Royal: A Typewriter Story

I feel I should offer a few disclaimers before you read the following story:

  1. I do not drink, but apparently the narrator does.
  2. I love typewriters and mean no offense.
  3. No cats were harmed in the making of this story.

Royal

December 23, 2017

It was an impulse buy, totally impractical as demonstrated by the fact that I am typing this on my laptop instead of the metallic clunkers of the aforesaid impulse buy.

But I’ve been suffering writer’s block for some time now and even during short periods of creative constipation (my wife hates the term, but it makes me chuckle) I tend to be reckless, spontaneous. Thank God that Susan has a steady job and, better, an even head.

But this bout of writer’s block is the worst yet. It’s been nearly six months since I’ve written anything worth sharing. The only words I’ve penned are those such as I’m scribbling now: the exaggerated ravings of my private journal. Usually I just use it to jot down ideas I don’t want to lose; it serves as overflow control for the ideas that bubble up in my brain.

But since July the pages once tattooed with colorful bursts of inspiration have devolved into rants about my vacant mind. There seems to be a wall between me and ideas worth writing and this wall seems to be made of blank, white pages. Funny, though, these white pages used to be a source of wonder for me, like a fresh snowfall just waiting to be traipsed through and molded into snowmen and forts. But now, I cannot bear the cold of these empty pages, for I am armed with no thoughts of how to shape them. I’ve run out of the childlike boldness that lead me once to rush headlong into the snow and feel I have become pragmatic (Susan still disagrees) and reserved. No dangerous ideas for me, thank you very much. I am being forced into retirement ten years early, it seems.

Susan would say I am overreacting. “Every artist has a dry spell,” she says. “It’s like the weather; it can’t always rain.”

Her words are comforting, falling gently in her lilting mezzo, but I can’t agree with her. Every artist has a dry spell, but not me. Even Beethoven took breaks to walk through the natural world, pondering and refreshing his mind after explosive productivity. But I’ve never needed such times of refreshment, for I only am at rest when I am doing what I was made to do: write.

Hence, the impulse buy.

There’s an antique store downtown that’s served as the setting for more than one of my stories. Something about the musty air there breathes ideas, much like the dust of an old library is thick with words. I was wandering about under the pretense of doing some Christmas shopping. (Funny, I know. Susan always takes care of that and anything I get her is promptly returned under the guise of “not fitting quite right,” even when what I bought is not clothing.) But, even so, I spent the better part of the afternoon pacing outside of the shop and the better part of the evening wandering around inside it, conscience of the fact that closing time was soon but no particularly caring. After all, my short story, “The Shop,” increased their business enough that the manager can hardly object to my prolonged presence. For all he knew, I was dreaming up another bestseller to boost patronage.

I was not.

Finally, even the hopes for increased shoppers and income could not keep the manager away from his family any longer. (It was the night before Christmas Eve, after all; the preparations were beyond those of a wife alone and all husbands realize that, while they might not do it correctly, they are at least expected to offer help with the holiday preparations.)

“Sir,” he greeted. “Can I help you find anything?”

It was a polite way of asking if he could help me find the door.

“No, thank you,” I replied, continuing to browse the crackling spines of long-abandoned books. It always encouraged and disheartened me to find books in an antique store; on one hand, these works endured for decades and even centuries, but on the other hand, they were long abandoned as reading and had fossilized into vintage decor. It is at once every author’s dream and nightmare and I am fascinated every time.

The manager watched me for a moment, his mouth opening and closing like a fish.

“Any recommendations?” I asked, to break the silence. He breathed a sigh of relief and I expected him to recommend that I check out the pub across the street. Rather, he nodded and disappeared around the shelves. I followed, finding him standing beside a sight so odd I was disappointed in myself for not having noticed it earlier. After all, writers specialize in oddities. (Susan often jokes that this is because writers are oddities. I quite agree with her.)

Before me, the manager stood beside an enormous birdcage made of cast iron. It’s bars were thicker than those of a typical birdcage and my mind suggested at once the image of an enormous raptor roosting in it; no harmless sparrow or lark would need such a barrier. It was a cage made to house a vulture. And then, I noticed what it held: a heavy black beast rested inside bearing lettered teeth and a crest of yellowed paper. On its flat, metal jaw was the emblem: Royal.

“A fine typewriter, I do say,” said the manager.

“It certainly is,” I agreed. I stared at it and had the eery feeling that it was staring back. Being in a birdcage made it feel alive. My fingers twitched. Used to the ease of my laptop’s keyboard, they were aching for a challenge. I could already feel them digging into the weighty keys of the typewriter, could hear the clackity-clack of their action and the chipper bell announcing that I ought to reset the page. I should note that I have never actually used a typewriter, but it is a truth universally acknowledged that all the true writers have at some time or another craved to try.

“It’s a bargain, really,” the manager was saying, but before he could finish, I’d opened my wallet and then waited as he extracted the typewriter from its prison.

“Why was it in there?” I asked simply to make conversation; there is nor ever has been any rhyme or reason to the displays in that marvelous shop.  This very lack of order is what makes it such a great honeypot of inspiration.

“Oh,” he gave off a chuckle, “he’s a fearsome beastie, that Royal.”

I laughed and took the boxed-up typewriter, the door jingling merrily as it swung shut behind me and the manager releasing a sigh of relief and already dialing up his wife to apologize for the delay.

 

December 25, 2017

Merry Christmas, indeed! An idea has dawned and shines like the star we sing of in church. I woke this morning before the break of dawn, something I have not done since our children were home and young and overeager to unwrap Santa’s gifts.

