Nels Hanson

The Wright Manuscript

Today soft rain at dawn, then mist and uncertain November sun, before the New Light when countless millions will stream toward the arrival points as Edward predicted half a century ago as a six-year-old boy writing down columns of make-believe Chinese characters, all zigzags and slanted squares, unconscious of the prophetic truth they both proclaimed and encoded—

The renowned novelist Edward Cummings Wright and I had been childhood friends in the San Joaquin Valley of California and after our parting at 18 had led somewhat parallel lives, if you suppose a tree’s shadow and the tree are alike. Edward became famous almost instantly at 23, and grew “geometrically more esteemed with each new book that set and grew and delivered a sparkling and delicious fruit from the spreading dense orchard of his career,” as one prominent, if florid, critic noted.

I was a “regionalist,” producing at regular intervals brief, modest volumes depicting a disappearing “Valley Life” peopled with rural “types” who had once lived on and worked the disappearing small farms of orchard and raisin vineyards, “a very minor Steinbeck,” as the New York Times once acknowledged in my best review in that publication.

Anyway, time grows short as the New Time approaches. Edward at 50 had grown tired of the fanfare of Paris, New York and The Hamptons. Nostalgic for his early rustic existence, he bought back his family’s small farm from a realtor, moving into the ramshackle ranch house a half-mile down Mountain View Avenue, the country road I’d lived on all my life. We had resumed our early friendship, meeting in the late afternoon for several drinks and occasionally exchanging manuscripts between reminiscences of our youth in which I had always played Dr. Watson to his Sherlock Holmes.

I knew that Ed had taken up the study of Chinese, but I had assumed his interest had been spurred by his love for Tang Dynasty poetry as well as the Cathay translations of Ezra Pound, which were based on the Fenellosa Manuscript the widow of the Boston Orientalist had placed in that gifted and mad writer’s hands.

I also suspected Edward might be planning an “Epic of the East” and imagined that 3,000 miles away across the continent I could faintly hear the printing presses already humming like the revving of a 1,000 jet engines ready for takeoff and the flight to ice-bound Stockholm to collect the Nobel Prize.

It was on an August Wednesday with the temperature again in the 100s—in Fresno children were frying eggs on the sidewalk for a TV news crew—when I received an excited phone call from Edward, who announced he was coming over immediately with what a he called “an astounding, world-shaking discovery.”

“To think it lay there, as if sleeping, all these years in the owl-haunted attic, that I was never but intermittently a fictionist, instead a chosen medium, a channel for the Earth’s final deliverance!”

I assumed that the seed of the new brilliant and best-selling novel had germinated and in his exaggerated but understandable enthusiasm he was eager to share the outlines of his next great masterpiece. I was setting out glasses and ice and a bottle of my favorite mid-brand Scotch as I heard Edward’s Jaguar coupe roar into the barnyard, a door slam, and the kitchen door flying open.

He burst into the study, waving a sheaf of yellowed paper marked with a checkerboard of childlike chicken scratches.

“We have only months to prepare—” he insisted as he set the crumbling pages next to his neat and clear translation.

“Prepare for what?” I remember I asked innocently, as now the sky begins to vibrate and shine and like light from a moon–sized prism the seven-banded spectrum illuminates and breaks through the suddenly red, orange, yellow, green, blue, violet and indigo clouds.

“Our saviors,” Edward said, pointing to a row of slashes, squares and rectangles drawn in black crayon on the aged paper.

“Saviors?” I repeated in my eternal role as Edward’s dim shadow.

“Thousands of them!” he exclaimed. “In glass ships!“

So it was written, and so it shall be, as autumn leaves blow like pages finally freed from a single book—

As promised in the Wright Manuscript, now the knock and “Come in, Edward,” I say and lay down my humble pen a last time, and “Shall we go?” he says somberly, and together we leave the door ajar forever and in equal stride cross the hundred vine rows like a vast rainbow in the whirring wind.


Nels Hanson has worked as a farmer, teacher, and contract writer/editor. His fiction received the San Francisco Foundation’s James D. Phelan Award and his stories have appeared in Antioch Review, Texas Review, Black Warrior Review, Southeast Review, Montreal Review, and other journals. "Now the River's in You," a 2010 story which appeared in Ruminate Magazine, was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Hanson lives with his wife, Vicki, on the Central Coast of California.

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