‘Your question?’ I pointed to the tiny, grey haired woman in the third row.
She stood; my book in her left hand, a cigarette lighter in her right. In one swift movement she ignited my book and dropped it, engulfing the conference room in flames
I woke in a tangle of linen sheets. I wished I hadn’t turned the air-con off, but I couldn’t sleep without breezes blowing across my face.
I stepped out onto the spacious balcony. The conference organizers must have paid a fortune for my two nights in this luxury suite. It was hard to believe I was standing in the predawn light, identifying this city by its iconic bridge. Harder still to accept that my first book had garnered such acclaim I’d been invited to speak at a prestigious literary event. I felt way out of my depth.
I breathed a prayer. ‘Thank you. Help.’
‘Thank you for bringing me this far. For justifying my desire to write secular fiction despite the forebodings of some well meaning Christian friends.’
If I was honest, I had no choice. The recalcitrant characters who wandered across the landscape of my imagination were pagans. Their irresistible stories clamored to be told. When given full reign they surprised me so much I despaired I would ever learn to trust myself, or my God.
Why didn’t I trust myself? I’d learnt in Sunday School: The heart is desperately wicked. Is my heart wicked, Lord? Haven’t you given me a new heart? Most times I believed He had.
I made a strong coffee and sat outside.
Charlene was my biggest challenge. Evil, yet, to be a believable, fully rounded character, she had to be convinced what she did was ‘good.’ I’d gone to the land of ‘what if’ to unravel her; finding her in the deep, scary parts of my soul. I’d prayerfully devoured Bible narratives to reassure myself that portraying evil as evil was OK.
The city lights faded. The rising sun gradually turned the black waters to gun metal grey, feathered by the wakes of early morning ferries.
‘Help me through this, please, Lord.’
A knock on the door. Breakfast.
Bacon and eggs congealed on the plate as I pressed my badly packed clothes. Weird that working out what to wear loomed as a bigger challenge than getting a first book published. Do I power dress? Buy a feminine outfit? Finally I decided on what I would be most comfortable in; jeans, T-shirt, jacket and cherry Docs.
I tucked my postage stamp sized speech in the breast pocket of the jacket. I was physically ready but I couldn’t bring myself to leave the room. What if nobody came? It was full and everyone hated me? The woman in row three set my book on fire? I shook my head, momentarily cursing my fertile imagination.
Another knock on the door. ‘Ms Darrow?’
They’d come for me! I hadn’t expected that.
I tried to keep up with her. ‘I’m so honored to meet you, Ms Darrow. May I call you Elaine? I’m Clarissa. Elaine, I just love your book. Not usually my taste, you understand. It seems to have hit a chord with so many of our more prestigious, literary authors.’ She sounded vaguely surprised. ‘You wouldn’t believe who’s in the audience…’
I was toast.
I walked to the podium, trying to appear confident. In the third row a tiny, grey haired, woman sat poker straight
Make that charcoal toast.
‘I spent weeks preparing my speech.’ I unfolded the paper, desperately trying to mask my shaking hands. I held it up. Several people laughed. ‘I write very small.’ A few others joined them. I turned the paper round. It was blank. ‘You won’t be late for morning tea.’ More laughter. I glanced at the woman in the third row and wished I’d written a long speech. I breathed deeply. ‘Let’s go straight to questions.’
Two hours later I was escaping, virtually unscathed, to the temporary safety of my room when a tiny, grey hired woman cornered me. Yes, that tiny, grey hired woman. She pulled a well-thumbed copy of my book out of her copious shoulder bag and straightened her narrow shoulders.
‘Ms Darrow, I’ll get right to the point. I think this book is an allegory of an individual’s search for enlightenment. I think I might finally have found the person who has the answers to some of my questions.’
My book was the fuel, God was providing the flame.
KJV JEREMIAH 17:9, The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?
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