Mystery Drama Fantasy

   My hands were trembling again, I noticed with despair. I wanted to be sitting on the porch, or at Theresa’s party, but instead I was glued to the computer, a large white rectangle before me waiting to be filled with words. It had gotten worse over the past week, and I was now on the equivalent of academic probation. I had been invited to a writer’s retreat, an escape from my tiny hometown of Glastonbury. I was living in a tiny but pleasant little house with a white picket fence and a field of daisies behind it. I should have been blissful, but when I plugged in my computer, or put pen to paper, nothing came out.

     The first week I wrote a few paragraphs, but they were terrible. I couldn’t turn them in. By the end of the week, I was backspacing over first sentences and now, finally, I had devolved to this, sitting in front of the computer with a horrible blank space daring me to fill it. Professor Wright had given me a little lecture: “Writers write, critics critique. Don’t waste your gifts on evaluation.” But at the following class, he had become harsher, “If you don’t write, you don’t belong here.” I had to produce three submissions by next class, or I’d be sent home.

     The little town of Mayfield was a typical college town, deserted over the summer months. There were little shops and boutiques, book nooks and coffee houses, bars and taverns, all cozy, all typical of a small Vermont town. With my computer tucked under my arm, I slipped into a dark and cozy building. I’d not been in this coffeehouse before. I had already plugged in my computer and resumed staring at a blank page when the waiter, a man with a wry smile and a dance in his step, told me that I was actually at a wine bar.  Although it was getting to be early evening, the wine bar was empty, save for this man with a disconcerting way of clicking his heels as he walked. The gait and the smile seemed familiar to me, but I couldn’t place them, and something about the way he walked with that odd dance in his step, instead of amusing me, left me cold. I felt the hackles on my neck.

    He was giving me the look that waitstaff give when they want you to order or leave immediately. I couldn’t face going back home and staring at the white rectangle alone again. A nice glass of wine might be just what I needed to keep my trembling hands from shaking. The tremors only came when I had to write. They’d been worse since Wright had begun to chastise me. I thought I saw the waiter suppress a smile at my blank computer screen and trembling hands.

      “I’ll have a Shiraz.”

      “Syrah or Shiraz?”

      Oh god, that type of place, I thought. Pretentious bastards. I was frazzled. I didn’t mean to, but I snapped. “Can you give me what I asked for, a Shiraz?” I said it slowly, as if to a first-grader. “You may choose the type, any type from Australia. I smiled my best condescending one. If I wanted a French version, I’d have told you.”

      He looked at me coolly, completely unflustered. “Of course.”

      “God, I’m sorry,” I said. “I’m under some stress. Writer’s block.”

       He smiled again, and I began to wonder if he saw my anxiety and felt schadenfreude.  I stared again at the empty page.

      Unfortunately, the wine was excellent. It was uncommonly sweet and spiced. I found myself swirling the glass and sniffing it deeply before I took a slow draft. It was getting late. A cadre of youngsters, beautiful and tanned, entered the wine bar. They were loud and chattering. I couldn’t focus on my writing. Yet I found them mesmerizing, and also couldn’t seem to look away. They were having so much fun. Fun that I was missing out on. Perhaps another glass.

     And then, the evening was gone.

     I found myself in my own apartment. It was mid-afternoon the following day, and it was already past class time. “Shit,” I thought. Late. I looked at my computer. Nothing on the screen. I was screwed. I remembered nothing of the previous night, save the first two glasses of that glorious wine. Now I was on my bike and pumping my legs as fast as they could go in order to get to Wright’s class. I was done. I’d be sent home.

     I’d have done anything for another chance.

     Something in the air was different that day. I felt it. The autumn smell of smoke still mingled with the smell of leather. I still felt my wheels bumping over cobblestones, and Mr. Whittaker’s dog still barked at me all the way along his fence, but when I got to class, I knew things were different.

      “Miss Feir, I’ll see you after class.”

        For a moment, I harbored a ridiculous hope that I wouldn’t be sent home for failing to produce. I deserved to be sent home. I hadn’t worked, I had only suffered. It was one thing not to write well. It was another not to even try.

      I walked with heavy feet to Wright’s office. “Congrats,” he said. “The spell is broken, huh?”

      I looked at him quizzically.

     “I read your manuscript,” he said. “And I’ve submitted it for publication. Remember, you waived all rights to anything produced while at the retreat.”  He handed me a sheaf of papers. “You must have been storing up. You have some real talent here. I’ve made a few suggestions.  Why don’t you take this week off? Write at your own pace.”

      This was surprising. Wright wasn’t telling me to leave. He seemed to be under the impression that I had submitted this manuscript he was now handing me. But I hadn’t. There was no name under the title. I was rapidly discovering that my block extended to spoken word, as well. There was nothing to say.

    “Next time, put your name on it.” Wright said. “How do you expect to get credit?”

