The Revisionist

The first thing he says when he gets up in the morning is, “I revived you.” As if he is talking to someone pulled from a lake minutes before. But what he means is: He has revised me. Top to bottom. Beginning to end. Past to present. Turned me inside and out so many times I barely resemble my former self.

His is not a Freudian slip but a problem with diction. Is he still drunk from the night before, or has he already poured his first cold vodka and orange juice, sipping it on the way to the bathroom for the first big event of the day? By the time he reaches the writing table, his glass is so wet with condensation that droplets fall on my pages. I no longer care about the shape he is in.

He says, “My life has always been too large for me.” This, on the phone to a friend. His posture and the look on his face make it appear that it is a recent revelation, one he has never uttered before.

I used to be taken with him, when I first heard him say such things, when I first heard him turn a phrase so well. It was like watching a skilled carpenter craft a beautiful piece of furniture, making perfect use of the whorls and knots in the wood from which it was made. Now when I look at him, all I can think of is the phrase, “All is dross.”

For fifteen years, he has worked on his trilogy, which is really one novel, which is really a series of stories, which is really a monologue. It is now 1,800 pages long and he no longer knows the point. He spends his days turning the volume of daytime soap operas up—and down—depending on his need for concentration. He has rearranged the chapters. He has renamed the characters. He has pushed the important buttons, “delete” and “insert.” His table of contents page is a work of art so well crafted that it could be published on its own. In the evenings he reads it aloud to friends and students who drop by.

One of these visitors, a former student, offers to take him to an AA meeting, even though she has never been to one herself. When she rings his doorbell the next time—and the next—he slips into the shadows of his writing room and pretends not to hear. She will not be invited to any more parties.

What to do with him? What to do? I have thought and thought about this until I have practically erased myself. And there, now that I’ve said it, having uttered a metaphor of my own, I have come up with the solution: Deletion. Deletion of all 1,800 pages, which I know for certain never have been backed up because, of course, he is an artist, his is an artistic form, and one cannot expect an artist to be practical.

His sleeve will brush against the keyboard as he reaches for his drink. Or the glass will drip one drop too many. It will be his own fault. It has to be. In order for him to be saved.

It could kill him, but he is already killing himself slowly. Through the drink and the dread.

I imagine the scenes after it happens: the gasp, the comings and goings of various technicians, the frantic phone calls to friends.

Delete. Insert. Nothingness. Too large a life. For him. And for me.

Au revoir, dear reader. Au revoir.

The end.

And the beginning. Of a new story. Of his life. I am, after all, giving him permission to put everything—his work—and his life—into the holy fire.


Cathy Mellett’s short stories have appeared in The Yale Review, The Literary Review, Confrontation, Greensboro Review, Terrain: The Built and Natural Environments, and other journals online and in print. She is working on a memoir. More information can be found at

One response

  1. (Insert) An ingenious twist on a writer’s nightmare. (Revise) Creative and scary. (Revise again) Clever. Chilling. Cruel. Callous. (Re-revise) Liberating. (Delete all)

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