This is the second draft to a story I have been working on for my last undergrad creative writing class. Check it out!
The light keeps flickering. It’s an intermittent pattern that is so slightly forceful it pulls my gaze from the computer whenever I type more than five words. Five words. I can’t write more than five words without going on some sort of delusional fantasy binge that takes my mind in an entirely different direction. And the fact that this $4.00 scone tastes like a calcified rock doesn’t help.
Sometimes my laptop mocks me. It happens in those moments of trying to figure out what comes next. To end the “and then she walks in…” sentence. At this point, having Microsoft Word open is like the first 30 minutes of a young adult novel that’s been adapted into a blockbuster feature; it’s cold, I’m alone, and I just don’t belong here. The cursor is the overwhelming régime and no matter how hard I push forward, it’s going to still be there, demanding more.
I usually don’t write this early in the day. I guess I’m what you call a night person. Having a beer while working is so much better than having orange juice and a dry English pastry. How do these other shmucks do it? Look at them, with their headphones in, pounding away with their fingers, sipping their lattes, chais, and highly tested words for coffee. I thought writing at a bookstore would be a nice change of pace. Somehow it just seems distracting. Like a glaring road sign of what I could become.
Sundays suck. They are devoted to religious zealots, families and the couples who stay in each other’s beds after sex. I really don’t want that, especially lately. I’ve been flourishing by myself lately. Why would I want to disrupt that? But on a Sunday sitting in a bookstore, watching them come in hand in hand and browse books, order Frappuccinos, and be happy, it reminds me of something that once felt nice. Something I didn’t think I could picture anymore.
I usually write at home. Being comfortable is typically a priority for me. I have a routine and it works well. But today I found myself up early and wanting – needing – to write somewhere else. Anywhere else. Change had to occur. And the corner booth at a bookstore coffee shop seemed as good a place as any.
About twenty minutes after I sat down, two men in their late seventies came in and sat down at the table to my right. I was trying my hardest not to pay attention to them, but being the only people who differed from the menagerie of screen-peddling penmen like me, I was hooked. Five minutes after that, one of the guys said something that made me stop what I was doing and blatantly eavesdrop on them.
“You never know how much you miss your mother until your wife dies.” The one old man said to the other. He bore a stout resemblance to an aging George Costanza and fiddled with his coffee strainer while waiting for his slim friend to reply.
“What do you mean?” The slim man asked inquisitively while sipping his coffee.
Old George raised his head back and coughed before speaking. “It’s been six months since my wife died and I’ve realized that she did everything for me. She cooked my food, paid my bills, and even bought most of my clothes.” He paused for a moment, looked down and smiled. “She bought this.” He pointed to his T-shirt. “I’ve had to re-learn how to do all of these daily chores for myself. My wife was not my mother. She was my friend, my companion, my partner. I guess losing her has gotten me to remember the first woman who ever cared for me like that.”
George and the slim man continued to talk about various subjects over the course of the next 40 minutes and then went their ways without little disruption. Their conversation inspired me to write a little bit of not-worthy-to-post poetry but, also, it made me question everything I thought about when I sat down to this table. Was I missing out on a significant part of life by not trying to find a relationship?
The thought nestled in my head for a long time after that. I found myself picturing what a relationship would be like, or end like, with each woman that ordered a drink at the counter. A 5’4” black-haired slender woman wearing glasses and a loose thin hoodie ordered a tall chai and looked at the over-priced cd’s while she waited. The paint around her fingers matched her casually red Addidas. Somehow I just kept picturing the following:
We would be sitting in a booth at some dimly lit, black box theater holding an underground concert and she would whisper in my ear “Hey Lincoln,” my name’s Lincoln by the way, “Look at the bartender. Do you think she would go home with us?” And while the night would be hot the first couple of times, I’d slowly get suspicious that she was spending too much time attending to her. After an awkward amount of time, I’d eventually figure out what her paintings actually meant.
After the hoodie went upstairs to find a copy of the feminist mystique, a stiletto’d short-skirt wearing blonde toting shopping bags and an iPhone elongated her vowels into a ten minute order. Our future surely would have gone no further than a delinquent bank notice and an unusual amount of credit card debt.
The next woman in line curiously poked and prodded her head along the glass display of baked goods, meandering until the barista told her she had to order. I could only picture a relationship together going one way:
It would be 6:30 p.m. on a Saturday and the two of us, each 75 pounds overweight, would be crammed into a booth at an Olive Garden or a Chilies or a Uno’s – honestly it doesn’t matter where – debating which desert we were going to share and which ones we wanted to take home for snacks. She’d look up curiously at me and wonder why I was clutching my chest.
I’m a dick. I’m not this guy. I’m not the guy who sits in the corner and deconstructs every surface flaw I project on to a person. Maybe all of this – the long, cynical rants about anyone I even consider to venture into a relationship with – is just a defense against feeling the pain from the times I jumped headfirst into shallow pools? I’m too much in my head to know something real if it smacked me in the face.
