I was two hours into my very first writing session, and I hadn't written a thing. I'd done everything BUT write, as a matter of fact. My kitchen sink was shining. The floor was vacuumed in a dark- light pattern. The lightbulb in the bathroom was replaced, along with the shower curtain, the mats, and the toilet brush. But Dust remained untouched.
I stared at the stupid typewriter that I'd practically sold my apendages to some antiques guy for. I ran a tongue over my braces, glaring at the pretty, white, blank paper.
Maybe if I just started writing, I would be inspired. But then, the price of the paper, the price of the ink, the worry of paper jams all came to mind, and I realised that the table needed clearing off from last night's dinner.
The trash was emptied. The table waxed. The dishes washed again.
I needed to move around, so I stood up, peering around the little house with my little eyes. The window was filthy.
Looking outside, I looked for something inspiring, but all there was was the wall of the next building and a dog taking a leak against my trash cans. Trash cans. There was my whole life, in those trash cans.
I was thrown in first, out of all my friends, into the bin of writers. I sat at the bottom, under all those thrown in on top of me, and molded, stank, collected dust and ideas. Naturally, I would be the last one out.
The clouds covered the sun, which had been shining quite nicely through my now- clean window, so I turned back to the typewriter.
Now what? That was all I had. "Dust, by J."
Why'd I call it "Dust" anyway? There's nothing interesting about floating specks of dead skin. And "J."? "Jove" sounds so much cooler. Why the heck did I just put "J."?
I ran a long- fingered hand through my long, boy- band hair and realised I needed a haircut.
Scissors. Sink. Shorter hair.
Before I could even sit back in my stupid chair, at my stupid desk, with that stupid typewriter, someone knocked on the door.
I opened it with the chain still on and looked through the crack.
"Who the hell are you?" I asked.
The man standing there had dark sunglasses on, which he took off when he heard me open the door. He stared straight ahead.
"The name's Bosh Leonard. You don't care where I work or what I'm selling, so I won't say, but I had a feeling that the owner of this apartment badly needed lunch."
And at that moment, my thoughts turned to food, and my stomach growled loudly. The blind guy smiled knowingly.
"I'll pay, if you tell me about your story."
I shut the door and unchained it.
"Alright! What's the big idea, buster?! What kinda scam are you trying to pull?!"
"None at all."
"How'd you know I was writing?!"
"I was passing by the door, when I heard the clicks of a typewriter, and past the overwhelming smell of cleaner- you've been stalling, haven't you?-there's the smell of fresh ink."
"Who do you think you are?! Sherlock Holmes?!"
"Just an observant stranger offering to buy you lunch so you can get out of your apartment, which, judging by the echo, is rather small, isn't it?"
I turned and looked back at the room. Claustrophobia set in.
Dale's Diner, 5th Street and 137th.
Waffles, syrup, whipped cream, strawberry atop, side of eggs, side of bacon, third cup of coffee.
"So, who are you exactly, Mr. Leonard?"
"Please just call me Lenny."
All he had was french toast, drizzled with blueberry syrup, and a glass of milk. The old hat he'd been wearing was sitting on the booth seat beside him. He hadn't taken off his coat.
"I'm a traveler, on my way home from Spain, working my way there through temporary employment. Unfortunately, no one has need of a blind worker, even one who can get around without a cane."
"So, how'd you end up in my building?"
"The sales industry seems to think that a cripple such as myself might impose more sympathy and, thus, more sales. But tell me about yourself, Mr. ..."
"I'm a writer, full- time. My girlfriend left me a few months ago because she said I thought too much over the little things; my mother left me a few years ago, when she realised that college had been a waste of money; my father left before I was born. People just leave me to myself, now."
I really opened up when someone bought me good food.
"Not really. It's easier to think when no one else is around, sneaking into your stuff or reading over your shoulder."
I took a huge bite of waffle and a sip from my mug.
Lenny adjusted his dark shades and calmly called to our waitress as she passed, pointing out the need for more coffee for me. Disgusting.
