I was going through a box of old manuscripts the other day, recovered last week from our storage bin in Glendale, when I came across the manuscript of the first novel I ever wrote, nearly fifty years ago.
I was living in Germany at the time, having escaped from my first teaching job at a grammar school in Wimbledon--I was never cut out to be a teacher--to write my breakthrough novel while teaching evenings at a Berlitz language school. Chapter I starts out: "Angela stared up at the face of the immense clock set in the facade of the building across from the cafe."
An auspicious start. I'm not sure who Angela was any more, nor what adventure this encounter with a giant clock might have led her to. Browsing through the pages, though, I have discovered that it involved two men, one named Willi [!] and another named Werner, and a woman named Helena. Oh, and there's a Kurt, too. I suspect he may have been a waiter at that same cafe. Here he is: "The casualness of his gesture as he threw the napkin over the rack was exaggerated by his self-consciousness. (Was that right, he wondered? Was that how I usually do it?) He told himself that no one was watching..."
There are an awful lot of brittle, yellowing pages of this stuff, all painstakingly hand-typed (with carbon copies) on a little green portable machine that I remember better than the story that I wrote on it. However, the opus seems--perhaps mercifully--unfinished. Arriving at page 6 of Chapter VIII, I read that "Kurt left the room in silence, and was followed after a brief pause by Bruski [!]" The final paragraph starts thus: "After half an hour, she [Angela? Helena?] flet [sic] more peaceful, and took down her case from the top of the wardrobe, working slowly and steadily at her task, carefully depriving herselfxxxx of any feeling, she..."
We'll never know what she did or where she went, of course. It's easy to laugh at my youthful self, but my dreams for literary fame and fortune were real, and it's poignant to go back to a time when I devoted many hours, days and weeks on end, hunt-and-pecking out this verbiage which was never to be published. Kurt's self-consciousness was of course my own, as was his nervous tic of seeing himself as if in others' eyes.
I think I will not consign this particular heap of paper to the trash, along with all the rest. I think it has a place somewhere until, I hope at a reasonably future date, my daughter finds it tucked away and wonders what on earth to do with it. I hope she has better sense than I, and chucks it out.