“So, why do you write?”
“It’s not that easy to answer, I have to say,” I stare at the ceiling: the white paint helps me get my thoughts together. “It may take a long time.”
“We’re not in a hurry.”
“Well,” the cold blanket brings me joy. It’s Sunday, early morning, my favorite time of the week when no one can bother me: the Dreamtime. “I never thought about writing, I mean, I wrote some poems in my early teens. Some love poems, some experimental stuff, but that’s it.”
“Yes. I always wanted to be a musician… but you know that already.”
“You don’t have to say that, I already know everything. Just talk.”
I don’t know why it is so comforting to hear that, but I smile and carry on.
“I’m just bad at songwriting. I can improvise really well, but when it comes to composing, I’m always lost in the notes…” I’m telling how I love playing the guitar. The physical pleasure I get through my fingers calms me down – I don’t think about the world around me and don’t mind my constant neck pain that makes my whole upper back tense and my head dizzy.
“… and then, suddenly, the day I quit my job, I just wrote my first short story.”
“You were a carpenter, am I right?”
“Exactly. I wrote my first short story, sent it to a couple of people. It was funny and every ‘gun’ fired. I wrote the second one the same day.”
“It wasn’t that good, though.”
“It wasn’t. But it took me a couple more stories to… to sharpen the tool. So, I wrote around thirty, chose the best, and self-published them in an e-form.”
“And how many did you sell?”
“Six… But I didn’t advertise it. Well, I did, but on the small scale, through the internet.” I shake my head, “Look, it’s hard to sell something original!”
“Or maybe the stories were not that good?”
“No one questions their quality more than me!” I jump out of the bed and open the curtains – my neighbors are hanging out in the courtyard. It happens every day: four people on the bench; they stare somewhere. A lady from the first floor comes to them and tells them something. That happens every day too.
The written word possesses the biggest power, dominating other art forms, being so grounded in human feelings, in thousands of years of communication and calls to action. It brings joy, it brings sadness; it’s lying, teaching us to lie and believe in that lie without a doubt.
But that’s not why I write.
“My life is so boring. There happens exactly what? Exactly nothing. I eat, I sleep, I go to work. And that’s why I create my characters,” I sit behind my desk; I haven’t touched my keyboard for about ten minutes because I don’t care about my job. I speak with my colleague – she’s cute and funny and that’s her description. “They have life. Something happens to them. It’s not always good, exciting, or out of ordinary. But that something is something that I don’t have in my life. I can give them the words to speak, ideas to manifest, thoughts to have. I can give them unusual names and features that I don’t see around me.”
“Huh. You’re the only writer I know. It’s strange,” her name is Ana, by the way, with one “n”.
“I think everybody can write! More than that – everybody writes these days. Everybody types every day! It’s the only means for communication for many, especially for those who can’t leave their place…” I stare at her golden wavy hair, “So, why wouldn’t you add some color to your words? To make a story out of it, you only need to steer the flow, turn the puddle into a trickle. The pond into a stream. The lake into a river.”
“I get it, get it!” she laughs.
“But I’m not a writer yet. I just write stories.”
She tells me that this is exactly what a writer does.
“A writer is someone who earns his living through writing. And I only sold six books. Maybe next year I sell one more.”
She tells me that this is “a professional writer”.
I hear my boss when he enters his “domain” – he always breathes heavily, as if he was running. The guy reminds me of a hospital manager: he’s not a physician but he wears a white coat. He talks too much, too fast, and too loud. He walks around, checking on his employees as if they were his patients, yet he only unnerves them because he is not a real doctor and can’t help them.
“Our boss is getting sacked, by the way,” Ana whispers straight into my ear.
“What?!” I whisper too, but it’s a screaming whisper: a screamsper. “Isn’t he the main guy in the building? How can you sack someone who, basically, owns the place?”
“How would I know? We’re just mere draftsmen, they don’t tell us anything!”
