I’d rather not tell you my name, if that’s okay with you. This story isn’t about me. It’s about Espen Stengard, who was born in 1994 in a shitty little town in Kent, which is in the South East of England, not far from the throbbing heart of the old empire. This was the year that China was first connected to the internet, and the year that Derek Jarman died. These are unrelated facts. I’ve added them for flavour. Stengard’s story is full of flavour. A hundred different tastes of failure. Regret is sprinkled like chili-flakes on the reader’s eye. Calamity is squirted like lemon in your open cuts. At the dinner table, there’s too many plates to choose from, and you feel your heart start to beat quicker, and you’re not sure whether you want to try the Truth-with-a-capital-T pie or the depressed soufflé, and your heart beats faster and faster, then you collapse, head in your cereal bowl, which is empty, because I’m yet to fill it with words.
Raised in the arms of formerly creative parents who’d given up their aspirations by age twenty-two, Espen had been exposed from an early age to the failure of dreams. This was to plague him for the rest of his life. When he was seven he bumped into the dinner-lady’s serving table and knocked a vat of boiling stew over Minny, the dwarfish serving lady, leaving her with horrific scars on her hands and on her legs and on her chest. When he was fourteen he discovered alcohol with his friend Hog. They drank a whole bottle of whiskey, dreaming and thinking like pirates. They found the bottle in the attic room of Espen’s parent’s house, underneath a sheet in a draw of the dresser that neither of them had ever noticed before. Espen would later claim his alcoholism came from his father, and he would be right: the bottle of whiskey was only part of his dad’s stash, and one of several bottles of spirits hidden around the house, beside the toilet, behind the untouched DVD collection and in the drawer where he kept his condoms.
In years to come, as Espen teetered on the various brinks of calamity that he encountered, before losing his footing on the final verge and hole that was to consume him, Espen looked back on his parents and realised that he too had given up. He’d never been gifted with the tireless faculties and attention to detail of a portrait painter, or the critical mind of a book-shop manager. No. Espen had been set on a path of cultural insignificance. He was a numbers man. Not in an Einstein way. In a money way. He was to fade into the system like money-men do, remembered for the unfathomable wealth they had accrued, the blonde women they had subdued and the oil they had applied with their delicate, key-stroking hands to the ever-churning wheel of capitalist society. As far as it goes, Espen made some money, yes, right, he made some money. He owned a canal-side flat with large glass windows and he could’ve had a sports car, but there was no need to drive along the fatty, clogged arteries of London. He made enough to buy Scottish steak, sometimes, and enough to drink Indian Pale Ale where he liked and to wear what he liked, including expensive perfume, but he never reached a level of unattainable wealth. No. Never an unattainable amount. Some fat builders from Essex robbed a jewelry store and walked off in one afternoon with more than Espen would make in his entire life. The one goal that he had, he’d failed to achieve. He’d always failed.
This stuff really gets me going.
There’s something I should say.
Espen was not a great man. He didn’t uphold the veritable codes of ethics and morals established over two-thousand years of human interaction. He was just a man.
Stories shouldn’t be told about just-great human beings because there’s no such thing.
If I sound like an idealist, it’s because I am.
This story shouldn’t be taken as an after-dinner aperitif served from the perfumed hands of an underpaid waiter. I don’t want you to forget this like you might forget a shot of Limoncello. I want the waiter to punch you hard, very hard, in the stomach. A behind-the-kneecap punch, the buckling kind of punch, the kind that makes you wince.
I am a great storyteller. Once, when I was younger, I smelled a book, a crisp hard-back, and said to myself: One day I shall smell a book and all the words that I can smell will be my words.
You’ll soon see.
Espen’s tale is like that of Cinderella, or Margaret Thatcher. It should be told.
It’s a story of a man who had everything, and dust.
This is the opening section of my novel, A Boat Called Calamity. This part has been revised several times and its still nowhere near complete. Actually, this part of the novel didn’t even exist until last week, when I added this section to introduce the story in the way that I wanted.
Let me know what you think.
Sorry for the lack of uploads, I’ve been very busy. My novel is now at 76,000!