Another exercise thingy:
Two stories tall, narrow, Victorian-style, hardwood floors now sprinkled with antique rugs, two and a half baths with good plumbing under them; a cellar whose shelves groaned out for jars of jam and carbuoys of beer; robin’s-egg blue walls in good condition and an air conditioning unit fit to freeze Hell over with: the house on Mulberry Street was perfect for a children’s writer with ice-blue eyes and dark brown hair and a new husband named Tim. There was even a nursery already decorated with white wainscotting and blue wallpaper splattered with Beatrix Potter characters–although honestly, she intended to take the paper down and replace it with something from The Hobbit long before she got knocked up.
Most mornings, she sent her husband off to his job with a kiss and climbed back up the stairs, pulling on the wooden banister so she could take the steps two or three at a time, she was so eager to get back to work. But lately she’d been brewing herself a cup of too-strong Earl Gray tea in their shiny new microwave, drinking it while sitting in the breakfast nook of their narrow but otherwise charming steel-and-oak kitchen, staring out the windows onto the heavy, humid greenery in the back yard, and wishing she hadn’t signed the contract. There were so many other stories that wanted to be written, and the dark, watchful spaces between the lilac leaves weren’t helping.
She sat and drank cups of tea until the cats sent for her, tangling around her ankles and sticking their heads in her cup–and then she went upstairs. There was no arguing with cats. So she climbed the stairs, more slowly now, the eyes of the cats pressing on her back, and opened the crystal-knobbed door to her office.
Tim had painted it for her. Deep, cloudless blue, with a white ceiling that lit up with at least a thousand stars at night. The window curtan was a shimmering, translucent purple stitched with gold thread. A negligee of a curtain. The only lights came from a pair of antique stained-glass lamps on either end of her glass-and-steel desk. And her monitor.
The a/c clicked on. Chris slid into her office chair, dropped the heavy quilt over her blue jeans, put her toes over the vent, then leaned over and booted up her computer. Magoo, sleek and black, and tabby Tuna clawed up onto her lap, one head in either direction. Shasta hogged the back of the small futon like it was her hoard; the gray-and-black tiger-striped Things packed themselves into the space between the monitor and the lamp like sardines. The lamp wobbled. Chris picked it up and set it on her printer on top of the tan filing cabinet.
The cats always knew when she was having trouble writing. She’d never been able to tell whether they meant to comfort her or if they were just pleased by the smell of frustrated tears.
Rubbing the creases across her forehead, Chris started to open the file, then stopped. She hated this story. Just hated it. Yet every morning when she woke up, she knew what to do next with it. It was just that predictable. She wanted the story to fail. She wanted to keep her name off it. She wanted to call her editor and say, “This just isn’t my kind of thing,” take the advance out of savings, and break the contract.
And she would have. If the pages hadn’t been writing themselves.