The Opinion Paper of B.J. Ecklefield – by Tim Blake

The rain poured hard. I grumbled slightly as one of the clouds' many tears ran down the bridge of my nose and dripped off the end, like some snow-boarder in a freak accident down a hill. Normally I wouldn't have minded waiting for Heather in such miserable weather like this when in the safety of the car, but today – of all days – the back left wheel needed to be changed.

Though it was after five o'clock in the afternoon, the skies looked almost black, and everything around me – even the air –felt so humid and musty under the relentless power of the rainstorm at hand. As I looked up at the sky, after checking my watch for the seven-hundredth time, I noticed that the buildings around me looked so ominous and commanding – almost as if they were staring down on me as if I was inferior. Well. Technically I was. I'm not made out of glass, bricks, and beams.

"Sorry I'm late," came a familiar voice beside me. I turned my head slightly to see my Heather standing under her maroon umbrella while clutching her briefcase tightly in her other fist.

"What took you so long?" I almost demanded, trying my best to keep my irritation under control.

"The janitor was mopping the floor, and he said that the tile was too slippery to walk on. So if I didn't want to slip and land on my ass, I'd have to walk all the way around to the other side of the building," Heather explained, slightly positioning her umbrella over my head as I fine-tuned the finishing touches on the new wheel.

"Well, that's too bad. You're ten minutes late. And I'm soaking wet. Get in the car." I opened the passenger door for my Heather and she climbed in almost immediately, leaving me again in the rain. "How was your day?" I asked after closing my door behind me.

"It was all right… I swear the ladies who serve the food in the cafetorium jack up the prices on potato chips just a little more each week. This is getting ridiculous. A dollar six for a small bag of Fritos that are barely half full. I'm a crime, I tell you!"

"Oh?"

"Yes! It's ridiculous! I should talk to Principal Macy about it."

"Yes, you should," I replied while starting the car engine.

Luckily, we only live a couple blocks away from the school Heather works at. When we pulled into the driveway, I was again met with being soaked to the skin as I opened the passenger door for Heather. Though, I did get my revenge when watching her clamour to the front porch, nearly tripping over her own feet as she fiddled with the door key. I couldn't help but chuckle.

Dinner was already waiting, and I was thankful I had started it when I did, because there was something on my mind that I really needed to get off my chest.

"I've been thinking," I started,

"That's never a good sign." Heather stated as she reached for the salt. She gave me an impish grin and quickly apologized. "About what, dear?"

I sawed slowly into my steak. "I think it's maybe about time I get back to work. A part-time job, or something. I dunno."

"The doctor told you not to do any heavy work, Brad," Heather frowned. "You know that. Besides, you don't need a job. The insurance from the accident is enough as it is."

"I know, I know… but still. I can't sit around on the couch all day and watch TV. I'd get all fat and slobbish."

"We can't have that…" Heather agreed "I like snuggling up with my big, strong Braddybear at night. But still. You can't over exert your self. Your shoulder's bad enough as it is."

No thanks to that damn baseball injury.

"I can always do something other than physical work, Heath," I replied. "Teaching isn't all that psychically demanding, is it."

Heather nearly burst out laughing. I thought she was going to fall out of her chair – but it was a good thing she didn't, because I'm sure she would have dragged the tablecloth and everything on it with her. "Oh…Brad…" she gasped, "You're hilarious…"

"What? I'm not trying to be funny. For once."

"I know… but just imagining you as a teacher… You wouldn't be an educator for the good. I know you wouldn't. You'd let the kids all slack off and run amuck in the hallways, pulling pranks on other classes."

She was right.

"Okay then," I said, scratching that idea out in my mind. I tore open a bun and began buttering it. "What other options do I have? I don't really want to work at a fast food place. Those places are disgusting. And I'd probably want to kill everyone after the first week."

Heather was quiet for a moment as she thought. She then looked up at me, and for the first time in a long time, she actually seemed to be serious. "Why don't you try writing?"

"Writing? That's not a job!" I scoffed with bun in my mouth. "Writer's don't get paid well enough."

"It's something to do. And you'd be doing it to keep from being bored – not for the money, Brad."

I stared at her for a long moment.

