When he was five, the oldest in a family of four with another on the way, he went off to kindergarten wearing clothes that were shabby but clean. His mother waved goodbye from her bedroom window. His father was in the shop, so he didn't wave. His father was a heavy drinker with a hot temper, so he boarded the bus a little bruised and with his broken leg in a homemade splint.
When he was eight, he wrote a poem for a school contest. It won first place among the second-graders, and he got a gold star pinned to his shirt. He took the poem home and showed it to his mother, who put it up on the refrigerator. His father saw it and sneered. A few nights later he found his poem in the kindling box and got cuffed around the head when he asked his father about it.
When he was ten, he was filling notebooks every night, locking them in a wooden chest in the attic room he shared with his brothers. He hid the key behind a loose brick in the basement wall, knowing that if his father found it all his stories and poems would go in the fire.
When he was fourteen, he figured out why his father did not like his writing. Words were ethereal. Words slipped through your fingers like grains of sand. Words were, in short, a waste of time. To placate his father he began spending more time in the shop doing work on cars, heavy dirty mechanical stuff his father loved. His mother spent less and less time outside the house, now pregnant with her eighth child. His father drank and flew into rages every evening. Late at night, he continued to write in his notebooks and hide them in the trunk.
When he was fifteen, his secret was discovered and all his writings were confiscated and disposed of. He fled the house that night and never returned. Greyhounding, hitchhiking, and finally walking, he made his way across the country. His aunt took him in. She was a plump, gray-haired, softspoken spinster who gave him all the freedom and advantages he could possibly want and asked nothing in return. There was no need to scribble furtively in the basement now, no need to bury his notebooks in a locked trunk among piles of moth-eaten quilts. He wrote at the desk in the den and kept his stories and poems in a file cabinet. At school he kept a low profile but managed to make a few friends.
When he was sixteen, he sent his first story to a literary magazine. It was rejected but at his friends' urging he persevered, getting published at age sixteen years seven months. His aunt purchased him a car, used, after he got his driver's license. He almost immediately totalled it and had to spend a long convalescing period in a wheelchair. Once he was able to walk again, his best friend taught him where to buy booze and marijuana. They spent many dark nights in the parking lot of Walgreens, having tailgate parties with a lot of beer. He would come home at exactly curfew time, wobbly and smelling of drink. His aunt always just shook her head and muttered, “Boys will be boys.” When word arrived that child #9 had been born, his mother asked him to come home. He said no.
When he was seventeen, he wrote a novel and sent it to a publisher. It was rejected. That same year, his best friend went off to a military academy. They sent occasional postcards, but it wasn't the same and they drifted apart. His other friends, most of whom were older than he, graduated from school and went their separate ways. A loner now, he spent long hours in a coffee shop he called the Chestnut Tree, putting whiskey in his cappuccinos and gulping it down. A girl named Melody, the daughter of the coffee shop owner, often joined him. He was attracted to her, but only in a material sense. They began going out.
When he was eighteen, he sent his second novel to an agent. She wrote back saying it sounded good and she was interested and would ship the manuscript to various publishing companies. He told his aunt. She was thrilled, and they went to New York City for the weekend to celebrate. He brought Melody along, and they went ice skating in Central Park. Melody was a natural at it, but he couldn't maintain his balance at all and was content to watch her from the sidelines. For Christmas that year his aunt gave him a black woolen frock coat, vintage Victorian, and he began to wear it everywhere he went.
When he was nineteen, he got a letter from the agent. She had found a publisher who would take his novel. The same day he got the letter, his aunt was in a minor car accident. She was not badly hurt, but the hospital X-rayed her as a matter of course and found a suspicious shadow in her lungs. They operated. It was a tumor and they removed it, but the cancer had already spread. She was given six months to live. A nurse was hired, but her nephew did most of the care himself. When he was not helping his aunt he was writing his third novel, and when he was not doing that he was attending to publishing details. What little free time he had was spent brooding alone in his room, gulping vodka right out of the bottle. It was a bit of a shock to learn he would not get his face on the cover of Time and he would not become a millionaire overnight, but he got over it quickly. People complained that he seemed apathetic to his book. He told them he had bigger fish to fry.