"How do you do that, man?"
"You got a spidey- sense or something?"
"Our waitress wears mint oil perfume, strong enough to smell from a few feet away, and the sound of an empty mug being put to the table is lower than that of a full one."
The waitress did smell like mint. She poured more coffee into my cup.
"I'll bet she likes chocolates, too," I said once she'd left. "Her breath smells like she's eaten a whole box."
Lenny smiled a bit wider and sipped some milk.
"So, he learns!" he laughed quietly. "Good boy."
There was a moment of silent chewing.
"What is your story about, Mr. J? Romance? Adventure? Perhaps Science Fiction?"
"Kind of a mix of the three. They all kinda go hand in hand."
"The characters are rounded?"
"Kiki's got a high standard in men and use of technology. The problem is: once she attains either, they sit in a corner and gather dust until she can use them to her advantage. She's like an abusing hoarder."
"Sounds intriguing. How long until it's on shelves?"
Here, I hesitated.
"Dunno. I haven't found a publisher that's interested yet. That and it's not finished. I don't even know if I'll ever finish it."
Hey, it wasn't entirely a lie.
"What's your problem?"
I sucked a piece of bacon from my braces.
"Description, I think. Even my college English professor said that my description sucks. All choppy and uneven, jumping from detail to detail without any real flow, y'know?"
"Why don't you describe this diner to me?" Lenny said between bites.
I stared at him blankly, but the expression, in a manner of saying, fell upon blind eyes, so I looked around, wondering where to begin.
"Start with the first thing you could see from the door, as we came in," he said.
The front podium. The ceiling. The floor. The woman.
"There's a woman behind the wooden front podium, blonde, anorexically thin. Behind her the wall is covered in old photgraphs of celebrities who've come and eaten and said they'd enjoyed it, and beyond that, the pictures of those who've eaten the whole Mega Meal in less than forty- five minutes. Wood panel joins black and white linoleum floors, dotted with different food particles. Red- cushioned seats on shining, metal stands at the bar. Every employee wears a triangular-folded paper hat and a body- length apron with red stripes. The tables are red. The booth cushions are red. The food looks disgusting but tastes delicious."
I was about to stop, when the last real description hit me.
"There's a strange man sitting in the booth across from me, loosely- suited, coat on, hat to the seat. The pale skin on his hands seems pretty ghostly compared to the red table they rest on, and the veins in the side of his neck are the most visible I've ever seen on anybody."
"Your descriptions don't suck terribly," he said, rubbing the back of one hand. "At least not to my tastes. Some people might prefer the long- drawn descriptions of sunsets and whatnot, but a straight- forward picture leaves more room for the story. Wouldn't you agree?"
"You think too much about what other people say," Lenny continued, brushing a finger against the popping veins in the side of his neck, "and that seems to have stifled your confidence and, thus, your inspiration. That's why you were stalling, this morning, right?"
"I have plenty of confidence, thanks!"
"Yes! Otherwise, I wouldn't be trying a book, now would I?"
He sipped some milk quietly.
"No one's ever told you that you couldn't do it? That you wouldn't succeed?"
I stopped, immediately thinking of my mother, my ex- girlfriend, my friends. I didn't say anything.
"What if you just want to prove them wrong?"
The kitchen bell rang for an order.
"It's not wrong to want to, of course, but..."
He trailed off, and I realised how many other things I needed to do at that moment, not any later.
"Thank you," I said, standing up, "for lunch, but I need to get back home, now."
"I didn't mean to offend you."
"No, it's not that. It's just that I have a lot- a LOT- of other things that I forgot to do, and- y'know. Stuff. But this was interesting, so thanks again, but... Y'know, here's money for what I had. I'm- I'm not gonna make you pay. I wasn't seriously taking up that part of the offer, but..."
I put the wrinkled bills on the table, grabbed my coat and scarf from the seat, and turned to leave.
"It was nice meeting you, Mr. Leonard."
"Nice meeting you, Mr. J. Good luck with Kiki."