"Come on, Brad. Try it out," Heather pushed. "You may even like it!"

"That's doubtful," I muttered under my breath. "I don't even like to read."

I was working my brain overtime the next couple of days. Still no job ideas came to mind, and nothing in the Classifieds really peaked my interest.

"This is stupid," I grumbled. I got up from the kitchen table and marched into the living room, where Heather was marking papers from her Grade Eleven English class. She looked up at me and watched as I began pacing around.

"What are you doing?" she asked.

"Thinking," I replied.

"Writing?" she grinned impishly.

"No." I frowned. "You're not winning this."

"Yeah, but it's the only thing that's coming to mind, and you really don't want to face it, do you?" Heather sang as she went back to marking papers. "It's not a hard job to do, Brad. Seriously, it isn't. A lot of people blow it out of proportion, but really it can be the simplest thing in the world to do, if you have the right frame of mind."

I frowned at my wife. I hated it so much when she was right. I went back into the kitchen for a moment, grabbed a chair, came back into the living room, put the chair down beside Heather, and sat heavily in it. "Show me," I scowled.

Heather lifted her suitcase onto the desk and opened it slowly for dramatic effect. She rummaged around inside and pulled out a small document. "This, is a short story."

I stuck my tongue out and shook my head.

"This, is an essay," she showed me a second document.

"No way. I hate essays."

Heather thought for a moment. "Why not an article? It's kind of like an essay, but it's more informal, and about your own ideas. You can write about something you have an interest or a strong opinion about, and maybe send it in to the local newspaper?"

"You can do that?" I asked, raising my eyebrow.

"Of course you can," Heather said, laughing. "The Shorebrooke Times lets people send in articles all the time. What are your interests?"

"Uh … Baseball."

"Obviously," Heather grinned. "What else?"

"Movies … TV, I guess."

Heather beamed. "Why not write a review for a new movie that you saw? People love to read reviews like that."

Dinner was all right. I didn't really have any ideas of what to cook, and the cupboards seemed to be nearly empty, so I did what any other desperate husband did when in dire need of filling his stomach – I ordered pizza. Pizza solves all life's problems. Well – nearly all life's problems. It never solved the mystery of how hairs end up in fast food. Gross.

I rummaged through the cellar for my father's old typewriter, and when I lugged it into the living room, I caught Heather, who was working on her laptop, giving me a strange look. I would have asked to use the laptop, but my darling wife always hisses and spits when I even go near it.

"What is that!? Is that Dad's old typewriter?" she asked when I set the large, clunky machine down on the desk with a thud.

"Why yes, yes it is."

Heather laughed and I stuck my tongue out at her playfully. Right, I could sit here and go "clickity-clack" with an outdated machine that hasn't been used in twenty years, and has no backspace, while Heather could suffer with her state-of-the-art Macintosh.

She. Could. Suffer.

I rolled in the first sheet of blank paper from the small pile next to the typewriter and gazed at the heavy keys of the machine for a moment, as if trying to figure out how to work it for the first time. I then scratched my head and bent forward, my fingers lurching over the select keys I desired.

Clack, clack … clack … clack, clack.

I sat up straight in my chair to read what my fingertips had just produced.

My name is Brad Ecklefield.

Well, that was easy enough. Hell, I could be the fasted two-fingered typist around. Cool.

Heather peered over at me from her small, glowing screen.

"What?" I asked.

She blinked and quickly hid behind her laptop again. "Nothing."

I leaned over the typewriter again, and thought hard about what I wanted to say. Heather had told me that when it comes to writing, getting your ideas down on paper was the easy part – it was getting published that was the most difficult – so what I was going to type out for the newspaper had to count.

There are a lot of little, insignificant things in this world that really seem to affect people in such a life-shattering way. And not in a positive aspect, either – more like in a way that is so stupid, that when you sit back and think about it, you can't help but squint and wonder what the heck is going through the general person's mind.

Like leaving the toilet seat up by accident. What's the big deal? So what if it makes the woman do one EXTRA thing more before she has to go to the bathroom? If you can't deal with putting something down before sitting on it, you definitely have issues and need to consult a doctor immediately.