I’m looking at the white ceiling – I think that I’ve missed her last sentence. She pokes me into my arm, “You want something?”
“I want my novel to get picked by an agent.”
“For lunch, I mean!” her cute smile calms me down. “I’m ordering food,” she manifests the options – there are just three, as always.
“I’ll take the third one, there’s more meat in it.”
“It’s my favorite too,” she smiles again. “Two threes for office number six.”
My sister came to my place the next evening. She’s the only relative who visits me. I have plenty of them, like, for example… let’s skip this part. I just don’t want to see them. My sister is an honest person and that’s why I like her. She doesn’t like my writing and she’s very straightforward about that – no sugarcoating – but she’s always supportive of my creative endeavors ‘cause they keep my head busy.
We talk for an hour or so. She doesn’t laugh very much, nor does she cry, especially since our mother has been gone. She had to invest in me a lot of her life, but she always provided and helped, no matter how much trouble I cost her. My headaches are bothering her. I argue that it must be a brain tumor and I’m about to die untreated, like a total champ, but she says that I’m a silly fool. But I still need to go for an MRI. Alright, MRI it is.
She picks up the stacks of white sheets from the floor, puts them on the desk, and grumbles about my typewriter. I have a computer in the room, but I don’t type on it. I love seeing my words in the flesh. I want to be able to touch them, to show them, to know that they are real.
Because a writer’s mind is fragile.
“And so is paper :) ”
“But so is the computer,” I chat with a girl named Leah. Actually, it’s Leah99 with two black dots before and after the name, but she says that everybody calls her Leah. I can’t recall when I first started writing to her. She lives in the Balkans and she’s a webcam model. There are thousands of them on the internet, but there’s something that really attracts me to her.
“Recently, my neck got so tense that I experienced mild vertigo. And I’m getting tired really fast. And I’m making mistakes in my text.”
“Yes. But my head feels so heavy that I miss them during the spellcheck. For example: I write “slip” instead of “sleep”, “now” instead of “know”, I confuse “when” and “then” and et cet. Worst of all, I write sentences without any sense. They make sense inside my head, but when I read them it’s all nonsense!”
“Maybe you suffer from dyslexia? :j ”
“Don’t you think it should’ve manifested itself earlier? I’m twenty years old, damn it.”
“Maybe you have ADHD… or… I don’t know what. ^_^ ”
“You don’t have cancer! Dummy. :P I love paper books. Will you send your novel to me? =) ”
“Sure. As soon as I find an agent for it.”
“Did you write to any of them already? ’_’ ”
“Yes. I sent the book to some people, but so far it’s all rejections upon rejections.”
“ :( Why is that?” She pouts her lips. She’s a little bit older than me: twenty-one, twenty-two? There’s an unusual seriousness, thoughtfulness to her face. Unusual for a girl who teases with her naked body for a living.
“I guess I can’t write a pitch. Can’t sell a novel.”
“But why? I’ve read one of your stories you sent a link to… sorry, I didn’t read them all… I don’t read that much. But the one I read was so funny :D ” she laughs, looking at the monitor. There’s no sound and I like it: other girls usually have some stupid music on.
“I’m trying to become a writer. Not a salesman. I don’t know how to sell something. I tried to work in sales once. That was a short stint, to put it mildly. Isn’t that enough that I create something new, original, out of the box? Should I also be able to sell it, advertise it, be my own PR manager? What the f... Sorry.”
“ :( Yeah, selling something is not that easy.”
“Hey, gorgeous, do you butt play?” someone entered the chat.
“Only with my panties on! ;) ” Leah puts the list of her services and the prices on the screen: she usually plays with her breasts and barely shows her pubic hair: a charming modesty.
“You look so beautiful in that blouse,” I had to intervene.
“Thanks. I can show you what’s under it. I’ll give you a discount.”
“I…” feel disappointed, “I thought that I’m a little bit different.”
“Of course you are :* “
My neighbor from the first floor knocks on the door. She cares about the people around her. That includes me. She checked my mail and brought the envelope with my manuscript.
