Magnum Opus (a story)
Nikolai was sitting at his desk, waiting for the voices to settle down a bit till he could get back to writing. He knew this would be the book he would most be proud of. If only they let him write.
The book was about what it was like to live during a revolution. He knew it was wordy and he wasn’t sure how he could cut some of it. He also knew he couldn’t start over again. He would never begin this book again. It was too hard.
So many people had criticized his writing in the past and he was trying to incorporate their notes into this work. Writing was getting harder and harder for him to do. He kept erasing things that he knew they wouldn’t like. It was so frustrating.
Some of the voices were sticklers about grammar and spelling. And he did try his best when in the narrator’s voice, but some of his characters were back wood types. With little to no education. So how could he throw in big or correctly spelled words in their speech? How could he delete the idiom of the people and call it their story?
Some of the voices were historical critics and he kept having to remind them that this was a novel, not a treatise. And just the first draft. To set the tone. Fact checking could come later.
Some of the voices liked a certain type of person and they wanted the characters to be that. Rather than what would work best with the story. Or what came from his mind. He did try to add that in, but how would a tea drinking princess survive in rural Russia, where she had no servants to do the work? She’d literally die! if she was responsible for herself. The people did have to be plausible to the scene and the story.
And the hardest group to please, were the ones saying he should write something else. Because “the people”, “the audience” wanted to read something light and fun. Or something passionate. These people tried to keep him busy with consignments, so he couldn’t work at his opus. He did need the money and the practice…
People around him wanted him to quit writing altogether. And “get a job”. They said things like writing is no career choice “for a real man”. He should do something “manly” like farming or carpentry. It was somehow, in their opinion, more honourable work. More honourable work than writing the philosophical truth of a people? How??
And last, but not least, the priest of his village was crying over his immortal soul. And that worried his mother so. She was a very religious woman. So the priest thinking her son was evil, was breaking her heart. She asked him if she had not raised him right? She was worried about being excommunicated from her church. The one she had gone to all her life. Had been baptised in, married in, buried her husband in, and raised her boys in.
Nikolai was wasting away with his worries. The voices were so wrapped up in their dialogue, they ignored his biological needs. He skipped more and more meals. He drank less water or milk and more vodka. He was throwing up more and more. His skin was getting sallow.
After months of this inner struggle and self neglect, he threw a blood clot and died at his desk. He was there for a few weeks, before his mother and brother came looking for him. Mother brought him his favourite cookies. Brother was luckily the one who found him, and blocked hiis mother from seeing him. Poor brother was a mess though. For many nights after, he had nightmares of his brother standing up and chasing him thru the house.
His mother threw out the contentious writing. But the world is grateful that he had given a friend a copy to proof read.
His friend snuck the work out of the village and took it to the city to a publisher. Even unfinished, they published the story and it became a zeitgeist of Nikolai’s time.
They fixed the grammar and spelling, but only for the narrator;s voice. They did not add any characters or scenes. They did not add sex or flourish or make it more pop. They saw it was a story that needed to be told.
And at the front of the book, they told Nikolai’s story.
His mother blushed whenever she heard the title. But she knew they were her son’s last thoughts. And she missed him so much! His brother read a copy and burned it at Nikolai’s grave. Then drank a bottle of vodka and passed out there, crying. He stumbled home to his mother’s house a few hours later. She fed him soup and bread and put him to bed.
He felt terrible for burning his brother’s book. And bought another copy.
But it was too late. Nikolai was gone.
The voices in his head had stolen his breath. But his voice lives on.