The short story “Writer’s Block” was first published in Mirage Literary and Arts Magazine 2017, Cochise College, Cochise and Santa Cruz Counties, Arizona.
Copyright 2017, Gary Lawrence
My wife hovers in my office doorway silent until I sense her, until I feel her standing there, taking up air and space. How long she’s been there, I have no idea. She leans just a bit against the oak door jamb, settled lightly against the milled white trim board, barely there, as if her tight slim body weighs nothing and might blow away any moment.
Her feet are poised, not planted, ready for whatever comes next.
Fight or flight.
The next moments will be key.
She clears her throat. Brushes a loose strand of brunette hair from her mouth. I finish my latest sentence, a good stopping point — in the middle of the action, a good place to start back fresh with momentum. I rest the heels of my hand on the edge of my desk. My computer screen is jammed full of black 12-point Times-Roman images on a fake white page, the cursor blinking, calling me already to return, to come back to them.
And it’s barely been a second.
I’m blocked, you see. I suffer. I suffer from writer’s block. Not the usual writer’s block that most writers suffer from from time to time – no, I’ve got writer’s block of the inverse kind. Instead of being stuck with nothing to say, I’m the opposite. I can’t stop writing, I can’t stop saying it all. Henry James is cheering from his grave – I’m aware of everything around me. Everything. Hyper-aware. So I write. And write. And write. No matter how hard I try, no matter what I try – I can’t stop writing.
I write and I write and I write.
It’s been weeks since I started – maybe months. I don’t remember the exact time or day or moment it started, or what caused it. The muse must have come over me. Did I ask for this? Wouldn’t you? How many times have you begged her to make an appearance? My muse, she came, alright. She came and she took over. Right now and for as far back as I can remember, I’ve been here, in my office, in my chair, hands posed or tapping my keyboard, writing.
The crumpled fast-food wrappers and piles of cheap white papers on the desktop shiver slightly. The foil-backed wrappers on the floor from the used ink cartridges crinkle and twist in the slight breeze of my wife’s still presence – like a breath barely blown.
The look on her face in the hallway light is hard. Perhaps it’s the shadows, the way the light originates in the hallway, behind her brown-haired head? Or maybe it’s the way the light shines in from the side?
Or the way the light doesn’t shine, from the other side?
Note to self: Capture that effect on the page. Like describing the Mona Lisa in ink. Check DaVinci’s theory of light. Get it right.
Or maybe it’s more like energy. Energy transformation. Transformation of energy. Check Einstein’s papers.
The poet in me yearns to savor the moment, to catch all the nuances of that look on her face. The shadows. The colors. The smell in the air that fuels the dread? Get the low-grade agony of her face just right. Expectant yet afraid.
“What makes you think we don’t have anything in common anymore?” she asks.
Huh? Time leaps. Synapses spark. Speaking of Einstein! Flash back to last night’s conversation. Rough. Harsh, even. Too abrupt. Transition needs work. The novelist in me kicks in readily, kicks the poet out. I process the question. I start to explain. I lean back in my black leather chair, the one from Office Depot with the extra sciatic support and padded arms. Put my slippered foot up on one of the open file drawers.
Point by point I go. Use my fingers to tick my points off, the reasons we don’t have anything in common anymore. Since this all started. Since the writer’s block. Sound, logical plot progression. Steps, reasons almost anyone could follow.
She interrupts after only three points, three fingers’ worth.
“I figured you’d do this to me,” she says then. Her look hardens even more. Now I stand stupidly, mouth open, frozen, three-fingered hand and the other one hanging in front of me, frozen in mid-count. The tall heavily-inked piles of papers around me shake a bit more. Ready to collapse? To topple?
“But the kids?” Einstein beckons. I search again. Oh, there — I get it. “But the kids?” follows “I figured you’d do this to me.” So. The dialogue continues. Wish I could see it on the page. Then I see it. She screeches some bird-sound, some predator-bird sound – high, full, unearthly. A hawk. A Peregrine falcon. Her face twists. Contorts. Her hands are white fists now, clenched. A bottom lip sneaks out: a pout of sorts, but then not. The added light when she lunges forward stings my blood-shot eye and makes me squint. “You’d do this to your kids?”
That’s good. The dialogue, I mean. Real. Poignant. Believable. The short story writer in me stirs. Be quick to conflict. Ratchet up the tension. Add another twist. It’s all about motivation. Two rats in a cage, one small piece of cheese.
My hand nudges itself toward the keyboard. Must write. I fight the urge. Then can’t. Blocked. Stuck. First one key struck. Then another. My hands pounce.
Her face relaxes. Sags, really. Word choice is so important. Just ask Twain. Lightning or lightning bug?
“How come you’re the only one that gets to be happy around here?” she mumbles then. Flat. Breathy. Emotion so thick you can smell it. Cut it with a butter knife. How can I ever hope to capture that on the page?
But that muse of mine sure is a bitch.
My fingers chop at the keyboard. Words get captured. Strung. Sequenced. Sprawled. Spit.
I see now how this is going to end. But still I can’t stop. I write, hands quivering, poised, flowing, dancing – fingers dancing in the heat of their flames.
My wife sighs. Done for now, is she? Or spent?
Ambiguity. Done or spent? Which is it? Shakespeare is ambiguous; you people are vague, my freshman comp teacher used to tell the class.
I pause, wait for more signals, more input, wait to decide, wait for clarification — but that particular well is dry. I glimpse a tear on her cheek, too thin to roll all the way down and drop to the floor. Readers cry, characters don’t, my old mentor screams in my head. A slow thread, a slow path – a slow burn. My hands pound the keys, the gnarled rocky wall that used to stand so solid between my thoughts and the words a blur, a bump, a berm, a force no more .
The light in my square little office dims suddenly. Air sucks out, then goes stale. The door swings and slams shut. The lock plunges home loudly.
Like a cold brass deadbolt in winter.
Like the cool gray cocking of a gun after a duel.
Like a good ballpoint pen when it clicks — quickly, firmly, finally – in the absolute and unshakeable certainty of knowing what comes next.