“I got rejected again.”
My sister nods, but I think it’s a nod to her disappointment in me. Not that she was expecting me to be a successful writer, but a successful anything would’ve been just fine with her. It’s MRI day. We sit by the doctor’s office. My sis is quiet and doesn’t talk to me.
The weighting is finally over. No. The waiting is finally other. Wait, what? Anyway, we’re in.
The doctor sits with her back to us. The sun transforms the color of her hair into some different color. She turns; she turns her face to me: I don’t understand, I can’t process such beauty, a beauty that deserves every word, every metaphor which can be associated with it. “I’ll write about you, I’ll describe you…” I talk to myself, as she stands up, shining under the sun; I mumble, as she gazes with her eyes of this majestic, magnificent color; I whisper, staring at her facial features so mesmerizing, so attractive, that it makes my heart stop. She comes closer, with her white caught reflecting the son… as if she stepped out of eat… for me to witness her decent… upon us. “Please, please…” I beg, as she floors me down with her stare, covers with her body, emits thunder. I can’t take her presence without this pleasure that makes me close my eyes. I, I am for now, for what I know, from now on, for free, for thee, I surrender to thy grace.
It’s Sunday again. I smile, staring at my white ceiling; the window is open, I can hear the distant voices from the courtyard.
“Quit another job, didn’t you?”
“Let’s move on. Tell me a little bit about your success.”
“Huh, it’s a grandiose word… but, you know what? It really is a success!” I close my eyes. “It came out of nowhere. I already forgot about that copy of a manuscript I sent, and then–“
“Sup, man?” someone enters my room.
I jump and turn towards the intruder, “What the hell? Who are you?!”
“Hey, relax, I’m your new neighbor.”
My heartbeat gradually slows down. “Sorry, I’m used to living alone.”
“That’s ok, don’t worry,” the man sits down on the free bed; he must be forty or so, I don’t really know. “Why are you here?”
“The neurologist prescribed me a hospital treatment. I have neck issues. I thought I had cancer, but turns out, it’s just some… nerves.”
“Same thing,” he points at his spine, “back pains!”
His name is Victor and he has stubble. I don’t feel tense anymore. Not because of his stubble, of course.
“I don’t wanna sound rude and shit, but who were you talking to?”
I blush and look down at my slippers, “Well… I love imagining that I’m giving an interview.”
He laughs, but not at me, “Like if you were a famous…” he spots a guitar, standing by my bed, “musician?”
“It depends,” I look in the window to avoid eye contact. There was a time when I dreamed of being a musician, but now I’m a hundred percent letters-and-spaces.
“I’ve been a musician when I was your age,” he drops his sneakers off and lies down on the bed.
“Yep. Ever heard of…” he names a band, “… I was their bass player.”
I know the band, but I definitely don’t know this guy.
“But it was before they became big. Maybe there’s some info left somewhere, you can look it up if you want to… but it was long before social media became a thing.”
“That’s cool, I love their first album–“
“Gentlemen,” another one, will they ever leave me alone? “I’m your new head physician.” Our new head physician steps in, introduces himself, and asks our names. He doesn’t say anything about our treatment and only checks his papers and marks something in them after we answer his rather mundane questions.
“I’ve moved Victor in with you. You both have similar symptoms.”
I tell the new head that my neck is much better. I don’t feel dizzy anymore, but I do feel sleepy.
“We’ll try a similar treatment,” he scratches his head and stands up. I never saw the old head, so it’s kind of funny that he calls himself the new one. “Your sister visits you, right?” he asks this on his way to the corridor.
That’s unexpected. Does he know her? He’s too old for a schoolmate, and she never studied Medicine. Is he trying to hit on her?
“What about your mother?”
“What about her?”
“Does she come here?”
“Sir, it’s my first week here… no, she doesn’t.”
“Alright,” the head left.
