My secret garden on display. I shut down the laptop, take some pills. They send me to Moorfields Eye Hospital.
Annabel Banks is the author of Exercises in Control, available now from Influx Press. I think it will go away itself, she says. No one mentions brain tumours. I am writing a carrot-bready story that plays around with spaces and gaps. This is not what words should do. The letters are changing, moving, vanishing. My room in Ealing is crowded with books, with piles of stories and poems that might be good enough, might be terrible, and then I realise nothing I read is making sense. I cry anyway, and she can barely stop her own clever, working eyes from rolling, which, of course, made me cry all the harder, as I try to explain that I must have words, must be able to write. I ring my mum, and then ring my optician for an emergency appointment. Another friend lends me an electronic typewriter, a clunky, funky, solid word machine, but too unforgiving for this non-touch-typist to use. Time to take a break. I think it is good, that I worked hard and wrote well. Probably an infection in your brain. But I ca ot ead, (so my brain fills in those gaps). Brisk and bright, she confirms that the structure of my eyes is sound, and that she can see no organic cause of my trouble. So I take a break. Would they notice the effort and become wearied, resentful at being forced into an act of creative labour they didn’t want? The dissertation is nearly done. Maybe it’s one of those painless migraine things, I think.
It’s the summer of 2011. We didn’t see anything in your blood tests, but these things can happen. In relief, I start to process my experience. Turning once again to my laptop, I set the font size on Word to thirty-six, then seventy-two points. Carrot Bread
‘A short story is a loose-knit sweater, a trawler’s net, where the spaces and holes are inseparable from the whole.’
I write short stories. If I offer them the framework of whole, yet fictional worlds, where the logic is recognisable, the physics complete, how would their own minds fill in the gaps? So I carrot bread. He shrugs. Characters move, events are caused, outcomes are understood. Some angry, some thoughtful, a few designed to unsettle. Walking is working, collect becomes connect, or context, or couldn’t. I no longer have a job, with its precious sick pay. A little. Instead, they gave me an increased opportunity to co-create the text, inserting my own lexicon, my preferred direction, into the books and articles I’d struggled with every day. My MA funding is ending, and I have no idea what comes next. I am in the final stages of my prose fiction MA, completing my assignments as I apply for the PhD funding I so desperately need. My daily lockdown walk takes me through the car park of a gym. (Because my brain is unhelpful.)
The doctor at Moorfields is impatient with my tears. The next morning, the gap is still present: a persistent blob of nothing-much, just hanging around in my sight. My flatmate catches me wearing two pairs of glasses, my reasoning based on half-remembered lens technology, and tells me off for being foolish while baking me a cake. I am enthralled by MRI scan’s movement; each time he hit the space bar, twin globes of jelly emerge from my blob of brain, then recede.
Two weeks later, I wake to find the carrot bread has gone.
It’s the spring of 2020, and I haven’t called him yet.
Even though my eyes are working again, I still attend the consultant appointment. Give us a ring if it comes back. Don’t get me wrong: my stories do have a story: that is absolutely the case. It does. Or – and here is my focus – could the co-creation occur so naturally that they don’t even notice? Of course, her impatience is justified. Go ng, Go ng, Go e. Someone has left a floury thumbprint on the screen of my vision. I have a dissertation to finish, creative submissions to trim and shine. What’s this? Image © Hans B. For distance vision, it’s not too bad. Drink lots of water. I become unable to read, as my helpful brain starts filling in the gap with its best guess. The words slide away, changing their letters again as I bring the paper forward, push it away. Words are changing as I look at them. On a white page, or on a screen, it is devastating. The gaps in my vision had not prevented me from reading. I employ various forms, with a playfulness picked up from my training in poetry (where it’s always fun to smack negative capability and reader-response theory about). I ask, holding the page up to my eyes. I mused upon this, on the necessary, invited, generous presence of the reader. Looks good to me, the consultant says. But we’ll send you for an MRI, if that will make you feel better. But I cannot read (because there are gaps). Lawn cuttings and dropped blossom hide the markings on the floor, and I consider spaces that aren’t spaces, gaps that aren’t gaps, and how clever, how helpful, how good. Go to bed. And yet often, for me, a short story is a loose-knit sweater, a trawler’s net, where the spaces and holes are inseparable from the whole, and yet where, in their reader, they can chime, provoke, or be filled by memory (or the simulacrum of memory).
By the time my MRI appointment comes, I have been struggling to work around my carrot-bread concerns. Different kinds of short stories. She is giving me good news, maybe a rarity in her work, where she likely deals daily with all manner of bodily betrayals, so many stories with unhappy endings. There are paths and knots and swirling things. No one talks about death. As I lie in the MRI, eyeballs vibrating, I sing pop songs in my mind, trying not to think of the future for a writer who cannot write, a student who cannot study. Eventually, I realise the problem. I try not to think of the bridges to my past life, how it had felt to douse them in petrol and kiss my fingertips to the flames. As I read over, I wonder if I’ve strayed into poetic unintelligibility – after all, there’s a universe between the blank page and custard-thick prose that yells here’s the point (although I concede the former is much more destructive, for reader and writer alike). This smudge, this spot of greyed-out blankness, sits just to the right of centre. Sickler