But I woke and felt immediately that this Christmas was something to greet with the excitement of a child. Something was going to happen, was already happening. I just needed to be awake to witness it.

I lay still, Susan’s ever-even breathing beside me, wondering what it was that I felt was to happen. After twenty minutes, I felt silly. What did I think would happen? Was I expecting there to arise a clatter on the rooftop? To spring from my bed to see what was the matter? I started reciting this cheesy Christmas poem to myself as I fell back into a doze.

But then, I did hear something. But it was not a clatter. It was a clackity-clack. Believe it or not, there is a difference between onomatopoeias; I’ve read enough children’s books in my time as a parent to know.

I sucked in my breath, waiting. The noise fell silent, but I knew I did not imagine it. Braving the cold air, I tiptoed to my office where the typewriter sat in its box, unopened, a Christmas gift to myself. I listened, but heard nothing but the ringing of silence. I could tell by the cold and this crystalline silence that it had snowed overnight.

I peeled open the box. The typewriter sat nestled among tissue paper just as the store manager had wrapped it. I took it from the box and set it on my desk beside my charging laptop. It was silent. Though the air was still, the yellowed paper left by a long-lost writer waved a ghostly greeting.

I squinted at the paper. The ink was faded, but there were certainly words there. I flicked on the light and held the page up to it. I could barely make it out,  but when I did, I cried out in delight. There, printed on the page who knows how long ago was my next idea. I have no qualms over taking it, though it was surely dreamed up and written by some author past. He or she is long gone based on the yellowing of the page and I am a mind in need of ideas, in need of words. And there, before me in the light of Christmas morning, the words have come.

I had never hummed Christmas carols with more vigor than I did this morning, flipping open my laptop and pounding away, writing three thousand words of a story before I heard Susan’s alarm sound. Oh, glorious day! Oh, happy impulse buy! A word has been born again in my mind, though it was written first ages ago.

 

January 1, 2018

I have scarcely left my office since Christmas. The festivities over, I locked myself inside with a cup of coffee and no blankets (I write best chilled). Bless Susan. She always remembers to bring me refills on coffee and make sure I eat every couple hours… I really need to do something nice for her once I cash in this story. It’s going to be my best yet; I can feel it in my soul as I pound away at the feather-light keys of my laptop.

I rejoice, a writer restored to creativity, and it is no chore to write the story that dances in my imagination. In fact, to write it is the most natural thing in the world to me. That’s why not writing, not dreaming up ideas, was so painful; it goes against my entire nature as a sub-creator. But I am restored. A few faded words on an old typewriter have revived my lazy mind and I am back in the race, streaking past the word count for a novella in record time. I could make this a full-length novel someday. But for now, I must submit it to my editor before she loses faith in my productivity.

I am at rest as I do the work I was born to do. Susan understands and that is what makes us such a good pair. I am wild, spontaneous, and dark, whereas she is calm, practical, and optimistic. But we both agree that one cannot be comfortable unless doing the work one was born to do. And so she balances her work as a professor of mathematics and I power my way through another bestseller.

But I digress.

This will be a killer little book, not just because it is about a little killer. Rather morbid for an idea born on Christmas, but I like it nonetheless. I look fondly at the typewriter as I scribble out this journal entry. It grins back at me with its toothy keys and I cannot suppress a shudder.
Perhaps it is too cold in here.

I glanced back at the typewriter just now and a gruesome image of it licking its black lips crossed my mind. I should laugh. It’s such a ridiculous idea. Besides, I have better things to think about than freakish fancies: I am writing a marvelous little book and what better way to begin the New Year than with a new creation?

 

January  25, 2018

I’ve been too long absent from my journal, but I have been in the same writing craze as I was when last I wrote. But now I am finished and the manuscript is bundled neatly and en route to my editor. I’ve never written anything so good so quickly and I am shaken. I can scarcely believe it. But I can at last breathe a sigh of contentment, knowing now that my creative dry spell was a temporary trial and perhaps even lead to this great rush of words.

Susan and I went out to dinner for the first time in a month. I listened to her talk about the university and plans for a new math and science center, but I admit I was distracted. As we walked downtown searching for a restaurant, we passed the antique shop and I was set to thinking about the typewriter. I wrote my novella on my laptop and my journal I write by hand, but I feel I owe the typewriter for the idea that revived my spirit. It was the messenger of the words that inspired me, after all.

I could easily restock its paper supply, but where to purchase ribbon? And does it need any maintenance? Why bother…I wouldn’t actually type on it. Not seriously, anyway. But it could be fun to fiddle with now and again.

As soon as we returned home, I went online and ordered several different kinds of typewriter ribbon as well as a repair kit, just in case. I could use a hobby, I told myself, to excuse the money spent.

“Soon you’ll be good as new!” I said, patting the Royal on its iron top. It clicked as I touched and I jerked my hand away. Then I laughed at myself for doing so. It’s just a typewriter and not even a working one.

 

February 1, 2018

My editor’s feedback was excellent. Usually  my manuscripts return red-penned and gory, looking like victims of some great grammarian battle. But she didn’t even return it this time. Instead, she called me up and asked if she might just forward it to the publisher.

I thought it a prank. This never happens. Not even the best writers get away without a number of revisions. I look at the typewriter as if it is somehow responsible, but know that’s ridiculous.

“Sure,” I said, not wanting to press her. Not wanting to look a gift horse in the mouth, as the old saying goes.

“Terrific,” she said. “This is without a doubt your best work yet, Brad. Keep it up.”

“Thanks,” I said before hanging up. My jaw is still hanging open.