“You know the biggest problem with those doctors? They are know-it-alls.” Victor drops one leg from the bed, “They think they can cure anything. But I don’t need their opinions, man, I’ve done my research, I’ve educated myself. The shit they’re prescribing – I’m not taking it.”
“But you still accepted the hospitalization?”
“I love these pines in the window. The view here is amazing. All I need to do is to relax, to slow down a little. I’ll have a nice vacation. It’s all work and chicks with me. Too much attention, too much hustle. My boss is stupid and annoying. So I’m happy to have some rest. And the cure, my man, it comes from within you. It’s in our inner systems....”
He lost me on that last sentence – it was getting scarily close to the reptilians who secretly rule our government and the benefits of Qi energy. I look out the window: a group of patients sits in the courtyard. I guess, some things never leave you – I had a very similar view in front of my apartment. Now a lady comes to them…
“Hey, man. Is it your neck or your ears? I’m talking to you. Have you read Chekhov?”
I tell him that I had déjà vu. He asks the same question once again. I never read Chekhov, but I know about his “gun”.
Victor wiggles his leg with utmost pleasure, “He has a novella Ward Number 6. It’s about some mentals. You know what? We have the same room number. Funny shit, funny to me,” he looks like a very thin cat when he laughs. “I’m glad it’s my back and not my head. Mentals are scary cunts.”
“My relative has some mental issues,” not so funny to me.
Someone knocks on our door – it’s just too many people for one day – it’s the lady from the first floor, I was expecting to see a copy of my manuscript, but she brought the pills–
“Have you always worked here?!” my eyes are probably very wide with confusion.
“I did,” a very disappointed exhale. I don’t know why, but it seems that people who really care about me are always disappointed in me.
“Sorry, I knew that you worked in some hospital, but… what a coincidence!”
“It is a coincidence, boy.”
They sit in front of me, three dark figures, inside the mist of the whirling particles, gilded by the blinding sunbeams, in their white coats turned black.
“Close the blinders, please,” the head raises his hand.
I can see better now, and the coats are back to their normal color. They go through my medical record. I sit there like a prisoner in front of a parole board, or like a poor sod on a job interview: I believe these two are quite similar. The coats call me by my name, “How are you feeling today?”
I’m feeling fine, sleepy, as usual, but my neck doesn’t bother me anymore.
“Alright, very good. We’re going to ask you some questions. It might sound unrelated to the subject, but bear with us.”
I’m really sleepy but it doesn’t mean that I can’t be suspicious.
“Can you tell us, when did your neck pain decrease?”
Every day they ask me about my health. I don’t understand the point of this, “I think, probably, after I visited the neurologist. So, after the treatment started, basically.”
“What about your neighbor, Victor? Does he take his treatment?”
“I’m not ratting people out!”
The head cracked with laughter, “We give you the same medicine and we want to understand how well it’s working. Victor is a… complicated man, that’s why we’re asking you.”
“Sir, I don’t spy on my neighbor.”
“Good. By the way, are you a writer?”
Perhaps the first-floor lady speaks too much. I tell our head that I write, but that doesn’t mean that I’m a writer.
“You are not a professional writer. Yet. But you are still one. Can you give me something to read?”
“Um, you mean like… Chekhov?”
“No!” He laughs again, “Something that you wrote.”
My heartbeat rises and I feel flattered. It’s the first time someone asked me for a book, “You can buy my book on the internet! I’ll give you a link. No, I’ll send you a free copy!”
I’m roaming through the files, trying to find my book, but it’s not here, obviously – it’s a hospital computer! Alright, I’ll buy myself a copy and send it to the doc. Somehow, there’s no internet connection. Not just a lack of it – a full absence of any signs of a possible connection to the World Wide Web.
I grab my phone and try to find the book there, but there are no documents in the storage. The store page doesn’t load. I also check my e-mail, but I can’t find any copy of my own goddamn book!
“Yes,” my sister’s inquiry is so tired that it lacks a question mark.
“Do you have a copy of my book somewhere?”
