My daily struggle between hope and inertia begins. Placing a small bet on hope, I get out of bed. Standing in my flannel nightgown in front of the full-length mirror I smooth down the left side of my collar until it is perfectly smooth. Next, I straighten each pearl button. The last button refuses to stay upright, I yank it off. I throw it at the wall, leaving a small chip in the wallboard. I pull my nightgown over my head, and toss it on the floor. I go into the bathroom and stare at my faded eyes, crows feet, the permanent frown. Throwing back my shoulders, I begin my Friday speech.
“YOU can do this” I whisper.
“You CAN do this” I say.
“You can DO this” I yell
“You can do THIS!”I live alone so I can shout at the top of my lungs.
What I hear is;
“You are lazy and stupid”
“Is this the best you can do?”
My friend, Lanny tells me that reading inspiring stories and motivational quotes will help you believe in yourself. I looked and found “You miss a hundred percent of the shots you don’t take” Wayne Gretzky. Easy for you to say, Wayne, you make almost 100% of the shots you do take. Then there is “If I am going to die by drowning, I want to know I am swimming toward shore” Ernest Hemingway. A drunk who blew his brains out with a shotgun, maybe not the best place to get motivational advice.
The quotes and stories don’t work. They can’t work. The problem is not that I fear getting started, it is that I must know how it will end. What if my effort is a waste of time? Instead of trying would I be better off planting flowers, making love to a stranger or running down the street naked? As if, I would ever really do any of those things. What I want is a guarantee. I want Lanny or someone, anyone, to assure me that when I have done this, I will not feel defeated. I cannot start until I know.
I get dressed and wander into the kitchen, push the button on the coffeemaker three times. I fill my ceramic coffee mug with hot water, watch it for 28 second then tip the water out. The mug is warm. I pour in half and half and place the mug in the microwave for 17 seconds. The cream will now be the same temperature as my coffee. Only now, can I drink it.
I go back into the bathroom, “I CAN DO THIS.” I have been shouting this into my mirror every Friday for three years and seven months. Still, I have not done it. I run my hands through my tangled hair, then bury my face in my hands. If everything was in exactly the right place, could I do it then?
I race down the hall, yank open the living room closet door. All my words, caged, forgotten for years, burst out and tumble onto the carpet. Capital letters, chased by Spanish curse words. Sprawling crooked letters in crayon. Whispers, and sighs, peek around wooden closet door railing, then jump out and go running after moans and exclamations. Full sentences overflowing with meaning cling to each other to form paragraphs. Snippets flail behind the paragraphs trying to latch on. I hear a very distant scratching as if a twig is being blown over a glass window, suddenly musical notes begin to float slowly through the air then pause to rest in the sunbeams.
Words continue flowing out, flowers corn stalks, twig. Weather words, mist, fog, and wind. Work words, plumber, electrician, followed by seamstress, Cooking words, stir, measure, grill. Eating words, gulp, chomp, the last word tiptoes out then glances back at me, sip.
Poking my head into the closet, I reach for the string, the socket is empty. I peer into the darkness; words are clinging to the closet walls. I pull timid off and toss it on the living room floor. On my hands and knees, I rake my fingers through the carpet searching for emotional words. I do not see any, I listen and hear them scuttling under the floor, a brittle crashing sound like a child banging a metal pot with a broken spoon. I run my fingernail between the edge of the carpet and the floorboard. A carpet staple bites into the flesh of my index finger. I push all my fingers into the crevasse and pull hard. A throbbing pain rushes up my shoulder. I grunt and pull again peeling the carpet from the wall. Coughing from the dust, I see the words anger, jealousy, rage, and impatience, they leap up and down, screeching and pointing at me. I step backwards and see the living room carpet knee deep in words. Sharp edged words all twisted together. Where am I going to put all these words?
I go into the garage, start sorting decades of stuff. The garage is chilly and smells of mold and bags of unused cat litter. There is a skinny clear tube about 4 inches long with one blue bead stuck to the bottom, I tap until the bead rolls out onto the floor. Underneath an old mattress, is a box full of file folders, I bought at a garage sale for a quarter. Moving the box aside, I open a brightly colored pink 8 by 5-inch box. It is a broken music box with a tiny mirror and plastic blue ballerina half bent on her spring. I find a three-tiered yellowed plastic sewing box the top tray full of rusty pins and tangled embroidery threads. Eleven faded blue Tupperware bowls, five lids. A clear plastic tub full of cardboard cigar boxes filled with thousands of metal cigar tubes with FONSECA in green curlicue letters on the side. An old viola case with a sticker that says “Paris in the Springtime” plastered over a picture of the Eiffel tower. Opening it, I find a crumpled five-dollar bill laying on blue velvet. My knees creek as I get up. In the kitchen, I open a can of Campbells tomato soup and stir it slowly as it warms.
Three weeks later, most words have a home. The metal cigar tubes contain words that might race away, slither, slippery, scamper. One cigar box holds adjectives cruel, sharp, zealous. The words perfect and, gentle rest in a separate cigar box. Each file folder contains one adverb. The adverb files begin with the word ahead. I searched for ago under my perfume bottle, inside my credit card bill, behind the refrigerator, I never found it. It irritates me, I know that ago, should be first.
Comforting each other in the tray of the broken music box are jagged, smashed and wrecked. Seamstress fits into the tray at the top of the sewing box. Creativity beside it. Spontaneity is strapped in a small compartment at the bottom. Spontaneity will jump around if not carefully locked in. Stir, measure and bake seem ecstatic in the Tupperware bowls. My clear plastic bead tube holds small words it, the and is. Small words thrive when kept close together.
Last Tuesday, I found a large wooden toy box, a huge sunflower painted on the side. Perfect for wonder and imagination. Big words need lots of space. Exasperation had to be gently folded several times before it fit into a padded manila envelope. Musical notes are in the viola case. It sits open on the window ledge facing out. Music needs sunlight.
I haven’t found the perfect place for the color and weather words. They seem content sleeping together in the corner of the living room floor. All of the emotional words rushed back into the closet. I leave the door unlocked, should they decide to venture out.
The last two words muscular and valiant fought me. I chased them up and down the stairs, fourteen times around the living room. They exhausted me, then I got smart and tricked them into a metal cookie tin, and smacked closed the lid.
I feel tired, but proud. A difficult job, complete. Sitting down at my desk, I check my e-mail for the new story prompt and begin to write this story, with all the words I found.