Creative Writing – Nick’s Last Book

Nick’s Last Book

W. James Jonas III

July 2006

Another day as the valet my family never expected me to be.  Still, the work is useful.  He definitely needs help with almost everything.  When I started working for him, it seemed the only demands were to be a good scribe.  The progression was slow, but these days, the job has expanded a bit.  Thank goodness this is a temporary assignment.  What could I have been thinking when I selected this employment opportunity?

My initial thought was that I was helping an author complete a book.  It is now clear that he is still the author, but we are writing the book.

Why are we doing this?  Why does he think that another book – his last book – is necessary?  Perhaps it is merely something to do.  He does not want to just wait to die, but I cannot believe he really thinks he has a skill writing books.  He is a writer; I have loved his plays.  Still, his books have lacked any real success.  Maybe that is because he was part of the previous administration, and at the end of the day, he is a political advisor at heart.  Still, his champions of old have long since retired, but here we are trying to make something out of … nothing.

“Jake!”  “We need to expand the lyric nature of the composition.  Then we can overlay a comedic theme so that the significance of the message is truly taken seriously.”  This is the type of crap I hear as I am making his breakfast.  Any attempt to help him reflect on what he has just said will prolong the pain for me and frustrate him.  Somehow he thinks these obtuse comments should be crystal clear to everyone, but you tell me how making a book seem more like an song with a humorous theme will cause the reader to know you are serious?

At this point, I just want to help the old, and odd, duck write his book and be done with it..

Nick has seen it all, and I have heard about all he has seen.  I have heard it countless times.  It would seem, to me, that if you had been an advisor to the powerful, you would have to learn how to listen.  These days it is all talk.  I sincerely believe that the original reason a person like me was needed was because the demands to write, a few lines each day, was cutting into the time he wanted to talk.

In the morning, he has his breakfast as he talks about the theme for the day.  By mid morning, I get a break from his guidance while he prepares for an important luncheon meeting in town.  Without fail, the luncheon meeting does not work out, but the preparation, travel to town, and disappointing return occupy the majority of the day, so that I rarely see him until late in the day and usually not until before dinner is served.

He is not old, but the years on the road have damaged his body and worn his mind.  His interest in what I have written only lasts until the entrée is served, and the talking begins again.  It is a monologue.  That is not to say I do not comment, but I do only comment when he is taking in a breath, a sip of wine, or a bite of food.  His tradition of after dinner smoking and drinks creates similar pauses in his speeches until he retires for the evening.

When he departs for his sleeping quarters, I begin the necessary clean-up as the cooks and servers are neither sufficiently compensated to clean nor interested in waiting until he is done with his speech for the evening.  There is no one else to clean up the mess.  He never asked me to be the maid, but he certainly never discouraged this expansion of my duties.  In fact, I think he thanked me, once, for these activities.

I do believe that he can create a book.  Most certainly, I want to write a book, but the idea of writing my own name with my own ideas offers me not inspiration.  Others might doubt my self assessment, and perhaps they are right.  Certainly, my education and background make many think such an accomplishment might not be unusual.  Still, my negative thoughts keep me focused on the mission at hand.  Besides, the ideas in my own head are worthless.  Nick is wise (an old fool now but still with wisdom), and his last book just might have a chance to capture all of that insight.

For a couple of weeks now, he has not modified the lyric comedy idea, so “we” are working with that approach.  Popular music from the theatre offers no inspiration, but I know that the lyric aspect has to have some level of familiarity with a broader audience if it is to have a chance.  People will have to recognize the song.  He has opinions about most plays anyway, and such opinions are never positive.  With that limitation in mind, songs of childhood make the most sense.  I have selected a children’s lullaby where the main characters are predominately sheep.  The comedic theme is easily accomplished when the sheep decide to transition from the second oldest profession (the vocation sheep herding) to the oldest profession.  Some might have thought that the device of talking sheep with capitalistic tendencies would have been enough comedy without the adult theme, but they are wrong.  Talking sheep that are making money is only truly funny and ironic if they are able to “shear” people (specifically men) in the process.

He loves the idea.  His comments each morning come rapidly and concisely.  It would be overstatement to suggest they are helpful or move the project along, but I incorporate enough of them so that the evenings are not too painful.  Besides, he is not expecting a comprehensive update, just a few comments on status has he is taking a breath, drink, bite, or puff.

He is familiar with sheep; he is familiar with men; he is familiar with prostitutes; this book can have a political message.  We have now started something that is within his comfort zone.  The question of political message now becomes the challenge.  I know he wants to direct the book to the leaders of the country today, but those men have no interest in Nick’s ideas.  The certain disinterest of today’s men of power have no bearing on our actions; we are going to follow the traditions of his other books; this will be directed toward the leaders.

The book is starting to fall into place.  Every time the prose becomes dull or the messages seem too weighty, the music of the lullaby reappears.  The music starts out as a way to move things along and progressively is funny and then reaches to higher plains of irony as the story becomes more caustic and carnal.

He was right about the comedy as well.  The pillow talk between the sheep and those they are “shearing” allowed countless opportunities to explore the potential dangers of leaders seeking advice from inappropriate sources.  The leaders have to discover, at their peril, something the advisor already knows … she is only a sheep.

The next several months include the same menial tasks and frustrating repetitions, but there is progress on the book.  As the weather cools, we are looking at final drafts before taking it to the printer.

Nick is quiet.  His health is failing.  Doctors assure me (I do not seek such promises) that he will not see next summer.  I am not sure the doctors understand.  Nick is ready to die.  I am ready to move back home.  The book is done.

November was very slow for Nick.  He rarely got out of bed.  One morning, the print shop brought by the first print of A Shepard’s Story.  I am pleased.  Nick should be pleased.  I decide to bring him a cool drink and the book.  Perhaps he will want to look through our masterpiece.  Not surprisingly, he is resting.  He looks peaceful, and waking him seems like a very bad idea.  The cup is left on a table.  The book is carefully placed on top of the copy he always keeps of his first book; that was the book he was sure would revitalize his career, but it never happened.  Now his prized first effort has a companion at his bedside.

Nick died that winter, and I returned to the dirt and grime of my home city, but with two books that remain in my library as a set to this day … The Prince and A Shepard’s Story both by my friend Nick.


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