“No! My self-published book.”
She becomes so silent that I’m afraid that she has already forgotten about me. “I don’t. You sure that you… self-published it?”
“Of course I’m sure! I’ve sent you a link!”
She goes through the messenger but she can’t find any links from me. I ask her to go to my apartment and find it on my computer.
“I’m working right now. I’ll get back home and go to your room… apartment. And…” she sounds as if she’s about to raise her voice, but she stays calm. I mean, she tries to, “you still use a typewriter and send out printed paper! You sure you have something there?!”
Yes. I’m sure.
“What’s the name of the file?”
I can’t recall! “Just sort all the docs by their size, it’s the biggest one.”
She found nothing. I dive into the bed drawer: my typewriter – check, my manuscript – check, some random drafts – check. Of course, I didn’t bring my short stories with me to the hospital.
“What’s the fuss about?” Victor. Again.
“Nothing… I’m just looking for… something.”
“What’s up with all the paper?”
“I was a… draftsman before I moved here.”
“Really? You draw?”
“On the computer only… straight lines, splines, circles… nothing fancy: a technical job.”
“I used to be a model back in your day, posed for the artists.”
I turn around: Victor stares at the ceiling with his annoying feline grin. Can someone tell me, why would you draw a person with those facial features?
“Man, I stood naked in front of the girls for six hours, four times a week. And it’s usually females, who study that bullshit… I scored so much pussy back in those days, my schlong was sore on a daily basis.”
I don’t answer; I’m trying to find at least one short story, maybe I took one with me by an accident.
“Sometimes three or four of them gathered around, after the sessions, just to wank me off.”
“I thought that playing in a band helps with pussy-scoring more,” nope, not a story, just a clean sheet.
“You said that you played bass,” a testing page for the typewriter.
“Ah. Yeah. It was at the same time, basically… you have a girlfriend?”
“You’ll take more of these pills, you may not score any pussy in your life, my man.”
I stare at the fresh pills by my bed. There are two of them and they are white. I look at Victor’s drawer, but there are none.
“I have a friend, who’s a girl, and we have a thing… but she lives in the Balkans.”
I slam the drawer, “It’s none of your business.”
“Wow, man, sorry for pissing on your gate then!”
“Keep it off my wave, thanks.”
That night I tried to find Leah’s page, but this user doesn’t exist.
“Sir, I can’t find my first book. Here’s my unpublished novel,” I put the paper in front of our head. “All the agents rejected it.”
“Thanks, kid,” he grabs the manuscript.
“Victor takes his pills, sir,” I stare at my feet.
“His plate is always empty.”
“Good. How are you feeling today?”
I’m alright. I’m fine. I’m sleepy, I don’t want anything, I don’t want to write, I don’t want Leah, I don’t want to leave the hospital. I can’t find my book anywhere, as if it never existed, and I can’t remember its title.
It’s all about the pills.
How is Victor taking them and is still so full of energy?!
“Man, calm down, goddammit,” he is really scared because I grabbed him by the collar, “I’ll tell you, just relax.”
I sit down on my blanket but I stare straight into his eyes. He stands up and takes the pill plate.
“Bon appétit!” he throws the pills into the sink, then turns the tap. “Easy-peasy. Man, I’m telling you, if you wanna stay sane, you better stop chugging this shit. I’d rather tolerate the back pain but keep my squash intact.”
Vic was right, no wonder – he studied medical science, but when his girlfriend cheated on him, he enlisted with the Marines (I was a sailor for a year, so we share the common sea [see the pun?] ), then he had a drug problem and left his dream of becoming a doc.
I don’t feel sleepy anymore.
Leah sent me a personal e-mail, apologizing for her disappearance: she’s trying to start anew. She said that we may meet one day if I ever decide to visit the Balkans. My neck pains are back, but I don’t care. Now I need to re-upload my book and get out of this place – this treatment is not for me.
“You’ve been quite jovial, overactive… this whole week,” the head goes through my record.
