There were two stacks of newspapers at any newsstand in the small, seaside town of La Vie. One was the La Vie Times and the other was the Press de Vie. On any given day, one newspaper outsold the other by a small number of copies. In large, this was due to the appeal of the articles written by each of the newspapers’ famous political columnists. The La Vie Times held in great regard their young writer Claude Dubois as equally as the Press de Vie held in regard their own columnist, Edouard Guillotine. It was once a week from the years of 1909 to 1910 that each would have their opinions printed in their papers. The material they wrote was deathly contradicting to one another. The time was approaching for the town of La Vie to vote for a new representative; Charles Leroy, whom Guillotine fended for, and Benjamin Moreau, who Claude greatly admired. The two writers both expressed their ideas and opinions with pleasure and passion; and certain weeks Guillotine’s article would be praised more than Claude’s, and sometimes the opposite. Of their many similarities, both worked from home, and both shared a particular dislike for one another.
One morning, Claude had returned from his trip to the La Vie Times building to turn in his latest work. He’d just taken off his hat and coat when a knock came at the door. He opened it and in came Bernadette, a long time friend of the writer “Bernadette,” said Claude, “what a surprise—” Bernadette whisked by without a greeting.
“A pleasant one, I hope,” she said, with an uneasiness in her tone indicating there was an important issue at hand.
“As always,” said Claude and the two walked to the middle of the small apartment where Bernadette sat and Claude went off to the small kitchen to bring pastries and coffee. He placed them on a small table between the two chairs and sat down.
“To what may I owe this visit, my dear?”
“Need I a reason to visit an old friend—?” Claude raised his brow. “Well if you insist I need a reason, yes, I do have one. Alarming, and you must take it seriously; you know how you have a problem with that—”
“I do not. Go on then,” he said and, with a smile on his face, bit an éclair. Bernadette didn’t speak, but pulled out a folded up newspaper from her purse and held it up to Claude’s face, He took the copy from her white-gloved hand and opened it.
It read: “La Vie Times columnist Claude Dubois seems to be swinging the votes with his weekly articles in the paper….”
Claude continued but Bernadette pulled the paper from out of his hands.
“That’s not very nice you know,” he said.
“What’s not nice is that you’re mingling with politics. And if you’re not a politician, it’s not your place and you know that well and yet you keep writing these columns and it’s—not right. For you to write the things you do, and for a newspaper in Paris to say this about you, it’s dangerous and you know it.” She sank back into her chair and sighed.
“And why is this all an issue for you? I’m doing my job. Besides, you know as well as anyone else that the politics isn’t what I truly care about. To be in newspapers, Bernadette, it’s my dream. It’s my work—”
“Doing your job doesn’t mean writing the way you do. You write about politics in such a stern way in this feud and you seek fame doing it. Look at writers and artists of this day and the past. Famous were many and they did not have to create terrible and vile works to achieve the feats they did. Why must you be so hesitant to create pleasant writings?” She grabbed a pastry and sank even deep into her chair.
“It’s not simply a feud, dear Bernadette, it’s a battle, between two skilled opponents. Our weapons? The pen, though I have been trying to get my hands on the latest typewriter from America. A new machine. With a pushing of buttons, one will have a sentence in seconds…. It is true; pleasant works would evoke less tension in the town, but my dear, people have an uncanny desire to see the dark, live it, be a part of it. The dangerous is what we all seek inside, the thrill. Either way, you mustn’t worry, I’ve it all under control.”
“Then I take you expected that what you wrote would change the votes around the whole town?”
“Ah yes,” mumbled Claude, “well I didn’t think of that happening—but this just means I’m winning against that ancient sac of bones.” Bernadette wiped her mouth of crème and put her hands together on her lap.
“Yes well, one more thing I wanted to tell you. See, they’ve been writing about Guillotine as well. He’s shifting the votes just as much as you. The way I see it, you’re both in danger, so perhaps—”
“Let that old man be in danger. All I have to do is write better than he, and I’ll be back at the top, like I was until he decided to move into La Vie. You’ll see, dear, I’ll have this whole town in my hands when I’m through writing.” Bernadette quickly rose from her seat and drove her heal into Claude’s foot.
“Sure, you fool, go against everything I say right in front of me. Keep this up and one of you will get hurt, or worse you’ll have to answer to me. Goodbye,” she said and marched out of the apartment. She shut the door behind her and chips of paint fell to the ground. Claude sniggered and limped to his writing table where he began creating his next article.