I spent the rest of the day drinking and tinkering with the typewriter. It’s great fun to pound away at its keys, but I am so slow at it I know I’ll never write anything serious on it. Still, I feel like a real writer when I kick back with a drink in one hand and typewriter keys under the other.

What am I saying? I am a real writer! Perhaps I need to cut myself off for now.

 

February 15, 2018

Two weeks. It’s been two weeks and I’m ready for another idea. Oh yes, and Valentine’s Day was yesterday. That was nice, as usual.

But an idea. I was alright to take those two weeks off in light of the news from my editor, but now I’m rearing to get back into the race. Until I think of something, I’ll fiddle with the typewriter some more.

 

February 16, 2018

Hurrah! An idea struck not five minutes after I penned those last words yesterday. Not another novella- it’s too soon to launch into a bigger project anyway- but a nice short story. And by ‘nice,’ I naturally  mean ‘horrifying and thought-provoking,’ but those are ultimately the same thing.

And you’ll never believe where the idea came from! The typewriter! I was idly skimming the words I’d typed last on it when I saw at the bottom a line I do not remember writing. But I must have…after all, I’d had a couple too many Poe family eggnogs before last I pounded at its keys. It took barely three minutes for me to read the words, imagine a plot, and open a new document.

Now, not six hours later, I have a revised and chilling product. I love it. Oh, being in love with one of your creations is the most wonderful feeling. I always understand the opening chapters of Genesis best when I have just produced something I can proclaim “very good.”

Thank you, typewriter, for holding onto an idea I might otherwise have forgotten amidst multiple cups of eggnog. When I went just now to pat it in thanks, I could swear I saw it’s keys shift. I must have accidentally pressed something, but I still felt a shiver down my spine. In that moment, it was eerily resemblant of a beast baring its teeth.

But no, my mind is just in a whimsical state. As I look now, it is the same chunk of still metal that it was before.

No more eggnog for me! But I can’t help being a little giddy off my own ideas, now, can I?

 

February 20, 2018

I woke to a piece of good news and a piece of unfortunate news. The good news is that my novella is already at the top of the publisher’s list and will be on its way into the world in record time. The bad news…

My laptop is broken. There is a massive crack across the base of the keyboard. I heard a crash last night and thought perhaps a shelf had fallen off the wall, but when I checked in the morning, everything appeared in order. Everything, that is, except for the cracked laptop. The typewriter was disturbed too, though whatever caused the breakage must not have been able to hurt the iron of the Royal. I reset the typewriter and am scheduled to have my laptop repaired as soon as possible.

But what could have caused this?

 

February 21, 2018

When I went to retrieve my laptop this morning to take it in for repairs, I was met with a horrific sight. It lay spreadeagled on the floor, like a book whose covers have been splayed and torn. The repairman said it was beyond fixing, though the crack I found yesterday would have been alright.

I asked Susan if she had perhaps bumped it, but both of us know that’s unlikely as I’ve always been the clumsy one and she has never so much as chipped a glass. Our cat has not entered my office since the allergy fiasco three years ago. I have nobody but myself to blame. I suppose I left it balanced precariously on the desk…

I went back into the office to investigate just now and, as before, nothing was amiss. Nothing besides the Royal, which had shifted slightly from the place I remember it. But I clearly cannot trust my memory to be exact. When I moved it back in place, I rediscovered words I must have typed on it last time I was fiddling with it in a fit of idleness. The words were chilling and, not surprisingly, I do not remember composing them, but I will take credit and employ them in a horror story soon enough.

 

February 24, 2018

Speaking of horror, the past few days have been terrible. I woke on the 23rd to find my journal in tatters! It was clamped under the metal jaws of the Royal and for a split second I was inspired by the thought that the typewriter looked exactly like a predator and my poor journal its prey, pages fluttering limply like the wings of a slain bird.

But the fancy faded as I realized the extent of the damage. All but the final page upon which I had written had been slashed and torn in the most awful manner. I blamed the cat, much to Susan’s protests that Millicent had not been anywhere near my office, and tossed her (the cat- not Susan) unceremoniously out into the muddy snow.

I’d better lock the office door. Millicent is too smart for her own good and one more act of destruction will lead to hers…

 

February 26, 2018

My last prediction, scribbled on some spare scraps of paper in the absence of my dearly departed journal, came true.

Susan, usually so calm and collected, has been inconsolable. Millicent (too smart for her own good, I said!) found her way into the office and managed to pull the Royal typewriter off the desk, right down on top of her, crushing her small ribcage. Susan doesn’t believe this is possible, but I see no other explanation. Irritating as her fur might have been to my eyes and nose, I never hated the feline enough to plot her demise! 

Well, I must go begin digging a small grave for poor Millie. But with Susan glaring at me from her teary eyes, I feel a little as if the grave were my own.

 

March 1, 2018

Things are looking up. I’ve been writing these journal entries on loose-leaf paper, but will purchase a binder soon. I’ve discarded of Millicent’s things and Susan seems slightly less upset. My new laptop is set to be delivered tomorrow evening.

And that’s not a moment too soon! I’ve been tampering with the Royal and whenever I return to read the words I’ve typed mindlessly, I find a new story idea brewing! I do fear that my memory is becoming lax, though, for I don’t often remember the story ideas that I later return to love.

But I’ll just let Susan know and take whatever vitamins she recommends without complaining. I am content, after all, for it seems my creative block has been lifted and ideas just flow and flow and flow.

Oh, how thankful I am for this impulse buy. As I write this, I glance occasionally over at the Royal, even stopping to pat its cold head as if it were a cat. This makes me laugh, though I cannot tell poor Susan: Who needs a cat when you have a beastie like this typewriter?

