Jeremy Bannister decided he wanted to be a great novelist at the age of ten, the age at which his mother first allowed him to start consulting books at the public library on his own. He was fascinated by the idea of writing famous books to earn money rather than working every day in a laundromat, as his father did. Throughout his elementary school years, Jeremy looked out the windows of his various classrooms and wondered what he was doing as he studied textbooks.
“I should live in New York,” he thought to himself. More than anything, he wanted to become a great novelist. He wanted it so badly that he even started pretending he already was. During recess, while the other kids were playing kickball, he would sit under an oak tree at the edge of the playground, lazily chewing on an imaginary pencil and staring at an imaginary tablet in his lap and pretending he was revising a great novel. that would make him rich beyond his wildest dreams. Sometimes he lifted his chin and stared into the distance as if contemplating some complex and intriguing plot. He was nodding slowly, putting his index finger and thumb together, and wiggling his wrist as if jotting down an idea before it slipped away. All the other kids were laughing at him as he stared at his knee, and some of them were shouting, “Look at the great novelist!” Even as his face burned with anger, Jeremy Bannister muttered to himself, “If only they knew. Whether . . . only . . . they or they . . . knew.”
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When Jeremy was in eighth grade, the kid across from him got a set of dumbbells for his birthday. All the other kids in the neighborhood came to watch him lift weights in his garage. Some of the taller kids asked if they could try it too, but the skinny kids teased each other about the concept of lifting weights. “I once read this article in a magazine about a weightlifter whose muscles got so big he couldn’t even bend his arms to comb his hair!” said a thin child. “Wow,” said another skinny kid, “there’s no way I’m lifting dumbbells. I sure wouldn’t want to be that muscular! Jeremy Bannister was one of the skinny kids. He shook his head in disgust at the thought of having so many muscles that he couldn’t even perform the simplest of human tasks.As the rest of the children lay on a bench, huffing and huffing, Jeremy pointed at them and laughed derisively , and acts like he’s about to leave any moment because he has a lot more interesting things to do with his precious time. In truth, he too wanted to train with the dumbbells. But that would be like publicly admitting that he was skinny and weak. So instead he pretended he was doing just fine without muscles. Let the weak rebuild their desolate bodies, he chuckled to himself as he left the garage and crossed the street. He entered his house and climbed the stairs to his room, and returned to the more intellectual pursuit of pretending to revise a great novel.
In high school, Jeremy joined the football team. He was still skinny and weak, but his father forced him to. However, as someone who wanted to be a great novelist, he had nothing but contempt for the idea of competitive sports. He really doubted that any of the loudmouthed jocks on the football team had ever attempted to write a proper novel, much less read one as an extracurricular activity. The football team practiced every night after school, and Jeremy was keen to stay away from the coach as much as possible. He would spend ten to twenty minutes lacing and retying his shoes, until the trainer yelled at him to get rid of his duff. On the last day of the season, in a game that promised to give his high school the state championship, Jeremy was sent down the line during the final quarter. His team was leading by three points, but the opposing team had the ball. It was third and goal. The center ran the ball. The quarterback was moved to a fullback who came straight at Jeremy. The rear had a pug nose and horse teeth and weighed two hundred pounds. He had been held back two grades by his parents as well as his bad grades. He was gigantic. As he approached like a rocket, Jeremy suddenly grasped the pointlessness of high school sports. He got down on one knee and pretended to tie his shoelace. The kid crossed the goal line and won the game. When Jeremy stood up, everyone booed him. But in his mind, Jeremy Bannister had made his first artistic statement.
No one at school wanted to talk to Jeremy after the day of the big loss. It suited him. At night, he hid in his bedroom while his humiliated father harassed him in the living room. Jeremy could hear his voice rising above the sound of the TV. His mother didn’t say anything about it, but Jeremy knew what she was thinking: you made your father scream again. Jeremy was lying on his bed and dreaming of the future where he would become a great novelist. One day, while Jeremy was walking home from school, he saw a typewriter for sale in the window of a pawn shop. He approached the window and stared at the machine. It was a Smith Corona. Jeremy felt like the typewriter was beckoning him. He decided that the time had finally come to start preparing for his successful writing career. He went in and bought the typewriter for two dollars and took it home, sneaking out the back door so his father wouldn’t see it. He realized he would not become a great novelist right away and calculated that it would probably take him at least two years after he left high school. What he was willing to admit to himself. It would take a lot of hard work and probably a few inevitable setbacks. He sweated and strove, and then the day would come when he would be critically acclaimed. He wrote a short story that night, the very first and best story he had ever written. Then he lit a candle and burned the story until it was crisp. Jeremy Bannister had made his second artistic statement.
Jeremy was secretly in love with one of the girls in his senior class. Her name was Dolores. Jeremy had an irresistible urge to go out with her, even though he had never been on a date before. But he felt that as an aspiring great novelist, it was time to get his feet wet because insight into the mysteries of romance would surely play an important role in his life as a writer. He had already read a few Norman Mailer books, so he knew that sooner or later he would have to start writing about the opposite sex.
Even though no one at school spoke to him, he managed to get a date with Dolores, who had never dated either. Jeremy convinced his mother to convince his father to let him have the car. Her father cursed for a while but finally relented, gave her the keys and told her to keep them between the telephone poles. Jeremy didn’t know what he meant by that and was afraid to ask. After the movie, Jeremy and Dolores parked at the “lake” where all the teenagers parked. Jeremy was a little scared to ‘make a move’ for the first time in his life, but Dolores put his worries to rest by grabbing him by the lapels and giving him a quick kiss on the lips. Jeremy had a firm grip on the steering wheel. After a moment of bewilderment, he realized his tongue was in his mouth. “Do you love me?” Dolores started whispering softly. Trying to remember all he could of Norman Mailer’s fiction and non-fiction, Jeremy cocked his head and replied, “Maybe.”
Gary Reilly is the author of 25 unpublished novels during his lifetime. Since his death in 2011, Running Meter Press has published 15. Born in Kansas, he grew up in Colorado, where he attended college and, after a stint in the military, devoted himself to his writing – although he never sought to promote his work.