The author sat at his desk in the warm sunlight that streamed in through the French doors. The study was a strange mix of chaos and order with books stacked neatly in on shelves and old papers of every kind strewn on the desk like a great reef. Framed photographs of the author’s grandchildren stood on the high mantlepiece along with a postcard of Dali’s Persistence of Memory which the author believed to be the greatest painting of the twentieth century. Next to it sat a small painting by the author’s daughter which he believed to be the greatest painting of the twenty-first century. The author had worked at his desk for forty-seven years. All of his novels, essays, and short stories had been written on it. Due to the speed at which the words came to him, the author continued to write first drafts longhand and then type up the completed story on an electric typewriter. He had so far refused getting a computer because of his distrust of them. The author believed whole-heartedly that a great book had yet to be written on a computer.
He sat back on the old red dining room chair that his mother had brought back from China and stared at the painting adjacent to his desk. The original had been destroyed in nineteen-forty during the blitz. The author had commissioned an artist to make a copy from a photograph. It was an extraordinarily strange painting that held the author in a dream-like state whenever he looked into it. He once told a newspaper that he never stopped looking at it and the mysterious and beautiful women that inhabit it. From outside, the author heard the happy cries of his grandchildren playing with his daughter. He smiled and thought of his wife. How she would have enjoyed seeing her daughter play with her grandchildren.
The author looked at the ticking wall clock. It was coming up to nine o clock. Just enough time to scan over yesterday’s work and read back anything that stood out. How many times had he sat back in his chair, overwhelmed by the beauty and skill of the writing? And left wondering with a sense of anxiety where it had come from and would it come back again?
At exactly nine am the telephone rang. The author let it ring twice and then picked up the receiver. He gave his customary greeting of good morning and listened as the low gravelled voice returned the greeting.
‘Are you ready?’ the voice said.
‘Then let’s begin.’
The author picked up his pen just as the voice began its dictation. The author scribbled furiously as the voice laid out sentence after sentence like components on a factory line. The author wrote with no thought of what he was being asked to write. Each word was forgotten as soon as it appeared on the page. At the strike of ten the author had completed another chapter and was digging into the story’s more complicated middle section. The author smiled as the words travelled from his ear and onto the page where a story, a fabulous story was forming.
When the eleven o clock chimes sounded, the voice silenced instantly like artillery guns and the author put down his pen. There was nothing else that would be said that morning. In all of his years listening to the mysterious voice the author had learned two things: Never ask for more and never ask what the story is about. Those were two things that did not belong to him. The voice issued its usual warning that under no circumstances was the author to reveal the source of his work. The author gave his usual vow of discretion, imagining the look on his peers’ faces if he did actually tell anyone that his entire collection of novels, essays, and short stories had been dictated to him by someone unknown at the end of a telephone line.
‘Until tomorrow then,’ the author said.
‘Until tomorrow, Mr Ballard,’ the voice replied.
The voice hung up and the author listened to the familiar purr of the dialling tone for a few seconds before putting the phone down. He closed his pad without reading a word; trusting the voice had gotten it right once more.