The Death of the Author

By Deborah Zafer
  • 10 Dec - 16 Dec, 2022
  • Mag The Weekly
  • Fiction

The writer who has always been called the Father of the Nation dies. This means there is an opening. After all, in this harsh climate, no nation can afford to be fatherless for long.

The next day, the newspaper writes an article with the headline Who will be our Father now? Amir sees this on Twitter, even though, as a matter of principle he isn’t on Twitter and never has been, despite his agent’s pleas.

The article won’t let you read it unless you are a subscriber so he asks Gabi to run to the store and buy it. It wouldn’t be seemly for him to be seen to be interested if anyone were watching.

In the event, he doesn’t think she actually does run. When she comes back, her breath smells of coffee and despite being the kind of person who sweats a lot when they exert themselves, her brow is clear.

He takes the article from her as immediately and stands by the window. He wants to make sure he remembers where he is standing when he reads it, just in case.

The first half of the article is all about how great the writer who died had been.

Told us the story of ourselves blah blah, opened our hearts as a nation blah blah, leaves us at this key moment in our history when our story is still forming blah blah blah will never be replaced but…

He skips most of this part, not least because it leaves out all the bad things the Writer-Father did, seemingly forgotten, now he has performed the virtuous act of dying.

The next section is the one he is interested in. He sees his photo in a row of four pictures of possible new Fathers. Good.

As a nation, we are blessed with many great writers who chronicle our lives and history. In our small country, we sell more books per head than anywhere else. Other countries envy our great literature.

Now we ask ourselves who will rise to the top of the tree as the writer among writers.

There are three long profiles of his main adversaries:

The one who writes the same book over and over, always about him and his mother – good god who still reads him?

The one who tries to make everything funny to cover up how sad he is inside. He can’t bear to read him anymore but if he had to go for a drink with one of them, he would always choose this one, and often does in fact.

The one who is not a good writer but is good looking and knows what to say in interviews to make a headline so is always profiled. He hates this guy the most.

And also, there is Amir Tobin, who some of our young people like, and who maybe one day will write his great work.

This is what it says about him.

That is all.

‘Gabi! Come see this!’ he calls, horror-struck.

He passes the paper to her and watches her face as she reads.

She was a fan of the writer who died. She has all his books and when they first met, when he wasn’t a writer yet except in his dreams, this was one of the things he liked about her – that she would sit up late by her open window reading and sometimes crying and this showed she felt deeply, as he did. She also wrote too, then, although not seriously.

‘Well?’ He asks, ‘can you believe it? How can they write that – and then there is Amir Tobin as if I am just some afterthought following that parade of the same people they’ve been writing about for years?’

He bangs his hand down on the nearby table for emphasis and the empty vase that sits on it rattles.

Gabi gives him that look she sometimes gives like he is a pet who has eaten something of hers she once treasured.

‘It’s good,’ she says, looking up at him. ‘Surely, the fact you are even mentioned is good? It shows you are a contender; you matter to our nation. Apparently, not one woman does, so be glad!’

Always about the women he thinks, grimacing involuntarily.

‘That is not what this is about,’ he says, frustrated, ‘this article is about the death of the father, not the mother and…’

‘OKAY,’ she says, interrupting as always. She never lets him finish his point anymore, ‘so who is the mother of our nation then? Tell me.’

He sits down and folds up the paper so he doesn’t have to see the article.

‘There are many,’ he says.


This isn’t the conversation he wants to have. He wants to talk about himself and why he is not yet seen to be ready to be the Father. What else must he do? Isn’t publishing three books that sold well and running his own writing school and winning one international prize enough for them?

‘You know what, Gabi?’ He says, ‘I need coffee.’ He snatches up his keys and bag and heads for the door.

“Come back when you are mature enough to be a father then!’ He hears her shout, as it closes behind him.

He rolls his eyes as far back as they will go. She would make it about that as well. She sure knows how to make a bad day worse.

The street is very quiet. It feels like the weekend although it is not, maybe because it is so hot and this has kept sensible people indoors. The only creatures to be seen are the cats who perch on every available surface, lying in wait for the crazy old biddies, who feed them and keep them alive to swarm this neighbourhood. He keeps his head down anyway. This is not the kind of day when he wants to be recognised.

Even though he is only an afterthought who is still to write his great work, sometimes it does happen. Just last week he was walking to the port in fact and an American woman (quite old, not attractive) grabbed his arm and said, ‘Is it you? I recognise you from your book jacket?’ And, he had to say ‘yes, it is me.’

‘Your books really speak to me,’ the woman said and he had nodded and smiled and said thank you and then carried on walking quickly away from her.