*         *         *

    I read it when I got home. Bizarre. It was set in my hometown. The language was beautiful. The observations were accurate and insightful. It resonated with me, but I couldn’t say why. I wondered who had written it. I could have written it. I should have written it. There were recollections of things that I thought I could recall experiencing, but when I tried to remember, the details fell away. I called my friend Campbell that night to tell him, but I found that I couldn’t relay the underlying thread of the story. I read him a passage.

     “You blacked out,” he said. “You probably wrote it and blacked out.”

      But I hadn’t. I checked my computer. Nothing had been saved. There’d been no activity after I hooked into Wi-Fi at the wine bar. On the other hand, this mistake of fortune had saved me. It was preventing me from being sent home.

     Things unfolded quickly after that. Wright called to tell me that my story would be published in the New Yorker. I was also to be offered a contract for future submissions.

      I found myself spending time in class surveying the room, wondering who submitted the manuscript. There was only one person I really was friends with, Eleanor, who was such a stickler for rules, I thought, it couldn’t have been. I asked her.

      “What are you talking about? You don’t remember writing your manuscript?”

       Something about the look on her face threatened me. I hadn’t thought that Eleanor could turn me in and I could still be kicked out. Also, I felt foolish trying to explain that I hadn’t written anything. “First off, real writers would never dream of using another’s work, nor allowing someone else to ascribe to theirs. . . “

       This was insufferable. I chortled. “I was kidding. Just testing out an idea for my next story. I wanted to see how you’d react.”

       She stared at me. “How did you think I’d react?”

       “I thought you’d, well, I figured you’d be uptight about it.”

       “Uptight? You are a real piece of work you know.”


        “Go, get another contract, Big Shot,” she called over her shoulder.

*         *         *

         Things got worse after that. I wrote. The New Yorker was not receptive to my real work. They sent it back to me with comments like, “lacks depth,” or “purple word choice,” or simply “awkward.” Finally, my editor called, “we want something more like your first work.”

        Oh god, I thought. I can’t produce. This time, however, I didn’t have the luxury of turning in nothing. On the other hand, Professor Wright had located an agent for me. The agent was having some success with my other pieces.

        Home Journal wants another story like your piece on your summer vacation.

       “Great,” I said with feigned enthusiasm. I hated that piece. It was fluff. There was nothing to it. “Hey, how about something a little more experimental?”

        “Sure,” my agent said. “Send it to me and I’ll shop it.”

        And he did, with mixed results. Sometimes the editors said it showed promise, but always, it did not receive the acclaim of my first work. Vacuous magazine editors asked me silly questions. Television interviewers asked me why I was no longer writing.

       The horrible truth is that I was writing. Just without any success.

        And that’s how it’s been for the last twenty years or so. I write. I write the same place at the same time for a pre-allotted amount of time. My agent eventually let me go. The New Yorker honored the contract but published nothing. And yet here I am. I don’t know why I’m still writing. I’ve gone back to Mayfield, but I never could find the little wine bar. Maybe it disappeared, or maybe it was replaced by something else. I suppose that the one good thing that came of the experience was that I built a discipline. But why write if no one is interested in appreciating it, right?

      So, I’ve finally shared my secret.

      Now, when interviewers ask why I write, I no longer aspire to acclaim or perfection. “I’m learning,” I say. “Besides, we all need hobbies.”

August 30, 2020 14:50

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06:53 Sep 01, 2020

Beautifully written


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Jonathan Blaauw
16:18 Aug 30, 2020

If it seems a bit creepy how quickly I jumped on this, the new activity feed shows when followers post new stories. Good thing, too, otherwise I'd have probably only found it in the week. We know by now how excellent your writing is, but it's still worth mentioning because your standard is incredibly high. Professional is probably the best description. And the idea is delightful. I love how you don't offer any explanation about how the writing got written. Instead of being a plot hole, it makes the reader as bewildered as the protagonist! A...


Amy DeMatt
21:24 Aug 31, 2020

Haha!! No way! As for the careful read, thank you! Exactly right on your observations. I consider myself so fortunate to have you as an audience—and truly reading! I just read a few of yours—pure enjoyment! Looking forward to reading more from you—thanks for your eyes, attention, observations!


Jonathan Blaauw
07:54 Sep 01, 2020

It's only a pleasure. Always remember, though, that it's only due to the quality of your work. I'm not nearly patient enough to read stuff that doesn't grab me. So the thanks is great, but it's down to you at the end of the day. Your work is a joy to read (with or without Australian shiraz, as the case may be) :)


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Unknown User
19:33 Sep 03, 2020

<removed by user>


Amy DeMatt
00:10 Sep 06, 2020

@AG Scott, thanks for the read and the comment. You are so right about the ending. It was rushed. Working on that. . . Will check out more of yours—I enjoyed the last so much!


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