He turned in his seat, as if to watch me go, with a wave. I waved back, but the move was pointless.
Outside, the air was freezing, swept about in gusts by the cars on the road. Tall, gray buildings all around. Very few people were on the sidewalk at this time of day, back at work in their cozy little office boxes, insulated by stacks of papers and the warmth of a humming computer.
My apartment was about to have the heat shut off anyway, so I took a walk.
Flashback to just after college, when I had my bachelor's in English and Literature and my mother came to see how I was getting along in life. My ex- girlfriend, Angela, and I had still been together, and we'd just rented our first place. It was early Fall.
"Jove? Oh, look at you, all grown- up, huh?"
My mum had been a smoker for most of her life, making her stink with disease and sound like a paper shredder with cardboard stuck in it. I cringed slightly when I hugged her.
"Boy, you need to get you teeth fixed or no one's gonna hire you with THAT kind of smile! We want the best, don't we? The very best! Oh, you're going to love it. There's this guy at the news station place uptown, the Grand San Kilo, and he said that he was looking for new reporters and such, so I put your name in! Oh, it's such a great place, Jove! You're going to love working there!"
Cue absolute stupidity.
"Mum, I already have a job."
"You do? Since when? You're fresh out of school!"
"I'm playing my own business, Mum. Right here! At home!"
"Doing what? Drugs? Did Angela get you into drugs?"
"Mum, I'm not on drugs, I'm not selling drugs, I'm not buying them, so get over it, that was ONE time. No, I'm going to write a book. Probably a fantasy of some sort, kind of like that series that everyone was reading? The Whatsit Saga-?"
She gave me the death look, the kind where eyes turn into slits of hellish fire and the creases of the glabella turn the forehead into one giant unibrow. Not to mention the blood rushing to her face.
"A book? A fantasy? What are you?! Some type of hippie?! No one READS anymore, boy! It's all in television now! The news! REALITY! No one cares about stupid fantasies from someone's head! They want the real stuff! Why are you turning your back on what you've worked for, what I PAID for you to work for?!"
"Mum, I majored in ENGLISH AND LITERATURE!"
"Mum, what do you think that means?!"
" 'Literature' is all- all that- journalism stuff!"
"Mum, 'literature' is books, stories, some types of columns in newspapers-"
"DON'T GET SMART, BOY! I KNOW-"
"THEN WHY DO YOU THINK I DECIDED TO-"
"DON'T YELL AT ME-"
"YOU YELLED FIRST-"
And on and on it went, until Angela walked in through the door, and my mother left in a huff and a puff. She knew I'd outsmarted her, though she didn't expect it to be possible, I'll bet. Makes me wonder why she even bother to put me through college.
At Christmas time, I received one card from her.
BLAH BLAH happy Christmas BLAH BLAH MUSHY CARD STUFF THAT SHE COULDN'T POSSIBLY HAVE PULLED OUT OF HER MEDIOCRE VOCABULARY...
I hope the cool air brings you to your senses, Jove. Maybe we'll see each other soon and talk it over. Happy Christmas.
She never called.
Angela said I should call her instead, but I didn't want to. Eventually, she used it against me in the argument that ended our relationship.
Then came Heather, Jessica, Yvette, even Paul, at one point, then back to Heather, and Georgia. It was Georgia who said that I thought too much, when she didn't have the brain to think at all. Man, was she a sight, though. Oh, well.
My hands and feet were dead frozen, since I had worn- through socks and no gloves. In a one- way window at the front of some shop, I realized how bummy I looked: Dirty letterman jacket; holey scarf; jeans that I'd worn for the past three days; pimples; not to mention that the haircut I gave myself looked as if some goat thought my head had been delicious; and then the braces, there for the heck of it, because I could only afford to get them, not to tighten them, not to get them off. God, I looked like a nerd.
The shop's door had opened, and a very- golden head plated with aluminum poked out of the crack.
"Oh," I said, "hi- Y-Yvette."
