“I” I said and left it. I hadn’t rehearsed this moment. My Neil Armstrong moment. There were flashes. Had 90,000 people ever been so quiet? I doubt it. I licked my lips. I looked behind me at the giant screens. Perhaps to make sure that I was there, that this was happening. “I was actually a ghost, as it turned out.”
You know the film Ironman? When Ironman, as a human, deploys the Jericho missile? There’s a moment when nothing happens then the explosion and shockwave? It was that. Wembley Stadium literally exploded and I had to hold the thing. The lectern to stop from falling backwards. There was just noise and passion and then the fireworks began. I waved and stumbled off the side of the stage.
The security men seemed to be in awe of me as they parted the crowds of techies who all wanted a piece of me and my ears rung.
This was it but… you hear people say that magnificent achievements don’t sink in straight away? Well that’s true. I felt disconnected. Flat. I just needed peace. I think I thanked people who were grabbing at me but I needed peace and I practically fell through the door to my changing room.
With the door closed I began to breathe. I’d done it. I chuckled in relief. Simon was looking at me. I nodded at him. “You did it, you old son of a bitch!” he said. And I nodded again.
“We did it.”
“No, it was all you.”
This was May 2016. First time ever a short story writer had sold out Wembley. Though that’s not when it began. I think it was 2010 when I started writing. Something like that. That’s when I started on my journey to become the world’s greatest living writer or dead.
Like so many writers the early years were a litany of rejections and zero retweets and cease and desist orders. But all through this period Simon had been at my side. Encouraging me. Although I was the senior partner we were a team as I also encouraged him with his increasingly harebrained schemes. It wasn’t a one way street, is what I’m saying. Sure, he was my sidekick but we were also friends. Almost equals in some respects.
After Wembley it was hard to keep the same relationship. I was in demand, of course. Normal people don’t understand the pressure put on people like me. I wouldn’t swap it but it wasn’t easy. My day was full. I just didn’t have the time for Simon and that’s the truth.
We kept in touch over Whatsapp, the free messaging service. He kept asking me what I was doing and I’d tell him that I was doing some boring bullshit for charity. It wasn’t all bad. A lot of the things I was doing were fun but even the good stuff I’d pretend, to Simon, was shit. Going on The One Show, for example.
Simon told me he was going to be a songwriter. This was a new one but he’d tried everything else. I told him it was a great idea and I’d do what I could to help.
“I should hope so.” he replied. With no exclamation mark. I found that quite disturbing. Probably the first alarm bell.
The most pleasing part of my success at Wembley was meeting people who had previously rejected me. Jo Unwin, the literary agent sent me a box of chocolates with the message. “Hey, I fucked up!” I met Charlie Brooker who spoke to me like we were best friends. My twitter followers who had stopped retweeting my stories suddenly retweeted absolutely anything. I’d tweet banal nonsense and they’d retweet it. One day I got mixed up and tweeted something that was supposed to be a Google search. “HDMI splitter switches on its own” 12k retweets. That made me smile. Also my early works. The best stuff, the stuff I liked became popular, all off the back of Wembley and the ghost story I’d written.
It was perfect.
Simon wanted to meet up.
I told him I’d try and sort something.
“No, Friday.” He whatsapped.
Again his tone made me uneasy and I agreed. We met in The Savoy. In the foyer. Simon was waiting for me. He looked a bit… a bit frazzled.
“Hey, buddy!” I held my fist out for a bump but he stood and hugged me. “How have you been?”
The maître ‘d showed us to our table and on the way he told me how he’d been at Wembley and it was the most emotional night of his life. I thanked him. At the table Simon complained he couldn’t make head nor tail of the menu and so I, used to fine dining by now, ordered for him. Simon said he’d prefer it if we went to TGI Fridays. He didn’t understand what life was like for me now. Being driven to the restaurant I’d counted 27 people wearing I was actually a ghost, as it turned out T-shirts. I was a big deal.
“How’s the music going?” I asked before our starters arrived.
“Good, but, well, you know. You said you might be able to help.”
“For sure, I’ll get my people to look at it.” I had people now. I’d forgiven Jo Unwin though she’d simply worn me down, if I’m being honest.
“No, I want a million pounds.”
“Yeah! Who doesn’t?”
