“I’m sorry Reggie but, after this, you’re on your own.”
Reginald Legley sat in the head office of Newman & Son Publishing and listened to Michael Newman admonish him. A boy humiliating an old man. A man who had once been someone. Reginald looked around the office at the old dark wood furnishings and floor-to-ceiling bookshelf that contained most of the successful books this old and respected company had published over the years. It contained five of Reginald’s books. He couldn’t help think that there was no way Michael Newman’s late father Harold would’ve spoken to him in this manner. Harold had adored Reginald and was honoured to publish the great author’s books. But that was years ago now and young people had no respect for the past.
Reginald could’ve argued that his early success helped this company survive in the competitive book market. But why waste your breath or humiliate yourself any further by having to justify your worth?
Reginald hated the young man addressing him in such a familiar manner. What did he know about him? Really know? Or really care?
“Reggie? Are you listening to me? After this two thousand dollars that’s it. No more advances. We’ve been waiting for you to deliver a new book for ten years. You must admit we’ve been patient with you.”
“The book is almost finished, I assure you,” croaked Reginald.
You’ve been assuring us that for years. Every time you want another advance. But no more. It’s done. Take your money, go and don’t enter this office again unless you have a manuscript in your hand. Am I clear about that?”
If Reginald had still had any pride left he’d have risen and hit the young man, but it was long gone. He was weary and old and poor. He often wondered where all his money had gone but after three wives and three houses given away it was easy to see how it all dissipated away like a mist.
Reginald held his temper and picked up the cheque with a shaking hand. Once it was safely in his pocket he looked at the young Michael Newman with contempt and sauntered to the door. Just as he was about to exit he heard Michael’s final jab to heart.
“Oh and Reggie, you can’t die for at least another 10 years. You owe us too much money. We need at least another three books out of you to clean the slate of debt.”
Reginald opened the door and left.
He walked along the corridors towards the elevator and thought about the old days when he came here and how everyone was in a state of excitement at his arrival. Young secretaries blushed and flirted with him, executives rushed to shake his hand, and Harold Newman addressed him with the hushed tones of respect.
Gone. All gone. And how he wished he was gone too.
Now Harold’s young upstart of a son had sentenced him to another 10 years of this life.
Reginald had no idea how he could survive once this two thousand dollars was gone. There was no new book, let alone another three. He was all written out. He’d sold short in the boom and now lived in downtown purgatory.
He walked out onto the city street and just wanted to get lost in the sea of moving bodies. No one noticed him anymore and that was a great relief. He’d hate those that’d known him to see what he’d been reduced to. Little more than a beggar in a worn out suit. His shoes were worn too and had holes in them but he covered those with newspaper. The only thing the dailies were useful for these days he thought.
He went to a cheap diner restaurant and ordered the $10 lunch which came with a soup.
The young waitress was always nice to him and he so appreciated her pretending to care about this old weary man. Her name was Noeline and he wished he had some money to leave her in his will. But there was no money. And soon there’d be no him. He had it all worked out now. Once the two thousand was gone he would follow and go too. He had to. There were no other options for him. He was acutely aware that he’d passed his use-by date and every day that belief was confirmed by the life around him. Life had been a series of small deaths and in a way he was well prepared for the final one. What took up most of his day was trying to work out the best way to make his exit. He didn’t want it to be messy. It should be dignified, like he had once been.
He smiled thinking that the reports of his death would probably trigger some healthy sales on his past catalogue of novels and that even Michael Newman may be pleased at the results. Might even pay back all the advances.
Noeline came by his table and conspiratorially slipped him an extra bread roll. She was a lovely girl, he thought, and wished he’d have met her in his prime. Life is so unfair and taunts us with such things.
He finished his coffee and stolen bread roll and headed home to his shitty room to watch some shitty TV. This meal would have to last him three days until his cheque cleared at the bank.
He figured that this two thousand dollars, if he was frugal, would be gone by August. He wasn’t sad. He was actually looking forward to a nice long rest and catching up with some old friends on the other side. He couldn’t wait to tell Harold Newman what an asshole his son was.
He had left a manuscript addressed to Michael Newman that consisted of “Fuck You” typed 20,000 times and regretted that he wouldn’t be around to see the expression on his rat-like features when he started to read it.
By the time Reginald got home to his one room that he rented in a large house occupied by young people, he was exhausted and took his tie off and unbuttoned his shirt. He also slipped out of his shoes, laid on the bed and switched on his old portable television set. He changed channels until he found a nice black and white movie to watch. It was set in an era that he understood and the story was about a writer. He was young, witty and clever and all the women wanted to be with him. He was so wealthy and successful and everyone paid him great respect. The scenario seemed like a comforting fantasy to Reginald. Sometimes he wished he lived in a Hollywood movie where people never got dirty, or had their money taken, and there was always a happy ending. The guy always got the girl. The right girl. And they lived happily ever after and their love never died.
Twenty-five minutes into the movie, Reginald Legley passed away; the two thousand dollar cheque still in his coat pocket. His body would not be discovered for 3 days. And only then because someone who rented another room finally complained about his TV set being on all night.
Michael Newman was stunned by the press and public reaction to this old man’s passing. Reginald was hailed as one of our greatest writers and there were several features detailing his life. All the good stuff. The young man who ran Newman & Son Publishing was taken aback by the respect paid to this man. An old man he’d recently degraded and stripped of his last layer of dignity. One layer too much.
Noeline wondered what had happen to her favourite customer, the old man who liked to sit in Booth 14. She hadn’t known who he was but sensed that he must’ve once been someone Special. She just felt it and wished she’d known him better. He acted like he knew things.
(c) Frank Howson 2014


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