A Moment Between the Lines

I paused mid-sentence. I was struggling with a word.

When a suitable word failed to manifest, a wave of dissatisfaction washed over me. How could a single word cause me such trouble – toss me down into a maelstrom of my own cognizance? When did the transmission between mind and paper become such a hurdle to overcome? It wasn’t always like this, and acknowledging that somehow made it worse.

Did athletes and other artisans feel this same thing after a certain point in their lives? When their bodies suddenly became unable to perform as they once did in the glory days of their youth? When did things that were once inconsequential and easily enough conquered became such behemoth tasks? I could skip this line, of course – return to it later -, but I don’t remember having to ever do that before. I don’t remember being undone by something as basic as a word!

I reached out as though to tear the paper from the typewriter, but she quietly tutted from the corner and made me feel childish for that fleeting reflex.

“Just give it a moment. This happens to everyone.”

I wanted to complain, to remind her that this did not happen to me, but she was probably right. I sighed, fell back into my chair, and stared at the ceiling for a moment. Was the ceiling always painted that splotchy sort of off-white? It looked like someone’s poor impression of a meditative garden. That wasn’t helping.

I placed my fingers back into their positions and inhaled, leaning towards that well of inspiration that once allowed me to smoothly put into words my coursing thoughts.

Nothing came of it. The well was empty.

I yanked the paper out and then, tempered by the lashing out, tried to gently place it to the side.

“I’ll come back to it.” I said, maybe to her, maybe to myself.

“That’s fine. You can always go back.”

I cleared my throat and reached for the pack of cigarettes I kept at the corner of the desk, but her hand slapped mine away.

“You quit.” She chided.

“It helps me think.”

“No it doesn’t. It’s an excuse to not write.”

“I can write while I smoke.” As though to prove the point I retrieved a cigarette, lit it and then held out my hands, fingers flexing beside my cheeks, “See? I can write – so come here and talk to me. Help me.”

“I don’t like it when you smoke.”

“You used to not mind it.”

“I did. I just didn’t say so.”

“Well, I’d like you to voice your thoughts, then.”

“Fine. I don’t like it when you smoke, and I’d like you to put it out.”

I continued to smoke, but I watched her with renewed curiosity. She wasn’t usually so headstrong. It felt like a bad omen, yet it didn’t bother me as much as I thought it would.

“Aren’t you going to help me?”

She shrugged, averting her gaze and looking away towards the study door. Her mouth was set in a cool frown, displeased, but her eyes were still as bright as they ever were – like emeralds at the bottom of a clear fountain. I felt a different wave of emotions wash over me, a different sort of dissatisfaction.

“Come here.”

She pretended to not hear me, so I stood up and walked over to her, my hands resting on the wall as I leaned over her chair. I pulled the cigarette out of my mouth and exhaled a cloud of blue-gray smoke onto her face, only a little disappointed when her expression didn’t change. Bad habits came to the fore as I opened my mouth to say something excessive, but the door opened.

“- irregardless, I’m not going to waste a Sauvignon Blanc on what will inevitably be a terrible fish.”

The blonde woman who wandered in looked at me with a expectant air that was somehow marvelously insulting. When I failed to reply, she tutted and sauntered to my desk, holding aloft a bottle of white wine. Her expression was critical, and her thin mouth was set in a firm frown as she quickly scanned the document I set aside.

“Seems a bit purple, dear. Ostentatious. Maybe start over.”

I approached from the same side of the desk, toying with the cigarette dancing between my fingers. Wryly, I commented more to the ceiling than to this other woman, “That’s just the new style that’s expected of today’s work. Besides, I’m not really sure you’re one to comment on my work, dear.”

She shook her head incredulously and continued to circulate, seemingly to avoid direct contact with me. “That’s quite a thing to say. I’ve read every word you ever typed, even the ones that don’t get published.” she glanced at my face, her pale green eyes unreadable before they transformed with her warm smile, “Forget the new style. I like the original.”

Without giving me an opportunity to reply, she left the room, closing the door behind her and calling out:” Dinner with my parents, half-hour – don’t be late.”

I returned to my desk, a little more worn, a little more sullen. I stamped out my cigarette in the jade ashtray and then quickly deposited the remains in the small wastebasket beside the desk. I retrieved a small brush and dustpan and swept up the ashes I had carelessly discarded on the floor near the door as well.

“You should be nicer to her.” The young woman in the corner said matter-of-factly, raising her legs so that I could sweep the floor beneath her.

I grunted some affirmation. Of course she’d defend her – but if they weren’t going to help me, then they were just going to get in the way of my word. My work.

She continued to talk as I returned to my desk, fidgeting as I tried to process my thoughts. “She used to come in here when you were asleep, and make notes on your essays and drafts.” A thin smile grew on her lips, “So, I would believe her when she says to start over.”

That was interesting. I always thought that those notes were from her. “I wish you’d have stopped her. Those notes weren’t very useful,” I lied.

“Liar,” she said kindly, quietly.

I tried to relax, take a deep breath, close my eyes and forget about the muddled thoughts that swirled in the pale behind my eyelids. I ultimately prepared a new page, blank. I began to type.

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