Many streets and shops away, on the other side of La Vie, lived Edouard Guillotine, a slender old man with a long, black goatee and a damp air around him. His accommodations were larger than most in the town; his home was full of long hallways which housed rooms engulfed in dust with a few chairs thrown around. The walls of empty corridors were spotted by places pictures once hung and only the faintest light was ever lit. His writing room looked over his front garden, which had hedges not manicured for years and grass as green as could be. Earlier this afternoon, Edouard had read of how his writing and fame had reached Paris and sooner or later, the whole of France would know of his name. He also read of how Claude Dubois was also reaching ears as far as Paris. The rivalry, Guillotine thought, was in vain, for in the end, there was no chance of Claude writing something so much more praised than his own work.
Guillotine stood alone in his office which was burgundy in color, and watched with his hands behind him as people walked the streets and an occasional leaf, still green, flew in the light wind. The sunlight shined into the room, dimmed and dispersed by the chiffons, drapes and curtains sun bleached. He sighed, then slowly walked to his typewriter, the latest from America, and began to write. At night, he appeared much like a ghost, covered in a pearly light from the moon. He seldom slept most evenings, but only walked the halls of his home. And when morning came, he would sometimes walk around the nearest block or two, then return home to read or work.
After the morning, at around noon, Claude finished the final draft of his new column on the silliness of Charles Leroy and those who followed him, particularly Edouard Guillotine, “a man with much to say, but sadly not enough worth in his speech to match.” Claude slipped into his coat, put on his hat, and began his walk to the La Vie Times building near town square. He passed by many news stands on his way and was often greeted, and always smiled when he saw that a stack of the La Vie Times was lower than a stack of the Press de Vie. A wonderful sun hung over the town and the waves were never too far so that their shanties could not be heard. Seagulls flew overhead. Returning home, he wished he’d taken enough money to buy groceries, so all he purchased was a bottle of wine and a loaf of bread.
The following Sunday, both Claude’s and Guillotine’s articles were printed in their respective newspapers. Guillotine’s ended as such:
“Anyone who ambles about in favor of Benjamin Moreau
should reconsider the circumstances, particularly those who seem so compelled that they find the need to write about him and praise him. We mustn’t forget people who write such bias works of such bias people are unreliable, and are perhaps in somewhat of a need of a course correction. Bonne vie to all; I will be writing soon again.”
“I do agree that Charles Leroy is a fine man, but do no be tricked into thinking he is a fine politician, or even decent, when compared to Benjamin Moreau. Must we think so hard on something so simple? and by such deep thought be blinded by the clear answer that stands before us? Perhaps those who do, particularly the slender type, with small glasses who type away on fangled machines should open their eyes to the truth and not wallow in their bias. Until next week, my dear readers, Claude Dubois.”
Garbage, thought Mr. Guillotine. How could they publish such lies for all to see? I wouldn’t be surprised if this has reached Paris already. The old man walked to his window and stared out as he often did during different hours of the day. Today he would not write, for the sun seemed odd and there wasn’t enough wine to get him through it. Today he would only read, and remember, and do his best to not pay any attention to news of the hideously bias, extremely famous writer, Mr. Claude Dubois.
Claude himself was out celebrating his latest and favorite publication with his darling Bernadette. She spoke little, though he could not stop speaking away of how he believed he’d completely destroyed “the old bag of cracking bones and that typing machine of his.” The two ate by a place near the sea where a wonderful café 24 SUMMER hung over huge cliffs and seagulls nested on pointed rocks. The sun was just a few hours away from dipping back into the ocean to bring night along to the town of La Vie, and Bernadette felt it was time to go home. Claude agreed, and, placing her coat over her shoulders and giving her a kiss as she reluctantly allowed, the two parted ways on Mouette Avenue and each went to their separate houses.
The most shocking event occurred in the days following. At all the newsstands in the town, the La Vie Times was outselling the Press de Vie by not just a few copies, but rather stacks and stacks. Readers were demanding more copies, and demanding that those copies had more of Mr. Claude Dubois’ columns in them. His employers agreed to double his payment for each article, and Claude could not have been more happy for he was now receiving optimum recognition and a fine pay with three publications a week. On the contrary, Edouard Guillotine was struggling to aid the Press de Vie return to its previous popularity. Alas, his efforts were to little avail, for the Press was barely selling enough copies to remain in print and a great deal of the blame was put on Guillotine .
