"Man, where is that damn thing?" I muttered to myself as I dug around for the wrench I needed. The leak below the kitchen sink had gotten impossible to ignore, but of course the wrench wasn't where I thought it was. It didn't help that the bitter cold of the Iowa winter was relentlessly seeping into the garage, making my search that much more unpleasant.
"Daddy, you said a bad word!"
I turned to find Anna, my little girl standing in the doorway. Her bare feet caught my eye. They must be freezing, I thought, as a pang dove through my chest, making my throat seize.
Maureen would have never let the bad word slip.... she would have never let Anna go without warm socks during the cold months...
But neither of us could be certain of what life would have been like.
"I'm sorry sweetie, you're right. Daddy will try to be better. Why don't you go back to the living room? It's warmer there. Daddy will be in soon."
I turned back to the toolbox and continued to rummage around. The tools kept slipping through my numb fingers.
"Daddy, what's this?"
I turned back to see Anna had wandered further into the garage, and had pulled the cover off my old typewriter. Her cautious fingers had displaced dust on three of the keys. My breath caught.
"It's a typewriter. Kind of like a keyboard for a computer. Daddy used to write stories with it."
It had made my editor crazy; that I had insisted on using it. Everything I ever handed in had to first be typed up again by some poor intern, I'm sure, before Jane would look at it. But I insisted. It felt more real to me. It was so satisfying to hear that clack, clack, clack, and know that I was creating something that would bring joy to people. That sound was once my life.
Next to the typewriter was a sealed box, containing one copy of every book I'd written. The dust on it had not been disturbed in years.
I had met Maureen at a book signing. I was just going to hand another copy over to another fan, counting the seconds until I could go up to my hotel room and drink in the silence. When I handed over her copy, her voice as she said thank you made me look up. Life was never the same again.
I had been writing these books filled with adventure and emotion, and now I was living them. My writing got even better. She was my inspiration and my everything. How had I become so lucky? We married two years to the day after we met. I gave her another copy of that book, and the signature was now made out to Maureen, my wife.
She was an Iowa girl, and I could write anywhere. Wherever she was, that was home to me. We bought our ranch house, and she gardened and we took care of all our rescues. I wrote. One day she came to me with tears in her eyes and told me she was pregnant. Life was perfect.
During a routine blood draw to make sure everything was going well with the pregnancy, an abnormal result was found.
Maureen couldn't have treatment during the pregnancy. She refused. She was adamant she would bring Anna into this world if it was the last thing she did. It nearly was. Anna was born, and Maureen started treatment before she even left the hospital. I held my breath and prayed. Eighteen months later I held Anna in my arms as we said goodbye to Maureen. They had never had a chance to know each other.
I hadn't written since. Maureen had given my writing life, and it had died with her.
My hand tensed, and I realized I had found the wrench I needed. The cold came rushing back.
"Daddy found what he needed. Let's go inside sweetie."
I got Anna into bed and she was dosing off, she asked, "Why don't you write stories anymore Daddy? The stories you tell me at bedtime are so good! They make me laugh. You could make other people laugh too."
"I miss Mommy, Anna. I miss her so much. I am sad now that she is gone, and it is hard for me to write when I'm sad."
Anna frowned, and asked, "Did Mommy like your writing?"
"Yes, very much. It's how we met. She had come up to tell me how much she loved my writing."
"Did she know it made you happy?"
"Then I think Mommy would want you to write stories again. She would want you to be happy. And it would make me happy too."
I kissed her on the forehead and turned out the light. I walked back out to the kitchen and ignored my hard-won wrench. Instead I mindlessly emptied the bucket under the leaking sink and placed it back. I headed back into the freezing garage.
There was a knock at my door, and I looked up to see Alex, one of the interns.
"Anna, your father is here for lunch, and he just dropped off his most recent manuscript."
"Great, I'll be right out, thanks Alex!"
"We have got to be the only publishing house in the world that still gets type-written books."
"But you love it!" I said, smiling. "It means you are one of the first to read his stories when you re-type them up."
"I will never admit that," Alex said with a laugh. "May I ask something?"
"Of course," I said, arching an eyebrow with suspicion.
"Not that I want him to, but is he ever going to retire? The man is in his 70s. He should take a break, enjoy what he's accomplished."
"I don't think so...or at least I hope not. He stopped writing once, and it was the saddest I'd ever seen him. The night I found his dusty old typewriter, he started writing again. I could hear the clacking from my room as I fell asleep that night. It's like he came to life again. I think he wants to have as many stories as he can to tell my mom when he sees her again."