Or, if it's such a big deal that it's nearly life threatening to use like. One muscle to lift your arm, grab the seat, and lower it, I don't think the men of the house would have a problem sitting down when they go to the bathroom. It's not like anyone's going to see them relieve themselves.

I mean, seriously. I doubt it was initially supposed to be an issue to begin with! If it was, I don't think God would have made it possible for us manly men to stand up when we did our business.

I paused for a moment.

…But then again, God is a bachelor. He wouldn't have to worry about being nagged so often about taking the trash out, or putting the toilet seat down.

I chuckled softly.

Heather looked up at me again from behind her laptop. "What's so funny?"

I shook my head and looked at her from over my shoulder. "Babe, even if I could explain it, I don't think you'd understand… It's something about what us manly men think about. One of the many simple problems we have in life." I sighed for dramatic effect. "Ah, us poor manly men… always being discriminated…"

Before settling in for bed, I read through my finished copy of the opinion paper. So far, everything seemed all right to me, but there was a foreboding feeling in the pit of my stomach – a feeling that kind of made me want to put what I had written under a rock in the middle of a field, and never return.

"Hi, you," Heather purred as she climbed into bed, wearing that silk nightie I bought her for last Christmas. She cuddles up against me with her head on my shoulder, reading what she could of my opinion paper.

"What do you think of it?" I asked slowly when I was sure she was done reading.

Heather shifted a bit before answering. "It's humourous. I like it."

I frowned slightly and whited out a spelling error near the middle of the page. "Really? Do you think I should send it in after I do up a polished version?"

"Oh, definitely, Brad. I'm sure you'll get a lot of responses to it."

I raised my eyebrow. "Oh?"

Heather grinned impishly. "Nah."

I laughed and set the paper and my whiteout pen down on the bedside table before clicking off the lamp. Heather and I scooted down into a laying position, and I gazed at her beautiful face, gingerly raking my fingers through her hair.

"I really do like it, Brad…" she whispered. "I'm so proud of you.."

I could feel my cheeks grow hot, so I smiled a bit, and held Heather close to my body. "I love you…"

Heather's own smile grew wide, and she gave me a loving kiss. "I love you, too. Sooo much."

I remember being all nervous and fidgety the next morning. I think I woke up an hour or two earlier than usual, out of sheer anticipation. I quietly made my way downstairs and snuck onto Heather's laptop to write out the good copy of my opinion paper. I read it over very carefully before printing two copies off and deleting the file.

The first copy I put into my filing cabinet. The second copy, I slid into a brown envelope, already marked and stamped.

The drive to the post office at five in the morning was almost like a dream. The events of leaving the house and walking to the car were a complete blur to me – I don't even remember backing out of the driveway.

I took one last look at the envelope before sliding it into the "outgoing" mailbox outside the post office, and sighed for a moment. I don't think I was ever so nervous before. Well – okay. Once. When my baseball team was playing against the Montreal Expos – a damn fine group of players.

Driving home I was sure the Shorebrooke Times wouldn't accept my opinion paper. I could imagine the head Editor skimming over the first paragraph, bust out laughing, and slam down his massive "NO" ink stamp on the first page. I clicked my tongue, trying not to think about it.

With each passing day, I grew more and more anxious to hear back from the Shorebrooke Times. I kept sifting through the mail to double check, and whenever I passed a news stand, or a convenience store, I would peek around to see if my name was mentioned anywhere, but it wasn't until a couple of weeks later that something finally showed up.

I was sitting at the kitchen table at five in the morning, due to Heather's fascination with clobbering me in the face with her arms while she slept. Mug of coffee in one hand, I took a small sip, while raking through the previous day's mail with my other hand. An envelope written in my own handwriting caught my attention nearly right away. I set my mug down and proceeded with ripping open my SASE.

Dear Mr. Ecklefield,

I am writing to you on behalf of the Shorebrook Times. I have read through your opinion paper entitled, The World and Why It Frustrates Me, and found the entire article astoundingly hilarious! We will include your work into the next printing of the newspaper. Thanks so much for making us "manly men" feel more confident within our own confined lives.

