The Woman, The Writer by Carmen Tudor

She had been drafting the letters with the same mindless tenacity with which she went about fixing her supper or folding the sheets, and only stopped now and then to push her glasses further up on her pinched nose. Occasionally a word would jump out at her, or a sentence here and there, but not enough to engage her full attention. She saved that for fiction.

The sunlight eventually hit the western windows and filled the crowded office with an orange glow that was lost on the typists. One by one the young women finished their letters and filed them away. A general relief, a group smile, passed across the faces that the end of the week had arrived. They chatted amiably but the woman resisted any temptation to join in. Some, she heard, were going to see Laurence Olivier’s latest picture, Hamlet. Some had dinner plans. Others would make the trip home to the countryside to visit their mothers. They all had something to do, it seemed, or somewhere to go.

It was nearly seven when she stepped out of her heels and closed her own door behind her. The absence of the wailing baby in the room next to hers hit her instantly, and she stopped; she awaited the low murmurings of the young mother who sang to her child even as it slept. Nothing followed, she noted, and tilted her head.
She ate bread and butter and drank weak tea. There was a comfort with the knowledge that an uncertain future was worse than this. This, at least, was sure. This was real. Misery or not, this was hers.

The silence next door ate into her as she slept. Her hair, now out of its pulled-back bun, fanned out around her on the pillow, and she awoke as several strands licked across her thin lips. She waited in the dark, and once again listened for the baby or its mother, but the silence remained and she wondered with an idle curiosity if the infant were dead.

The woman rose with the sun and stooped in the half-light to make her bed. After tying the cord of her robe, she made her way to the bath down the hall. The grotty tiles no longer impressed her, and after washing in tepid water and resisting the call of the sweet-smelling soap that belonged to Hetty downstairs, she re-dressed in her nightgown and robe and pulled her hair up. Another day, another bun. She crept back to her room, and took a grey jacket and calf-length skirt from the small chest of drawers beside the bed. The woman dressed hastily, and pulled on her stockings: one, and then the other.

Her eyes involuntarily wandered to the floor beneath the bed, and she lowered herself to her knees and pushed aside the stacks of books. Pulling out the heavy black Adler typewriter, she ran her calloused fingertips over the. ? She eyed the machine almost endearingly and let her nostrils fill with the familiar scent of ribbon ink.

With the typewriter, she took a quarter-ream of Stone’s Extra White paper and sat at the small table by the window. She left the blind drawn in case anybody in the flats across the street looked over and saw in. She sought the machine greedily. Her fingers caressed the keys as she imagined the words she longed to create, but the single sheet of paper remained blank. And so the days passed.
She hadn’t forgotten the desire to give voice to the words that played through her mind. Now that the baby was gone, she longed more than ever to fill the dark hours with as much noise as the typewriter could muster and ached to hear the carriage return bell that spoke of another line accomplished, but night after night she replaced the machine under the bed. There would always be a tomorrow.
It was another Saturday morning much like all of her others when a knock interrupted her recycled reverie. Her glasses slipped down her nose slightly as she took in the sight of a man at her door. Tall and gangly, but somewhat younger than she, he stood beside the landlady. When he smiled, she noticed that small crinkly lines creased the skin around his pale eyes in a most beguiling way. She pushed her glasses up.

His name was Friedrich Hertz, he said, and he was an acquaintance of Hetty’s. He was a writer.
¿ñGerman,’ she pronounced, and he nodded apologetically. She said no more about it though, and he seemed grateful.

He had travelled all over Europe, he said, seeking somewhere to plant his weary feet. He raised his ink-stained hands and told her that these grey skies were part of his home now, his new heimatland.

Apparently, although labelled a talented wordsmith, the young man with the dust colored hair wasn’t having much luck making a name for himself in England. His lean frame and scuffed shoes lent credence to this, and she listened silently as his eyes met the typewriter by the window. He pointed, and explained his plans of only sending typed works to the English magazines; after all, he was a professional, and he didn’t want to risk the stench of Pelikan ink that clung to him like a telltale sign of his Saxon origin. He couldn’t pay her, of course, but for every story she typed for him he would write another just for her, to do with as she pleased. He had heard that she was fond of a good tale. So very fond.

The woman knew the answer before he’d finished talking. She nodded, and the young writer thanked her profusely before pulling a thin manuscript from his shoulder bag. She took it gingerly. Forcing her eyes away from the perfect English script, she told him to return for his work the following day. She exhaled as she closed the door, and then hesitantly brought the manuscript to her nose and breathed in the foreign paper and the imagined aroma of the ink.
Sleep wasn’t an option and the night hours passed too soon as the woman’s eyes took in the lines of loneliness, love and gall. Her heart thrilled as the carriage return bell sounded again and again. His words were her exact sentiments; it was almost as if she had written the story herself, she thought.

The next morning the writer took his newly typed story from her and pressed another into her hands. He told her he would be back the following week with more work. He thanked her again with one of his smiles, and she closed the door. When she was certain he was out of the main house ¿“ she watched him through the window as his old shoes carried him down the street ¿“ she took the pages from their coarse brown envelope and exulted in the fire of his words. She had never read anything so poetic, so thoroughly German, she thought, and scolded herself as a hot tear burnt the corner of her eye. How had he managed to capture her thoughts, when she could not do it herself?

The writer returned the following week. The woman wanted to hear the story behind the story, the one that was hers to keep, but didn’t dare ask. Instead, she nodded, and told him he could collect his typed work the next day. Seeing her eyes lingering on the papers he carried, he handed her the brown envelope. This one was thinner than the last. The woman wasn’t sure, but she thought she detected a slight hesitance to let go as she grabbed for the papers.

Another sleepless night passed and even her neighbours’ demands for silence couldn’t tear her away from the words of Friedrich Hertz. This story, The Writer, was different. It was a desperate tale of a lexophile, not romantic at all. It was no more than a thinly veiled version of him, she was sure. Or every other writer, for they were all the same. But where her lips had turned upward in awe before, they now curled over her teeth ¿“ it had become too late for her, she realised. Her ideas had been taken.

The writer was greeted with the usual polite reserve when he collected his manuscript the next morning. He handed over another of his payment offerings, which she took without thanks and tossed on the bed. She closed the door and went straight to the table. This time she didn’t lift the blind and watch his departure. She recalled their agreement: he had said the stories were hers to do with as she pleased. After all, were they not all her own thoughts? Were they not sentiments taken from her own bleeding heart? It oozed the lines just as his Pelikan ink had. Darker, even.
She typed up her latest story with zeal. Her fingers danced over the keys without pause. The woman left the byline blank, but that, she thought, could always be remedied later.


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