“I was, sir. The pain is gone, so I want to get back to my normal life.”
“I’m afraid we have to keep you here for a little longer. You don’t take your medicine anymore.”
The madness rushes all over me. I don’t remember the last time I was so enraged. The chair flies through the room right into the door, “It’s that cunt, Victor! He told you?!”
“Please, calm down. We can see it in your blood samples. Your neighbor is afraid of needles, so we had to ask you about him. You showed great results with the new treatment, and now you’re slipping back… and I can’t allow it.”
“No! Are you trying to get some medical award?! I’m not your lab rat!!!”
I’m in solitary confinement. I should say that I don’t know how many days I’m here, but I know that it’s three days: I count the sun cycles. I don’t have anything that I can use to hurt myself or medical personnel, but I never intended to hurt them. They use a dropper to feed me drugs. The nurses always look at me while I’m eating. I don’t know how much longer will they keep me here, but I think that I will never leave this hospital. What a funny short story it could’ve been if only they gave me my typewriter. But I don’t want to write anymore because the medicine is working.
“Please, come in.”
I step inside the shaded room. They greet me, call me by my name, ask about my health. I sit quietly, staring down. The head gives me my medical record and says that I’m ready to read it. I go through - page by page, week by week, month by month. There are years of records from my previous treatments, in and out of institutions, my life through someone’s disengaged view, laid out on paper in cold medical terms; the life that I don’t remember, the one I never lived. I look at their calm, friendly faces. I don’t say anything. I give my record back.
A stack of paper with my name on it. Thin, tall letters, so beautiful and full of hope. “Dreamtime”, the title on a pristine sheet. “Dreamtime”, the name of the first chapter. “Dreamtime”, the first word of the book. The second. The third. The hundredth. Three hundred pages of double-spaced typing of one word. I put it on the table: I don’t need it anymore.
“Keep it. The agents may reject it, but it approves you,” the head points at his head. “Now you can start from scratch. We consider your treatment successful. We’ll prescribe you something else, so you won’t feel so sleepy all the time. Pack your stuff, your sister will drive you home later.”
I ask them about MRI – it was real. My neck pain – it was not.
I come back to my room. I know that they are here, inside my drawer, under my typewriter, filling the blank paper – the only world where they ever existed: Ana, my funny and cute colleague, Leah99 with two dots to her nickname, the neurologist – a woman so beautiful that I couldn’t find the right words to describe her. I go through them again, trying to find the last one, but it’s not there – I turn around and stare at the empty bed where Victor used to lay with his bare leg dangling in the air.
I grab the spire of the guitar neck. I’m scared and I don’t know what to expect from my own fingers. But they know more than I do: I really can play the guitar.
“What do you want for lunch, boy?” our nurse from the first floor.
Same as always – option number three.
“Alright. Two threes for room number six.”
I stand up and walk to the window: the same four people sit there, saying nothing, seeing nothing, but staring somewhere, into the depths of their own minds.
The door flies open, “Sup, man? Hey, are you a writer?” Victor spots my typewriter.
I tell him that I write sometimes.
“Man, I used to be a writer, when I was your age. I sold plenty of bestsellers…”
We drive following the streetlights. She’s quiet, so am I. Her eyes are focused on the darkening road, my eyes are out of focus. She turns into an empty parking lot and turns the key. Her cracked hands cover her tired eyes. I reach out for her hand, but she embraces me before I can do anything.
“I’m so glad that you’re back, dummy,” her golden wavy hair gets into my nostrils, “sorry.” She leans back and wipes her tears, “I bought you an electric typewriter. You can connect it to the computer and save on the drive everything that you write.”
Not sure if I had any success with smiling but at least I tried. Her gentle palm strokes my cheek, “I saw our mom last week. She doesn’t recognize me anymore. She doesn’t remember that she had us,” she’s crying and smiling, stroking my uncombed hair. “Stay here… with me. Please.”
I’ll try, sis. I’ll try.