I sat in a haunted room and listened to the downpour outside my window—gazing at the dark screen. And thought to myself: Well, whadda ya’ waiting for, dummy? It’s you and writers block in a face to face showdown, mano a mano.
So I reached out a digit—hesitated a long, lingering moment—and found the guts to push the little button that gave life to the Dell. As she warmed up, giving off an assortment of electronic gobbledygook and ghost in the machine whirs; tiny beads of sweat appeared on my upper lip, à la Richard Nixon. I was about to place ink on paper once again, so to speak. Or in more conventional jargon—use a word processor.
I will poise my fingers over the keyboard, chose a combination of letters, and begin the concert. To finally charge and defeat this demon I’ve been dealing with what seems an eternity (and a ½)—no mean feat this.
I interlocked my fingers and stretched my arms to their fullest extent; twisting them and turning them, knuckles cracking and tendons snapping. Then I did likewise with my neck, repeatedly exercising it up and down and back and forth, trying to loosen-up—like some kind of prizefighter waiting for the bell. A couple quick breaths to clear the ol’ brainpan of cobwebs; and one final deep one, to steel myself . . . and I was good to go.
Poised like a python in near strike; I then reached out, punched the keys in combination, and watched while the word magically appeared on the screen.
N e v e r t h e l e s s
Good start, I thought with pride. Lots of consonants and vowels. Looks impressive; a long and flowing word. Give yourself a pat on the back; at least you didn’t start with something as lame as T h e.
In a heady rush, I typed some more. Two words. Three. A sentence. A compound sentence. Multiple lines. Then with a dynamic flourish I scribbled myself into a paragraph. I was overcome by the moment, tears formed, and I fought back a sob as I sat back and took it all in.
“Well, my man,” I said to myself, all choked up. “You did it. You are off and running.”
With my writers block gone a great weight was lifted from my shoulders. Oh great and glorious awakening. What a day to be alive!
Humming happily, I continued with sentence after sentence of prose; marveling at the ease of it all. Sure, it was still shoddy work, and in need of innumerable rewrites, but at least that spark was there. I finally knew where I was going with this. I could make that arduous trek toward that tiny flash of light at the end of some murky and finite cavern.
I was thusly engrossed in my labour when who should poke her head into my open office window to pay a visit . . . none other than Winifred. Winifred is my cow. My talking cow. Only to me, mind you, but a talker nonetheless. And with a tongue that is forged in the fires of irony.
She is both my blessing and my burden.
“Whaaaass uuuppp?” Winnie has taken a shine to the Miller Lite or Budweiser beer commercials . . . whichever.
I shot a quick glance her way, and a brief smile, in greeting, and returned to my work.
“I see that you are once again engaged in the creative world of word processing.”
“Dealt with said writers block?”
“Ready to complete the grand novel?”
“Got a title?”
She no longer speaks, and the silence lingers heavy in the air. I feel Winifred’s eyes on me and look up at an expression as cold as dry ice.
“Did you trade your writers block for speech block?”
“I’m sorry. My mind is just on my work.” I sit back in my chair and smile all-friendly like. “You were saying?”
Her expression has now turned to liquid carbon. Winnie demands your full attention, and dislikes monosyllabic responses.
In response, I reach for the mouse, scamper to save, and left-click, and watch as the text vortexes into a white dot, and then disappears. To further placate her, I turn the screen away. “You were saying?”
She stares at me for a slow ten count. “I forget,” she replies sulkily, and then walks away in a huff.
Looking at the empty window, I let out a sigh. If I let it go, just ignore her, she won’t speak to me for a month of Sundays. And then she will just be snotty—and who needs a snotty cow. So I push my chair back, rise, and head for the front door. Outside I find her, grazing in the grass, and studiously ignoring me. I better take heed, talking with her now would be akin to doing the Highland Fling in a minefield.
No response. Chewing her cud, she gazes into the distance. The ol’ thousand yard stare.
I move closer. “Winnie. How ‘bout I scratch your ears for you. Would you like that?”
Still no reaction. I move closer warily, making way for a well-aimed kick from the rear—in the privates.
“There, there.” I reach for her head. “There, there.”
For a few minutes she accedes to my affectionate petting, contentedly mooing and swishing her tail, and then shakes her head vigorously throwing my hand off. “Enough with the mollycoddling already. Come,” she says, moving off. “Walk with me, talk with me.”
I fall in step; seems all is forgiven.
“I am glad that you have shed, pardon the pun, you’re case of writers block,” she says pleasantly—in easy conservation—like nothing happened. Cows!
“Me too. For a long time there, I had given up hope of ever using a conjunctive adverb.”
“What about the book? Got a handle on her yet?”
Winnie rolls her eyes. “What . . . is . . . the . . . title.”
“Oh. . . . Ah, 395 and a Wake Up.”
“Well, you know that I’m writing about my experiences in the Vietnam War.”
“395 is the number of days I spent over in Vietnam. Wake Up signifies my last moment there—hence my ‘Wake Up.’”
“I see. Always go with a good title, something that gets their attention, rouses the reader’s curiosity.”
“Well, I hope the book is as good as the title.”
“You know, I never went to the war. High draft number in the lottery. College commitment. Canada. That sort of thing,” she says matter-of-fact.
I glance at her. I knew she was just yanking my chain. I think.
“Must have been rough over there,” she continued.
“Ummm. . . . I mean . . . it certainly was.”
“Lose any friends?”
I stop abruptly, and gaze intently into the horizon. My own thousand yard stare. My eyes misting, memories in flashback.
