The story today was actually co-written by Megan Butler, who wrote the manuscript. You'll understand when you read it. I have a link to her blog, but I'm not sure whether she wants me to share it, so I'll just leave it. Anyway, enjoy!
Read Between the Lines - Part 1
“I’ve got another manuscript for you, Nikki. You up for it?”
Nikki glanced up from her desk and groaned. The wad of paper Joan carried was horse-sized, its pearly white mane marred with black dots, and its ebony hooves diseased with white spaces. Her eyes swam with the size of it. She glanced up at Joan. “Do I have to?”
Joan grinned and placed the papers gently on Nikki’s desk. “I’m afraid so. It’s a biography - that’s your section.”
Nikki groaned again and slammed her head on the desk. She couldn’t be bothered reading about some fisherman’s life story. She couldn’t care less about one mother’s harrowing tale of child abuse, at the hands of her younger brother, who wasn’t nappy-trained. Nor could she force herself to read yet another story based on TRUE EVENTS - a euphemism for a writer creating a story, finding it had already played out in real life and deciding to get it published anyway. She didn’t care whether or not Carly Rae Jepsen was the world’s most amazing person who deserved every award on the planet. All she cared about was bed. Sleeping. Peace. The very thought put her mind in throes of euphoria. Imagine - not having to wake up to Noah’s cries, not having to read another terrible novel, not having to torture herself with thoughts about her father. That would be heaven.
Nikki peeled her head from the table and looked at Joan again. She was grinning, happy as always, her long, thin fingers playing with a thread on her brown and purple striped skirt. Nikki swallowed. It was enough to make Gok Wan weep. Her brown hair was tied back in a bun, and her thin legs poked out from underneath the tartan skirt, which was elegantly paired with a lurid orange t-shirt. Nikki forced back a shiver. She may be overweight, but at least she didn’t dress herself blindfolded.
“Look, I’ll give you the day off tomorrow if you do this one manuscript. You’ve been working like a slave for the past few days,” Joan smiled, her teeth glinting in the office fluorescents. “I’ll put a call in to Mr. Green and see what I can do.” She smiled again and walked off, her empty arms swinging by her side.
Nikki looked at the manuscript she had been handed and winced. The person hadn’t even bothered to put a name on the query sheet. Scratch that. The author hadn’t even bothered with a query sheet. Nikki sighed and pulled her chair closer to her cluttered desk, knocking over a small tub of pens. They landed on the floor with an alarming crash and Nikki froze. No one looked up. Everyone’s eyes were still glued to their chosen manuscripts, their eyes sweeping over the words. Nikki relaxed and straightened up. She would get the pens later. First, reading the manuscript. Then the pens. Then, hopefully, home.
Home. It filled Nikki with equal excitement and dread. Excitement because it was a warm bed and food and her little boy in a single place. Dread because at seven o’clock, as always, her thoughts would be shattered by the ringing phone. She would answer and hear her father’s pleading voice as it slithered its way from the prison. It would be asking her to take him back, to love him again. She would slam the phone down and feel the guilt rise in her chest like vomit. She said no to him every day. But he would keep calling. Again, and again and again, a relentless onslaught of fear and guilt and remorse and love all rolled into one ball of rubbish. It was horrible. Sometimes she just wished that she could say yes. But she couldn’t. She never could.
He committed fraud and embezzlement for over twenty years, fuelling the arms races and wars in the Middle East. He was sentenced two years ago, and she had disowned him then. She had said no for the first time then, and well, she had never stopped since.
Nikki sighed and ran her hand over the smooth paper of the manuscript. There was a perfect ratio of words to space. The paragraphs were varied, the sentences smooth. The words were formed perfectly, with just the right amount of technicality to make it interesting and challenging for the reader. Despite the lack of query sheet, this wasn’t looking too bad. Nikki smiled and sat the paper on her lap, running her fingers up and down the edges. To everyone else in the world, the paper would look dirty, tainted by the black scribbles that ran across its surface. As a publisher, Nikki thought the plain white of blank paper was hideous, naked, tainted by its purity. With the words, it was complete.
Nikki pulled the elastic band off the paper and began to read;
Nicola always had a knack for odd talents. Whether she would humour us with her vivacious bird calls or teach us how to dig for worms like a pro, that girl had the kind of spunk most people envied. The kind that always lit up her eyes and planted a big, toothy grin on her face. Of course, spunk like that’s bound to put a girl in trouble if she’s not too careful with how she handles it.
And Nicola, well, she thought she was invincible at the time.
She liked to take risks in ways that would put stunt doubles to shame. I remember once, someone had told her that standing near an open window on the second floor was dangerous, after some story on the news caught Nic’s eye. When someone told little hot-head she can’t do something, she took it as a challenge. Always. She found a way to trump the challenge, defy it with more pride than a whole crowd of people could possibly muster. So that girl promised she wouldn’t stand by the window.
Rather, she promised herself she’d stand on it.
Nicola paused and narrowed her eyes. She had heard this story before. She closed her eyes and tried to bring back the ending, the author, the person in question, something to help her. Nothing. Her mind drew a blank. Opening her eyes, Nikki looked back down at the manuscript. It was probably just coincidence. She continued:
A few days later, Nicola discoed on the windowsill of her two story bedroom. She danced like there was no tomorrow, her little hands bouncing up and down, and her toes shimmying along the ‘sill. Right as her hand jabbed upward to complete her celebration dance, her face twisted in pain once in response to the tip of her finger jamming into the upper part of the window. All it took was that one split second, that one moment for her to squeeze her little eyes shut and involuntarily sneak a step forward.
The ear-splitting screech came first, then her totter forward. She fell, down, down, down, as though she would never stop. I almost moved to catch her, to stop her fall, but thankfully, the bushes cradled her as she landed. For a moment she lay still, perfectly still, and then with a juddering gasp, she screamed. My heart relaxed and I smiled. I knew she was safe. I knew I still had something to live for.
The manuscript spiralled through the air, pages crumpling as they hit the ground. Nikki stood up, her face lined with sweat and her hand grasped around one of her fingers. Everyone in the office was staring now. Nikki didn’t care, not really. Her heart fluttered in her chest, a bird trying to escape its cage, and her brain thudded and thumped, trying to make sense of what had just happened. She had been reading the manuscript, and then...and then....
“Nikki, are you alright?”
Joan’s voice echoed through her ear and Nikki blinked. She whipped her head round and saw the eyes of her twelve co-workers watching her, examining her. Bile rose in her throat and she grasped Joan by the arm. “Bathroom. Now.”
Nikki didn’t listen to what Joan said behind her. She could feel the sweat trickling down her spine, soaking into the rim of her dress. Her heart slowed down, just a bit, and her brain thudded less loudly, quieting to little more than a whisper. She opened the door to the bathroom and pulled Joan inside after her. She went over to the sink and looking in the mirror, burst into tears.
“Nikki! What’s wrong?” Nikki felt Joan’s hand touch her shoulder. “What happened? What’s the matter?”
Nikki gulped back a sob. “The manuscript,” she choked, her throat clogged with rising hiccups, “it’s...it’s...”
“What is it? What’s wrong?” Joan’s face paled slightly. “It’s not about murder or R.A.P.E is it?”
Nikki hiccupped and shook her head. “No. It’s about...me.”
That set off her tears again. They spilled from her cheeks in torrents, spilling into the sink below like raindrops. Nikki squeezed her eyes shut and caressed her finger. “The story was about me.”