The Jobless Writer . . .
Sits in the corner of a small café, bent over an aging laptop. Takes a sip from a cup of coffee: Black as space. Bitter as death. Could dissolve corrosion from battery terminals.
Chews on the bottom half of a bagel for lunch. The top half was breakfast.
Rubs his eyes from the glow of the screen. Looks up. The faces of the people next to him have changed. Replaced by new faces, doing the same things. Frantically talking into earpieces that blink blue. Slamming down scolding-hot lattes. Leaving unused napkins on tables.
The jobless writer digs deep into his pockets for .52 cents. Finds a quarter, two dimes and three pennies. Rummages through a ratty backpack and finds four pennies hiding under a copy of Vonnegut’s Slaughter House Five.
Stretches his legs with a fresh cup of coffee in hand. Sits back down. Slaps the headphones around his head. Turns up the album Svartir Sandar by the metal band, Solstafir. Their lyrics are sung in Icelandic.
Gets back to work. Pounds out a few more sentences. Sits back and crosses his arms, constructing the perfect setting in his mind for the next scene: A busy train station. Downtown. Late at night. It’s snowing outside.
Writes a few more sentences. Sighs. Highlights and erases the entire paragraph.
After two hours, the jobless writer grabs his grumbling stomach. Switches to the other Word document. Scans his cover letter for an administration job. Reads through his credentials. Corrects a typo. Thinks about the seven other cover letters he sent out last week. Checks his email. The number zero sits obstinately next to the inbox.
Sips from the cold cup of battery acid and switches back to his novel. Chapter 12. The scene takes place on an Amtrak train. Somewhere between Harrisburg and Philadelphia. Just after dusk. Rain instead of snow.
The hours pass. His character never makes it to Philadelphia, enduring several fates: First she dies from a bomb carried by the passenger sitting next to her. Then she dies of an aneurysm. Then she’s mangled when the train jumps the rails. Her fiancé is eagerly waiting for her at the downtown train station, holding a bright-red rose. He drops it when a conductor tells him—
The jobless writer feels something at his leg. A small child pulls on the laptop’s power cord. The mother chastises the little girl and goes back to reading 50 Shades of Grey. The jobless writer smiles and winks. The little girl giggles and smiles back.
Now his character is in the hospital, unconscious. The fiancé thinks she’s dead. He’s collapsed on the cold, marble floor of the train station. The concerned conductor pats the fiancé’s shaking shoulders, accidentally stepping on the rose.
Stands and paces along the back wall. It’s dark outside. Realizes for the first time the sun has long disappeared. The café closes in an hour. Digs through his bag and finds only a nickel and three more pennies. Adds water to the half cup of cold coffee. Asks the girl behind the counter to nuke it.
An hour later, he’s walking home, ragged backpack slung over sunken shoulders. Commuters drive past, illuminating the sidewalk with bright headlights, casting a brief shadow that quickly slides into darkness.
Walks past a neighborhood restaurant with an outside patio. The smell of grilled beef and fried chicken makes his stomach growl. Turns and walks down an alley.
The cat meows as the jobless writer pushes open the door, a furry body winding its way between his ankles. Fills the cat bowl. Adds water and a few ice cubes to a glass, setting it next to the feasting feline. Scratches behind the cat’s ears. It purrs as it eats.
Dons a sweatshirt, drinks a glass of water, then warms a bowl of Ramen noodles. Only uses half the packet. The other half for when Chapter 12 is finished. Warms his hands and face with the steam from the soup. Opens the laptop and glances at the cover letter again. Closes it without making any changes. His Inbox reads two new messages. Closes the web browser.
The jobless writer crosses his arms and leans back. He creates in his mind a cantankerous conductor punching tickets. A child, a little girl, running up and down the passenger car pulling on power cords. His character applying lotion to her hands just before the train jumps the tracks.
The cat jumps up and lands on the keyboard. Pushes its head against the corner of the screen. The jobless writer smiles. The cat looks back and purrs, smiling back.