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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.


Published: September 19, 2008
Section: Arts, Etc.

Editor’s Note: The following short story will be presented in two parts. The next installment will appear in next week’s issue.

Birds chirped obliviously outside the distorted pane glass window as harsh sunlight soaked the room. The old dusty curtains could not keep the day out any better than they had managed to keep the night in.

‘My left arm is going to fall off.’ This was the only thought he could manage to compose as his body fought the morning’s arrival. He needed to move his arm, but it was trapped. Trapped beneath her warm sleeping body, which pressed up against him in the suddenly narrow bed.

He didn’t want to wake her. He didn’t want her dusty grey eyes searching his face. He didn’t want to have to fake a smile or to face the consequences of last night’s drunken desperation. He especially didn’t want to face the empty notebooks waiting for him just downstairs. He didn’t want to wake her.

Gently, he began to wiggle his numb fingers, trying desperately to force some blood into them without disturbing her. But he never was good at being gentle. In the next moment his arm was free. Her narrow body gently lifted up from the crumpled bed and hovered above the Power Ranger sheets.

‘She’s awake. Annah is awake… Fuck.’

He withdrew his arm, and she shifted onto her back. They both lay immobile for several minutes. He tried to focus on the cracked ceiling above them, but the clashing rhythm of their separate breaths crowded his mind.

“I think I am going to make some coffee,” she whispered to the plaster over head. The statement dripped from her mouth like a question, and the word ‘coffee’ seemed foreign on her lips.

“Ok,” he whispered back to a particularly long, jagged crack.

She slipped gracefully out of the bed, reached for a ratty comforter, wrapped herself in it, and like a skilled geisha shuffled towards the door. He didn’t want to watch but he couldn’t stop himself.

Impulsively, he decided to follow. Rising out of the warm bed, he stepped into a pair of jeans that were left crumpled on the floor after last night’s hasty strip. Unfortunately, the symptoms of his much-deserved hangover caught up with him. He slumped back onto the bed and rubbed his sleepy eyes. “You are an idiot!” he silently chastised his aching body.

“We’re out of coffee…” called a timid voice from outside the bedroom door. “So I’m going to run out and get some.” Slurring the end of her sentence and not waiting for a response, Annah bounded down the stairs, clamored through the rickety screen door, and flew out into the driveway. He listened as she opened the car door and started the raspy engine. Gravel crunched under the tires as she pulled out onto their sleepy road and drove away.

At last, he took a deep, relieved breath.

* * *

He fought the throbbing ache that pulsed relentlessly through his foggy head and made his way down stairs to the dim study. Sitting with his pen pressed up against a clean white sheep of paper he paused. Nothing came. No words. No thoughts.

‘Hangovers suck.’ He scribbled on the blank page. ‘I fucked Annah.’ He stopped. Again, no words. “FUCK!” He ripped the page of paper.

A burst of frustration forced him to leap up. He stood before the tall sturdy bookcase, allowing his eyes to dart from shelf to shelf. He did not read the titles, he did not have to, he knew their names. Melville, Thoreau, Shakespeare, Hemmingway, Faulkner. Trying to calm his mind he drew in the dusty aroma of yellowing paper. Fitzgerald, Yates, Rand. The musty scent flooded his mind with pleasant memories of long afternoons spent in the dim recesses of decrepit used bookstores. He had not treasured those stolen hours enough.

Bronte, Poe, Dumas, Twain. Now he cowered before this monumental tower packed with true talent. Stealing another breath he reached for a heavy volume perched on an upper shelf. Tolstoy. Grasping the massive binding with his left hand he flipped through a few pages. With a thud he let it fall to the wooden floor.

Blindly he groped for something different. Voltaire. He skimmed a page before dropping it too. Feverishly he grabbed for another. Orwell. Thud. Cervantes. Thud. Wolf. Thud. Grab. Drop. Reach. Drop. Skim. Discard. The piles at his feet grew as he searched for inspiration, for solace, for reassurance, for validation, for hope, for the key to their success. He could feel the thud of his heart beating in cadence with the falling books.

The thin voice of his father echoed between his ears: “Are you sure this is what you want?” He had been sure. He had been so sure. He had. But now…He slumped against the bookcase, his chest heaving, his thoughts racing. Running back, back through the past few months, back to before his parents’ blessing, back to when his life had seamed more vital.

He remembered the day he had finally decided to neglect obligation. It was a pretty spring afternoon. He sat at a café with a strong cup of coffee, a tattered notebook, and Annah. The conversation was simple, as things used to be with her.

“I am going to tell them this weekend.”

“Are you sure?”

“… Yes…”

“Well, if it will make you happy…”

“It will.”

“Then do it. So what are you going to say?”

“I don’t know.”

“You should think about it.”

“What do you think I should say? Hi Mom, Dad, I just wanted to let you know that you spent two hundred thousand dollars on my education for nothing. I’m not going to law school.”

“I would try to soften the blow just a little.”


“Do you want me to come with you?”

“No, I can do it on my own.”

“Are you sure?”

“I’m sure.”

“When are you going to see them?”

“It’s not like I’m going to tell them that I’m a cold blooded killer or something.”

“No, you’re going to tell them that you want to be a writer.”

“Maybe you should come with me.”

He had thought back then that they were his only obstacle. They were the only things standing between him and happiness. If he could just be allowed to follow his passions, everything would be great, good, fine, excellent, perfect. But nothing was perfect.

A tear slipped from the corner of his eye. Streaking down his flushed cheek, dribbling under his scruffy chin. He slid down the shelves dropping to his knees. He had been naive to think writing would make him happy. He had been naive to think sex with Annah would make things better.

Taking a shaky breath he wiped the lone tear from his face. He could see his notebooks lying lazily all over his old desk. Filled with words, sentences, paragraphs. They held the ramblings of a rebellious teenager. They were from before, before he had told his parents, before they had given him the house for a year, before he had fucked his best friend, before his characters had stopped speaking to him, before he had started to doubt his talent, doubt his drive.

The old clock over the fireplace chimed, ripping him from his thoughts. Annah might be back soon. He had to clean up the mess.

He pulled himself off the floor and surveyed the damage. One book had a slight tear in the binding, and several pages needed to be smoothed, but his tirade was easily tucked back on to the neat selves, easily hidden.