It was nearly sunset and Edouard was out at the beach standing in the wet sand where the water would ease up to him but never come to surround his feet. Then it would ebb back to the vast sea. Wearing mostly black, he looked over his spectacles to the orange horizon. Pink clouds spanned over the water with the rays of the sun, covering the sky. A shimmering road of light went over the sea from the sun to the docks miles from where Edouard was. No shimmering road of light led to him. The sun soon disappeared and Edouard began walking back to his home. The walk was long, longer than usual, and turning onto Corrotto Road, he stood before his home. Only, his home was not there. His hedges were not there. No neighbors were around. Edouard found himself on the wrong street. With a sigh and a smile, he walked down a few blocks, and again found himself standing before a house that was not his.
He could not find his home. He searched the roads, and often became lost.
It was not until ten in the evening, after hours of walking, that Edouard Guillotine found his home, and upon entering, went straight to bed.
In one of his new, weekday articles, Claude wrote of his content and pleasure toward the fact that Benjamin Moreau was rising in the polls and it seemed that he was ascending to the position of representative. While Claude’s career blossomed with humble prosperity, Edouard Guillotine still struggled to win the appeal of his audience once more. He began to spend more and more time on his typewriter; every second there was a clack from the keys and red wine, looking more like blood than the drink itself, rippled beside him. Columns were published, but Guillotine continued to write with no light shining on his work. There came a time soon after where the clacking of the typewriter lost its rhythm and often the wine spilled onto the table and dripped to the floor. He began producing irrelevant columns; articles that had dozens of topics but none of which had anything to do with politics. Only two more publications were tolerated, after which the Press de Vie handed him his final payment, and wished him a happy career.
Claude remained in his old apartment, only he chose more lavish furnishings and finer china. Together with Bernadette, the two sat in his home in solemn conversation.
“You mustn’t think you had no hand in this,” said Benradette.
“Now I’ve caused the old man’s mind to crumble? He had it coming to him for years. He had plenty of time to back out of this project—”
“Doesn’t matter what he chose to do; You know what you wrote, and know it moved him just as much as it did your readers. Foolish to deny….” Claude was silent, but he then spoke:
“Was it Newton that spoke of how the only reason he could see far was if he were standing on the shoulders of giants? I believe it was him…yes….” He slipped into thought, looking out the window to a sunny day.
“He was a man just as dignified and worthy as you, and a writer just as famous and read as you, too. You can’t deny that, and I know you don’t darling. I’ll be going now, Claude, I’ll speak with you later.” Bernadette rose from the chair and walked to the door, and opening it, was soon gone down the hall. Claude’s deadline for a finished draft was upcoming, as his articles appeared more often. So he walked slowly to his writing desk with his hands in his pockets, and, sitting down, picked up his pen and quickly began running it over the paper. Writing.
The last column Claude ever wrote of Monsieur Edouard Guillotine appeared in the following weeks, and read as follows:
“Methods and traditions have come and gone, but the way of
a writer has remained honest and truthful to its origin. Particularly to
we who write of our opinions. We place ourselves, our true thoughts
and true beings out before all. We are judged; sometimes favorably
and sometimes not. However, it is not for these judgments which
we write, it is to continue the life of our civilizations which have for
so long lived upon it, a part of it. Our earth is merely two billion
souls and two billion perspectives. And it is these strong opinions
that allow us to endure through what an overgrowth of societal
influence poses on those who prefer to write their minds. We are
the peoples we are only because there have been so many brave
peoples before us, many no longer present, who chose to fight and
cope, and build a civilization upon which ours rests today. Without
that very bedrock of those who have gone before us, we would go
as they, only with no purpose to our existence. Such a bedrock I
dealt with, and feuded with, for some areas of it were not perfect.
Though, it is those imperfections that allow us to excel today, for
with perfection, we become still, a cloud that never moves in a sky
that never darkens. Though few have been able to gaze down the
vistas and sweeping fields that I have seen in my short time, there
is no doubt in my mind that such wonderful, open places would
not be if it weren’t for the giants whose shoulders we stand on,
and for those who ever dared to change what was around them
instead of them themselves being eroded by the times. And though
the wind-swept souls and subtle hearts, that have not survived an
equitable time, toll in their graves with unrest, we who change that
which is around us with the word, my dear God, we are the ones
who set them free, and in their gratitude, the passed people give us
their bodies so that our world shall not die. And so that all continues
from the previous stone left standing. Yours truly, Claude Dubois.”
Arin L. Shane is a student at Providence High School. His writings and short stories have been featured in the Los Angeles Times ‘Kids Reading Room’, among others.