Funny, I can almost hear it purring. My imagination is such fun, much more fun than a snappy memory.

 

March 2, 2018

I fell asleep in my office, writing away by hand at an idea that I was particularly struck by. But I woke feeling that I had been struck by more than an idea. Not only did I have a pounding headache (Susan confirms that there is a lump on my skull she cannot account for) but my writing hand was squashed beneath the Royal.

How did I manage this in my sleep? Unless Susan decided to change her entire character and begin playing gruesome pranks, I believe I ought to see a sleep specialist. It seems perhaps Millicent was innocent and I might have a critical case of sleep walking.

 

March 4, 2018

It’s getting difficult to write. My writing hand did not hurt terribly at first, but it has swollen tremendously. Thankfully my new laptop is here so I can type again.

 

March 6, 2018

This is Susan. I am dictating for my husband, whose hand is out of commission. He blames the Royal, but I blame too little sleep and too much frantic writing late at night under the influence. He says not to write that. Too late. Sorry, dear. It’s not often I get to put my perspective in words and I’m enjoying this a bit more than I ought.

I put the Royal on the top shelf in the office, out of the way. I think it’s becoming an obsession and that it is not quite healthy. The hubby says that’s not true. He also says he hates the term “hubby,” but last I checked, I’m the one with the pen in hand so I get to decide the wording for once.

 

March 8, 2018

A full day away from writing was a torture only a little worse than listening to Susan write in my journal. I could not suffer either again and so am writing- painstakingly- with my left hand. Must use shorter sentences. That hurt.

But I can type.

And have an idea.

So type I shall.

 

March 9, 2018

It’s the wee hours. Been typing all night. Susan asleep next door. Office clock ticking. Want a drink. And sleep. Almost done with story.

Heard a noise. Like clackity-clack. Ha. Clackity. Hard to write with left hand. Kind of fun.

Sounds like a typewriter. Weird.

Did the Royal shift? It’s on the shelf just up there, above my head. Still there, barely over the edge.

Over the edge…

Oh dear.

I can almost imagine it falling and crushing me…like poor Millie. Chomping down on my neck…like my poor journal. Cracking my bones…like the laptop.

But that’s ridiculous. Silly.

It’s there, though. I can see it now.

Over the edge…

Over…

O-!

Unravel

The irony is that I was unable to write this story for several months due to the demands of the everyday… enjoy! 😉

 

Unravel

Not another! she thought, plucking at a thread on her favorite navy blue jumper. It hurt her to pull on it, she was so fond of the old sweater. With a sigh, she tucked the mutinous thread back into the cuff of her sleeve. She could get away with at least a few more days of wear if she just didn’t make it worse.

The thread still poked out of her sleeve, casting a hairlike shadow over her exposed wrist. Even the shadow of it seemed the same navy color as the sweater itself. She squinted at it.

A scratch? Her declawed cat yawned innocently at her from across the room.

Ink?

Ink.

She laughed, fingering the Pilot G-2 gel pens (the only acceptable pen for writing, in her opinion) that sprouted from her pencil cup like a bouquet of blue and black flowerless stems. There were a few red poppies for editing sprinkled in between.

She clicked an old G-2 blue, the small sound echoing in the still room. The clip was broken off and the grip worn down to almost bear her fingerprints. A few shallow bite marks from either boredom or contemplation scarred its top. It was a loyal pen and something in her hand and heart relaxed as her fingers curved around it.

Oh! it was so tempting…

A fresh journal lay beside the pencil cup, its covers closed demurely yet the alluring white of its pages peeking out like petticoats.

Oh, falsely-shy journal! It was flirting with the pens!

Now, there was an idea, she thought. Suggestive yet sweet…it would make a delicious poem.

Without realizing it, the writer drew the journal across the desk toward herself. Catching her breath in anticipation, she peeled open the covers, relishing the sticky, creaky sound of an unopened book, when-

No! shouted a voice. That is, if voices that only exist in one’s head can shout.

What do you think you are doing?

Although audible only in the writer’s mind, it felt to her as if the voice were speaking from the planner that lay open on the center of the desk. Its covers, a gaudy pink, beckoned shamelessly, demanding attention and spreading its pages wide, boldly revealing ribbons of to-do lists, fake jewels of unchecked boxes, and tattoos of scribbled dates and numbers.

Look here! it called. Do you see all that’s written in me? Why write fancies anew when there’s so much to do!

It taunted her in rhyme, that imagined sing-song voice of her brazen planner.
But it convinced her all the same.

With a resigned sigh, the writer slid the disappointed journal aside and turned to study the planner, which seemed to blossom with pride.

To-do, to-see, to-call, to…, to… , to… she muttered. Between each “to,” she took a large swig of coffee, not even pausing to grimace at its cold bitterness. Only a few weeks ago, she would have been savoring a cappuccino in a cozy cafe, turning espresso into expression as she wrote the day away.

But not now! No. Now it was only black coffee to get the job done. Bitter, strong, and quick. Like her. Down it went and off she went. She rose and was out the door, planner in hand and gloating at the abandoned journal, before the final drop of coffee reached her throat.

When that last drop reached her stomach, two things were forgotten: the scorned journal that yet waited for her and the pulled thread on her sweater, which, hidden up her sleeve, was growing longer by the minute.

__________

Out! Out I say! The writer scrubbed vigorously at the dark line of navy ink on her left wrist, inadvertently channeling the spirit of Lady Macbeth as she wrestled with her own “damned spot.”

