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Life of the Writer: From our Archives
The Lament of a Freelancer
Brodie Parker

Three days ago I took the liberty of shutting off all the utilities feeding into my apartment. First the electricity, then the gas, then the water. Last month I received the final notices and the dates for termination of service. The refrigerator has been empty for so long that there was no reason to clean it out first; not that I would have bothered anyway. A nice lady in a dress with a flower print and a fake smile from the Salvation Army gave me some tapered candles a while back. I dug them out before I cut the power, and the blonde teenybopper who works at the convenience store on the corner two blocks from here gave me enough free matchbooks to burn down an asbestos skyscraper.

The late summer heat should keep me from freezing to death, and I can get water as I need it from the hose in the alley behind the building. I can see myself regressing into a primitive state. My basic survival instincts are oozing to the surface. They begin to manifest themselves as aggressive paranoia. Anticipating the arrival of the coveralled servicemen who will inevitably stop by to do what my premature handy work has already accomplished, I placed invisible fishing line tripwire in the hall. They would give under the pressure of a foot or a shin, and four cans of mace would drench the walls and the floor and the poor sap who just popped in to do his job. It’s only a matter of time now. A slow wait that you get used to in the same way that professional snipers or anyone dealing with a bureaucracy does. I spent hours perfecting the trap. I tested it on myself first without the mace. If one does eventually get through my perimeter defenses, all that will be waiting for them is to see that their task is already complete. That’ll show the smug bastards. As the hours pass, I reflect on the setting sun. I watch it from my living room window. It blasts in through the smudged glass uninhibited by clouds or even smog to reflect off of the dull metal of my ancient typewriter. The heat is trapped by the glass and my apartment becomes a pseudo greenhouse.

The dark corners at my back hold indescribable secrets in the darkness; undisclosed by the absence of revealing light. I haven’t eaten anything in a couple of days. I last slept just before the disconnection project. The time between then and now was filled with the placement of the booby traps. I suddenly realize that I can’t recall the last time I blinked. The sun over the city outside fills my steady vision from the worn desk chair that holds my perfectly still form. There is no way to know how long I have been staring at it. I shift my gaze to the lifeless typewriter. The letters on the keys have almost all worn completely away into a blank uniform gray. That doesn’t bother me, because I have long since memorized the character assigned to each individual button. Ribbon is difficult to find for this model, but not impossible and also not too expensive. There are stacks of boxes containing fresh sealed ink ribbons under the table the typewriter sits on. It mocks me with it’s inactivity. The fresh sheet of pure white paper has rested blankly at the ready for months. For more of that time than I care to recall I’ve sat staring at it, waiting for the substance to surface and place itself through my fingers onto the paper. Nothing. I turn my head to face the sun once again, and I strain my hearing to pick up sounds from the hallway. They’re coming for me. I can feel it in my bones.

The letters their companies sent me look and read so similarly that they could have all come from the same place. Perhaps they did. Men in matching ties and blazers with shiny black leather shoes could quite possibly have gathered over a round oak table with a thick plate of glass fastened securely to its top to discuss my accounts. Their impatience at my failure to pay them may have triggered a chain reaction that caused them to form a special committee to handle the matter with what they believe to be smooth efficiency. Little do they know I have already taken matters into my own hands, thereby stealing the petty thrill of the servicemen who get their kicks from cutting off modern conveniences from the downtrodden. I shake my head furiously to clear it of the creeping paranoia.

Several times I think I hear footsteps on the stairs down the hall, but after the anxious wait there is nothing but empty silence roaring over the sounds of the city below. Everything is perfectly still. My breathing doesn’t even disturb the bulk of the sheet of paper hanging limply over the back of the typewriter. A sympathetic friend I have known since high school mailed me some drugs a while back, but they’re all gone now. I even ate the seeds. No one I’ve met in the city ever comes by. Even the landlord doesn’t care. I haven’t paid him in since I paid the utilities, but he’s on a cruise, and he may or may not come back this year. I’ve limited all human contact to next to nothing to keep my mind clear for the words needed to fill the paper. I begin to search my memory for the plots and characters of the books I’ve read. Still nothing. Emptiness. Blank, bland and hollow.

My stomach growls and I jump at the sudden break in the silence. I come to my senses and notice that I’m no longer in the chair. The sun is almost gone now. The late darkness of summer is creeping over the city. It soaks the light out of the apartment like a sponge. I move almost without my own volition toward the window. Closer and closer. The sun continues to sink. My face is inches from the glass. I move painfully slowly toward the outside as the sun sinks farther and slowly disappears. As it vanishes behind the dull brick building across the street, I feel my nose press against the cool glass. It pulls me from my trance and suddenly fills me with terror. I frantically search for the candles, but they aren’t where I thought they were. Edging upon madness, I strike a match and scour the floor and the furniture for the tapered wax sticks. Fleeting moments between matches burning out send me into near hysteria.

The matches are consumed one at a time and still no candles. I only have one matchbook on hand. The rest are with the candles. What if the words come? What if a muse slips past the mace trap and slides under the door? I could be trapped in a darkness of my own making with a typewriter that could pull me back from the brink of despair; unable to see what I have written. Three matches left. No candles. Two matches. Still nothing. One match. As the tiny flame burns itself out panic latches onto my spine. I can’t shake it, and in a state of irrational fear I burst through the door and down the hall. I trip the line and mace bursts out of holes in the ceiling and walls nearly catching me in the chemical nightmare. I’m moving much too fast in the wrong direction, so it bathes the corridor in a stinking searing cloud as I run faster and faster toward the stairs. I turn the corner too fast, and fall face first over a box with a Salvation Army logo on the sides full of tapered candles and matchbooks. I must have left them here after I set the trap. I tumble over and over barely feeling the stairs pound bruises onto my skin. I’m engulfed in irony and still helpless in the grip of mad panic and paranoia. When I finally stop tumbling it occurs to me that I’m naked. I haven’t had any clothes on since yesterday. The other tenants slowly poke their heads out of the doors to their apartments to see what all the commotion is about. When they see me lying there instant recognition comes over them, and they turn back shaking their heads and muttering. I hear them bolting their doors behind them. Nothing feels broken, but I as I lie unmoving on my back and hardly noticing the pain it suddenly becomes very clear. Writer’s block has driven me insane.
© Brodie Parker 2004



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