But today no one is around.

He goes to his favourite cafe. This is where he goes to write, so they know him well and straight away bring him a coffee and a bun, just as he likes.

‘No rest for you. Always working on the masterpiece,’ says the owner as he puts the coffee down on the table.

Usually, Amir laughs but today the use of the word masterpiece sounds like a taunt. Does the owner also think what he has written so far isn’t up to much, isn’t enough? Does he wish it was one of those other writers who came to his cafe instead?

He opens up his laptop to the chapter he is working on. He wants this book to be about generational trauma, but so far it seems to mostly be about a man who wants to sleep with a woman who isn’t his girlfriend. There is more work to do. He wants to write something at last that his father will want to read and share with his friends and be proud of.

A woman comes in with her baby and toddler and sits at the next table.

Once he wrote a story at this very table about a man who didn’t want children but whose girlfriend did. In the story, a beautiful woman and a baby sit at the next table. Something about the way the woman cradled the child reminds the man of his infancy and of the tenderness with which he was reared and now lacks. Over the course of his coffee, the man realises he does want to procreate after all and goes home to tell his girlfriend – only it is too late, she has packed and gone.

The story won a prize and the judge wrote of his sensitivity and openness to life’s multitudinous sad nesses. He had liked that a lot.

The coffee is good today. As he drinks, he begins to see a way he can bring depth to this chapter and starts typing.

‘Hey, you.’

He looks up. Gabi is there, wearing the dress she likes most, the one that looks like the sails of a ship setting forth in the wind but that he finds unflattering because it hides the bits of her body he likes the most and also (heaven forbid) makes her look pregnant. She pulls up a chair and sits down opposite him.

‘Look, I’m sorry,’ she says, cutting a piece of his bun with a knife, and popping it in her mouth, ‘I can see the article isn’t great. But you are only young you know, you have time. The others are all older, have had more time, more experience. One day we will laugh about this and,’ she starts to laugh already, ‘I thought, on the way here, that one day you can call your autobiography, ‘And also, there is Amir Tobin’ and...’

He puts his hand over her hands which are always in flight, moving, and holds them still like two tiny nested birds.

‘Thank you,’ he says. ‘You are kind my love, and yes, that is funny, but I think though, that what they are saying is that I am not serious enough, not yet ready or serious enough to be a father, and…’


He puts his finger over her mouth to stop her interrupting this time.

‘But,’ he says, nodding to her, finger still gently pressed on her face, ‘they are wrong. I am ready. I am ready to be a father.’

She raises her eyes questioningly and he nods again, yes.

This is what it is he realises, this is what he needs, what his art needs to bring depth and meaning and to ensure it lives on beyond him. He needs to tether himself more to life, to family, to his country, to be truly open.

He takes his finger off her face, his other hand off her hands.

This is what she wants too, he thinks, has always wanted.

He waits for her to smile. And waits. And waits…

A long time ago, when Gabi was a girl, the writer who had just died came to her town to speak.

Because it was only a small town, with not a lot going on, everyone went to the village hall to hear him and because the flyer said ‘bring a chair’, there was a procession through the street of all the people carrying their odd assortment of chairs. She remembers that her father brought the fold-up chair from the kitchen that her grandma used when she was cooking because it was counter-height, and her mother brought the chair that usually sat by the phone because it fitted neatly in the nook under the stairs.

Gabi sat on the floor on a cushion, all the children did. The writer talked and talked for a very long time and answered all the questions and read in his melodious voice and she could feel the comfort he gave to everyone in the room by speaking of their small sorrows and their great loves and the effect of the whole thing caused her eventually to lean back against her mother’s legs and fall into a deep, warm sleep.

She can only imagine what the great writer thought when he looked down from the stage at this odd assembly of people, all at different heights and in their unfashionable clothes. This is one of the first thoughts she has when she finds out he has died – how different everything must look when you are the one sitting on the stage, to when you are sitting on a stupid, uncomfortable chair or a cushion in the audience, just watching.

And the only thing she really properly remembers from this dream-like experience is that when someone asked the writer, what do you want to be remembered for, he had answered, immediately – for telling the truth about life, even when it is hard – and she had so wanted to know, what is the truth? Tell me the truth. She still doesn’t know the answer.

When Amir asks her to go to the store to buy the newspaper, she wants to tell him to go to hell or at the very least to pay the money to subscribe to the paper as a normal person would.

But, she doesn’t. She does not say any of this.

Instead, she does what any frustrated passive-aggressive person would do and walks as slowly as she can to the store, cursing him all the way under her breath.

to be continued...