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Write (continued)

Published: September 26, 2008
Section: Arts, Etc.


Editor’s Note: The first installment of this story appeared in the September 19 issue of Diverse City, in which an unnamed protagonist struggled with writer’s block after an unsatisfying one night stand with his best friend.

Each gasp rattled his smoky lungs. With one last agonizing push he made it to the crest of the hill, conquering fatigue. Quickly, he skid stopped, pausing momentarily to prepare his exhausted legs for the grueling adrenaline rush that would be his descent. With a gulp of humid air he dropped onto the slope and resisted the acceleration. All the way down he felt his legs spinning out of control. Suddenly, the light changed. His sweaty hands grasped the chopped handlebars and closing his eyes, he plummeted through the red light, just escaping the large SUV that honked at his rear reflector.

Coasting up to a weathered parking meter, he hopped gracefully off the smudged yellow seat, slipping a lock around the frame. Then he sauntered into the dingy café, still reeling from his near death experience.

Panting, he slipped in to the booth across from Sarah. She was already seated in her usual spot next to the greasy window with her nose buried in the New York Times, a steaming mug of green tea perched on the table in front of her.

“I didn’t think you would make it.” Typical Sarah, nonchalant, judgmental, and wise. Maybe he shouldn’t have come. She peered at him over the edge of the tall paper. Smoothly, she bunched it up and stuffed it into the threadbare sack that sat next to her. Slipping her fingers through the handle of her mug, she lifted it up and pressed her red lips against its edge. The hand thrown brown clay looked particularly earthy cupped by her bony fingers. But she didn’t take a sip. She just peered at him through the steam.

“Well, I’m here.” He let out an exhausted sigh, undoing the seat belt that strapped his bag to his back. Quickly, he slipped it off his shoulders and between his skinny legs.

She wouldn’t stop looking at him….

“I had sex with Annah.”

“Mmmm…” Completely unfazed she nodded her head, as if she had known all along and was just waiting for him to confess the sin. “Why?”

Her question had caught him off guard and so he answered her honestly.

“I had writer’s block.” A little too honestly.

“Hmmm…” she nodded again and finally took a sip of tea. “Mom’s birthday is coming up. What do you want to do for her?”

“That’s it? No chastising? No ‘I told you so’? No harsh words or wise advice? What happened to your usual hunger for vindication?”

“Stop talking like a pretentious longwinded prick. You sound like Dad, and no, I’m not going to externalize your guilt.”

“Stop talking like a therapist, you sound like Mom.”

“So have you spoken to Annah about your—

“No, she went out this morning to get coffee. I left her a note on the fridge saying that I took my bike to meet you.”

“Ha. Well, at least you made it clear how desperate you were for an excuse to get out of that house. You just had to ask her to move in with you.”

“Here it comes, the ‘I told you so.’”

“Well, I just don’t understand how you could have pictured it working out any differently. That girl is clearly in love with you. And you are not the most, shall we say, conscientious person when it comes to other people’s hearts.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Just that you don’t understand the word ‘responsibility’. Basically, you’re selfish.”

“That was harsh.”

“The truth usually is.”

“I think I am going to order some coffee.”

“I thought Annah went out to get you some?”

“She did, but what does that have to do…”

“Selfish. Look. I will plan Mom’s birthday thing. Go. Hop back on that silly fix-geared bike of yours. Peddle back to that shack you two live in and tell Annah you’re sorry. If you’re lucky you can let her yell at you. And if she doesn’t yell, pack your bags. Tell her you’ll be back in a week and find a couch to repent on.”

“What? It’s my house. And she is just as ‘responsible’ for what happened as I am.”

Sarah didn’t say anything, she just stared at him for several long minutes. Then she shrugged, leaned back, and shifted her gaze to the dingy window where her eyes tracked unsuspecting strangers the way a caged animal lazily watches the pray it will never catch. Sarah was trapped by many things. By her boring desk job that “pays the rent,” by her parents who pay for her expensive therapy sessions, by her ambiguous sexuality, by her fear of rejection, by her sense of duty. Sarah more than made up for her brother’s flexible definition of obligation. She was the model adult, but she was bored.

She pretended not to notice her brother trudging out of the café as a twinge of jealousy churned in her all-organic-and-locally-grown gut.

After peddling about seven miles out of the way he finally returned to the house. Annah’s rusty Volvo was back in the driveway waiting patiently for his return. He had spent the long ride going over and over in his head just exactly what he was going to say to her. Finally feeling prepared, he climbed the back steps and walked into the kitchen.

Despite his well-rehearsed lines, silenced engulfed his mind the minute he spotted her. She leaned casually against the counter with a mug of coffee cupped in her hands. She picked at a dried cheerio with her toe, avoiding his empty gaze.

“So, I guess you got coffee with Sarah?”

“No, I –I mean—she wouldn’t let me. Look, Annah—

“So what did she yell at you about this time? I hope she isn’t still going on about that law school shit. You know she’s just jealous about the house.”

“It’s my mom’s birthday coming up, so—I don’t know. She wanted to plan something. Did you go out to get coffee dressed like that?”

Annah looked a little disheveled to say the least. Her pants had a giant hole in the crotch and her breasts sagged beneath a stained white tee-shirt. Self-consciously she crossed her arms over her unwieldy chest and tried to fake a smile.

“Well, I couldn’t really go out wrapped in that comforter.” It was an attempt at a joke, but neither of them laughed. “Were you looking for a book?” Their eyes both tracked along the floor, into the study, where he had left his tirade strewn about. He never could hide things from Annah.

“No, not really. Look, Annah, I’m sorry.”

“Hey, what do you have to be sorry about? We are both adults. I knew what I was doing when I pulled out that bottle of Tequila.”

“Yeah, well, I was thinking we could use a little space. So I think I’m going to go stay on Sarah’s couch. For a few days. Just until we can like sort this out. You know, get back to normal?” There was hope in his voice, but it was faint and shrouded by a thick layer of self-involvement.

“No, you don’t have to do that. I mean, I’m the guest and my mom has been begging me to come home for months now. And besides, I’m already packed.”

That’s when he noticed the sloppy suitcase and plastic bags piled up next to the door. “But, don’t go. We can figure this out. I thought we were—

“Friends?”

“Yeah.”

“We were, we are. You’re right though, we both just need a little space right now.”

“No, we don’t! I was only saying that because Sarah told me to. I—” His voice sounded desperate and wounded.

“Shhh, I don’t think you need a best friend right now. No. What you need is a strong cup of coffee, a maid, and maybe a good therapist, or just an editor. Not a friend. At least not one that you fuck when you’re drunk and play house with when you’re sober.” She walked over to press the hot mug into his hand and gently kiss his cheek. Then, precariously balancing her bags in her arms, she stumbled out the door.

He stood with his back still facing the rickety screen door, and for the second time that morning he listened to Annah open the car door and turn on the raspy engine. He listened to the gravel crunch beneath her tires as she pulled out onto their –his sleepy road. But this time he wasn’t relieved.

He was quiet.

He stood there, smelling the cup of coffee, listening to the quiet whispers of an empty house. He strolled into the study and slipped behind his desk. Finally, he began to write.