TEXT prose

 

Dominic Carew

 


The Ministry of Greater Endeavour

 

After a while, they put me in one of the quieter parts of the building where I could concentrate more fully on my work.  There weren’t any voices to be heard, other than the obvious ones of course, and, anyway, the hum of the air vents was company enough.  I worked well in that room, producing dozens of new stories a week without even a window through which to gaze or from which to garner inspiration.

They’d come for my works at what must have been the end of each day.  I’d gather them up, each sealed in its own envelope and addressed to the Ministry of Greater Endeavour or sometimes, if a piece was long, the Greater Ministry of Further Endeavour, and shuffle over to the door and pour them into the drop box.  The usual remarks of gratitude would sound through the wall and then: silence.  It was the loneliest part of my day, the aftermath of the collection, as though I’d suddenly been separated from someone dear to me.

It went on like that, and on, until one day (or evening – I could never be sure which) a letter appeared through the slit in my door.  I held it in my hands, mesmerised. I’d dispatched countless stories from that room but never before had I received a response.

“Congratulations,” it said. “You have reached your first quota.  This is an achievement of which you may be proud and upon which the Ministry of Greater Endeavour, the Greater Ministry of Further Endeavour and all the Great Ministries rely for their continued success.  Please keep writing (!) and one day soon you will find what you’re looking for.”

The note came with an A3 blueprint headed with the words: “In the meantime, here’s a gift from the Minister himself.” 

I was thrilled! I had no idea what the blueprint represented, yet excitement rippled through me.  We beat on, here in the Ministries, believing what we learnt when we were young: that the act alone is reward, that we should be so lucky.  But even so, a gift had its effects on one. I returned to my desk invigorated, eager to pen more stories and spill them onto the tray.

Time passed. I went on answering their daily knocks with prompt and breathless attention.  I was never sure how many stories I coughed up – we weren’t allowed to count – though I slowly reached my quotas and, to my delight, component parts of the Minister’s gift arrived. 

At first there were only planks of wood which they carried into my room while I slept.  Eventually, nails, hammers, saws and tape measures showed up and before I knew it I was hunched over the blueprint, figuring out how the pieces fit together.  I sawed the wood and I sweated, for the first time in as long as I could remember, from labours of the body. Hammering nails through ply.  Measuring lengths and widths in inches.

Construction of the gift was in no way permitted to encroach on my writing so I found myself sleeping much less and working much more.  The more writing I could produce the sooner I’d receive all the parts and the closer I’d come to completing the build.  It began to take shape: namely, oblong. Also, it had a lid with hinges along one edge.  Otherwise, there was no telling what it was supposed to be. I received no further letters from the Minister.  As for my writing, well. It was OK. Not great, but good enough for me.

The day finally came when they delivered the last piece of the gift. I nailed it into place and there it was, complete. You’d think I’d have been happy.  All those quotas met. So much toil and sweat. But no. I felt like a fool.  Gruelling hours at work, writing then sawing then hammering yet now knowing not what I was looking at.  I dragged it into a corner, bereft, and left it there. 

That night I slept badly, without dreams.  When I woke I tried to get on with my writing. I made some progress but soon ran out of things to say.  Or ways to say them. Truly. I was empty. Give a character desire, I said to myself.  Set her on her quest.  This didn’t work.

Each night, before turning into bed, I stood in the dark next to the gift, the palm of my hand resting on its surface, my pulse beating against the wood.  It had a lid, this thing I’d built, did I mention?  And hinges.

Around this time, I recalled a story I’d written years before and submitted to one of the Ministries.  It was about death.  A man, roughly my age, builds a coffin from household scraps and, seeing what he has created and liking it, digs a hole in his backyard.  There, in the pale light of moon, he...

I knelt down next to my gift. I thought about the Minister’s letter: “Please keep writing (!) and one day soon you will find what you’re looking for.” But this hadn’t happened. I was more confused now than I’d ever been. I’d always been confused.  Loping through the murk of not knowing.  But now I was really loping.  And the murk was thicker than ever. Give a character desire?  Ha!

I paused, out of hunger for dramatic effect, all the stories I’d ever written sluicing through the drain at the edge of my mind.  And then, I clambered inside the box. The exact length of my body. And the lid opened with ease. And I didn’t even have to pull it shut!  It snapped to, by magic. Or design. I would never know.


 

Dominic Carew is a lawyer and writer from Sydney. His short fiction has appeared in Seizure, Going Down Swinging and the UTS Writers’ Anthology. He was commended in this year's Newcastle Short Story Award.

 

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TEXT
Vol 20 No 1 April 2016
http://www.textjournal.com.au
General Editor: Nigel Krauth. Editors: Kevin Brophy & Enza Gandolfo
Creative Works Editor: Anthony Lawrence
text@textjournal.com.au