Jeremy Bannister decided he wanted to be a big-shot novelist when he was ten years old, the age at which his mother first allowed him to begin checking books out of the public library on his own. He was fascinated by the idea of writing famous books to earn money rather than working every day at a laundromat, as did his father. All through his grade-school years Jeremy gazed out the windows of his various classrooms and wondered what he was doing studying textbooks.
“I should be living in New York City,” he told himself. More than anything in the world, he wanted to become a big-shot novelist. He wanted it so badly that he even began pretending he already was one. During recess, while the other kids were playing kickball, he would sit under an oak tree at the edge of the playground, chewing idly on an imaginary pencil and gazing at an imaginary tablet on his knee and pretending that he was revising a great novel that would make him rich beyond his wildest dreams. Sometimes he would lift his chin and peer into the distance as though he were contemplating a complex and intriguing plot. He would nod slowly, pinch his index finger and thumb together, and wriggle his wrist as if jotting down an idea before it escaped his mind. All the other kids would laugh at him as he stared at his knee, and some of them would yell, “Look at the big-shot novelist!” Even as his face burned crimson with ire, Jeremy Bannister muttered to himself, “If only they knew. If . . . only . . . they . . . knew.”
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When Jeremy was in eighth grade, the kid who lived across the street from him was given a set of barbells for his birthday. All of the other kids who lived in the neighborhood came over to watch him lift weights in his garage. Some of the big kids asked if they could try it out too, but the skinniest kids sneered among themselves at the whole concept of lifting weights. “I once read this article in a magazine about a weight lifter whose muscles got so big that he couldn’t even bend his arms to comb his hair!” a skinny kid said. “Wow,” another skinny kid said, “there’s no way I’m ever gonna lift barbells. I sure wouldn’t want to get that muscle-bound!” Jeremy Bannister was one of the skinny kids. He shook his head with disgust at the idea of having so many muscles that he couldn’t even perform the simplest of human tasks. While the rest of the kids were lying on a bench huffing and puffing, Jeremy pointed at them and laughed with derision, and acted as if he was about to leave at any minute because he had many more interesting things to do with his valuable time. In truth, he too wanted to work out with the barbells. 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 weaklings build up their sorry bodies, he chortled inwardly as he left the garage and walked across the street. He went into his house and climbed the stairs to his bedroom, and got back to the more intellectual pursuit of pretending to revise a great novel.
During high school Jeremy joined the football team. He was still skinny and weak, but his father made him do it. However, as a person who wanted to become a big-shot novelist, he had nothing but contempt for the idea of competitive sports. He truly doubted whether any of the loudmouth jocks on the football team had ever attempted to write an actual novel, much less read one as an extracurricular activity. The football team practiced every night after school, and Jeremy made a special point of staying out of the coach’s way as much as possible. He would spend anywhere from ten to twenty minutes tying and retying his shoes, until the coach yelled at him to get off 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 into the line during the last quarter. His team was ahead by three points, but the opposing team had the ball. It was third and goal. The center hiked the ball. The quarterback handed off to a fullback who came right at Jeremy. The fullback had a pug nose and buckteeth 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 bootlace. The kid dashed across the goal line and won the game. When Jeremy stood up, everybody booed him. But in his own mind, Jeremy Bannister had made his first artistic statement.
Nobody at school would speak to Jeremy after the day of the big loss. That was fine with him. At night he would hide out in his bedroom while his humiliated father railed at him down 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 yell again. Jeremy lay on his bed and dreamed about the future when he would become a big-shot novelist. One day as Jeremy was walking home from school, he saw a typewriter for sale in the window of a pawn shop. He walked up to the window and stared at the machine. It was a Smith Corona. Jeremy felt as if the typewriter was beckoning to him. He decided the time had finally come to begin preparing himself for his successful writing career. He went in and bought the typewriter for two dollars and took it home, sneaking in the back door so his father wouldn’t see it. He did realize that he would not become a big-shot novelist right away and calculated that it would probably take him at least two years after he got out of high school. This he was willing to admit to himself. It would take a lot of hard work, and probably a few unavoidable setbacks. He would sweat and strain, and then the day would come when he would be hailed by the critics. 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 to a 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 overwhelming urge to date her, even though he had never been on a date before. But he felt that, as an aspiring big-shot novelist, it was time to get his feet wet because insights into the mysteries of romance would surely play a large role in his life as a writer. He had read a few Norman Mailer books already, so he knew that sooner or later he would have to start writing about the opposite sex.
Even though no one at school was speaking to him, he managed to finagle a date with Dolores, who also had never been on a date. Jeremy talked his mother into talking his father into letting him have the car. His father railed for a while but finally relented, gave him the keys, and told him to keep it 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 out at “the lake” where all the teens parked. Jeremy was a little bit apprehensive about “making a move” for the first time in his life, but Dolores brought his petty worries to an end by grabbing him by the lapels and kissing him swiftly on the lips. Jeremy held on tightly to the steering wheel. After a moment of bafflement, he realized her tongue was inside his mouth. “Do you love me?” Dolores began whispering softly. Trying to remember everything he could from both the fiction and nonfiction of Norman Mailer, Jeremy pulled his head back and replied, “Perhaps.”
Gary Reilly was the author of 25 unpublished novels during his lifetime. Since his death in 2011, Running Meter Press has published 15 of them. Born in Kansas, he grew up in Colorado, where he attended college and, after a stint in the Army, devoted himself to his writing – though he never sought to promote his work.