A man lies in a room, sprawled out, eyes closed. His name is Robert Claw. Robert Claw wears a white shirt and blue jeans. His pants are old and worn. His shirt is flecked with red. His mouth is shaped in a frown.
Who is Robert Claw? Robert, the other day, looked out over a field. He saw the waving grass, the sun in the trees, the wind in the air. And he saw a house at the other end, a farmhouse. A large house. It looked nice; Robert thought he’d like to live there.
He had no way of knowing that it had been empty for years, dilapidated and rotting on the inside. But still, that was Robert Claw.
Next to the still form of Robert Claw lies a book. It’s The Sixth Sense, by Peter Lerangis, the novelisation of the famous movie by M. Night Shyamalan. This was once his favorite movie. It was also once his wife’s favorite book.
When Robert was younger, his father once told him why he wrote for a living. He said books were comforting, since you could flip to the end and the future never held any true surprises. You were omnipotent, in way. It was like you had a sixth sense.
Robert Claw had nodded and smiled when his father said that, but inside he did not agree. Life was boring, he thought, when there were no surprises, no twists and turns that shocked you senseless.
He loved pictures for this reason. They were an instant, captured in time and in place, and told a story in of themselves. But if one looked further, there was always more to learn. Often there was a whole other story, one that turned everything you thought you knew upside down.
You never really knew, when all you had was a picture.
The door is open, the window shades drawn. No light shines in on Robert Claw. A footprint lies just inside the raised wood of the doorway, stained into the slatted floor. It’s a picture all its own, the ruts and treads of a muddy boot.
A thin wire bucket lies on its side, spilling crumpled pieces of paper in a circle on the floor. Each sheet is covered in tiny little writing, notes upon notes, scribbles that devolve into madness.
Robert Claw, the other day, had decided to become a writer. He wasn’t one usually, but he wanted to learn how his father had felt. And he’d had a good idea, a stroke of inspiration, that had descended upon him like a flash of lighting. He had closed the curtains and turned on the light, trash can at the ready.
Hours later, the moment was gone and the picture over; there was no more story to tell. Robert Claw went to sleep with a frown on his face, disappointed at his inability to put words on a page. His father stayed elusive, true feelings unknown.
But even then there was more to this picture. Robert often had ideas like this; he had another one just the other week. But he never finished a book. It was hard, when you knew the ending. It sucked out all the fun.
A few hours ago, when Robert Claw was sleeping, someone had come with a present. They wore a black leather jacket and rings in their ears. A frown on their face, a grudge to bear. Someone in their past had been hurt dearly by this man they were visiting, someone close that they weren’t likely to ever forget. They stood in the doorway and looked out into the darkened room.
Is that Robert Claw? They could just barely see a still form, covered in blankets, lying in the bed. I can’t quite see him. It was dark. He turned on the lights.
This man often thought about Robert Claw. Robert possessed his mind 24/7: that scruffy blond beard, the faint smile on his face. A smirk, the man would say. Just a normal grin, said Robert Claw.
The man wondered about Robert Claw. What did he think as he lay in that room, fast asleep, unknowing of what would soon occur? What really went on in that mind of his?
Who, really, was Robert Claw?
Exactly one month ago was Robert’s Claw’s wedding anniversary. He spent it alone, in his room, listening to the rain patter outside and staring at a picture of his wife. She had died some years before. She was wearing a yellow dress in the picture, and she had her hair done up in that way that he liked. He hadn’t thought about her in some time.
There was a note at the bottom of the picture, scribbled in a fancy script that looped and curved. It said, “I found this in a box in my basement. Thought you might want to see it; you always did like pictures! —Lots of love!”
Lots of love. Robert sat until the sun went down, looking at the picture. He hadn’t heard those kinds of words in a long, long time.
Who, really, was Robert Claw?
Robert never knew the man’s name, the one who’d spoken at his father’s funeral. He’d gone on at length and used a great many words to speak about very little; Robert missed most of what he said. He heard one thing, though: the man praised his father’s writing. He said it was wonderful, almost perfect, that it lifted one’s soul and danced with it in the heavens where the angels played. He said the devil himself writhed upon the rocks when the writing was read, that matches burst into flame and birds sang with the purest of notes. Robert wondered if he was a writer himself.
To be honest, Robert had never liked his father’s writing. But then again, he had never really liked books. He stared at the man’s thick beard and beady eyes and let his thoughts wander, thinking of other things.
When Robert was a kid he had often been told off in school for daydreaming. His third grade teacher, in particular, was named Mrs. Sev. She was fat and ugly and her glasses were strapped on with large beads that jangled harshly when she walked. Robert hated her.
She tolerated absolutely no daydreaming whatsoever in her class. Whenever he began to drift away she would be there, sudden and terrifying, looming over his desk like a terrible monster. The other kids would laugh, and point.