Why would it not come off? The shower, usually an everyday School of Athens for the introspective soul, provided no answers. She scrubbed at the stain until her skin was raw, but it only seemed to stretch further, winding around her arm and up towards her collarbone like a long, wet hair.

She gagged at the simile and began to worry about this seemingly permanent stain. And then her worry turned to wonder. It is, after all, the business of a writer to convert fearful “what ifs” into sources of intrigue; they lead to the best stories.

Soon she found herself lost in just such a story. The inexplicable, growing ink stain was forgotten once more as she explored a host of what-ifs that would have driven any non-writer mad.

She laughed at this.

The thoughts of a writer would drive a sane person mad, she shook her wet head. Not at all! A writer is a sane person driven mad and enjoying it quite heartily.

She rinsed her hair and sank back into wonder at her own imagination, not noticing that one of the hairs she rinsed was not a hair at all, but a winding blue thread.

An alarm shook her from her reverie. Slapping a wet hand over her phone on the counter, she stumbled into dry clothes- never mind that her hair was still crinkly with shampoo and her mind still lost in a brainstorm. The alarm, the bugle cry of her planner, had sounded and she must to arms! Or, at least, to-do lists. Wandering through wonderings would have to wait.

She jammed her ink-lined arm into her faithful sweater and, gasping as the autumn air nipped at her wet scalp, stepped out into the real world to begin her daily race of classes and errands and work. The chilled air and burdensome weight of reality warded off any lingering twinklings of inspiration. She did not even notice that the thread of her sweater and the ink on her skin were stretching and intertwining themselves like a double-headed snake.

She was a student by trade and a writer in spirit. She went to university classes to succeed, but wrote to survive. Words were her sustenance and product, the very stuff of her soul.

But time and cold practicality have little use for the substance of souls, especially those of the poetic material. So to class she went, shielded by a planner and marching alongside people who talked too much and read too little.

Stifling a yawn and planning her best route to the campus coffee shop for pick-me-up number three, the writer endured her first lecture of the day. She passed the time fidgeting with her pen, her fingers dancing like a baton twirler as her mind juggled her massive list of tasks, prioritizing and categorizing and thoroughly boring her into a daze.

But twirl and juggle as she might, she dared not touch the brand new Pilot pen to her notebook for anything other than bulleting lecture notes in uninspired print. Cursive and complete sentences were just too alluring…

She was startled into alertness by a change in the professor’s tone. His pitch sharpened and his words were accelerating. It turned suddenly from a monotonous, bagpipe-like drone to the exhilaration of a Dvorak symphony. How had she never heard his passion before? Her ears prickled and her mind whirred into action.

She was captivated. How had she not seen it before? That her professor was the epitome of the quirky, scholastic archetype? The soldier-straight busy work that passed for her notes veered sideways into looping script as she launched into a character sketch. But then-

“Your assignment is…” said the professor, droning once more.

The writer’s heart sank as her pen’s dancing died with the music of the professor’s impassioned speech. It returned to its steady, uninteresting procession as she recorded yet another task to complete, another deadline to meet.

Class was dismissed. She rose to leave, but gasped as the snag of her sweater caught on a rough edge of the old desk. She heard it rip as it stretched longer and felt a tear leap into her eye. Why had it hurt? Had she imagined that it hurt?

Carefully, she untangled the thread from the splintered desk and tucked it back up her sleeve. It was almost too long to hide now. As she pushed it out of sight, the ink stain caught her vision as the desk had caught the snag. Was it darker than before? And where was the hole in her sweater? But then the sight of her watch, ticking away her all-too-short lunch break sent her out the door without a second glance.

__________

Not again! shrieked the writer, wincing in pain as if she had received the worst paper cut she had ever had- and, being a writer, she had had many.  She reached down to unhook her sweater from the knob of her bedroom door, pushing her glasses up her nose, scrutinized the sleeve for the hole that must certainly have grown larger.

But there was no hole in the sweater. It looked brand new- albeit a bit faded from over a year of near-constant wear.

She pushed up her sleeve.

The ink line was still there, but thicker. It almost looked like a vein that had lost its place and was making its way to the surface. She rubbed it and cringed. An ink stain should not hurt.

She rolled her eyes at herself. It didn’t hurt. She was imagining things.

She pressed at it again, but this time a sharp pain sent stars across her vision. She cried out.

Her cat brushed against her leg, meowing in what she imagined was concern but knew was just annoyance that he had yet to be fed. He meowed indignantly.

Blinking back tears, she reached down and booped him on his pink nose. Patience, cat. Just one more assignment to submit, one more email to send.

He hissed. What cares had a cat for deadlines? He pawed at her hand.

Not now.

Meow?

Not now. Meow. Not now. Meow. The rhyming words and sound echoed in her mind as she scanned her planner. It was the closest thing to poetry she had been able to write all month. She felt a pang in her chest at the realization.

The cat must have felt a similar pang in his stomach, for he welcomed himself onto the desk, pawing at her hand and knocking the G-2 from her grasp. She ignored him. He was not to be ignored. He pawed at her wrist.

Good thing he’s declawed- might have snagged my sweater again, she thought absently.

The cat let out his most pitiful meow and nudged her writing hand with his nose again. He opened his mouth to protest once more, but it was her scream that filled the room. 

The thread was caught on his collar. It pulled. She watched it lengthen through vision blurred with tears. Why, oh why, did it hurt?

She fumbled to unhook it from his collar, but her movement startled him and the cat leapt from the desk, taking the caught thread with him. It pulled longer, yet the sweater remained in tact. She squinted down at her sleeve, baffled.

