?”
Andrea settled back into the sofa and visibly relaxed. She took a big mouthful of her Latté and reached into her bag, retrieving a battered envelope upon which I could see Fran’s handwriting, so that was oddly comforting. I was less concerned that I was dealing with a nut-case, though I suppose Fran may have written to a nut-case without that person actually being her half-sister.”
“Would you like to read it?”
She held the envelope out towards me and I almost took it from her, but then I shook my head.
“I’m sorry, it’s just that I will hear her voice in my head if I read her words and I can’t have that happen right now. I miss her so much and to be honest I’ve been managing by trying very hard to not think about her, and I am pretty certain that I will be unable to keep that up at all if I start hearing her voice again. What is the letter about?”
“Well, basically, we had only found one another about six months before she died and I was not in a position to come to England to meet her, I was under eighteen back then and I neither had a passport nor the money to get on a plane and our Dad did not want me to contact her so I could not exactly have asked him to pay for my travel. Anyway that meant that we wrote letters, roughly one a week for five months until I received this one from her about a week before she died. There’s nothing really remarkable about it, to be honest, apart from the fact that it’s the last letter that she wrote to me, well that and that she invited me to London in it, and offered to buy my flight. She said that she wanted to meet me properly and that she wanted to have you meet me too. Of course before any of that came to pass her death was on the news and I was pretty sure that you didn’t know that I even existed and I didn’t feel right about contacting you back then, but recently I was clearing out my room in my Dad’s house and I found this, her last letter again and I read it about ten times and finally decided to come and find you.”