Wednesday, June 17, 2009

A Promise Kept

by Mark Sampson

"So sorry, which page do I kill you on?"

Anthony frowns as I lick-and-flip his manuscript. It’s that whole preposition-at-the-end-of-a-sentence thing. He’s never understood why I get to be a novelist and he doesn’t, not in 17 years.
Only, now he is. The great critic emerges. The literary world lives for moments like this. It’s like Roger Ebert making a film. The knives will be out come next fall.

"Page 387," he replies. I’ve put my feet on his coffee table.

"Did you go with my idea? Do I order you chased off a cliff by a gaggle of naked hookers?"

His frown deepens. "I decided to go with something more – plausible."

Plausibility is just one of my literary shortcomings, according to Anthony. Toronto book wonks have never forgiven him for panning my much-beloved and award-winning debut novel, Grip Me. Anthony’s was the lone dissenting voice. The book wonks still can’t believe that we’re best friends, that we play squash every Thursday.

Was I hurt by his review? Absolutely. But was he honest? Damn right he was – which is more than I can say for a lot of the sub-literate twits who praised my book. But still. He stung me. So a promise made: If he were ever to write a novel, we’d both be characters and mine gets to kill his. So here we are, 431 pages later…

Anthony’s three-year-old daughter Tessa is playing by his bookshelves. She’s just yanked down Martin Amis’ The Information (hardcover) and struggling under its weight. Anthony goes to help her while I read the scene. "You’re a bit too young for that, little one," he says, taking the tome from her and putting it back in its rightful place.

My eyes fly over manuscript lines. The scene’s a bit cliché – Anthony bleeding and crawling on his belly on a kitchen floor while I hover over him, big wooden cutting board raised by the handle – but it’s written with a certain highbrow intensity, a compelling oomf.

Anthony returns to the couch. "Well…?"

"Shh-shh." I finish the scene, then look up at him. "Well, Anthony, it’s quite—" My eyes flick suddenly to his left. "Oh shit!"

We had opened his balcony door earlier because it was hot. Tessa has gotten out. And now, up onto the balcony’s railing.

Anthony sees her and flies off the couch. I set the manuscript down and then chase after him. He leaps out the door and onto her, grabbing her by the hips as she topples. I trip on the lip between the living room and balcony, and go cascading into them. They pitch over. I reach out and grab them both and yank them back to safety.

"Jesus! You nearly killed us!" Anthony yells, cradling his screaming daughter.

"I … I …" I don’t know why, but I suddenly need to crack a joke. "Hey, I was doing you a favour. If you were to die before your book came out, it would be an instant classic." And I strike a Disney pose.

He clutches his wailing daughter even closer and shakes his head. "You slay me," he says without laughing.

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