I looked at Simon. He was serious. “Are you serious?”
“Good one,” I laughed.
“You owe me.”
“Okay, but I’m not giving you a million pounds, Simon. Come on!” I was trying to keep it light in case he was fucking with me.
“No, I’m really not. Look, if you need help it’s better to get the right people around you. More important than money. They can help.”
“Like I helped you?”
“Yeah, I suppose.” Fuck. “But these people are experts.”
“And I’m not?”
“It was my idea. The ghost story. You accept that, right?”
I’d been waiting for that. No, not waiting but I was concerned he’d say it. “I wrote it.”
“Yeah, but it was my idea.”
“So what?” I was angry. “What’s an idea? It’s fuck all. I did the… the hard work.”
“Hard work,” he snorted, “you wouldn’t have written it without me. Because I told you to write a story where you’re actually a ghost as it turns out, and that’s what you did.”
“You could have said… I dunno. Write a story about a… a fucking chair! You know?” I’d raised my voice without realising but nobody was looking over. People are discreet in The Savoy. “It doesn’t make you a genius because you had an idea.”
“You’re a genius?”
“That’s what they say.”
Simon nodded. “You’d be writing that shit about the Co-op if it wasn’t for me. I want a million pounds.”
“Simon!” I said as he stood and left, “It was a Spar, not a Co-op.” He went the wrong way at first but made it look like he’d done it on purpose. I ate both starters.
That night I received a link to this. I didn’t reply.
I listened to it over and over. It got into my head. Over the next few weeks it was the soundtrack to my life. I bought the daily papers with fear that there would be a headline about me stealing Simon’s idea. That I was a fraud, even though I had written it. Money was pouring in but Unwin was badgering me for a follow up. She’d booked Wembley again and the tickets had sold out in record time. I’d told her I was struggling to think of anything good. “Just shit something out, you’re famous now. That’s what the other writers do.” That wasn’t me, though. And I was thinking about Simon. That great song. I wanted to hang around with the guy who did that. And he was right. It was his idea. I wouldn’t have written it without him. He hadn’t stabbed me in the back by going public even though he was probably within his rights to try. I did owe him. I couldn’t move on until I’d made things right. I had loads of millions of pounds by now. I’d happily sacrifice one to get my sidekick back. And so I got a million pounds out of the bank and asked him to meet up in Russell Square.
I really felt happiness for the first time in weeks as I headed across the park. Simon was sat on a bench. He looked in much better shape than the last time we’d met and I felt better still. I was doing the right thing. I felt good about myself. “Hey!” I said as I approached. He smiled. “Is there an extortionist in da house?” I laughed. “Just messing.” I sat next to him. “I’ve got it. And I’m sorry, I should’ve…”
“It’s too late.”
“No, it’s not. I want you to have it. You deserve it. Jeez, I’d give it to you to invest in your music. That song blew me away. Colours.”
“Colour. No S. But it’s too late.”
“It’s not… why are you saying that?” I was momentarily panicked he’d gone to the papers. Just before he got my text! Fuck! “I was a dick. But…” I took the envelope of cash from my rucksack. I held it out but he didn’t take it.
“It’s too late.”
“Five weeks ago. That’s when I killed myself. The morning I was supposed to meet you at the Savoy. It’s too late.”
“Do what? Just take the money!”
Simon held out his hand and I dropped the money through it. Yeah, the money went through it, landed on the floor. Thwump!
“Damn! You’re a gh… gh… ghost too now!”
September 2016. Wembley Stadium.
“Damn!” I said to the same flashes and silence. “You’re a gh… gh… ghost now!” and again there was the same explosion of noise and delight. I didn’t feel weirdly flat this time. This time I felt empowered. The first firework went off but I shouted “Stop!” Into the mic. There was a howl of feedback. “Stop the fireworks!” Another firework went off, I guess they’d already lit it. Soon there was silence peppered with a few shouts of “encore!”
“I want to dedicate this performance to my friend and sidekick, Simon, who passed away recently. Some of you may have heard he helped me write Ghost Writer. Well it’s not true. I did all the hard work.” Cheers. “But Simon did leave his mark on this world. Please. Enjoy this.”
On the huge screens behind me the word COLOUR appeared and the music started and everybody danced and the song got to Number 1.