I walked around town for hours after that, shambling across the sidewalks aimlessly. Inevitably I found myself pacing up and down Douglas to the harbour, city blocks I had walked only yesterday with Lily Christianson.
Every time I’d walk past the café – or any café, for that matter – I’d peer into the windows. And every time I’d see only myself reflected there, reflected on the outside of the panes. I don’t know if I hoped to see her inside, but I was always alarmed when I caught sight of myself walking by. Me, wrapped in a green sweater despite the warmth and toting a laptop bag, hunching my back against the burden.
I’m back home now, and the sweater and bag have both been cast off and lie forgotten on the ground. A cup of coffee rests on the table beside me, my third since returning. Blank paper sits unused beside the coffee, black pens sitting atop it. I want to write, I’d been trying to write all afternoon.
But all I could do was stare.
I stare at the paper. I stare at the pens. I stare at the coffee.
Most often I’m staring at my reflection in the window, hoping that she’ll walk by. I’m on the third floor, and I know that isn’t possible, but I stare at the window nonetheless.
How often had I stared out the windows of the café? Most everyday, more so when I had the Block.
And then she’d walk by, and I’d forget all about having to meet deadlines, having to impress Midge, and just having to write.
But she said that I was always writing when she was around.
I ponder the words, and then remember how her disappearance would be marked by the audible click of my laptop as I folded it down. Always my reverie would end with more words written than I’d remember.
She really is my muse.
Even when we were together I’d be writing, or so she said. That would account for the odd stares people gave us, and the hushed voices they would talk in while glancing our way. I’d think myself crazy, too; talking with a woman perfect as Lily and all the while scribbling on napkins.
And then I remember.
I reach into a back pocket and pull out the folded square of wrinkled paper, which is covered in black markings. It’s the only thing I’ve written today, and so I start to read:
Elsie sits atop one of the high stools, alone and without even a drink. As I approach she looks up and–
My eyes are torn from the words as my cell starts to ring, the ringtone telling me that it’s Midge.
What could she want now? I’d given her everything I had this morning.
“Declan, exactly what are you trying to write?” Skipping straight to the point: that’s my Midge.
“Uhm, a romance,” I answer. “I thought that would be somewhat obvious.”
“Oh, it’s obvious.” Midge sounds slightly annoyed. “But how long are you aiming for this novel to be?”
“You don’t know, do you? That’s why there’s no plot yet!”
I’m dumbfounded at her words. No plot? There was plenty going on in my story, enough at least to merit all the chapters I’d given her.
“I’ll take your silence as disbelief. Let me explain.” Her tone of voice is back to normal, what I would expect more-or-less from her. “You write beautifully, Declan. That’s why I was so keen on being your agent.
"That said, your story is going nowhere. You can’t just write a chronicle of dates and romantic meetings. I need a so what. There needs to be a conflict, a climax, a resolution! All that good stuff you were supposed to learn in high school.”
“Huh,” is all I can muster.
“You can’t be fawning over this girl and do nothing at all to develop the romance!” Here, she pauses. “Look, I’ve already told you that she’s too perfect, too fake. Well, that can be her flaw. That can be the cause of the conflict.”
“You think so?” I don’t know what we’re talking about anymore.
“Well, it’s a start. I’m sure you can think of something better to keep the narrative alive. There are only so many coffee shop dates a girl will go on, you know.”
“Really?” I whisper.
“Really,” she answers from the other end.
“Thank you Midge. I think you might have saved my story.”
“It’s my job, but I’m glad to help, Declan. Goodbye.”
A click, and now I’m left with the dial tone. I tap a key and my cell ends the call, leaving me in silence once more.
I turn to the window and look outside, but only my reflection greets me.