The light keeps flickering an intermittent pattern so slightly forceful that it pulls my attention from the computer whenever I type more than five words. Five words. I can’t write more than five words before a delusional fantasy binge takes my mind in an entirely different direction. And the fact that this $4.00 scone tastes like it was made eight years ago doesn’t help.
My laptop mocks me 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; it’s cold, I’m alone, and I just don’t belong here. No matter how hard I push forward, the cursor keeps blinking, 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 orange juice and a dry English pastry. How do these other shmucks do it? Look at them, with their headphones on, pounding away with their fingers, sipping their lattes, chais, and other 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 and 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 everything that’s been working? But on a Sunday sitting in a bookstore, watching them enter hand-in-hand and browse books, order Frappuccinos, and be happy, it reminds me of a time that once felt nice. Something I didn’t think I could picture anymore, after her.
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 sat at the table to my right. I was trying my hardest not to blatantly eavesdrop on them.
“You never know how much you miss your mother until your wife dies.” The one old man 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?”
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 cared for me like that.”
Their conversation inspired me to write a little bit of not-worthy-to-post poetry but, also, it made me question everything. Was I missing out on a significant part of life by not trying to find a relationship?
For the next hour I found myself picturing what a relationship would be like, or end like, with each woman who 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 dried 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 sex would be hot the first couple of times, I’d slowly get suspicious that the hoodie was spending too much time attending to every bartender we’d bring back. After an awkward amount of encounters, 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. I wasn’t this way before – before Natilie. Before the fighting, the jealousy, the lies, the lack of trust. There was a time when I was the guy I thought I could be. Someone who listened. Someone who encouraged. Someone who loved without holding back. There was a time, before everything unraveled, that I was me. But, amidst the late nights, the beer bottles and the other questionable health choices, I can’t keep wondering one thing. Who am I now?
At that moment a Star Wars collectable figure flung under my booth, slamming into my bag. My head sunk below the table to pick it up. When I rose, 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. “My cousin has a birthday and I had to get her something.” Eventually she 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 regrettable 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. 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. 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 counting the seconds till I’d be considered inconspicuous; 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 managed 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? Slowly, 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.
The flickering light from the coffee house stole my attention for a second and, when I looked up, across the second floor, 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. Resigned, I sat in one of the lounge chairs overlooking the parking lot and decompressed from the previous jaunt. Maybe she was an illusion? Was she 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?
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. That everything I ever knew to be true was in some way fated.
“That’s my favorite sonnet too.” A voice from behind me ran through my ears like an ethereal shiver.
I stood 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 downstairs to 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.