The Final Sentence
By Juliet Jacques.
I paused, drew a deep breath and wrote the final sentence. Then I reread the preceding paragraphs and rewrote it again. After I saved the manuscript — my final edit — on my computer and emailed it to myself, I saw a message from my publisher. They had sent a jacket copy for my approval:
‘J. G. Singer’s third novel follows Vida, a transsexual woman in Iran during the protests against President Amedinejad’s dictatorship. Having pursued gender reassignment to avoid punishment after her boyfriend was executed for homosexuality, and then been disowned by her pro-government father, Vida wants the regime toppled but fears that becoming involved as a woman will be particularly dangerous — and that a new government may not tolerate her transsexual status. Can she support the revolution against the wishes of her loyalist husband — and what will happen if she does?’
I replied to say that I was happy with their revision of my synopsis, and the quotes from reviews of my first two novels, and that I would get the completed manuscript to them in a few days. Actually, I wasn’t ‘happy’: their rewrite made my novel sound like a soap opera, but I really couldn’t be bothered to have that argument with the publisher again.
I heard the lift open in the hallway. There was a knock on the door. I answered, and recognised the man immediately. Austin Rayner. We’d met in halls in Leeds: one of those friends you make in the first three weeks at university and then spend the next three years trying to unmake. I never succeeded. After he’d stood at the front row for my gig at Joseph’s Well and sung every word of our set back at me, and he’d followed the band to an awful nightclub near the Corn Exchange and made a fumbling pass at me, I told him explicitly never to contact me again. This had the opposite effect.
Your books are shit, he said, pulling a gun on me.
Don’t shoot me, I replied, instinctively raising my hands.
Your books are fucking shit, he replied, especially the one about that band you were in, and you’re not writing any more.
If you hate my writing, the worst thing you could do is kill me, I said, momentarily wondering what ever happened to his planned magnum opus, satirising the citizens of Wilmslow. I have published two novels. They’ve been well received. Perhaps the critics are wrong. Time will tell. Austin Rayner raised his aim. I’ve just written the final sentence of my third novel. I think it’s much better than the first two. Shoot me now and you’ll have me remembered as a tragic genius — nothing less.
No-one will ever see your stupid novel, droned Rayner.
He stood, pointed the gun at me, put his finger on the trigger and edged towards my laptop. He unplugged it and put a bullet through it. To ensure its destruction, he fired four times more. I heard a door open outside. I ran for the exit. Austin Rayner shot me.
Sat in the hospital bed, I examined the flesh wound below my right shoulder. Passing out had saved me. Rather than shooting me again, believing me dead, Austin Rayner tried to flee: tripping over my body, with typical gracelessness, had cost him vital seconds. Seeing people coming up the stairs, he took the lift. There were two elderly ladies inside, who asked him about the blood on his shirt. He raised his gun, but too late: as soon as he reached the ground floor, he was arrested. A neighbour had heard him destroy my computer and called the police.
I decided not to press charges. I didn’t want to glorify Austin Rayner by giving him a stage to defend himself, although I suspected that his argument would be no more accomplished than his aim. As it happened, no newspaper or magazine took any serious interest in him. Taking this as indicative of how little my work had captured the public imagination, I declined all interview requests, and read none of the reports.
Using my new laptop, I returned to my emails and downloaded my manuscript. I read the final sentence again: Vida felt the aches from the lashings, the scars on her breast, the bullet wound on her hip, the moment of her partner’s death and the day her father disowned her and, watching Amedinijad’s troops reassert their authority with their triumphant parade through Tehran, pulled her veil more tightly over her face, having come to feel that she would prefer to fade quietly behind it.
Satisfied with this conclusion, I sent the novel to the publisher, and left my desk to celebrate with a quiet glass of wine, wondering if this might be the time to give up writing.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Juliet Jacques is a freelance writer for The Guardian, The New Statesman and others, who writes about literature, film, art, gender and football. Her Transgender Journey blog for The Guardian – the first to serialise the gender reassignment process for a major British publication – was longlisted for the Orwell Prize in 2011.
First published in 3:AM Magazine: Friday, October 14th, 2011.