And then she saw – too late.

The pulled thread and the ink stain. The wandering vein. One and the same.

But the color was all wrong. It was navy at first, but then black like her hair and then speckled with the red of revising, the red of poppies…the red of her blood.

Blinding pain followed by a bizarre sense of release cut across her body as the cat drew the thread around the room. She felt for it and, grabbing it, pulled. Unsure what she was doing, she pulled the thread for what felt like forever, feeling it continue to stretch and grow like a magician’s scarf.

But it was not a scarf. It was not even a thread. And it was most definitely- she knew that now- not coming from her sleeve.

The horrid thought struck her as more and more poppy red flashed across her star-studded vision: it was not the sweater that was unravelling.

But it was too late to stop. She could not stop. Like picking a scab. She knew it was wrong, that it would not end well, but there was a morbid satisfaction in it. And so she continued to pull at the strand until it came to an end and was abruptly cut off and she, in snapping her own thread, had acted as her own Fate.

But she was no longer there to enjoy that poetic realization.

__________

The planner’s to-do lists sat as forlorn as the untouched journal, busy mistress and lonely maiden united in their abandonment. The bouquet of pens said useless and wilting.

The watch and alarm continued to tick away the minutes, but there was nobody but the cat to hear them. And what cares a cat for deadlines? He simply wanted his dinner, but was placated- for now- by his new toy. He had made it for himself- wasn’t he clever?- out of a loose thread. It was not quite as nice as a ball of yarn, but a pile of blue and red and black thread was just as interesting to a kitten; it felt just as nice batted between his soft paws.

His playtime was interrupted by a knock on the door.

“Rae? called a voice. “You in there?”

“Meow,” answered the cat.

“Not you,” laughed the voice, entering the room and wondering aloud where her roommate was. She’d missed dinner.

“Do you know where Rae is?” she asked the cat playfully, giving him a scratch behind his velvety ears.

He meowed innocently, continuing to tangle his paws in the mess of thread.

“Oh dear,” muttered the roommate. “She left her sweater behind!”

She picked up the sweater which lay crumped on the desk chair and folded it neatly before turning her attention back to the cat.

“What is it you’ve got there?” she reached down to untangle him from his creation. He bristled indignantly and strode out of the room.

She studied the pile of thread she held in her hands but then abruptly let it fall to the ground again as she felt a liquid seep from it onto her skin.

Bending down, she examined it. Were those-

They were.

Was it-

It was.

As she carefully fingered the thread, she saw that it was bent in unusual shapes- letters, words- strung together in a cursive script she knew all too well.

And the moist residue. It was ink. And something worse than ink. Navy, black, and red gel ink from the pens that were always scattered around the apartment.

She took a step back, staring in horror at the pile of thread on the floor. She could not bring herself to read the words written in the inky remains, but she knew whose they were.

A non-writing writer is a monster courting insanity.

She recalled a quote Rae had shared with her just a few days ago.

A non-writing writer is bound to unravel.

On the Platform

hebden-bridge-station-02

“Are you waiting for someone, miss?”

      “Yes.”

      “Would you prefer to sit in the waiting room?”

      “No thank you.”

      She had been sitting there for quite some time and the train station master was beginning to wonder if she was really waiting for anyone at all. She certainly appeared to be expecting someone, though. Her hair was immaculate despite the journey and several curls were pinned back in a simple yet fetching style. Her blouse and skirt were smoothly-pressed and not a stain in sight, as was her coat. Her pearl necklace and brooch were rather at odds with the costume-jewelry trends of modern fashion, but they became her and leant an attractive grace to her as she sat with head held high (but not to the point of being too high and thus prideful) and shoulders back. The only part of her appearance that did not seem to be well-groomed were her shoes. They must once have been as proper and pretty as the rest of her, but were now were scuffed and muddy as though she had marched through treacherous woodland trails rather than taken a train to London. But she paid no mind. Perhaps she had been through a difficult journey, but she had kept the rest of her personage neat and respectable and now she was waiting.

      And waiting.

      And waiting.

      Another hour passed and she had barely moved a muscle. The station master was beginning to be impatient for her and wondered how anyone could have the strength to sit so still for so long without so much as a word of complaint. His stomach growled and he checked his watch. It was lunchtime, but he could not leave her unattended. The rest of the passengers had vacated the platform long ago. If she would just go sit in the waiting room instead, he could go get a bite at the pub across the street. He could smell the aroma of frying fish and chips through the mixture of train steam and cheap coffee.  

      “Miss?” he asked.

      “Yes?” she turned to face him with a soft smile that almost concealed the wariness of her soul. So there was a weakness, he thought with surprise. His heart softened and he adopted a gentler tone.

      “It seems that whoever you are waiting for is late, so if you would care to follow me to-”

      “No, he isn’t,” she interrupted.

      “Pardon?”

      “He is not late. It simply appears that I am early.”

      “Early for what?”

      “An important meeting. You might say the most important meeting of my life and hopefully of his.” Her lips twitched in a humorous little grin before melting once more into her soft, vague smile.

      “Alright…” the station master’s stomach rumbled again. “Well, if you wouldn’t mind moving indoors, I need to clear the platform…”

      “You can go to lunch. I won’t do anything dreadful and I am quite safe here under this light.”

      It was as if she had read his mind. Or perhaps she had just heard the continued gurgling of his stomach. Was she hungry too? He wondered, but the lure of food pushed the thought from his mind.

      “Alright, well…I’ll be back soon.” He left with reluctance, hoping his manager would not realize his absence and her presence. He glanced back at her, but she was sitting facing forward as usual, focused on watching for whomever it was she was meeting.