Winnie turns to watch me now, eyes sad. After a moment she says, “Hey.”
I look at her, all at once overwhelmed with feelings. I try to speak, but something is constricting my throat.
“Come . . . walk with me, talk with me.” She says gently, and starts off.
I had never said NOTHING TO NOBODY . . . since I returned from the war.
Self-consciously, I look over my shoulder. Then up at the sky, then to the ground; then at Winifred moving away. My first impulse was to retreat, but something inside compels me. . and I march forward.
It was déjà vu all over again. My wife and I, along with Aunt Minnie and Uncle Elmer over for lunch to engage in light repartee and casual banter over the breakfast bar. I had ordered Chinese food from the new restaurant in town.
“Sheryl tells me that you’re finally writing your book, dearie. After a few minor setbacks, that is.” Aunt Minnie never changes her style. Still dresses old-fashioned. Granny dress and granny glasses, gray hair up in a bun. And she wears an apron even though she is visiting.
“You’re are correct, madam.”
I began shoveling Moo Goo Gai Pan out of the containers onto the plates. Slices of cooked chicken, button mushrooms, snow peas, bamboo shoots and water chestnuts; served in oyster sauce, with white rice and Mandarin crepes extra. Lip-smackin’ goooood.
After serving Aunt Minnie, I slid the dish under Uncle Elmer’s nose. He stared at it like it sported a 'Hazardous Waste' sticker.
“What is this, for landsakes?”
“Moo Goo Gai Pan. Try it, you’ll like it.”
“Moo Goo . . . Goo Goo? What on God’s good, green earth is that?”
“It’s Chinese food, Uncle Elmer.”
Uncle Elmer commenced to grumble, “Chinese food. Harmph. Why, that’s crazy as a June Bug.”
“Eat your food Elmer,” admonished Aunt Minnie in a curt voice, then smiled my way. “Now, pray tell, what is your book about?”
Been there, done that. I must have told her a gazillion times it was about the war in Vietnam. “Like you suggested the last time we spoke Aunt Minnie, it is a book of poems.” A tiny fib.
Uncle Elmer was picking at his food, looking for parts he felt were edible. “Now, don’t that just knock your hat in the creek. What a waste of the Lord’s time writing a bunch of sissy poems . . . you young whippersnapper.”
What? I’m 55 whippersnapping years old, ya’ old fart. Double nickels if you don’t mind.
“Some guys are called by the church, Uncle Elmer,” I told him, and thumbed at my chest. “Me, I’m beckoned by the rhyme. Yep . . . old Rhymin’ Simon they call me . . . of Simon and Garfunkle fame.”
Uncle Elmer was confused, as was his wardrobe. Lumberjack shirt and farmer bib overalls. With a red kerchief tied around the neck for the rakish look while racing combines. “Simon and Gar . . . whosis?”
“Simon and Garfunkle, Uncle Elmer. Psalms from the Book of Simon,” I said in all earnestness.
Uncle Elmer wasn’t buying. “Horse hockey.” He pointed. “Give me some of that . . . whadda you call it?”
“Yeah, fried . . . rice. That would be . . . nice.” Forking the contents out of the container, he groused, “So much for your goldarned Rhyming Simon. . . .
It was night and I was at it again, burning the late evening oil. Alone in my office rewriting the latest batch of manuscript. When suddenly, the air turned frosty as if something had sucked all of the heat out of the room. Or someone.
I stopped in mid-word, and spun around slowly in my swivel chair . . . and lo and behold there she was.
My long departed high school slash English teacher who paid these nocturnal visits to offer guidance and criticism on my writing style, or lack of it . . . to hear her tell it.
She was ensconced in my leather recliner like she owned it. Nary a knock on the door or any announcement of her presence.
“Bonsoir, Mrs. Moosejaw.” (She is of French-Canadian descent.)
Mrs. Moosejaw is a shape-shifter. That is: she can take any form that she chooses. Tonight she opted for Steve Martin.
“Long time no see,” I continued. As of late, she had discontinued her spectral visits.
“Well . . . excuuuuse . . . meeeee.”
“I was beginning to miss you Mrs. M, but not your bits of wisdom and enlightenment," I stated.
She shifted to Rodney Dangerfield, and proceeded to insert his fingers in his collar, signifying tightness. “I can’t get no respect, know what I mean?”
“How about choosing a character and sticking with it.”
She slid now, into Flip Wilson, doing Geraldine. “What you see is what you get, honey.”
“Mrs. Moosejaw, I have something to ask you. . . . You haven’t been around in a while to badmouth my writing, so now, how am I shaping up in your estimation?”
She then transformed into a woman of middle age. With her hair in a bouffant and reading specs attached to a gold eyeglass chain, and sporting no makeup. Wearing moderate clothing and sensible shoes; she looked just like a schoolmarm. And it took me a long moment to realize I was looking at Mrs. Moosejaw in the flesh . . . or what have you.
She fell silent, not deigning to further reply . . . so I did an impression of my own. Pretend cigar in hand, I made with the eyebrows like Groucho Marx.
“Say the magic word and win a $100.”
Her hair and clothes burst into flame, and her skin melted from her like molten lava—leaving her skeletal frame. The skull stared at me with empty eyes; the mouth seeming to pout. Then she began to spin in her chair, faster and faster like a funnel cloud, trying to draw me into the maelstrom. I held on for dear life . . . and then she disappeared.
As the air eddied around me in decreasing fury, I stared at where she once sat; then mimicked my own impression:
And the wind whipped the words from my lips.
“You can’t handle the truth.”