The face of a blank white page stares back at me. I am thankful at least for the small mercy that the screen is not black, lest it be my own blank face which fills my vision. Nowadays it is no small matter to look myself in the eyes. Only when I must make myself presentable before a run to the store for provisions and the occasional accidental passing glance do I find myself observing my reflection, and even then I never, ever make eye contact with that other.
The text cursor winks back at me, taunting my stagnation. Like a metaphor for my motivation it flashes on and off, on and off, caught in a never-ending routine that gets old fast. It stands out, black and bold and strong against the plain white background, but is swallowed up once more before anything of significance can happen. Oh, and the best part: when I start to type the line disappears completely, only flickering back into its routine when I’ve run out of things to say.
They tell you the first step in overcoming writer’s block is simply to write. Just write something. It doesn’t matter what, it doesn’t matter if it’s any good or not, it just doesn’t matter. As long as you’re writing. I call bullshit. Clearly whoever said that never actually had to struggle through sentence after sentence of unrelenting and unforgiving shit writing. It’s painful to read, far less to write. No matter what you do the words just don’t seem to want to work together, the sentences sound bland or repetitive, the whole thing feels forced and fake. It’s like a sweater that fits too tight, or a piece of food lodged in your throat. You want to take it off and feel the relief of your constraints being lifted, you want to spit it out and sing, but you can’t. You’re stuck with it.
The house is empty. It has been for a while now. I’ve stopped keeping track of the days as they lazily float by, tiny white boxes on a checkered paper, seven-by-five, month after month, year after year. It’s all just time, and it no longer has any bearing on my life. It’s curious how quickly the things that once seemed so important, the fundamentals that made up the basis of your life, the structural guidelines society not only built itself around but thrives upon, fall apart and crumble the second you turn your back on them. It really gives you a sense of how fragile everything is.
The lights are off, have been off since she left. The blinds are drawn, haven’t been open for just as long. As a result the house is always dark. It makes it easier for me to avoid accidental run-ins with that other, and to turn a blind eye to the mess I’ve been living in. I’ve been sitting in front of this damned white screen, like a moth to a flame, for as long as I can remember. It’s the last bit of light left in my world.
I want to smother it out with darkness.
I want to coat it in the oil slick of my black words, to fill it with the dark whispers in my head, to corrupt it and corrode it and beat it senseless simply for being light in a dark world. I love it. I envy it. I hate it.
I know that if I don’t do this, it will leave me too.
“I can’t stand to see you like this,” she told me that day, tears in her eyes. “You can’t ask me to stand by and do nothing. I won’t do it.” I said nothing as she packed her things, standing in the bedroom doorway and watching her work, her body shaking. I did nothing when she kissed me on the cheek, a gentle caress that felt like goodbye because it was, her lips softly brushing against my skin, her tears wiping off onto my face. I made no move to stop her as she walked out of the apartment, her suitcase trailing behind, head hanging low. I didn’t wave as she looked back one last time, just before pushing open the front door and vanishing from my life, her scarf blowing in the wind.
When she was gone I proceeded to trash the place, sweeping ornaments off of tables and counters, whipping dishes against the wall and taking feral satisfaction in watching them break apart, shattering against the wall and falling back to earth in pieces. I kicked the furniture over, punched holes in the walls, drank myself into a state of inebriation so severe that I was unconscious before my rampage could go any further.
She doesn’t get it, you see. No one gets it. They all want another bestselling novel, another critically acclaimed masterpiece, but none of them want to wade through the grime and shit to get to it. They all want the diamond at the end, but none of them want to press that filthy grit into shape, to have to suffer through the suffocating pressure of it all.
What they don’t understand is that what makes it great is that it’s real. You don’t just make that shit up. It comes from an ugly hole inside of you, a festering pit of putrid, rotten filth, like a gaping mouth demanding nourishment. It is my God, my unforgiving, cruel, merciless God, and it demands sacrifice.
Without warning the laptop dies, and I’m left staring into the eyes of the other.
“No, no, no, no.” I scramble for the cord, but I lean too far in my chair and it falls, taking me with it. My head hits the table corner on the way down, and I’m out like a light.
When I come to I’m lying on my side, and directly across from my face is the laptop.
“You know what you did,” the other whispers. I shake my head, tears welling up in my eyes.
“No. No, I didn’t know.”
“How could you not have known?”
“I didn’t know!”
“Yes you did.”
“It was an accident!” I scream, slamming the laptop closed with such force that the screen breaks, scattering bits of the broken glass across the floor. There is a moment of silence, in which my heave breathing seems doubled, and then I see him again in the largest of the broken pieces, staring up at me.
“She was only trying to help, and look what you did.”
“Please, stop.” I’m sobbing now, tears and snot running down my face.
“LOOK AT WHAT YOU DID!” he screams, and I look. God help me, I look. In the dark I can just make out the contours of her figure, lying where I left her.
“It was an accident,” I say again, but now the words sound weak even to me.
“You knew what you were doing.”
“I didn’t, I swear I didn’t.”
“You were stuck in a rut, and you took your frustrations out on her. She was just trying to help, and look at what you did.”
“I only wanted her to stay. I didn’t want her to leave.”
“I bet now you’re wishing she had left though, aren’t you? That’s why you tried to convince yourself she had. Because you couldn’t face what you’d done.”
“I JUST WANTED HER TO STAY! God, Jesus Christ, I just wanted her to stay.”
“Well she’s certainly not going anywhere now, is she?”
“LEAVE ME ALONE!” I grab the piece of glass and bury it in my neck, desperate to stop the voice. And it does stop, at least for a moment. Then it comes back, one final taunt barely intelligible from the blood welling up in my throat.
“I’m sorry, can I just cut in here for a second?”
“Hm? Yeah, sure, go ahead.”
“Well, it’s just that… look, I’m not going to sugar coat it, Bill.” I laugh.
“That’s what you’re here for, Mike.”
“Right, well, the psychotic writer plagued by his own demons, it’s been done before. A lot. Honestly by this point is a well-exhausted cliché. And the story has no flow. One minute it’s a monologue on writer’s block, the next it’s straight dialogue between Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde? I mean, come on.” He grins, realizes he’s being a dick, and tries again. “Look, we know- I know, that from someone like you, this is fodder. Compared to your old stuff? This is amateur hour, Bill. It’s good, but…”
“But not from someone of my caliber,” I finish. He raises his palm in my direction, as if displaying what I’d just said.
“Exactly. Not from someone of your caliber. Truth is, you can do better. I know it, you know it, everyone knows it.”
“So, scrap it?”
“Well… maybe not scrap it, but definitely back shelf it for now. I’m sure we can work it into a short story anthology or something later on the line. We’ll see what comes up. Alright?”
“Alright. Hey, thanks Mike. I can always count on you to be honest with me. Brutally so,” I add, and we laugh. We talk a little longer, finishing our coffees and discussing other things, and then we say our farewells.
“Oh, Bill?” he asks, just as I’m turning to leave.
“What’s with the scarf, man? It’s like, thirty degrees out there.” I grin, making a bow.
“Dramatic effect,” I tell him, still bowing as I back out of his office, passing just beneath the mirror on his wall.