Previous Challenge Entry (EDITOR'S CHOICE)
Topic: The Writer's Life( 05/13/10)
An Empty Well
By Marita Vandertogt
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The table is long, dark wood with nothing on it, just the shine from the sun in the open window next to it. Amos the cat stretches along the windowsill, and sleeps. Soon the room is filled with the body of a large man, in a coat to his knees, the thick wool smelling a bit like tobacco, the kind that sifts its way from the bottom of an almost empty pipe.
“Bring me my slippers,” his voice is deep, and the cat perks his ears to wait the next sound. A woman walks through the doorway, her skirt swishing softly against the floor, and places them in front of a chair. He lowers himself into the warn material, the cushion giving way under an ample body.
“Now, bring me my pen, and the ink well, and make sure the ink is plentiful. I have much to say today.” His voice is soft as he watches her move toward him, paper and ink on a writing board secure in her tiny hands. The tablet is stained with ink from years of use.
“Will I tell all?” his eyes glaze staring over the silver tip ears of the cat, and out the window. “Will I tell all?” The question rolls around on his tongue as he dips the nib into the jar, his hand poised upright, ready to begin.
But nothing happens. No words roll from the nib, no blue wavy lines fill in the spaces with the story that had been brewing in his mind for years. “Write it all down,” Anna sat down beside him and brushed strands of grey hair from his eyes. “Write it all down, so they will know exactly what happened, so there is no mistake.” Her face is animated, her eyebrows raised above blue eyes, in expectation.
“Leave me to concentrate. And bring me a slice of bread, with honey. Honey helps me think.”
The clock on the mantle ticks an even rhythm, and before he knows it, the evening light makes his eyes squint at the scribbles on the paper. He has only written two sentences. The same two as yesterday. All the hours that have passed, and only two sentences. He crunches the two sentences into his hands, and yells across the room to where Anna is stirring a pot of his favourite potato soup. “I can’t do this,” his voice sounds defeated. “Put this paper in the fire. Burn it.” His cheeks are the colour of the quiet flames in the hearth.
“Ah, yes.” A smile moves across her face as she moves toward him. “Let me see,” she takes the empty remaining pages and lights the lamp. “We’ll put them over here. You can begin again tomorrow. Maybe tomorrow will be different.”
“Tomorrow,” he sighs the word. “It will be the same as today. It will be the same as yesterday. I am stopped my love. The words are dry, like a crust of bread.” He pushes himself up from the chair and moves toward the door, the half empty inkwell in his hands. She watches from behind as he steps outside to the garden, and hears the sound of glass hitting the rock.
“That’s it,” he heaves the words at her once inside. “I will write no more.”
“Yes,” she says, and she pats him on the shoulder. “Come now, and eat your soup. It’s getting cold.”
With that, he moves toward the table, his countenance dark, his step heavy. He lights his pipe and watches the smoke curl into the air. It wasn’t there before he started to puff it, and now it was. He was creating something from almost nothing. Maybe he could still do it with words. He feels his heart begin to beat a little harder, a drop of excitement at the prospect of a new day.
“Anna,” he says. “The ink well...”
“It’s okay dear,” her voice is soft. “I have a new one here, filled and ready to go.”
“Ah yes,” he says to the cat lying on the window sill once more. “Tomorrow I will begin again.” And nods his head into a gentle sleep.
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