Robert hated them too.
The man in the doorway stepped into the room. His boots, dirty from the mud outside, pressed into the hardwood floor. One foot in, one foot out, he fingered Claw’s present and wondered what to do.
It’s a hard thing, giving gifts that you can’t go back from.
After the funeral Robert Claw walked home. It was raining, but he didn’t mind. The weather matched his inner thoughts. This was like something that happened in his father’s books, he realized. The weather always matched what the characters were feeling. He decided that was one thing that he liked about writing. You always knew what everyone thought, because you could make them think whatever you wanted. There was a little thrill in that, in forcing people to do what you wanted them to. It was a like the thrill of the unexpected, only different.
He pulled open his front door, and there was his wife. They stared at each other for a long time. She had a faint smile on her face: a hopeful smile. A happy smile. The rain intensified. How dare she be happy?
Robert raised his arm as thunder crashed.
Three weeks later she left him.
When Robert Claw was six years old he went to a dinner party with one of his father’s family friends. He got to sit in the special chair way at the head of the table, tall and cushioned and painted gold, but he didn’t care about that. It was more fun to pick at his food, to play with it, stack it in little piles and stab at it with his fork. He made the Leaning Tower of Peas, and a house of steak.
His father was talking long and fast with the man to his right. Their voices rose and fell as they waved their arms, his father with his long nose and the other man with his bushy beard and beady eyes. He spoke articulately and with precision, gesticulating excitedly.
Robert accidently flicked a pea across the table. It landed in the man’s beard.
He laughed, to see the pea stuck there. It was so unexpected, so funny looking, and it was even more funny when the man’s face contorted in surprise and he tugged at his beard, tearing off hairs. The man gestured and blustered, swearing angrily. His sentences grew shorter and shorter. Gone was the fluent language and professional attitude, leaving in its place a different sort of man.
Robert later forgot this event, the man, and his beard. The next time he saw him he had no idea who he was, though the man remembered him. But the thrill of the moment, the craziness, the way the man devolved from a civilised human being into a sort of a savage, that all stuck with him. In the back of his mind he never forgot, and he sort of liked it.
The man in the doorway didn’t know anything about this inner feeling of power, of course. He fingered his lockpick, rolling it around in his calloused hand, as he stood in thought. He thought of his own past instead. Much of it had to do with Robert Claw.
When the man had first met Robert, he had asked him this question: “Who are you?”
Robert had replied, “My father used to write, you know. One of his books started with that question. It was about two guys talking in a bar. And you know what? They never answered it. Throughout the whole long book, they never said who they were. I still don’t know either of their names.”
Robert never did tell the man who he was, though he did tell him his name. The man was left wondering, pondering, hopelessly trying to piece together the other’s true thoughts and feelings, even to this day.
Robert Claw’s father had written another book, too. It was called I Came. It was about a man who traveled thousands of miles on a train to reconcile with his lover after a falling out only to find that they hated him, had moved on, and had fallen for somebody else. At the end of the book he killed his lover for betraying him. There was a passage in the book, that Robert often thought about. It read, “‘I’ve been with you for a long time, and we’ve been through so much together. But throughout all of that, I’ve never really known you. And now I hope for God’s sake that I never really will.’”
Mrs. Sev had recommended the book to Robert once, not realizing that his father had written it. She was a big fan of his work.
Robert’s wife knew of this quote too. Unlike him she didn’t like it, though she too thought about it often. He had repeated it to her many times. Sometimes she thought too many, and said so. He didn’t like it when she did that.
When she finally left him, he stood in the doorway and called out her name. “Why are you doing this?” he asked. It was raining; she huddled under an umbrella and stared at the ground. She repeated the quote back to him then.
“You should know,” she said, her face bruised. It always seemed to be bruised. She threw her copy of The Sixth Sense at him. “Once you told me to read this. You said you loved the movie, so I should love the book. And I did.”
She turned and walked away, leaving the book sodden in a puddle at Robert’s feet. Her last words are almost too quiet for him to hear.
“But that wasn’t enough for you.”
Robert Claw remembered this moment as he looked at the picture of his wife on their anniversary night. She didn’t have bruises then. When had this been taken? He remembered arms raised… too many. That feeling of cruel, terrible power, that had always swelled in his head….
No, best not to think of that. The rain finally quieted as he shook his head and turned back to the picture. “Lots of love!” it said. He hadn’t heard those kinds of words in a long time.
The blanket that Robert Claw is tucked in is stained bright red, folding into and out of the small wooden bed that sits in one corner of the room. He had gone to bed fully clothed, not feeling like changing, too annoyed at himself for running out of things to write. Earlier that day he had gone to the field where the farmhouse was. He assumed that the people living there were happy; he decided to write a story pretending they were not. It was pointless: in fact, they were all dead.