At that moment a star wars collectable figure flung under my booth, slamming into my bag. My head sprung below the table to pick it up. When I rose back above, a fair-skinned, red-headed woman sporting a pixie cut and a flowing sundress stood over me with a pile of books in her arms.
“Sorry about that.” She smiled.
I stood in astonishment of what I saw. In one hand she clutched a book of Shakespeare’s sonnets and Bronte’s “Wuthering Heights”. In the other hand she held Wordsworth’s “Lyrical Ballads” and Chaucer’s “The Canterbury Tales”. She motioned to the toy.
“Do you mind if I?” She grabbed the collectable and figured out a way to manage everything in her arms. Lingering for a moment she seemed to wait for me to say something – anything. But, before I could manage a word, or even a syllable, she smiled and uttered a goodbye of “Thanks!”
Thousands of words sprawled across the walls of my head. I now had infinite phrases of ways I could explain my affection. Do I write it or do I act it? This was a conundrum that could not be rivaled. With each moment she walked into the recesses of bookshelves and if I didn’t act soon I would be doomed to live another chapter of what-ifs, fantasizing feelings and foundations in to print. With an abundance of speed I threw my laptop into my bag and made my way after her. I needed more.
What I would say versus what I would have written have always been two very different versions of myself. The red-headed pixie made her way towards romantic fiction and all I could do was picture myself sauntering over:
I’d tell her “I love that book.” She’d look up and smile.
“It talks,” she’d close the book and playfully look me over.
“Only when I meet someone who reads just the dirtiest romantic novels fit for publication,” I’d spout off, hoping to make her blush. She’d
Shit, she was moving. She ventured towards the escalator and I lingered in the section for a minute more. After sustaining an appearance I catapulted out of my sandals, nearly turning my ankle. Once I finally made it on to the floating stairs I found my anxiety escalating as I approached the next level. What would happen if it didn’t go well at all?
What if I made my way towards her only to have her turn around suddenly, causing us to knock into each other? She would pick up her things with such a haste that her quick departure would say everything she was thinking: “I’d never go out with a writer.”
I came out of my self-imposed depression quick enough to jump off the escalator before tripping. Where was she? She wasn’t in the kid’s area – thank god, if I can’t win over the idea of her, how could I appeal to living, breathing kids? After a moment I gazed over at healthy living. She wasn’t there. There would be no awkward between-meeting lunch dates consisting of Kale-based juices and hemp. Another win for me.
Once I turned to look across the room I saw her reaching for a photography book. I could be with an artist. Maybe she’d get me. Maybe our work would inspire each other and we could collaborate on different ventures. But what if one of us achieved success and the other didn’t? Would we resent each other? Would we look at each other with parted glances during a gallery opening, lying to Jude Law and Natalie Portman about the status of our relationships? And why would I be Clive Owen? If anyone I’d be Jude Law. I mean he was the writer in that movie.
In my confusion I lost the muse of my moment once more. She wasn’t anywhere. It was as if she disappeared into the recesses of my mind like every other MPDG to come and go. Resigned, I sat in one of the lounge chairs overlooking the parking lot and decompressed from the previous jaunt. Maybe she was an illusion? A divine message from the gods or God or the Lifestream that seemed to rule the world in Final Fantasy VII. Or maybe I was still a little high?
It’s probably better anyways. I’ve never been good in a relationship. I’m clingy, selfish, and obsessive. What reasonable woman would want to be with a writer anyways? Our model for the societies we create stem from the people we are the closest with. I can’t keep expecting someone to love me if I immortalize and hyperbolize all of their flaws in front of everyone.
On the floor next to the chair I saw the same book of Shakespeare’s sonnets that the Red-haired Pixie once held. Unable to resist reading my favorite, I opened the book to Sonnet 116 and whispered the last lines aloud, “If this be error, and upon me proved, I never writ, nor no man ever loved.” Some part of me knew I was destined to be a writer when I first read that verse. It echoed everything I ever felt about how to love and, for a lingering moment, I remembered why still I need to write about the woman I’ve loved or could love. That feeling – that soul-encompassing yearning – needs to be saved so it can last forever.
“That’s my favorite sonnet too.” A voice from behind me ran through my ears like an ethereal shiver.
I stood up and turned around to see the Pixie approaching my chair.
“Although, I’ve never read it out loud to no one at a bookstore” she laughed. “I’m Lauren.”
She had a name.
But for some reason I remained mute. Every fiber of my being screamed for my closed lips to part, to say anything, to utter one fateful sound. All I could manage, however, was the same bashful smile that has plagued my existence since my inception. I was in agony. I was exhilarated. I was quiet.
“I‘m going to go downstairs, get a coffee and do some reading. Maybe we can talk about the book.” She looked me up and down in apparent earnest.
In a sheer moment of terrifying bliss, I acted.
“Yeah.” I stammered. Fuck, I stammered.