Writer’s Block

The idea was barely tickling the corners of her mind. Penny was searching, reaching, but it wasn’t there. She turned and grabbed, and it ducked away. When she lunged, it retreated, sucking itself into a corner where she couldn’t even see the shape of it. It would return and then again she could feel it, feel the long flat side and nubby corners, and she would lean – but as soon as she moved toward it, it just whisked out of sight again.

Penny had been reaching for the idea all day. She’d had it just that morning – held it in her hands, felt it curl around her neck and sprawl over her shoulders. The softness of it – but was it fuzzy or smooth? – had rubbed against her cheek, and the trailing thoughts had wrapped around her like a long furling tail. It had seemed so obvious. The warmth of it resting on her skin was so natural. She had assumed that she could turn, wash the dishes and fold the laundry. She’d even taken a quick trip to the grocery store.

writer's block - crushed and crumpled paper on...

Photo credit: photosteve101

The water had been so warm, bubbling over her hands, and she’d lost herself in the smell of dish detergent. Then in the softness of her favorite sweatshirt, and the flimsy lace that crumpled under her fingers. The taste of iron lingering in her mouth and the glare of flourescent lights. The shine of apples as she debated over fruit prices. The swinging flare of sound as the scanner passed over her purchases. The line on the road leading her home.

When she’d finished putting the groceries away, she remembered to look for the idea. She turned, whirled, bent and stretched, but it was gone. She hadn’t even noticed the weight lifting from her shoulders – though had it been heavy? Now she couldn’t remember. Sometime in the day it must have flickered away, slithered down her body and scurried across the floor. After half an hour of looking she gave up, sitting on the couch and putting down the useless notebook and pencil.

Just then Penny felt it, brushing at her elbow, and she turned. Her idea flashed across the floor like a frightened cat, curling resentfully against the wall and staring at her. It lost itself in shadow, so she could only strain to see the tip of it flapping against the floor. She turned away with a sigh, just to feel it slinking up to her again and pulling itself against her back. She reached for her pencil and it disappeared again, so she settled back against the couch. This was the time she recognized, the moment that foretold the rest of her night. She would do something else, distract herself, and spend the next few hours cringing the feel the touch of an idea she couldn’t hold.

Inside and Outside a Story

The teacher was saying something now, hoarsely and without much conviction. The young man paused to listen to her, the brush motionless in the air an inch from the canvas. He was impatient and wanted to keep going, but she did keep talking. The sudden desire to paint had nearly overwhelmed him, until it had soaked into him and he had always wanted to paint. As a kid in school he had dreamed of being a painter. That was how it had always been. Sometimes it nudged at his brain, a tickling feeling that told him he wasn’t always like that, but he ignored it. Ever since he’d gone to find a painting class he’d been so motivated, it was like he was an entirely different person.

There was a full paragraph now on the page. It looked so neat there, pressed against the margin, black letters marching in clusters only to hit the edge and fall onto the next line. Amy was pleased with the way it looked. It took her a minute to get back to it. She had to shake herself, to stop looking with eyes unfocused at the shape of the paragraph. It didn’t even say all that much yet.

The story was really just starting. She was writing about Luke, a young man learning to paint. He wasn’t very good at it yet, but he showed talent. He loved to swipe a brush across the canvas and see the color blaze on the white. It was satisfying, like banging a cymbal and sending a streak of noise through the air. The teacher was a bent old woman, who had a hooked nose and skin sagging from her face and a scraping quiet voice. He was a little afraid of her. She told him that he would never quite be good enough at it for his own standards – she hoped – and that was what made him an artist.

Amy nibbled on her thumbnail. Maybe that wasn’t right. Oh well, she could change it later. She typed a sentence, and then deleted it with an impatient tap of the keys. Was he impatient really, though? She couldn’t decide if he was in respectful awe of the teacher, or if he was bored and contemptuous.

There was an awful turmoil in his chest, so fierce and sudden that it nearly hurt. Luke swallowed, and wondered at the emotions warring in him. Fear and hatred, it seemed, and he couldn’t think why. Neither of them seemed particularly appropriate at the moment. The lovely old lady had finished speaking, and he was painting again after smiling wide at her. She had shuffled off to the kitchen, and he was alone with the soft melody and the rustle of the color against the canvas. He wished that he could just keep doing what he was already, without his mind and emotions all turning over and tangling.

Probably contemptuous, she decided. That really made more sense, and that way they could grow from that to a friendly relationship. Those things always seemed to start out like that, edgy and prickly. Later their relationship would develop. They might even be friends.

