He Introduced Himself as Charlie
He introduced himself to us as Charlie. He was older than most of us, had a goatee and was balding up the centre, with both sides right and left puffed up. And he wore an old-fashioned suit like something out of a picture of your great-grandfather. But it was obvious from the start that he loved writing.
We are a writers group that have been together for some five years now, almost all of us from the very beginning. We know each other’s writing as if it were our own. We meet once a week in the second floor of the local library. A few potential members, almost all actively recruited by the library staff, have come for a short time and left. We haven’t had a new member in a little over a year now. The library staff are not too happy about that, but we don’t mind.
This guy was different. He was enthusiastic about spending time with other writers, something he said that he hadn’t done in a very long time. He was funny too in an odd old man sort of way. When we asked him what style or genre he liked to write in, he said “Victorian”. When one of the younger members said, “Steam punk then?” He looked at her directly in the eyes and said, “I have no idea what you are talking about. I have always written in a style that you would call Victorian. No steam. No punk.”
He paused for a moment, and then grinned and said. “But I like to write a story with a twist in it.” He smiled like he had just told a very private joke. He did not elaborate, as I suspected he wouldn’t. He could be quite secretive at times. He never told us the titles of his short stories or books, just telling us that he had published a few times.
Although Charlie was different from the all of the rest of us, he gradually became welcome in the group, an unusual thing with us. We didn’t particularly like change in how our meetings went. His commentary about our writing was spot on, suggesting changes without criticizing. He understands the nature of a writer’s fragile ego. And he spoke with what was obviously the voice of long term experience.
The strangest thing about him was this. He did not bring in any of his writing to read to us. He clearly wasn’t shy, and I think he was coming to understand that he was earning our respect.
And I think that I can speak for the group in saying that we really wanted to experience his writing. It was clear that he had significant knowledge of the process of writing, and how to get the most out of a story. On a number of occasions, he suggested what could be added to a story someone read, in order to make it “more complete” in his words. He didn’t just suggest generally for some idea or other to be added. He would speak out an extension to the story as a whole, as if he had written down what he had said word for word. At first, he would be asked to repeat the words slowly, which he was happy to do, more than once on one or two occasions, never deviating from his initial words. After going through that process at a couple of meetings, we took to recording his suggested words whenever he spoke. His speaking these additions to our stories became a new regular part of our meetings, us giving Charlie first crack at the commentary after a story was read out.
But still there was no written story that came from just him. After one of our meetings, when a few of us decided to go for coffee and something sweet to eat, we talked about this strange fact. We all wanted him to bring something in. I was delegated with the responsibility of asking him directly before the next meeting of the group.
So, before the next meeting I waited for him outside the front door of the library. I saw him walking into the parking lot. He did not drive to the meetings, and would not accept a ride when someone offered one at a previous meeting, saying “I don’t drive, and I need to walk.” No one knew where he lived, but we just figured it must be close by.
I greeted him, and asked if I could speak with him in private. He agreed, and we walked over to another side of the library, the one side that did not connect with the parking lot. No one would see us.
“Charlie, why is it that you help us with our work, but you never bring anything you have written for us to comment on? It would be done respectfully, you know that. We would love to read and hear something you have written.”
“That is a reasonable request. But in my situation I have written all that I can. Now it is time for me just to comment. I won’t be writing anymore.”
I didn’t know what to say. There was no answer to that sort of statement. Then he continued. “This has be my last time attending a meeting. Don’t tell anyone tonight. I want just to disappear. Just like I first appeared.
“At the end of the meeting I am going to give you a list of my publications. When you see them, you will understand why I am not writing anymore. And you will know who I am.
Do you accept that?”
I did not feel that I had a choice, so I just nodded my head and shook his hand. The most welcome new member we have ever had, and he was going to leave us after tonight.
The meeting went as most did, except for my being more quiet than usual. Charlie’s comments were bang on, as usual, and they were recorded too. The meeting ended too soon. We all said our goodbyes for the week. Then there was just Charlie and I remaining.
He took an envelope out of one of the pockets of his suit jacket and told me not to open it until he was gone. I shook his hand again and he walked away.
Once he was out of sight, I tore open the envelope. My first reaction was shock. I couldn’t believe the titles. I couldn’t believe that he was who he was. I looked out the window and saw him walking down the sidewalk, and just disappear into the cliched ‘thin air’. He told us never to use that expression. No one would believe me if I told them who he was. I wouldn’t, I couldn’t say a thing. I am glad that we welcomed him. I looked at the titles again. There were a few of his works I hadn’t read. I thought I would start with Pickwick Papers. Of course I had read Great Expectations, A Tale of Two Cities, and Oliver Twist, hence his play on that word at the first meeting. He was Charles Dickens, and he introduced himself as Charlie.