      An hour later, the station master returned, but he had not been able to eat as much as he had expected. An inexplicable concern for the woman on the platform had dulled his appetite. He clutched a doggy bag in one hand.

      “Miss?”

      She turned to him once more, the soft smile seemed a little slow in coming to her mouth. Her eyes looked tired. Were those tears? Surely not. Just a trick of the light. “Yes?” There was a waver to her voice. Perhaps they were tears.

      “I thought perhaps you were hungry,” he said, offering the bag. He was baffled at himself for saying that. He had not intended to bring her food and it was only his leftovers that he held out to her.

      “Thank you,” she said. He thought he saw her eyes brighten a bit. “I was actually rather hungry.” She opened the bag and took a few dainty bites of the fish and chips, thanking him again.

      “No trouble at all,” he muttered, scooching back toward his post.

      “Would you like to sit?” she offered before he had made it far. She gestured to the empty space beside her, as hospitable as a queen in her palace though just a young woman at a train station.

      “Oh, sure,” he said with a shrug. He was not sure why he felt compelled to join her, just as he had not understood why he had given her the food, but he sat down as if automatically and mirrored her perfect posture.

      “I’m Leah,” she said, extending a hand.

      “Jake,” he said, taking it carefully. Her grip was unexpectedly firm as they shook hands and she looked him in the eye as she spoke. So there was a confidence beneath her soft appearance, he thought. Interesting.

      “So, Leah,” he said. He liked the way her name felt as he said it. It was like a breath of ocean air, fresh. As much at odds with their grimy and common surroundings as she was. “Who are you waiting for?”

      “I don’t know his name,” she said.

      “Oh,” he said, caught off guard. “What does he look like? I can at least keep an eye out for him.”

      “I don’t know that either, but I would like to think that he has kind eyes.” She glanced into his eyes and her cheeks blushed pastel as she returned to scanning the platform as another train zoomed to a halt and passengers gushed from its doors.

      “Kind eyes…that helps,” he said, thinking perhaps the woman did not have her wits completely about her.

      “I’m sorry,” she said. “I wish there was more I knew that I could tell you. I wish there was more I knew that I could tell myself.”

      “You know nothing of this man?”

      “I didn’t say that,” she said, starting and turning to face him once more. “I said I did not know his name or what he looked like, but I know about him. I know that he is strong and caring and smart and hard-working and hopefully has something of a sense of humor. And I know that eventually I will meet him. I just thought perhaps it would be here and perhaps it would be today. Maybe I was wrong about the time but I was not wrong about him. Wherever he is, he is all of those things and our journeys will reach their common end.”

      “Where did you come from?” the station master asked, ignoring the woman’s talk. He was not sure he understood it anyway. “You’re sitting at a train station, but-”

      “My shoes?” she finished. “Yes, they’re filthy and worn, but I had not the heart to change them. I felt I should be presentable with the rest of my appearance, but these shoes have been with me since the beginning of my journey here and I did not have the courage to change them and continue this path in different shoes since I did not know for certain if today would really be the end.”

      “Interesting,” he said. His mind was working to make sense of her statements, but while he did not grasp the full significance of her situation, he understood the sentiment behind it. After all, he’d been wearing the same shoes for years and they’d been second hand to begin with, but they had become part of his life of walking up and down the platform day after day. To change them would be to change that.

      Jake sat with Leah a few moments more as the crowd from the newly-arrived train thinned out. Then, saying he’d better get back to work, he returned to his post and pretended to look over some train schedules and ticket sales reports. But he could not stop himself from glancing up once in a while to check on that unusual woman who continued to sit and wait and wait and sit.

      The sun sank behind the buildings and then behind the horizon. Jake shivered, donning his coat and pulling it tight about him. Even in the summer, London nights were chilly and it had been a drizzling, gray kind of day to begin with. Across the platform, the small shoulders of Leah moved slightly. Was that a shudder? Did she have a coat? A few feet from his post, the coffee vendor began to pack up his cart. Jake set his papers aside and rushed over.

      “Two cappuccinos please, grande.”

     

Leah shivered again. She must have been wrong. What was she thinking? She mentally berated herself for being so silly. She had been waiting so long; what made her think today would be the day? And why here of all places? Stupid girl, she thought. She gathered her bag and stood to leave, sighing aloud in resignation. Trains to a new place had brought her no more luck than walking throughout the old. Besides, she thought with a glimmer of hope, she would be easier to find if she stayed put rather than speeding across the country.  But would she be found? Probably not, she realized with a sorrow beyond even a sigh. She was being absolutely ridiculous. Back to her house, back to her job, back to waiting in the old place. That was the sensible thing to do, after all.

      Her straight shoulders slumped for the first time. A curl fell free of its pins, limp in the drizzle that mirrored her mood. Sensible had grown so dull, so “stale and unprofitable” as she had heard said once in a play, but what else was there to do? She turned to go inside where it was warmer and where she could buy a ticket to return to her sensible life of waiting.

      “Miss?” It was Jake, that nice young stationmaster with the hair that needed a trim, the shirt that could use a running over with an iron, and the…kind eyes. She blinked.  He held out a steaming coffee cup and smiled gently. She shyly accepted the cup and murmured her thanks, looking down at the ground and their shoes. She noticed then that his were even muddier and more worn than hers and felt a strange urge to laugh, but instead she shivered.

      “Oh, here!” Jake spilled some of his cappuccino as he wiggled free of his jacket and clumsily tried to wrap it around her shoulders. He laughed, embarrassed and shrugged helplessly.

