‘Did you finish?’ I asked, after a month or so.
‘Well, no, but it’s not the book’s fault. I love the book. My life is just so busy . . .’
I waited a little longer, but they still hadn’t finished.
Finally, I asked, ‘Where did you stop reading?’
And – in every single case – they stopped reading right before my beloved seventy-page flashback in the middle of the book. Scenes of Anderson with Angsley in college, in Thailand, and after Sheila’s death. So I did what I had to do – I cut a number of these scenes, and I moved the Thailand scenes later in the book. And people now seem to be able to finish the novel, so I think it was the right thing to do. But here’s one scene I was sad to lose, about Anderson speculating with his old friend and partner about his legacy:
His legacy – oh, he had had high hopes for himself, but he hadn’t gotten very far. The last time he had seen Angsley, right after Sheila’s funeral, they had disagreed on it,
‘You should take it easy for a while,’ Angsley had said. He was sitting in the red armchair, Sheila’s chair, nursing a glass of bourbon in the amber glow of the lamp. The guests, mostly Sheila’s friends and a few of Anderson’s old colleagues, had left, and Anderson’s house was quiet at last, full of food he’d never eat. ‘Why don’t you come along with us to Palm Springs this year? We’ve got a guest suite. It’s right on the ocean.’
‘Can’t. Got to work on the book.’ He couldn’t wait for Angsley to go, actually, so he could get on with it. He’d pour himself a drink and sit in the kitchen with the radio on NPR and the pages spread out in front of him, those sentences that Sheila was no longer able to help him clarify, and block out everything else. He would mould the grief inside of him into an implement, sharp as a dagger of ice, or he would drown.
‘Bring the book with you.’ Angsley looked at his old friend with kind, bloodshot eyes. ‘You can listen to the waves while you write.’
‘They’d only be a distraction.’
‘Goddamn it, Jerry. You’re not a young man. You’ll make yourself sick pushing on this way. Have you even stopped for a minute?’ It was Angsley, of course, whose big heart was already fatally congested, but neither of them knew it then.
‘I know I’m not young,’ Anderson said impatiently. ‘What’s making me sick is the idea of leaving so much unfinished.’
‘Unfinished?’ Angsley pulled himself upright in the armchair, his heavy cheeks flushed. ‘What are you talking about? We’ve created something out of nothing – a whole new field of study. Almost 3,000 cases which provide evidence that consciousness survives death. That’s not enough for you?’
‘What good is it, if no one accepts our data?’ He had been sure that he would get results that the major scientific journals could not ignore. He’d been wrong. Now there was this book. He’d take his case to the public, as Sheila had urged him to do. And maybe, if he were successful, the academy would reconsider . . .
‘So what if they don’t accept it? Our data stands. Truth stands, as Gandhi said.’ Angsley leaned towards his friend, his blue-green eyes pinning him, as if he could transfer to the other man his sense of peace. ‘Besides, the work is growing. There’s Matthiessen’s field work in Australia, Rajanathan in India. Nicholson in England. It’s a legacy, Jerry. A good one.’
‘Well, I’m glad you’re content, anyway.’
‘No, you’re not.’ Angsley smiled, a ray of rueful warmth that lingered in his mind long after his friend had gone.