Another cold and windy day.  From behind the door of a dimly-lit upper room, now littered with scraps of paper and books, happy candles flick the gray from the walls, dispelling it, and scent the air with Christmas memories: cinnamon, pine, a portable heater, and winter’s precipitation moaning through a one-inch crack in the window.  A sheer curtain—shiny, feminine, ghostly—reaches out and flirts with his cheek.  He imagines the fullness of her breasts, nipples hard and visible, poking through the transparent veil of a bride’s virgin-white lingerie.

“Why don’t you write about me?”

“Because you’re my beta reader.  I want you only for your 20/15 vision.”

She almost smiles and continues to read, telling him, “Shhh…”  Meanwhile, he paces the floor, waiting for her reaction—which means everything to him, good or bad, success or failure.  He pours some piping hot water over a peppermint teabag and cools it with two inches of plain vodka.  He takes a sip, sets the steaming cup in front of her.  She reaches for the bottle instead, takes a generous swig, and wipes her pretty mouth with the back of her soft hand.  He watches the cute way the parentheses enclosing her lips twitch, the deeper she enters into the forest of his words, a world he’s created ex nihilo and is sovereign lord over all.  Will he be a good god or a bad god?  He never knows from paragraph to paragraph how the story will go—he isn’t omniscient like the real God.

He prays to the real God, who supposedly causes all things to work together for the good of those who really love Him.  He hopes that is true.  But what is love of the invisible?  What does that look like?  How does it work?  As a man, he still doesn’t understand how visible love operates.

The Divine Author doesn’t write from paragraph to paragraph.  He’s been a serious plotter from before the foundation of the world, according to the Bible.  As if “plot” isn’t scary enough to a writer who flies by the seat of his pants, “predestined” is a scarier word.  In real life, has he been preordained to love another and, if so, is that love really real?

He pretends not to observe the beautiful woman in the room. She disturbs him.

She finally sips the tea.  He wants to kiss her, taste the peppermint on her tongue, smell the alcohol on her breath.

Is intimate love of another human being freedom or bondage?

She snaps his dirt-cheap Lenovo laptop shut like a book and doesn’t say a word.  She always does this—makes him wait, makes him beg.

She approaches the window that’s been clacking in the wind, opens it further.  He already knows this routine, pulls out a Black and Mild, lights it, hands it to her.  Soon, the icy winter air mixes with hot smoke in her strong, young lungs.  Her blue eyes, extra bright, betray some unspoken emotion as she studies his.

“It’s good.”

“Yeah?

“Yes.  It’s really good.”

He’s relieved.  He knows she never lies.

She sends a cloud of smoke into the air, takes another sip of vodka straight from the bottle.  Privately, he’s turned on, watching her, silently adoring her, maybe even worshiping her.  A goddess, she is.  A mermaid.  Trapped in his writing room.

“But—”

“Uh oh.  But what?”

“You’re a talented writer, but there’s always something missing.”

His stomach sinks like a falling star.  “What?  Exactly.”

She makes him wait.

Following her example, he takes an undiluted drink.  The room is starting to spin.  He likes it.  He wants to make love to her, but, no, no, no, no.

She opens the window all the way.  An arctic blast sends papers flying all over the room, the metabolic waste of a struggling writer.  She steps onto the roof.  He follows, a lamb to the slaughter, bringing a warm blanket with him.  The moon, bright as a mirror, illumines everything but her thoughts.  He waits.

Blanket draped over their shoulders, they pass the wine-flavored cigar back and forth, down to the filter.  They drink some more, a lot more.  Honesty is inevitable.

Finally, she slurs, “S-s-seriously, why don’t you ever write about me?”

He ponders the question for a long, silent moment, stalls for a little more time.  “Honestly, I never plan to write about anyone or anything.  I just write, and whatever comes, comes.”

Buzzed and snickering, “Well, I don’t care how many times you come.  I just want to know why you don’t ever write about ME?”

This is not a time to develop a case of the hiccups, but here they come, in full, rib-wracking force.  One after the other, rapid and powerful at first, ultimately losing strength and speed, spacing out, until his diaphragm eventually relaxes fifteen minutes later.

“Sometimes you’re really annoying.”

“And YOU’RE nonfiction.”

“The hell does that mean?”

“It means that you’re real.  You’re my day-to-day.  Not some typed product of the imagination, or a past regret, or a future hope.  You’re the dream-come-true of every author, wrapped in flawless human flesh, pulsing with hot blood, full of life and real possibility.”

She just stares at him.

He continues.  “In other words, you’re the catch, not the chase.  You’re alive, not make believe.  You’re here with me now—and—and I wish you were holding my hand.”

He tries to take her hand.  She pulls away.

“You’re drunk.”

“You never believe a damn word I say.”

“Why should I?  You’re a professional liar.”

The accusation, the word, hangs heavy in the air as visible as the moon, flashing like a neon light: LIAR, LIAR, LIAR.

Scooting farther away from him, “If you really love me, I’d be in every story . . . not some other woman with different color hair and eyes . . . not her.”

Pleased, as well as annoyed at the mixture of truth and untruth and the utter lack of his control over a real-world story–whoever is writing this chapter of his life has him teetering on the edge of a roof, under a cold moon sky, live or die.  He’s lost all sovereignty, and, for a moment, any self-respect or confidence in tomorrow.

He takes another sip of Smirnoff, passes the bottle to her.  She tips it up and guzzles deeply.

“Whoa!  Easy there, Zelda Fitzgerald!”

“Well?  I’m waiting…”

Dogs bark in the distant slumbering neighborhood, below the rooftops, on the frosty ground, the cold hard ground.

“I swear I can smell spaghetti and garlic bread!  Isn’t this romantic?”

Silence.

He starts to sing, “When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie, that’s amore…” but stops when she punches him in the thigh.

“Ouch!  You’re going to knock me right off the roof to my death!”

She stands, laughing a deep and wicked laugh, and attempts to climb back into the window, back into the comforting confines of the writing room, where the magic happens, where the dead are brought to life.

He puts a hand on her shoulder.  “Wait—”

She turns to him, wobbly, teeth chattering, intoxicated.

He puts both hands on her shoulders, looks into the ocean blue depths of her eyes.  “You’re very much a part of my writing.”

“How so?”

“Without you, I can’t write.  And—and—that room?  It’s just an ordinary room if I enter only with my mind and not my heart.  It’d be a room without the lights on.  I’d be sitting in the dark.  Without you, all my words would be listless, without direction, or purpose, or life.”

“Talk plainly to me, please.”

“You see, darling girl, you’re the light—”

At last, she smiles up at him.

“—because of you, I know what I know, feel what I feel, and see what I see.  You’re behind the lines, informing everything.  Without you, there’d be no story.”

Satisfied, she leads the way.  They climb back inside, close the window, and latch it against the bitter winter wind.  The writing room is extra warm.  Coming to life again.
____________
Andrew Dabar