Writers & Lovers Page 1

Author: Lily King

Genres: Fiction

I have a pact with myself not to think about money in the morning. I’m like a teenager trying not to think about sex. But I’m also trying not to think about sex. Or Luke. Or death. Which means not thinking about my mother, who died on vacation last winter. There are so many things I can’t think about in order to write in the morning.

Adam, my landlord, watches me walk his dog. He leans against his Benz in a suit and sparkling shoes as I come back up the driveway. He’s needy in the morning. Everyone is, I suppose. He enjoys his contrast to me in my sweats and untamed hair.

When the dog and I are closer he says, ‘You’re up early.’

I’m always up early. ‘So are you.’

‘Meeting with the judge at the courthouse at seven sharp.’

Admire me. Admire me. Admire judge and courthouse and seven sharp.

‘Somebody’s gotta do it.’ I don’t like myself around Adam. I don’t think he wants me to. I let the dog yank me a few steps past him toward a squirrel squeezing through some slats at the side of his big house.

‘So,’ he says, unwilling to let me get too far away. ‘How’s the novel?’ He says it like I made the word up myself. He’s still leaning against his car and turning only his head in my direction, as if he likes his pose too much to undo it.

‘It’s all right.’ The bees in my chest stir. A few creep down the inside of my arm. One conversation can destroy my whole morning. ‘I’ve got to get back to it. Short day. Working a double.’

I pull the dog up Adam’s back porch, unhook the leash, nudge him through the door, and drop quickly back down the steps.

‘How many pages you got now?’

‘Couple of hundred, maybe.’ I don’t stop moving. I’m halfway to my room at the side of his garage.

‘You know,’ he says, pushing himself off his car, waiting for my full attention. ‘I just find it extraordinary that you think you have something to say.’

I sit at my desk and stare at the sentences I wrote before walking the dog. I don’t remember them. I don’t remember putting them down. I’m so tired. I look at the green digits on the clock radio. Less than three hours before I have to dress for my lunch shift.

Adam went to college with my older brother, Caleb—in fact, I think Caleb was a little in love with him back then—and for this he gives me a break in the rent. He shaves off a bit more for walking his dog in the morning. The room used to be a potting shed and still has a loam and rotting leaves smell. There’s just enough space for a twin mattress, desk and chair, and hot plate, and toaster oven in the bathroom. I set the kettle back on the burner for another cup of black tea.

I don’t write because I think I have something to say. I write because if I don’t, everything feels even worse.

At nine thirty I get up from the chair and scrub at the sirloin and blackberry stains on my white pleated shirt, iron it dry on the desk, slip it on a hanger, and thread the hook of the hanger through the loop at the top of my backpack. I put on my black work pants and a T-shirt, pull my hair into a ponytail, and slide on the backpack.

I wheel my bike out of the garage backward. It barely fits because of all the crap Adam has in here: old strollers, high chairs, bouncy seats, mattresses, bureaus, skis, skateboards, beach chairs, tiki torches, foosball. His ex-wife’s red minivan takes up the rest of the space. She left it behind along with everything else except the kids when she moved to Hawaii last year.

‘A good car go to waste like that,’ the cleaning lady said one day when she was looking for a hose. Her name is Oli, she’s from Trinidad, and she saves things like the plastic scoops from laundry detergent boxes to send back home. That garage makes Oli crazy.

I ride down Carlton Street, run the red at Beacon, and head up to Comm. Ave. Traffic thunders past. I slide forward, off the bike seat, and wait with a growing pileup of students for the light to change. A few of them admire my ride. It’s an old banana bike I found at a dump in Rhode Island in May. Luke and I fixed it up, put on a new greased-up chain, tightened the brake cables, and shimmied the rusty seat shaft until it slid up to my height. The gearshift is built into the cross bar, which makes it feel more powerful than it is, as if there’s a secret engine somewhere. I like the whole motorcycle feel of it, with the raised vertical handlebars and the long, quilted seat and the tall bar in back I lean against while coasting. I didn’t have a banana bike as a kid, but my best friend did and we used to swap bikes for days at a time. These BU students, they’re too young to have ridden a banana bike. It’s strange, to not be the youngest kind of adult anymore. I’m thirty-one now, and my mother is dead.

The light changes, and I get back on the seat, cross the six lanes of Comm. Ave. and pump up and over the BU Bridge to the Cambridge side of the Charles River. Sometimes I don’t make it to the bridge before cracking. Sometimes it starts on the bridge. But today I’m okay. Today I’m holding it together. I glide down onto the sidewalk on the water side of Memorial Drive. It’s high summer, and the river seems tired. Along its banks a frothy white scum pushes against the reeds. It looks like the white gunk that collected in the corners of Paco’s mother’s mouth by the end of a long day of her incessant complaining in the kitchen. At least I don’t live there anymore. Even Adam’s potting shed is better than that apartment outside Barcelona. I cross at River Street and Western Ave. and veer off the concrete onto the dirt path that runs close to the river’s edge. I’m all right. I’m still all right, until I see the geese.