They say that authors should write what they know. Well, I’m an expert on this subject. I’ll brag openly with unbridled hubris to extol my skills. A recent vacation to a location much colder than San Diego put me in a Jack London mood. So for the most recent A Word with You Press writing contest, I submitted this entry.
Incidentally, the prize is $500, and although I cannot win because I volunteer as Technical Director, it was past time to throw my hat in the ring. The contest is in honor of the late Peggy Dobbs, a beloved contributor to the site and enthusiastic supporter of all who posted their stories there. She began seriously writing her stories in her 70s and brought humor, pathos, and insight to their pages. In honor of her, the writing prompt was “I swear, it’s never too late.”
Raw. Red. I hold up my hands in front of my face. Didn’t think to bring gloves. Who would need them on a trip to a tropical island? My fingers look like rare steak. What I wouldn’t give for a sizzling rib-eye straight off the grill right now. And mashed potatoes smothered in gravy. Or just a cup of coffee so hot my head snaps back when my lip touches the stinging liquid. And I’m a vegetarian who hates coffee.
I lean back and laugh out into the universe. The guffaw comes from deep in my gut. I didn’t know I could laugh like that. If I get out of this, I’m going to laugh like that from now on. The sound of it fills up the spaces between the swirling snowflakes and falls to the ground.
I stare into the sameness before me, searching for patterns. Random. White. Just miles and miles of white, no matter what direction I look. After a while, the sameness resolves into Mandelbrot sequences of darker white against a tentative horizon. Snow-covered, bush-shaped lumps take on whimsical forms.
There, a dancing ogre. That one looks like a giant bunny with twisted ears. They say the human brain is wired to see things where nothing exists. Supposedly, it was better for our ancestors to imagine a forest sprite in the trees and to be on alert than to be eaten by a saber-toothed tiger. Those with the best imaginations survived to contribute to the gene pool.
I don’t think my imagination is going to be much help now. I am encased in a bit of wreckage, just me and my imagination. My little bit of jetsam slid down a long hill before depositing me against a boulder. The rest of the plane is probably miles behind, whichever way that is.
Everything is so quiet since I regained consciousness. The spinning and screaming seems like a dream. Miraculously, I’m alive. Not so miraculously, my backpack is still with me, the result of intense paranoia about someone stealing it. Really? On a plane? Nonetheless, I kept the strap coiled around my arm–just in case.
I rummage through my emergency travel supplies, packed in case the airline loses my luggage. I unroll my all-occasion shirt and tug it on over my travel shirt. It’s amazingly free of wrinkles despite my hasty packing to get out of the house quickly.
The house. Did I leave the iron on? Images of the ironing board engulfed in flames seem comforting. I hold my hands out to the imaginary conflagration. No, they are better tucked under my armpits. Once I can feel them again, I pull them back out to continue rummaging. My extra pair of jeans. They’ll never fit over my airplane pants–or my leg, which is skewed at a sickening angle below the knee. I can’t feel it, which is probably not good. Or maybe it is. I drape the jeans awkwardly over my thighs, a haphazard shield against the gusting wind.
If only I’d done what I was supposed to do, instead of manufacturing excuses. If only I wasn’t so damnably afraid all the time. Afraid I would be patronized. Afraid I wouldn’t measure up. Afraid I wouldn’t be the best. I can’t stand not being the best. Another gene holdover from my ancestors? First one there gets the biggest chunk of mammoth!
Damn, I’m hungry. At the bottom of my pack I find two mints from the airport restaurant and a groady looking cough drop. It’s sugar-free. Figures. Wait. There’s a fiber bar. Manna from heaven! Don’t know how long that’s been in there. Don’t care.
I should savor it. Probably my last one. Ever. Screw it. I’ve never been able to eat slowly; no point changing now. I force open the resistant plastic wrapper with trembling hands. It’s gone in seconds. I’ve watched my dog gulp down food like that. This must be their world, never knowing whether there would be another meal.
My laptop glares out at me from the pack. I glare back. Shouldn’t get it wet, but I open it anyway. It won’t start. My editor kept telling me to trade it in for a new one to help get me writing again. But I couldn’t retire the old thing. That behemoth witnessed countless stories, half a novel, and enough email to bury an elephant. I slide it under my butt to insulate me from the cold ground.
And he said it was only good for a doorstop.
I laugh again. God, that feels good.
My editor will get a laugh out of this turn of events. He kept bugging me and bugging me about submitting a story. I kept procrastinating. I put it off for every conceivable and inconceivable reason. Right before I left, he stopped by. I was touched by his concern over my downhill spiral. I insisted the deadline was past. He pleaded with me, “I swear, it’s not too late!” I shook off his encouragement and promised that I’d try to write from my hammock next to the ocean. We both knew I lied. I’d booked this trip to avoid his implied recriminations and my own guilt at lack of productivity. I wanted to figuratively bury my head in the literal sand.
My humor fades. So does the daylight. One last rummage. Out comes my trusty pad and pencil. I always carry them—just in case.
The cold has reached my bones. You know those monsters under the bed when you are a kid? They come back. They hover around me, telling me to give up. They are big. Good. Maybe they’ll block the wind.
I squeeze my hands to get the blood flowing. On the first page, I print, all in capital letters. “WRITER’S BLOCK.” I crumple it up and throw it toward the looming throng. Whether the wind takes it or they do, I can’t tell.
My head fills with colors and images, forcing back the encroaching dark. I feel the words rushing down my arms and onto the paper. I write and write and write.