Three o’clock in the morning and the thoughts still swim laps in my mind. When one collection of ideas and ponderments dissolves, another immediately emerges through the fog. A minute passes then an hour fades from memory. Morning draws closer, slumber fails to. Giving into the thoughts, I rise from bed, the blanket sliding from my arms and chest. Cold air collides with bare skin and a shiver pulses through my spine.
The remedy? A front-row seat to the expelling of words through keyboard clicks in the rhythm of various, undiscovered melodies. I will my tired body to escape a warm embrace and move across the darkened room towards a sleeping computer monitor. Nudging the mouse along the cushioned pad, I force the device to join me in another night of unplanned work. I pull the swivel chair under me and ready myself to let the ideas flow.
The cursor blinks on a blank text document.
The thoughts jumble. My mind attempts to translate the incoherent phrases. The thoughts multiply. They echo inside my skull like shrieking banshees. The intensity of the clues in my mind hits the limit.
I close my eyes.
Take a deep breath.
Check how much I’ve accomplished.
The cursor blinks on a blank text document.
Frustration begins to build. There’s no progress to be made here. I reach for a set of bronze and silver keys resting on the corner of the desk.
Time to find a distraction until the urge to sleep returns.
24-hour supermarket. The odd hours of the evening lure in the night owls, the weirdos, and the graveyard-shift workers. Walking towards the entrance, I notice the company’s makeshift smoking area to the side of the building. Alone, a blonde woman sits, a cigarette compressed between her lips. As I continue to stroll along, her eyes meet mine across the short distance. Her stare invites me closer; I redirect my path.
“Haven’t seen you around here.” Her voice, thick with a southern accent, greets me.
I mumble a reply. “I’m usually sleeping by now.”
Usually, but not recently.
“Don’t be shy.” She pats the spot on the bench next to her.
I obey, making what little space I can between us without giving my intentions away. The lights overhead shine down on the blonde, revealing her to me. Her face resembles Keira Knightley, or one of those famous Hollywood actresses. Her teeth, which I see when she gives me a friendly smile, remain pearl white despite her toxic habit. I wonder how long until the tars and nicotine paint popcorn yellow across her teeth. She takes another drag, her pink lips closing as if preparing to receive a quick kiss.
“Tell me- what brings you out here so late?” Her question outlined by a puff of smoke floats through the air.
“Sleep and I weren’t agreeing.”
“I know the feeling.” She offers me a cigarette.
I wave my hand and shake my head, placing both hands between my thighs. The friction from my jeans and the confined space keeps most of the chill away. I glance at the name tag lying in her lap. The name faces away from me, leaving her identity a secret. “You work here?”
“Temporarily.” The ash on the tip of the cigarette turns a light gray and begins to vanish in the wind. “Or that’s what I’ve been saying the past ten months.”
I ask. “What’s the next step?”
Her shoulders rise, then drop. “Be a celebrity, isn’t that really what everyone wants? I never knew what I wanted to be. I thought I’d start here and see where life takes me. Seemed legit in the beginning. What about you?”
Her eyes sparkle, her eyebrow arches higher. “Anything I’ve read?”
I chuckle. “Not yet.”
“How did you know it was the thing you wanted to do?”
My lips curl upward. “It’s when you enjoy doing something regardless of how much you pay or even if you do. It’s when you produce something, then look back on it with amazement at what came from you. It never should be like work- it should always be enjoyable-“
“But?” She interrupts.
My smile has transformed into a frown. “But lately, it’s been hard.”
She peers up to the sky. “Doesn’t seem like it’s be hard to write- well, as long as you can write, that is.”
“What makes you think that?”
She looks at me, smiling. “There’s stories everywhere. Even if nothing is going on, you still have something to write about. Hell, you can write about a leaf sitting on the ground!”
She has a point.
A cigarette butt falls to the ground. The blonde places her sneaker over it. As she twists her leg, the sole of her foot remains connected with the concrete under.
“Promise me something?”
I look from her back to her feet. “Yeah?”
A promise made with a stranger is a peace treaty formed with a country you’ve never heard of.
“Don’t give it up. Even when it’s tough, even when people don’t believe in you.”
My own personal pep squad in the form of a nameless blonde.
I promise her I won’t give up.
She extends her hand to me, her pinky finger the only digit outstretched. “Pinky promise.”
I reach my hand out, my pinky embracing hers. We shake. I pull my hand away.
The blonde looks at me and smiles again. “Now, what are you waiting for?”