"You look terrible," she commented with that little drawl that drove me crazy back in the day.
"You look- uh..."
"I'm getting my hair done. You've seen me in worse spots, J, so I'm not embarassed. You wanna come in?"
It was warm inside, probably from proper heating and the hairdriers that a few older women sat under in the corner. Yellow, pasty- painted walls were covered in pictures of styles from the late nineties.
"So," Yvette chirped in her way of chirping, "whatcha doing out in the cold in the middle of November? It's suicide to be bumming in twenty- degree weather."
"I'm not bumming. I'm just- taking a walk."
"Thinking over something? You've got that face you used to have when you were thinking over something."
She had plopped herself down in the hairdresser's chair, legs crossed, fingers picking at one another.
"It's just that- well, some guy turned up at my door, earlier- a regular Sherlock Holmes, I tell you- and offered to buy me lunch because I needed to get out-"
"You look like you need to get out."
"I know. But this guy was blind. Said he could smell cleaner and ink, so he knew I was stalling from writing and-"
"You're still writing?"
"How's that coming?"
"So, not well, at all."
"Okay, so strange, blind guy?"
"Story short: bought me lunch, made me describe the diner, suddenly became Yoda-"
"And he said something that bothered you?"
"Well, what doesn't bother dear Jove?" someone else said, and low and behold, there was Paul, holding a pair of scissors, walking out from the back rooms.
"Friends of yours?" Yvette asked, sneering somewhat, turning in the chair.
"Ex, actually," Paul answered, sneering somewhat more and accenting the "actual" in "actually".
"What an interesting story! You should tell me more about it, sometime!"
I'd forgotten how sarcastic Yvette could be.
Paul, pinkies up, began picking the foil out of her hair, flipping his own Justin Bieber.
"So, what brings you here, Jo-Jo?" he asked, and Yvette stifled a laugh.
"Ain't no such thing, hun. Seriously, you should let me fix you up, while you're here, what happened, jeez, I mean, did you let something eat your head?"
A couple of the old ladies in the back laughed.
"So, Yoda insulted you? And you decided to kill yourself by walking through winter?" Yvette tried to continue, though not too interested, I could tell.
"Yoda? Ohmigoodness, did I miss the Comikon?" Paul teased.
"Sherlock Yoda Holmes/ Matt Murdock, I think," Yvette answered.
"Interesting, do continue."
"I think I'll go home," I said and stood straight from the wall I'd been leaning on.
"Oh, please, we were just messing with you, Jo- Jo. Have a seat or something. Thaw out. Good boy. Are you still working on that book of your's?"
"Any good? Any publishers and such, yet?"
"Uh, no. Not yet."
"Total bummer. I get the feeling you want the subject dropped."
"Aw, well," Yvette said and went to sit at the sink.
Hot water ran, steam rose, and Paul scrubbed Yvette's coloring out. She emerged looking like a brunette tiger with blonde stripes.
I could've slipped out at any time. I stayed because of the cold I knew I would face once I left, and it wouldn't end when I got home. The sky grew dark with storm clouds.
By the time Yvette was done, I seemed forgotten. She chirped a short, drawled "buh- bye" as she walked out, and I didn't even have time to say "bye" back, nor offer to walk her home.
"So, how is everything, Jo- Jo? I haven't really heard from you since the beginning of the year."
"Today's been kind of depressing."
"Like sad song depressing, or Catcher in the Rye depressing?"
"Catcher in the Rye."
"You wanna talk about it? I owe you for listening to me the whole time we were together; that couldn't have been easy."
"Nah, it's good. I have to go home now, anyway. I've got work to do."
Paul turned away from the granny he was combing to give a disbelieving look, hinted with pity. Great.
"Alright, then. Have a good one."
Little flurries of snow were coming down over the high rooftops, so I pulled up my collar and walked back toward home, trailing mist. People had repopulated the pedestrian quarters.
As I passed the first crosswalk, I noticed something strange. Maybe it was a feeling, that sixth sense they say humans still have, but I had a hunch that I was being followed. I looked behind me. No one was watching me especially. No one looked suspicious. So, I kept walking.