Sometimes, Robert Claw wished he were dead. He wished that after his wife left him, after his father died. After his brother-in-law called him and threatened all hell if he didn’t pay for what he had done to his wife. He never really understood why. Life’s a mystery, and the things that are coming will surprise us. Most gave Robert a thrill, so why should these do the opposite?
When Robert was in eighth grade he was met with a another terrible surprise. Mrs. Sev had decided she wanted to teach older kids, and now he had her once more. The nightmare from his childhood was back again.
He felt like he wanted to kill himself then. But the feeling passed and eventually he realized that he had been stupid, looking back on the moment and laughing about it. Other people who he knew were worried; they pointed to charts and books and said he should go to a doctor. He just laughed, and reminded them that everyone felt that way sometimes. It was just a part of life.
Robert always felt particularly proud of that bit of wisdom, but in truth he had taken it from one of his father’s books, one of the less well known ones that everyone else had forgotten. He thought this to himself when his wife’s brother called demanding retribution. He was too distracted by his genius to ever call the man back.
Who is Robert Claw? The question lingered in the man in the doorway’s mind for years. He was intrigued, and a little bit disgusted. The last time they had talked, Robert was not in a good place at the time, his wife having just left him. The man in the doorway had not been in a forgiving mood, and Robert was engaging in some activities that he would later come to regret.
The man in the doorway thought Robert a bit of a fool. He once caught Robert gazing at a picture of a boat, weaving among crests of water in the ocean. When he asked what Robert was doing, he got this reply:
“Pictures are fascinating things. Do you remember once how I told you about my father’s book? Just as I will never know their names, I will never know where this boat is going. It’s exciting, in a way.”
The man in the doorway had left after that, thinking Robert pretentious and strange. But standing in the dimly lit room, staring at the sleeping man, he thought back to that conversation and wondered,
Who, really, was Robert Claw?
Maybe this would have helped him:
When Robert was in eighth grade, he had Mrs. Sev as a teacher for the second time. But you know that. What you don’t know is that Mrs. Sev was much better at teaching eighth graders than third graders, and by that time Robert had gotten better at paying attention.
Mrs. Sev once told Robert that he should become a writer, with all the daydreaming he did. Just tap into that inner picture, she said, and you could write anything. It’s like another one of your senses that’s made specifically for finding stories, she said.
Robert remembered this when he sat down at his desk the other day, trying to find that inner picture and use that extra sense. But then he thought of the enticing mystery of the picture, and the concrete ending of the book, and the difference between the two, and suddenly the idea just stopped. Ended. Annoyed, he tried again, but the magic was gone.
The man in the doorway would have found this a very pretentious thought. He would have told him to just get on with it and write. Unknowingly, he would have echoed Robert’s father’s friend, the one with the beady eyes and thick bushy beard, who said those very words at a dinner party once to Robert’s dad.
The two had gotten into an argument. Robert’s father wanted to wait and edit his latest work, which he claimed was going to be a masterpiece. His friend (being both his publisher and an author himself) argued that the due date was three weeks past and the book needed to be on the shelves. He argued this quite fluently, with many articulate phrases and waves of the hand.
Then Robert Claw threw a pea into his beard, and he lost it. The book never got published; the night ended in disgrace. The event stuck with him for a very long time. He blamed it for everything that had ever happened since: the years of writer’s block, the loss of money, the slow, painful ending of his job.
His son, who knew well about the legendary dinner party, grew up cursing Robert and his father. Years later Robert’s father died, and his friend forgave him. He gave a touching eulogy at his funeral, full of praises and words of friendship. The two men were connected again at last, but it was too late.
Robert’s father’s friend’s son saw what this did to his father, and the thought came into his mind that maybe he should do what his old man could not. But no, that would be going too far….
He never told his father, who had long since come to peace with life and would certainly have stopped him. The idea of revenge festered in his mind for a long time, crazy though it would be to go to such lengths based on the of the actions of a six year old. Even so, he couldn’t help but stick the idea way in the back of thoughts, where it waited, growing stronger every day.
Robert never knew that this was the son of the friend of his father, though he did meet him a couple of times. He never knew his father’s friend either, only hearing about him in stories. He had no way of guessing that he was the inspiration for one of his father’s books, the one called I Came.
The man in the doorway had never read I Came, but he would have liked it. He stood in the doorway and stared at the bed, and came to a decision.
I am here for a reason, thought the man in the doorway.
He took a deep breath. It was time.
Several minutes later the lights went off once more and the man in the doorway left through the doorway, carrying his gun but feeling much lighter.
Who was Robert Claw? That was the last thing he thought before he left the room.
Who, really, was Robert Claw?
Robert Claw is dead.