Best of luck in the future,

Rob Thompson – Editor in Chief

THE SHOREBROOKE TIMES

My eyes lit up like firecrackers, and I nearly fell out of my chair, causing a cheque for one hundred dollars to flutter from behind the letter and land on the table in front of me.

Excitedly, I grabbed the letter, dashed up the stairs, and leapt onto the bed, waking my Heather with a start. "Blugh…? Brad…? Where's the fire?" she asked in a drowsy, tone, quite surprised that I would dare to wake her up this way.

"It's on my fingertips!" I cried out loud and pulled Heather up into my lap, giving her a deep, loving kiss.

"Mm … What are you talking about?" Heather asked, draping her arms around my neck.

I showed her the letter, grinning like a mischievous little schoolboy. "I can't believe it," I told her. "I thought for sure it was going to be a rejection. I mean, who would print something like what I wrote in the local newspaper?"

Heather took a moment as she read over the letter, then smiled softly and gave me a small kiss. "Well, it is an opinion paper for a local newspaper, for one thing. And you did play Major League, so it's kind of neat for a small town like Shorebrooke to have a well known name in its midst. And," she added, "The editor obviously found your paper hysterical and looks forward to more stuff from you."

"I don't really know if I want to write stuff like this for the rest of my life," I said. "I mean, it did keep me from getting bored, and all, but - "

"Did you enjoy writing it?" Heather asked.

"I…"

"Did you?"

I paused for a moment. If I answered what I felt was the truth, what I said a few weeks ago, about writing not being a real job, would come and bite me in my butt. "Well – I did have a little bit of fun while doing it. I mean, writing an opinion paper like this was easy. I could say everything that was on my mind without the annoying task of having to deal with people interrupting me."

"So, you did enjoy writing it then," Heather mused. "Does this mean that maybe – just maybe you will write some more? Even though 'writing isn't a real job'?"

Ow.

I shrugged and idly rubbed Heather's back. "If I were to write some more, it wouldn't be for the money. But yes. In all honesty, I did enjoy it, and maybe I will write some more."

"You could try writing a book," Heather purred into my chest. "I'm sure you could get published very easily, because you were in baseball."

"Yeah, but I was a fringe player," I scowled.

"So? You're still big league. People know your name, Brad. Brad Ecklefield, number twenty-seven."

I shrugged again. "Maybe."

With her tummy filled, and the clipped article in hand, Heather and I were off to work. Well. Heather's work. She told me she wanted to show off her husband's work to her Writer's Craft class. I smiled after she told me this, and playfully told her to get out of the car. I was so fortunate to have such a loving, supportive wife, even though she and I teased each other so much. At that moment, I felt like the luckiest guy in the world.

I swung by the nearest convenience store to buy my own copy of the Shorebrook Times so I could frame my article. I slapped the rolled up newspaper down against the checkout counter with ninety-five cents next to it, as the cashier rung up the price.

"Ooh, by the way, congratulation on getting article into newspaper, Mr. Ecklefield!" the Chinese cashier said warmly. I nodded with a smile and gave him my thanks before I took the paper and left.

I took the morning to drive out to Newmarket. What Heather said earlier that morning really stuck to my brain, and the more I thought about it, the more it kind of made sense to me. If I was so excited about getting a stupid little opinion article into the newspaper, it obviously meant that I had fun writing it. To be honest, I never quite found myself to be the writing type, but – I dunno. Something clicked inside of me, and I needed to find the source of what it was.

I stepped into a small bookstore off the main street, and looked around slowly. I didn't really know exactly what I was looking for in terms of specifics, but I did know that I needed a book that could teach me how to hone my current writing skills into a more powerful tool.

I found one of the store clerks wandering around in the back, and he told me about some really helpful books, and before I knew it, that single book that I stepped into the store to buy, turned out to be three.

I set the bag down on the seat beside me and put my hands on the steering wheel. When I got home, I knew that I would be spending a lot of time reading, and maybe writing for practice. And it excited me.

"Brad," I said to myself, "You've done good these past few years – As a husband and an athlete. You've done your time well, but now it's time to end this chapter in your life. It is time to start something new – and the world is merely at your fingertips. Both literally, and figuratively."

And with that, I started the car, and pulled out of the parking lot.

8