By the second crosswalk, though, I was sure of it. Across the street, a little behind, some guy had half his face covered- not too unusual for the weather, I know- and was keeping my pace.
Coincidence, I thought to myself, and I turned down my street.
That's when the guy made a jay- jog across traffic, turning down the same street, behind me. I turned and looked. He was watching. I sped up. He did, too. I looked again, and he was still watching.
My building was right there! I just had to punch in the door code and whoever he was wouldn't be able to follow. Up the front step, I even had the buttons under my fingers, was about to push the last number, when he grabbed me and turned me to face him, holding my collar.
"You, what's your name?!"
He smelled like cigarettes and booze but was obviously sober.
"Jove! What the hell, man?!"
"What do you know about Nicoli Kink?"
"Don't know him! Let go!"
He shook me.
"I'll name you a list of names, boy, and you'd better know one of 'em, or I know you're lying! You nod, got it?"
"Nicoli Kink; Derek Hitherto; Joshua Lintz; Kale Petersen; Rosen Harling; Lincoln Albert; Jerome Lyle-"
"I don't know them!"
"-Burt Ernies, Austin Tate, Oliver Lucas, Bosh Leonard-"
I hesitated but nodded, there.
"Where is he?"
"I don't know, I left him hours ago!"
The guy shook me again, his scarf sliding somewhat down his nose.
"Where'd he say he was going?"
"What's he doing in San Kilo?"
"I don't know!"
"Are you part of it?"
"No! I don't know what you're talking about!"
The guy released me, but I stayed where I was.
"How do you know him?"
"He appeared in my doorway. Why?"
"What was your conversation about, earlier?"
"My book! Why?!"
"What's your book about?"
"NUCLEAR F_ING WAR! WHY?!"
He must not have known I was being sarcastic.
"What do you know about nuclear mechanics?"
"What does Kink want with nuclear mechanics?"
"I don't know anyone with that na-"
"They're all the same person, kid. What does he want with nuclear mechanics?"
I didn't answer. Nothing seemed to satisfy this guy.
I'd noted the color of his hair, eyes, skin, and clothes for future reference, before he punched me so hard I wasn't even able to stay conscious afterward.
"What'd you say his name was?"
"Joven, or something. I don't see him very often."
My head wasn't what hurt the most; it was my teeth.
"Mr. Joven, can you hear me?"
I nodded enough to feel my brain swish about in my skull- so very little.
"Probably got mugged, or something."
"Could you type the code into the door, please? So we can go in?"
I opened my eyes a bit. It was still snowing, but the sky was darker, maybe even night-pitch.
"Oh, hello! Would you mind holding the door, please? Miss Lavender, a little help?"
A couple of heads ducked under my arms, and I was up on my feet. I smelled perfume.
The hallway was obviously warmer than outside, so they dropped me there.
"My room's right here. I'll grab something," Miss Lavender said. The click of her heels disappeared into the wall beside me.
I could see the lines between the tiles on the floor if I blinked hard.
"It's Jove..." I mumbled.
"Oh, I know that voice. Hello again, Mr. J."
I blinked hard and lifted my head a bit, and there was Mr. Leonard.
"The guy, he was asking about nuclear mechanics..."
Click. Click. Click.
Miss Lavender, inhabitant of room 104, brought the first aid kit out of her room and a wet wash cloth.
"Good god, boy," she said, dabbing the wash cloth at the corner of my mouth. "What kind of trouble are you trying to start? Jeez. Whoever got to you must have had a ring on. God!"
"Nuclear mechanics..." Mr. Leonard repeated to himself, drawing back.
Miss Lavender was all dressed up: slender, purple dress; pearls. She had her corkscrew curls pulled away from her face, but some had broken loose, making a halo around her head. Man, she was pretty.
"You alright?" she asked, distressed. "What year is it? Where are you?"
"It's 2023, November. I'm okay, Miss Lavender."