When he was twenty, he celebrated his birthday by going to Boston with Melody-not because he wanted to do it but because his aunt had basically ordered him to go out and have fun. They were delicately sipping wine and listening to traditional Irish music in their hotel room when the hired nurse phoned to say his aunt was dead. He left the hotel without hearing Melody's protests, and ran ten blocks into a small city park before collapsing from nervous exhaustion and going to sleep in a snowdrift. He woke up in a hospital with a mild case of hypothermia, and spent a few days in the psych ward for observation. After he was released, he went home and made funeral arrangements, but did not go to the funeral himself. His aunt turned out to have a lot more money that he had ever suspected, and he got all of it. A few days after the will was read, Melody approached him and said she was pregnant. He suggested that she have an abortion, and a week later she told him she had. But she wanted to see no more of him, so he packed his bags and began making arrangements to go to the UK.
When he was twenty-one, he arrived in England rented a semi-detached house in the Yorkshire Dales and settled down quite nicely there, establishing a daily routine that was somehow comforting in its dullness: up at eight, breakfast, walk, get mail and newspaper, come home, nap for an hour, and so on. At night he huddled in his study with a bottle of scotch for company, banging away at an old-fashioned typewriter, writing novel number four. Meanwhile, he sent #3 off to the publisher. Only they knew where he was. He did not contact his family or his old friends.
When he was twenty-two, just after novel three was published, he decided he didn’t like England. He packed his bags and gave notice to his landlord and flew back to America to settle in a nice two-bedroom apartment not far from Boston. He had never lived in an apartment before. To complete the change he grew his hair long and bought a Harley Davidson motorcycle and black leather clothes and a knife to wear in his belt. He knew he looked like the type of person most people would cross the street to avoid, and this pleased him. Out of the blue he phoned his family and was disheartened at their condition. His mother still stayed in her room. His father still drank too much and hit everyone who crossed his path. The only good thing was that there were no babies and hadn't been in quite some time. On impulse, he asked his mother to send him a child. Any child, it didn’t matter which one. It took a bit of talking but she agreed and got her husband to concede to it as well. His ten-year-old brother, whom he hadn't seen in seven years, arrived a month later and was welcomed with open arms.
When he was twenty-three he was feeling a bit better about himself. His little brother, a shy but very intelligent boy, had the therapeutic affect that he needed so badly. He figured it was the responsibility thing. "Everybody needs something bigger than themselves," he thought, and went to court to become his brother's legal guardian. This was granted. He drank and smoked less, ate and slept more, and published novel number four.
When he was twenty-eight and with great sadness, he sent his muscially talented little brother to Europe for training at a specialized boarding school. He had grown dependent on the child in the last five years, and felt abandoned after he left. Very lonely, he took to haunting a certain pick-up bar six blocks from his apartment. Sometimes he would bring girls home, but they never stayed long. When he couldn't find a girl he smoked marijuana and wandered the streets till three or four in the morning, watching the night life. He saw a prostitute who looked like Melody and avoided her eyes. A few nights later he saw the same prostitute and, experimentally, picked her up. After this encounter he decided she couldn't possibly be Melody.
When he was thirty-two he reacted with stunned silence at the news that his brother had decided to give up his musical career, move back to the United States, and open a car-repair shop. He was disgusted but, mindful of how his father had tried to discourage his own ambitions, he said nothing. However, his disappointment must have showed through because when his brother did return, it was to a different apartment in a different town. They drifted from each other, both of them knowing but neither of them caring enough to stop it.
When he was thirty-three, he got word from his sister that his father had died of cirrhosis. He went to the funeral and met the now-teenaged Child #9 for the first time. The meeting was awkward; neither would suffer small talk. He did not go to his old house. Instead he left the funeral home at a brisk pace, got in his rented car, and headed for the airport without looking back. The first of many sizeable checks arrived at his mother's house a week later, with his name on them in a barely legible scrawl. He figured it was his duty to help support the now resourceless family, but the checks were never cashed.
When he was thirty-four, while walking to the liquor store, he ran into Melody on the street. She was approaching middle age now but as beautiful as ever. She had her husband with her. He was a successful attorney, and immensely good-looking as well. There were three children: a small boy and girl wearing cute little brother/sister outfits, and a youth who looked to be in his mid-teens. He spoke to Melody only briefly, painfully conscious of his long scraggly hair and large beer gut, and of the teenager whose eyes burned knowingly into his. After she and her charming family went on their merry way, he turned around and went back to his apartment with a decisive step, and without stopping anywhere along the way.
That was the last time anyone saw him. He left his place sometime that day and walked out into nowhere. Weeks later his disappearance was discovered when his landlord went looking for him to find out why he hadn’t paid the rent. The door was unlocked and the apartment deserted. Everything was in its place, but everything was covered thickly with dust. Nothing was missing; even his frock coat still hung on the pegboard. Clumps of his hair were found piled in the bathroom sink and a pair of scissors was located nearby, but there were no other clues to go on. He was never seen again.