(fiction…sort of) I’m sitting in my house. It’s the weekend. I have some time. Precious little. What to do? I already know. Right in front of me, sloppily stacked, one tossed on top of the other, is a hastily acquired collection of Little Gems, aka writer’s reference books. I showed not the least hesitation in bringing them home, scoring one more hit each time, the last one, the last one, my mantra, until I needed another, then another, individually, sequentially, collectively hoarding them, now all residents in my home, unhesitating in their role to quench my thirst for more.
How could I deny myself? Their titles so titillating, their promise so unbearable, seducing me with subtitles suggesting that I can master plot twists, can write with emotion, tension, and conflict, can change the world if I so desire.
“No I can’t,” I’m arguing with myself.
“Yes…you can,” squeals the Little Gem from its perch. I swipe out quick with one hand, then thumb through quick like.
“Of course I can,” I whisper quietly, like I’m in a library or something.
“of course i can, of course I can, of Course I Can, Of Course I Can…” The Little Writer Who Could, I find myself plodding, yet again, toward the front of the store, my supplier, a dingy little outfit daring to include the word “Noble” in its name. Ironic, since there’s nothing noble about the way it feeds my addiction, my thirst for knowledge. Surely I’m not alone. The experience is debilitating. For me…for all of us.
I stand there at the checkout counter, silent, not making eye contact. Smiling quickly to myself, I feel grimly satisfied with my latest Little Gem, furtively snatched from uncomfortable nest, it squeezed tightly on both sides by competitors, all fighting for that same rite of passage-to be purchased by a complete stranger.
Driven home to unfamiliar surroundings, fully aware that I, its new owner, will only care for the briefest of moments about its pretty cover. It knows, it confesses, without a doubt, that I, the stranger, won’t hesitate the slightest bit to find out just exactly what hides inside. I almost sense an exhilarated shudder from the Little Gem, struggling only slightly to free itself from my grasp, the smallest of doubts lingering about leaving its safe haven.
An addiction. What else can I call it when the only happiness I can find is to stand at the checkout, yet again, quietly waiting my turn. I wonder if that lady behind the counter, who now knows my face, can sense my sickness, my compulsion. Some people turn tricks. I turn pages, God help me, and I don’t even care. She fires a glance my way, even before I’m half-way to the swipe, nervously smiling all the while. Then she fires another quick shot down toward the freshly harvested Little Gem that will be getting in the car with me, plucked from its temporary orphanage at the very back of the store.
I sense her artificial satisfaction. We’re all complicit. Without me, she gets sent home, as well, another casualty of a shuttered supply house. I know they’re disappearing all across the nation, the authorities intent on shutting them down, trying to stamp out the addicted, the ones like me frequenting such establishments, all of us feeding our needs and wants, our hopes and desires. It’s all so twisted. So raw. So…literary.
She’s anxious to get me out the door. Familiar with all the many flavors of obsession trudging toward the exit, she’ll have something personal to say to each of us. About me and my particular brand of weakness? She’ll ask if I’m a member yet, knowing I resent the insinuation.
“Hell no!” I’ll say.
“You can save a lot of money,” she’ll reply, reprimanding me for abstaining from that indulgence.
“I don’t want to save money,” I snap back. “Why must we have this little dance every time. Who are you to exploit me!”
She calmly smiles, almost expectant of my outbursts now, as though she knows it’s probably just a matter of time. I dread what’s coming next.
“Well, here’s a buy-one-get-one-free coupon for a cookie, and you have a nice day.”
It’s all very non-committal. I stare down at my paunch, then explode.
“Don’t you think you’ve already done quite enough? You’re the one who needs to have the nice day, Lady, not me. And don’t look so smug. I’m not the only one addicted, you know?”
I traverse her up and down with a critical stare, sneering all the while. She knows that I know. It’s no accident when I drop my coupon on the floor. Everyone watches it sway, back and forth, fluttering down for the longest moment. One guy makes a leap for it. I cut him off with nothing more than a step, trapping the little shred of wood pulp beneath my shoe. Everyone feels sullied. Shaken. The checkout lady drops her head in shame. I’ve called her out.
Everybody standing around virtually applauds me in silence, all the while gripping their select Little Gems a bit tighter, shuffling forward in the line, anxious to make their own purchase, to get home as soon as possible, only caring for the briefest moments about their individual exteriors, hesitating not a bit to find out just exactly what hides inside.
I’m sitting at my house. It’s the weekend. I have some time. Precious little. What to do? My symptoms are on the rise. My head is spinning. I’m dizzy and overwhelmed, caught-up in this frenzy of information overload. I’m an addict, doing what addicts do. Situated comfortably on my couch, mindlessly sipping coffee, cradling my latest Little Gem in slightly trembling hands, a trickle of sweat slowly sliding down my back, a roaring raging river of unbridled writing desires carving out huge swaths of an interior shoreline badly in need of a makeover for untold years.
I take another sip of coffee, feeling pathetic. My wife is staring at me curiously. Does she know. Can she tell I’m daring to believe? Maybe I’m too far gone to care.
“What?” I say.
“Oh nothing…it’s just that…”
I bring the Little Gem toward my nose and sniff deeply of its fragrance.
“Don’t judge.” It’s all I can manage and she knows it. She turns away, barely stifling her amusement, heading pridefully toward her own coddled collection of Blue Rays, mostly unaware that a freshly minted universe is violently exploding itself into existence inside my aging cranium.
I casually play with the corner of my Little Gem’s cover, scarsely aware of its glittering exterior. Something about mastering plot twists. Whatever. I tear open the cover to get at the meat. What I find waiting inside leaves me utterly astonished. And yet, I remind myself, it’s been hiding there all along.