She waved a finger slowly infront of my face.
"Follow my finger," she ordered. "Where were you born?"
"San Kilo, same place as where I am. Really, I'm fine."
"Stick that in your mouth."
She gave me the wash cloth. My braces had sliced up part of my mouth.
"Who attacked you, or who did you attack?"
"Like I would attack anybody. Some guy was following me on my way home. When I ran, he caught me and asked a bunch of questions."
"I guess. He spat out a list of names, asked if I knew any of them."
I looked at Mr. Leonard, whose head dropped as if ashamed. Miss Lavender followed my line of sight but didn't ask.
"He asked what I'd been doing, how I knew- who I knew- and what we'd been talking about. I was being sarcastic when I said nuclear war-"
"Nuclear war? You said you'd been discussing nuclear war?"
"I was being sarcastic! I didn't think he'd hit me for it."
"And that was it?"
Miss Lavender lightly smacked my face and called me stupid, before asking if I thought I could walk. Of course, I could. I got to the elevator just fine.
"Sorry for the trouble, Miss Lavender," I said, trying to sound polite.
"Good night, J- kid."
So, she really couldn't remember my name.
Mr. Leonard stepped into the elevator with me.
"I'll keep a metaphorical eye on him for an hour or two, so don't worry!"
Miss Lavender smiled and stepped inside her room with a click click.
The doors closed. Silence. DING. Floor one. Silence. DING. Floor two. Silence. DING. Floor three.
"I'm afraid I need to apologize to you," Mr. Leonard said quietly, taking his dark glasses off and holding them infront of him. "If I hadn't bothered you today, you wouldn't have had such trouble."
"Is your name Nicoli Kink?"
"Not anymore. Hasn't been for years."
"Not Oliver something, either?"
"Oliver Lucas doesn't exist."
DING. Floor four. The doors opened.
"Nor," he continued, "does Rosen Harling, nor Jerome Lyle, nor Derek Hitherto, nor any of the names that man likely said, save mine."
Down the topa hallway.
"Why so interested in nuclear mechanics?"
"I accidentally became involved with the wrong kind of people, while traversing Europe..."
I unlocked my door and invited him in.
"...Once they'd discovered that I'd left the country, they assumed that I'd leak the precious secrets that they so unwittingly let me hear. I wouldn't have done such a thing if they hadn't chased me into their very own neutral zone, Spain..."
He sat in the chair by my typewriter.
"...I hoped that once I came back to the States, they might stop completely, but as it turns out, they have friends in many places. I'm sorry that I brought you into it."
"It's okay, I guess. I'm not really hurt-"
"You could've been, and for nothing at all."
I put my head against the wall; it was cold enough. The window had magically become dirty again. Looking through it, a different dog was wandering through the darkened alley.
That wasn't a dog. I lowered the crooked blinds.
"There's someone in the alley, looking up at the window."
"What do they look like?"
"I can't really tell. It's dark out."
"Should I move?"
"No, you're okay. Just stay there."
"I'm sorry. I should leave. Maybe he'll follow me away."
"No, it's fine. No one can get into the building without a code, anyway."
The person in the alley turned and walked off.
"I certainly hope so."
Mr. Leonard took something rectangular out of his coat pocket and tossed it to me.
I caught it.
"You caught it?"
It was my money from earlier, the money I'd left to pay for my lunch.
"Before you say that you left it on the table for a reason, consider it as a monetary consolidation for the trouble I've caused. Hopefully, tomorrow, you'll never hear from or of me again."
He stood up to leave, consciously avoiding where he'd heard me by the window, though whether to avoid me or the viewpoint from the alley I don't know. A slight click of the tongue gave away the position of the door.
"By the way," he said, hand on the doorknob, "if you were able to catch the money, you're probably fine. You can go to sleep after another hour or so, just in case."
He opened the door.
He smiled and waved, walking out.
"Stay golden, Ponyboy."
And that was the last I heard of Mr. Bosh Leonard.
I finally had something to write about.