      “Thank you,” she said, laughing as the coat and heat of the coffee cup took away the sting of the cold.

      “Would you like to go inside? To the waiting room? I can take you there,” Jake said. He looked at her with concern in his eyes.

      “I would like to go inside, thank you,” replied Leah. “But I do not need the waiting room anymore.”

The Gardener

Their forks clicked in unison against the empty plates as they set them down, finished. The utensils were not the only things that had clicked. The meal had been delicious, the girl lovely, the man courteous, the conversation interesting and free of the awkward pauses generally ended by dull commentaries on the weather or the quality of the wine. Altogether, it had been a perfectly smooth first date. Too smooth, the young woman was thinking. Surely something uncomfortable had to occur. It was a first date, after all. That thought alone- that the evening had been unnaturally comfortable- made the girl uncomfortable. She toyed with her fork as the man continued to talk about his work.

“The kids are great- I love working with them, but I hope one day to be a professor at the collegiate level, more research than teaching, you know?”

She nodded, tuning back into the conversation. What was his job again? Oh, right. According to the friend (well, more of an acquaintance) who had introduced them, he was a history teacher at the local high school. She was beginning to shake the feeling of discomfit caused by the very lack of discomfort when the man asked her a question that caused her to miss this imaginary anxiety.

“So,” he said, looking at her over his glasses, which seemed oddly hipster for an adult. But then, they had not been adults for long. “What did you say you do?”

She hadn’t. In fact, she had purposely been avoiding talk of her career and had hoped that by listening to the man- Andrew the history teacher- talk of his work, she would not be asked to describe hers.

“Sorry, what?” she blinked up at him, pretending not to have heard over the din of fellow diners. This would have been easier had there been any fellow diners, but in the odd perfection of their evening, they had dragged their meal out beyond all except a few men lingering at the bar.

“Where do you work? What do you do?”

“Oh,” she said. “I’m…a gardener…of sorts.”

“A gardener of sorts?” his eyes twinkled in amusement behind his spectacles.

“Yes.”

“Okay, so tell me more! What sort of plants do you grow? Who are your clients?”

She wished he would stop, but the genuine tone to his voice coaxed her into giving somewhat of an answer. It was the best she could come up with, anyway.

“I don’t much grow plants so much as I do tend them and, after a bit, dispose of them.”

“You’re that bad of a gardener that you dispose of plants instead of growing them?” Her eyes widened, but he chuckled and winked. “I’m kidding. I’m sure you’re wonderful.”

She blushed and her skin was so pale, she knew he could see it, but she was pleased. As much as she was reluctant to talk about it, she did think her job wonderful and she knew she was good at it.

“Thanks,” she chuckled in reply, relaxing a bit. “I meant that I dispose of the plants left by others- bouquets mostly, and sometimes miniature Christmas trees or potted shrubs. The ones I tend are thriving, I assure you.”

“People leave plants?”

“Yes,” she replied, then hastened to add, “But I do other work too- trimming hedges and trees and such. Lots of outdoor work, but I enjoy the fresh air. It makes me feel more alive.”

“Outdoors? You’re not exactly tan…” another wink so she knew he meant no offense.

“Well I mostly work at night. People don’t like the sight and sounds of grounds keeping work when they visit.”
“Fair enough. Sounds like your clients are high maintenance though- making you clean up after them and work at night. Do you at least like the people you work with?”

“Oh yes!” she clasped her hands together and instantly regretted her excited reply. Would he understand? She wondered. Best not to tell too much. She carefully arranged her hands in her lap, attempting to veil her enthusiasm.

“Well, tell me about them.”

“Oh…um…they’re pretty quiet. I don’t actually know very much about them aside from their names and dates-”

“Dates?”

“I mean birthdays and- er- ages.”

“Got it.”

“Anyway, they’re quiet, but I like to imagine things about them. I like to guess at their personalities, their backgrounds, who they loved and where they were born. It fascinates me to read their names and try to fill in the blanks with possible life stories. I mean, who knows what amazing lives these people had, what adventures and romances and tragedies. I have so many questions about them that I’ll probably never know the answers to, so I make them up.”

“Fascinating.”

“It really is.” Did she say too much? She feared she did.

“Why don’t you just ask them? Then you could have the answers.”

“I suppose I could, but I doubt it would do much good,” she said, her eyes were twinkling too now.

“Alright then…why not?”

“No reason…” she fiddled with her fork again. He watched her until she could feel her cheeks burning. Maybe she should just tell…it was nothing to be ashamed of. It was just that all of the men before him had found it a little, well, unsavory that an educated, pretty, young woman would choose her line of work and enjoy it more than the countless dull desk jobs she had been offered. Well, she could survive another man not calling back. What she could not survive was another date of evading questions and vague answers. Her work kept her occupied in the evenings anyway.

“Fine,” she sighed. “I can’t ask them because…they’re dead.”

“Pardon?”

“I’m the sole groundskeeper of a graveyard. Two, actually. Olive Grove and St. George’s.”

She let her fork click down at the end of her sentence and refused to look up at him. She’d seen the mixture of surprise and distaste on enough faces and had no interest in seeing it replayed in the brown eyes behind their glasses.

“Well then,” he said after an eternal moment. “Who is your favorite person at work? Any particularly fascinating epitaphs? What’s the oldest date on any tombstone?”

She sneaked a peek up at this odd Andrew the aspiring history professor. As his eyes met hers, she saw that the spark of genuine interest had not died. She savored this moment, for all traces of discomfort had vanished, buried in the past. As he asked and she freely answered, neither had felt more alive.