I could’ve set my watch by this guy. Every fifteen minutes, right on the dot, he would peer out the broken window on the south wall of our apartment, the window we’d set the couch against. It seemed counterintuitive to me, because the first thing Jeremy did as soon as he got home was close the brown blackout blinds we kept on the south and west walls, but he must’ve had his reasons for this. I swore there was a fence between him and that green couch, or that he was tethered to its rotten arm, because he hadn’t gotten off it since the beginning of the afternoon.
He was killing my buzz, and I was only on my first screwdriver, so I called him over to my side of the living room, the side that opened up to my bedroom, whose door sat underneath a cracked ceiling.
“Hey Jeremy,” I called over the hysterics of a nearby siren. “Want to come in my room? Have a drink or something?”
It might not have been the best idea to call Jeremy into my room while I was trying to write, but I’d only keep him in there until he’d cooled his jets a little. Besides, maybe shutting the door would keep me from hearing the latest round of screams.
“I’ll come,” Jeremy replied. “Won’t drink, though. Gotta keep my mind sharp.”
I, on the other hand, figured there was no harm in blunting my mind a little, or at least my conscious mind, so I could release the inhibitions and tap into the subconscious. Something waited just on the other side of the wall we build to keep the monsters out, and there’s no better weapon for sacking that wall than booze. Except maybe acid, but it was getting increasingly hard to get my hands on acid, or for that matter any other drug. Strange.
I opened my bedroom door, and the two of us walked in. I hoped he wouldn’t mind the mess. It wasn’t too bad, mainly just clothes and books scattered around the floor. Nothing disgusting.
“Close it behind you,” I said to Jeremy. He did.
“Listen,” he said. “I’m not sure what I did, but-,”
“Don’t even worry about it.” I waved a hand, long and thin like the rest of me. “Mountains and molehills, man. Mountains and molehills.”
He grimaced. “You may be right, but I’d like to be sure there’s nothing to worry about.” He paced my warped floor, his face paler than usual. A touch of vodka would’ve brought some color to those cheeks. The pacing led him over to my window.
“Man, what are you doing?” I asked. “You need to just have a drink. Let your good pal Steve spread the good vibes.”
There was a rattle and a thud from upstairs. Jeremy jumped.
“Just our neighbor’s door,” I said. “Keep your head on your shoulders.”
“I’ve gotta get out of here,” replied Jeremy. “Can’t lose another minute.”
“Where are you going?”
“Back to the window. I want to be ready for them.”
Jeremy bolted out of my door, as fast as his stubby legs could carry him. Damnedest thing I’d ever seen.
I didn’t get a lick of writing done that night. Instead, I slammed down screwdrivers, sang my favorite songs, and spilled my guts to the toilet. Might’ve passed out a couple of times; it’s all a bit of a blur to me now. Jeremy kept up with whatever that window business was. It was all right hat I hadn’t got a lot of work done, though. The warm-ups are just as important as the game.
A day came and went, and despite the lowering of my inhibitions, I still hadn’t written anything substantial. I’d spent the whole day shut up in my room, not even bothering to open the shades. I’d write a few words, I’d scratch them out, I’d write a few more words, I’d scratch them out. The dance went on until the dam broke and a flood of words gushed out from my pen, but the words lost their luster after I’d stepped away from them for a minute, for food or a bathroom break, which was all I’d left the room for the whole day. Those pages were torn out of the notebook, wadded up, and thrown into the trash can, which was then shut. Instead of writing, I’d doodle in the margins, or open up my laptop and waste time on the internet, which went against the reason why I wrote in notebooks in the first place. Maybe the laptop belonged in the trash, too. I found myself falling asleep at one point, but was awoken by a violent crack. It could’ve been thunder, as rain had drummed on our roof the whole day, or it could’ve been a gunshot. It’s hard to tell sometimes.
Around five in the afternoon, I tried to throw myself into a trance and write whatever came into my head. This trance was broken interrupted by the knock at the door.
“Jeremy?” I asked. “You know I’m working in here.”
“I need you to hide this gun,” he said, opening up the door and thrusting a Smith and Wesson into my hands.
“Hide your gun?” I asked. “Why the hell do I have to hide your gun?”
“No time to explain,” replied Jeremy. “Just hide it. If you hide it quick, there won’t be any trouble.”
“All right,” I said. “Plenty of places to hide a gun in here.”
“Show me where it’s hidden.”
I opened up the drawer on my maroon desk and stuffed it in there, along with various papers. Then I closed the drawer.
“Not there,” said Jeremy. “That’s the first place they’ll look. How about your dresser?”
“Whatever’s cool with me,” I replied. We nestled the gun between two shirts and tucked it in with a third.
“You stay in here for a while,” he said. “Got that? Don’t you move until I give the go-ahead. Or if you do move, get out of the house now. Go for a walk, at least for an hour.”
“I think I’ll stay here,” I replied. “I’m writing.”
“Then write. Just remember, keep it down.”
At this moment, I had to consider if I’d ever write again. That wasn’t a pleasant possibility, but I was ready to confront the unpleasant. That was what made me a writer. The fact of it could’ve been that I could have written my last. The muse is a fickle mistress, and perhaps she’d abandoned me after showing me many a wonderful story about my troubles with my dad and my sexual hang-ups. I thought I’d always have those chestnuts to fall back on, but I guess I wasn’t so lucky. Had my gifts deserted me already? Was I meant to live out the rest of my life trapped in a cubicle like my dad? Oh, he’d have a few laughs if he saw me now. He’d pat me on the back and tell me that hobbies were fun, but they wouldn’t pay any bills. I decided on another screwdriver. Maybe I was to share Kafka’s fate, but was recognition in my own lifetime too much to ask? Maybe I needed to find another woman, but I’d had about as much luck with that lately as I had with my writing.
So I scrawled out an exchange between a young man and his brother, who was set to inherit the family business. Nothing much, but it was better than nothing at all. Halfway through it, I heard another knock.
“They’re gone,” Jeremy said. “I talked my way out of it.”
“Ah, if I had your luck.”
“My luck?” asked Jeremy. “Are you crazy? Are you actually fucking crazy? My luck? That is the last time I ever buy cocaine.”
He stormed off, muttering as he closed the door, no doubt still shaken by recent events. His problems appeared to be over, but I was still locked in the thrall of mine.
After another night and another day of idle scribbling passed, I found the appropriate solution to my conundrum would be to take a walk and let ideas germinate in my mind. This was what worked for Wordsworth, and what was good for the great geniuses would be good for the rest of us as well. I opened up my curtains and gazed out the window: still another hour until sunset, which meant it was safe for a walk. I would be fine if I just made it back before dark. As I wandered outside, past an overturned dumpster a homeless person slept in, past a child playing with a broken beer bottle, as I crossed a street littered with potholes, I considered possibilities. Perhaps what I needed to do was tell my own story, from the cradle, and explain how it was that a man of letters found his way into a dump like this. I would embellish to a degree, of course, but I was still meant to sit at the center of the broader work. The bits that mattered – the lifelong love affair with literature, the stormy relationships with women, the father who wanted me in the family business – would all remain unchanged.
When I had gotten about a mile south of my apartment, I heard a gunshot ring out from the north. It sounded like someone had not been careful enough. A shame how many deaths were caused by people in this city not keeping their wits close at hand.