by kate horsley
Kate Horsley served as associate judge in the SFWP year 2000 literary awards program. She is the author of Crazy Woman, A Killing in New Town and Confessions of a Pagan Nun. Stop by the SFWP Features section for more information.
I knew a guy — okay it was one of my husbands — who wanted to be a writer. He worked very hard at it. He bought a nice leather bound journal; he had a good pen, not just a bic or something with an insurance company’s name on it; he even went to Paris, yes Paris! He talked like a writer; he was moody like a writer; he was horny like a writer; he got drunk like a writer; he made keen observations and knew words like “obsequious” and “verisimilitude.” There was one small problem, in trying to be a writer he didn’t do much writing.
I wasn’t much better; I was actually worse. I wanted to be a writer, too, but being a woman not quite free of the notion that women weren’t as cool as men, I followed this guy to Paris so I could at least be with a writer. Pathetic, I know. We migrated down to Toulouse where we lived with about three other guys in a run down chateau outside of town. A big quiet man we called Bruno lived with his mother in the bottom part of this chateau and rented the top floor out to spoiled American college kids. Friends, wanderers, other spoiled Americans who were escaping the seventies in the states, came by to mooch and check out the scene at this chateau where there were actually secret panels between rooms and antique beds and Frenchy looking wallpaper from the 19th century. The place was lousy with writers who didn’t write.
Every morning, bright and early, at about 11:55, someone would be given the duty of getting on the one moped we all shared and driving to a patisserie in town. This person would have to go from bed to bed and ask the lumps in those beds what pastry they wanted. The whining moped came back with the pastries, a bag of cherries and a couple of bottles of cheap French wine, which I will admit tasted better than any other country’s cheap wine.
Then began the day’s work. Several people lounged in the sitting room eating cherries and spitting the seeds into the cold fireplace. There was a sticky, fermenting pile of those seeds that had accumulated over several months. A few people started in on the wine and then went out on the verandah to lie in the sun and read literature. Pity the poor neophyte, the non-writer, who came with a popular mystery or romance. We read books by nefarious and angst-filled men: Knut Hamsun’s Hunger; books by Henry Miller, Lawrence Durrel, Hemingway, Aldous Huxley.
Around twilight, someone inevitably decided to walk to a little cafe and bar about a half mile away, across a raging canal. Several of us would then stroll down the road past old men sitting outside crumbling farmhouses. I remember one evening singing the theme song to the Bugs Bunny Show at top voice with a guy named Paul who told us, every time he got drunk, that he never masturbated.
One day Paul and I found a mangled kitten by the bridge over the canal. It was still alive, but its back half had been smashed. It was mewing pathetically and I couldn’t walk away from it. I told Paul we had to do something, take it to a vet or something. Squatting beside it, I knew that no vet could do anything; standing above me, Paul knew that the vet would just put it to sleep and charge us beaucoups bucks when we only had enough money for cheap wine. “We’ve got to do something,” I said. “We can’t let it suffer.” He said, “What? What can we do?”
At this bridge, the canal water dropped about six feet in a thunderous torrent. A few feet past the kitten, its mews could not be heard. We could have walked on and let the creature die. “We can’t just leave it,” I said. I stroked it and it squeezed its eyes shut and mewed. Paul shrugged and took a few steps away.
I carefully picked the kitten up, and speaking to it, calming it, I carried it to the bridge and dropped it into the crashing water. Then I said to Paul, “Let’s go.” I was crying. He didn’t say anything.
I have no idea what happened to Paul. I know that the man I married never did write anything, even though he lived in the same time and space as all the stuff I just wrote about. He even had more bizarre adventures, involving dwarves and prostitutes; but he never had the balls to actually write, because if he were no good, he’d have to stop saying he was a writer and might not get laid as often.
It took me a while to get it. I had to go through some husbands and some pastries and some dying animals and other tragedies, but eventually I decided to take the chance and actually write.
I am grateful to all those writers for giving me material to write about.