‘Ow!’ said his wife as he thumped her around the back of the head in what had been an affectionate pat in front of the television. ‘When did you get so clumsy?’
It was a good question. He was, indeed, becoming clumsier. This wasn’t the first time his hand had collided with something with unintended force. Bottles of milk had been sent crashing at the breakfast table. The end of the gear stick had come off in his hand while driving the car. He was on his third computer keyboard in two months; the other two had been returned to the shop, their letters mashed down into the plastic surface, deserted by other letters that had come away altogether and made their escape.
And he had noticed something else, too. The sleeves of his shirts were moving up his arms. Working from home, as he did, he did not often wear shirts with unrolled sleeves, but he had attended an awards dinner two nights ago, and had found the sleeve of his formal dress shirt sticking resolutely above his watch. It used to cover half his hand.
He had not mentioned this to his wife. And she did not pursue the accusation of clumsiness – the television programme they were watching was more interesting to her than the state of his….
Well, the state of his what? His arms? His hands? His general wellbeing? But the more he thought about it, the more his arms felt different, as if they belonged to somebody else, as if the signals he was sending them were no longer being received in the customary way.
He hadn’t written a usable word in weeks, either. Everything he put down through his poor abused keyboards was stale or obvious or just ordinarily boring. While he clattered through the house knocking things over his mind wandered over its incapacity, worrying away at it the way he might worry at a loose tooth.
‘Loose tooth!’ he said to himself. ‘What a tired image.’
So he went to the doctor. He’d been seeing the same doctor for years, and they had become sort-of friends, in the sort-of way one can only ever be friends with one’s doctor. His friend checked his blood pressure, listened to his chest, but most of all he talked to him.
‘How’s the writing going?’
‘Terribly. I’m in a rut.’
‘Hmm. Wait there.’
The doctor went out and came back with a device about the size of a small plate, covered in a silver plate, with an LCD screen at the front.
‘Isn’t that a kitchen scale?’
‘It is. Now, put one of your hands on it, please.’
‘But that’s silly. It can’t weigh my hand accurately, because it’s supported by….’
‘Do I tell you what you can and can’t do as a writer?’
‘Of course you do. Everybody does.’
‘Well, fair enough. But trust me. This is medical stuff.’
So he put his hand on the scale, the doctor read off the display, and nodded his head.
‘Just as I thought. You’ve got heavy hands.’
‘Heavy hands? What kind of condition is that?’
‘It’s not a condition. It’s a metaphor.’
‘It’s a…. What?’
‘It’s a metaphor. You’ve got heavy hands. You can’t write, and you knock things over. You are clumsy, maladroit and generally incompetent around things, people and words.’
‘But, how did this happen?’
‘Overuse of imagery, would be my first guess. That, and a general tendency to use ten words when three would do.’
‘Is there a cure?’
‘Normally, I’d advise a course of high quality mainstream television where the dictates of art are subservient to entertainment and commercial interests. But you need something stronger. I’m putting you on a course of Elmore Leonard. Effective immediately. ’