67. Rick

By Peter Fraenkel

He was handsome, very handsome – and he knew it. He was reputed to be working on a book that would amaze us all.  This – and his good looks – made him a great success with the girls.

Money he didn’t have, but he was surrounded by women who seemed happy to support him while he was labouring on that great opus.

I had just arrived from Africa and was planning to write a book about race problems there but had, so far, not got beyond one newspaper article. He, however, hailed me as a fellow-author.

“Where are you staying?” he asked.

 “Sort of a dosshouse … I’m looking for some less depressing joint.”

 “Come and stay with us. We have a spare room.”

But, as I soon found out, he had no right to this “we”. It was Jane, his girlfriend who owned the flat – and she had never been consulted. I got the impression the women around him were used to being treated rough but seemed to like it.

He was often away, overseas. He had, he told us laughing “a girl in every port”.  Petty bourgeois rules – he implied – did not apply to anyone of his calibre.

I was making slow progress with my writing. One morning, after a frustrating night struggling to write, I grumbled that I seemed stuck on that second chapter. Could he spare a moment to glance at my draft?

“No,” he said. “If you show a draft around and discuss it you lose that urge to communicate.  I never do. Take my advice, don’t.”

Time passed. Rick’s girl produced a baby – a nice little boy though he kept his parents awake – and me, too, occasionally since his room was not far away.

“I’m hardened,” Rick said one morning. He also had a daughter in Canada – by another woman.  He was spending a few months every summer in Canada so we only saw him from time to time.

His great-grandfather, he told me, had had eight children.  He, Rick, hoped to beat that. “It’s a duty!” he said. “If the half-wits produce 12 infants each and we, the brainy ones, have only one, what’s going to happen to the world?”

I moved out eventually and found a quieter place. My book was now making better progress and after a year or so I got it finished. A while later it was published.  My publishers gave a launch party. Rick was in London at the time and he came along. So did several of our old circle.  They asked him how his great opus was doing.

“Almost done.”

“Publisher lined up?”

“No problem,” he asserted confidently.

Months passed but this book of his did not appear. On his next visit a Canadian girlfriends came with him. Like all his girlfriends she seemed to be wealthy.

 No, he whispered to me, this was not the mother of his daughter. That was another.

 But this girl, too, was obviously pregnant. He laughed proudly when I remarked on it.

 As a writer he appeared to be less productive. One day, to my surprise, he asked whether I could introduce him to my publisher.

 I did, though – by now a little cautious – I warned the publisher that I had, myself, not read his MS.  Their response was quick: they turned it down within less than a week.

He went back to Canada and I saw nothing of him for a year or two, so I was surprised, a while later, to receive a proof copy of the book that he had promised us forso long.

I sat down to read it, expectantly. I was shocked. I found it confused, verbose, boring.  I showed it to a common friend who was equally shocked.

“But whoever publishes such rubbish?” he asked.   I, too, wondered.  The Canadian publisher’s name was unfamiliar. What else had this firm brought out? We consulted Google but could not find a firm of that name at all.

Vanity publishing?  I had often heard him railing against people who resorted to it.

It soon dawned on us. No, this was not, strictly speaking, self-published. The publisher’s name was the name of his latest girlfriend.  It was she who had published it.