The Hopeless Writer
Elsie stuffed a load of whites into the mouth of the beast, chunked her quarters into the slot and pushed the buttons before finding her place on the worn plastic chair by the window. She pulled a stack of papers from her bag, the once sharp edges rounded and soft from transport. The Laundromat was perfect. Warm and fragrant, and usually quiet save for the clattering of a zipper or spare change against the metal dryer bin. But even that could be soothing in its rhythm.
Often times she just stared at the letters on the page—at the blocks of ink that morphed to words and sentences before her face. The latest version printed was printed in Times New Roman, one inch margins around, hardly legible after being slashed and circled and bound together by a single rubber band. Chewing on a pen, she pored over the text, searching and seizing clunky sentences hiding in the paragraphs of the eleventh or was it twelfth draft. She let out a deep sigh, the scribbled pages fluttering under her duress. At times she thought of giving up, when the well was dry and the doubt was heavy and all she wanted to do was stop.
Why are you doing this? You stink, shouldn’t you give up? Are you really going to submit this?
The writing provided great joy yet tortured her soul. It never felt completely right, or adequately captured the world she had lived in for 22 years. She yearned to portray the emotion that stirred within her being and rattled her senses. She wrote furiously, hoping to emit the passion filling her breaths yet discovering that like a recording of a recording, part of it was lost as it traveled from her heart to her brain, and then again from her hand to the page.
She struggled to describe the euphoria she’d felt as a child, running barefoot in the dirt and grass as the sky smoldered beneath the tree tops as another long summer day choked to an end.
Or the cool shock that climbed up from her toes and enveloped her body the first time she dove in the lake by herself.
The burn that filled her nostrils when she thought about her grandmother and the soft touch of her freckled hand on her shoulder.
The thumping of thick raindrops hitting the tent at summer camp, just as the wind picked up and water dripped on her forearm as the downpour drenched the campsite.
The sharp smell of the asphalt when it first starts to rain.
The fine, squishy burn on the bottoms of her feet at the beach in July.
The soft warmth of her mother’s neck as she nuzzled her head before falling asleep in the safety of her lap.
The trembling in her chest when she’d watched the taillights of her boyfriend’s car trail off into the distance when he left for college.
The foreign feeling of jeans touching her knees in the fall after wearing shorts all summer.
The tingling in her hand as she ran it along a wooden rail.
The throb of hope that accompanied approaching headlights as she waited by the dark window for her dad to come home.
The gritty swipes of Tulip’s tongue as she purred while licking peanut butter from her finger.
The washer buzzed and Elsie looked up. 40 minutes already? Blocks of time elapsed like seconds as she stared down a book or computer screen. Her fingers danced along the keyboard as her mind flooded with plot, characters, and dialogue. It was magical when it happened, when the words spilled onto the page, blurred through moist eyes when the writing close to her heart, or laughing when her favorite heroines provided the humor. Manuscript in hand, she rummaged her pockets for quarters, knocking into a basket which would surely add another bruise to the collection before swapping out her wet clothes without taking her eyes off the page.
She scratched over a telling sentence, oblivious to the group of teens shuffling along the sidewalk outside. Between work and roommates, her quiet time was limited. The laundromat was her refuge from the distractions of the world, where her mind tossed ideas like the socks in the dryer. She rarely noticed the stares. Even in an age of blue tooth technology, her talking to herself didn’t go fully unnoticed. Once she’d washed her entire load with fabric softener while speaking with a British accent.
She reached up for her laundry basket atop the washer, loading the dryer and padding back to her seat, where she took a moment to eavesdrop on a conversation between two women discussing the lack of choices in wine at the neighboring grocery store.
She scribbled on the back of her pages, nuances and slang, anything for authenticity. Her mind teetered on the brink of obsession with her craft and she was rarely without paper and pen.
An hour tumbled past, when the door squeaked and a woman entered, clutching a cracked basket on her hip and holding the hand of a small girl wearing threadbare dress and plastic beads in her hair. Elsie glanced up and smiled as the little girl waved with her free hand, her face beaming with innocence. Elsie watched mother and daughter and their simple gestures to one another, unaware that two new characters had just found their way into a short story or future novel.
Mother and daughter began filling the washer and Elsie rose, tucking away her manuscript and saving her work. She trudged along the yellow square tiles towards the dryer. Warm and fresh, the clothes were free of the sweat and dirt of a week’s worth of wear. When she returned next week they would have another round of blemishes and folds, soiled with bits and pieces of the earth captured within their threads. With any luck, and even more determination, she'd grasp new thoughts and feelings and tame that lion of doubt with her pen. She’d build his cage with blocks of text on blank, white sheets of paper. But she wouldn't stop with the lion, she'd then move on to her next quest. Capturing the magic that fluttered like a million moths within her soul.