The teacher’s voice rasped from the kitchen, and Luke rolled his eyes at the ceiling. A pang of disdain struck him, and he felt he might stagger from the blow. What a dotty old lady she was! If this was how he had to learn he didn’t know how he would stand it.

That was a bit of an abrupt change. The bitter feeling replaced his amiable contentment so queerly and quickly that he stopped what he was doing, and stared at the rectangle of blurred attempts before him. Where had that come from? The glad feeling was gone, and he had been happy with it. This scorn sat in him like a bad meal, heavy and uncomfortable. It didn’t quite fit. A sigh heaved through him. He would just have to get used to this, perhaps.

The air was soon thick with paint fumes – did paint really smell so much? She thought about it for a minute, and then decided to leave it. If she had to, she’d go back to it later. Something had to happen, though.

His jacket was in front of him, and without willing it he saw his hands before him, swinging it over his head. The paintbrush lay on the paper towel, doused in turpentine and drying. At least he could be considerate enough to clean up after himself. He struggled with the knob for a moment, and pushed through the door and out. The teacher was walking carefully back into the room, stepping slowly so as not to spill the coffee, and looked up just in time to see the room empty and the door swing closed. Outside, Luke strode away, cringing at himself. He didn’t know why he had to go, to leave the poor woman like that, and he felt like he wanted to cry.

That was enough for today, her fingers were practically cramping. Amy flipped closed her laptop and smiled, satisfied. That was a good start to the story.

A Bedtime Story

When his dad told him a story the whole world disappeared. It faded into the background and a new one took its place. The empty spaces were filled and the ceiling became sky. Alex liked to sit and watch as the ground grew green and grass sprouted from his carpet. The walls were gone and he could see to a horizon, far off and dimly red with the sunset over the water.

Tonight the story was an old favorite – the shining white castle, the prince and princess, and the angry dragon. He’d heard it so many times already that he already knew to turn left and look at the castle there as the story started. Its walls were tall and beaming, bright against the lengthening shadows of the night. The princess was just coming in, head bent and horse plodding after a long day of riding.

“Daddy, you forgot reckless.”

“Right,” his dad smiled at him, “sorry. After a long day of reckless riding.”

Alex settled back against the pillow. The princess was racing through the forest on her horse, hair streaming behind her and a wild grin stretched across her face – eventually her horse slowed and she sighed, until they were trudging together over the moat to slip under the portcullis. The prince was waiting for her inside. He’d asked the kitchen to keep dinner warm. When the princess left for the day she usually came home too late to eat with everyone else.

Alex suspected that this was a hint – a dig or an apology, he wasn’t sure – to his mother, who sometimes listened. She complained sometimes that Daddy would leave her cooking dinner but never get home in time to eat it when everyone else was hungry.

While the princess was eating the reheated leftovers with her princes, they had a murmured conversation. In an instant, though, everything changed. Their words were drowned out by a roar, the view through the window was suddenly blotted black, and the air filled with filth. The ashes were swirling into the room, and the prince and princess huddled together with their hands clasped over their eyes. Straining, they could see outside the window and through the billowing smoke. The faint outline of a dragon was looming over the castle, massive wings flapping to keep it hovering in midair. Alex always gasped when he saw the dragon for the first time. He hugged close that feeling of fear and delight that made his heart flutter and pound.

The prince and princess ran, until they were hiding in a hallway with no windows and the doors were bolted on either side. They curled up there together and waited for the noise and the choking smoke to go away. There on the cold stone corner of the hallway, they fell asleep. The servants found them the next day as they spread through the castle with mops and brooms and as much medieval-style cleaning solution as could be found on short notice.

Alex loved that part. He didn’t really know what it meant, but he could tell his dad was being funny. His dad made a lot of people laugh, and especially Alex.

His eyelids were sinking shut, and he slid a little further down on his pillows. The prince and princess were tottering out the door now, looking aghast at the smeared black walls of their castle. Those stones had been so pure and lovely, only yesterday.

“Hey buddy, you look pretty sleepy. Do you want me to finish the story tomorrow?”

Alex mumbled, “S’ok,” and felt his dad’s kiss press onto his forehead and the covers settle around him. The light flicked off, but he could still see the castle. Now there was spidery scaffolding climbing up its walls, and the prince and princess were clambering up its walls along with the servants, all with sponges and rags in hand. Alex watched them through half-closed eyes, and fell asleep as they all scrubbed and sprayed and set everything to rights.