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Imperfect Copy

A Novel by David Carroll


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by David Carroll, 1994

I wrote a play once, as I have been wont to do. It was a long time ago, and I am probably the only one with living memory of it, because it really wasn't all that good.

You find that, as you get older. You give the world characters and plot, and you look back and wonder why you bothered. The world is too big, its detail too meticulous to encapsulate in two hours of theatre.

But, anyway, before I wander from my tale, it was a play about an old man, and what it meant to be old, and what it meant to be young.

I was young at the time, and it all made perfect sense and, on a good day, I think it still would.

But I am old now, and being old doesn't mean a thing.

* * *

I don't go to the theatre very much, these days, though they try to persuade me otherwise. They want me to look upon them and lose myself in a world of their creation, or perhaps in the interpretation and energy they give my own words.

And, sometimes, I succumb. And here I am. In the front row, of course, between my old friends, and I can imagine them backstage, smiling smugly or nervously, whispering between themselves. He is here, they say. He is watching.

Don't get me wrong. I am no folk-hero, no legend to these people -- but I am the village's best playwright, and the profession reveres its own.

In my more irascible moments I think this reverence is an attitude that would be of better use if it was transferred to those around me, the audience which prattles and prates and throws inanity after inanity into the air.

But they are my audience, and I love them. Of course.

* * *

It's one of my better plays, this one. My favourite certainly, and one the public seems to like. I never did understand that one. But it's one they still perform, alongside one or two other examples of a lifetime's writing and all the other crazy stuff they do these days.

It's called The River, and opens with a man and a girl being washed up on an alien shore. But it's not about the man and the girl. It's about the River, and the village next to that river, and what they mean. If a river and a village can mean anything.

It's an old theme, of course. For the River has been here a long, long time. But perhaps you haven't heard about it, perhaps you don't know exactly what I'm talking about.

Everyone knows, really. But even here, within walking distance, we can forget.

The River is a place for stories and legends, and the children sit by the bank, at a safe distance, and tell those stories to each other.

On the first night I shared with [G]esenjo we went to the shores of the River. I suppose everyone does, though it is our taboo not to speak openly of such things. But as I took her she screamed, and in the long damp nights as I remember my youth, it is sometimes a scream of joy, and sometimes one of pain.

The River is home to goblins and nymphs; and downstream, a little beyond comfortable walking distance, a troll has set up a net from shore to shore to capture little boys and girls who wander too close to the soggy bank.

The River feeds into a lake where the fish are as big as houses, and a Forest where the Light doesn't touch the littered paths.

There are no fish in the River though, no crabs or eels, or the little rats so numerous in the local streams. There is no life in the River, for anything that enters becomes food to the goblins and nymphs and troll, who are far too clever to be seen.

The water is sterile. Neither weed nor dirt pollute its flow. Those who claim to have drunk from it (or, more often, heard of others who have) claim it has no taste, not even of water.

Beyond the River is a beautiful place, but really, there is only the sky. This I have seen for myself.

So, an old theme, done before. But I did it with some style, and put some sex in, and they're still clapping fifty years later.

But I also know that the first myth, the one that gives the River its name, is a true one.

This I have also seen for myself, this is what I have written in my play. And they clap loudly, and then go home again.

* * *

Enough of the self-congratulation. The play is starting and the audience, to a certain extent, quietens.

The deep blue streamers that stretch from one side of the stage to the other come to life, lifting themselves off the floor and dancing in the air. Ever shifting, they make a living wall of blue on blue on blue, and struggling through that wall, ducking and weaving between the individual ribbons, come a man and girl. The girl collapses, panting on the wooden stage, and it is the man who must greet the party come down from the village to see what's going on.

I notice that the two actors are literally soaking wet for this production, and it irritates me. It is a superfluous touch, unnecessary. But I know that if I go to the director, who is a friend of mine, afterwards and say so, he'll simply think I'm getting old.

* * *

I don't go to the theatre very much, these days. And sitting here now I know why. I just have to remind myself every now and again, I think, or I'll start feeling guilty.

To me, what is happening not three metres before me is simply a pair of wet actors and a lot of woad-dyed cloth.

They say their lines well, but I know the words already.

I watch attentively, however. And smile mysteriously every now and again, and clap as loudly as everybody else.

Anyone watching me doesn't deserve my cynicism, so I give them what they need.

It is, after all, what I do for a living.


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