A writer sits in a borrowed truck in the drive-thru of a Los Lunas, New Mexico Starbucks, where she’s just exhausted the last of a birthday gift card by filling up an old green thermos five minutes before closing time. Driving to a far off corner of the parking lot, she shuts off the engine and grimaces over her excessive habits and the uneasy state of life in general. It’s a worn out expression — the same kind of face she might wear while standing at a gas pump or sitting in a dentist’s chair. Oh, fuck it, she thinks, filling up her paper cup, just finish your work.
She pulls the lever to push the seat back and opens her MacBook, where the cursor winks at her between two paragraphs. Immediately, she notices a sentence that seems stilted and out of place. What was she thinking when she wrote that? She considers the awkward phrasing for a moment, changes it, and then fights the compulsion to go back and check all the other sentences in her almost-there, so-close-to-done book. She fears that all those thousands of words that she has written and then set aside in favor of moving ahead have grown unwieldy without her vigilance—that there are other tongue-tied, stuttering words waiting to be discovered on closed pages.
No, she says to herself sternly and out loud. Then she laughs because she’s become just that crazy: a woman who talks to herself because, really, it’s been a long time since she’s had a proper conversation with anyone else.
She forces herself to ignore the blare of sirens coming from the main road, and the flickering light of the lamp in the parking lot. She lights a cigarette, swallows some coffee, and remembers a purple haired girl in a spiked black collar who loved Kurt Cobain so much that she wanted to be just like him, even if it meant draining the blood from her body and leaving love behind. She remembers, too, that people always say, “if only I had known” but of course they always know. There’s no reason not to know except the wearing of blinders. People see what they want to see, so they can remember as they wish.
By 3:00 in the morning, the writer’s coffee is lukewarm, her cigarette pack is nearly empty, and there are 15 new pages to the almost-there book. Almost there is not progress enough. There’s some crisis looming on the horizon—another unwieldy thing that has been ignored in order to finish just this one thing.
At 5 a.m., she watches the opening of Starbucks wistfully. A creamy latte with an espresso shot would be so good about now, but practicalities are coins at the bottom of a bag and oh, lovers complain to each other in order to reestablish common ground and support.
A dull, faded sun peaks through clouds, over a brown mountain. The last of the coffee is gone. The writer removes her sweater, steps outside, stretches her legs. She walks to the coffee shop, filled with people, and suddenly everything feels mixed up and wrong—like a stark Picasso figure on the edges of a muted Monet painting. She tests the handle of the restroom door and is relieved to find it unlocked. At the sink she washes her hands and face. Strands of white feathers are growing in her crown. Time passes quickly and even more so on the periphery, where the mettle of unkempt, wayward souls becomes a philosophy, a joke, or a political leaning.
She waves to the bright-eyed, ponytailed girl behind the counter and exits the shop feeling gray and hungry, but steady. The story is moving along despite all sorts of pain, from practical to gnawing.
At 1 p.m., the writer closes another chapter. It’s not finished and it’s rough, but the cadence is right and the truth is bold in its plainness, like a plump and barefoot woman that stands in front of a mirror and appreciates what she sees.
She readies the borrowed truck for its return, and then drives the ten miles to her borrowed room while the wind whips through the desert, uprooting sagebrush and creating clouds of fine dust. She allows a feeling like cautious joy to enter through the open windows and take hold of her thick, elephant heart. She imagines she might stay awake and finish her chapter today, one of the last, and that thought alone leaves her happy. Just this one thing. Almost-there, so-close-to-done.
In her room she makes a fresh pot of coffee and speaks out loud to the brokers of fate—to some understanding Universe or impeccable God—that might relieve the niggling details and reorder the larger picture.
Just this one thing. It’s all I want.
As if in answer, a letter arrives. The blinders have been worn too long, and gratitude is a poor substitute for money, but there’s an exhalation of kindness breathed into the words—a benevolence of truth. The writer responds that yes, of course, she will be ready to leave by the end of the month.
The cautious joy of Just this one thing turns into a familiar, swirling panic of Where, how, when, and with what. The wind hits the windows like a scream; like a woman pressed between the unpredictable mercies of nature and the fragile panes of time.
The purple haired girl with the spiked collar lived, scars and all, but Kurt Cobain did not. It’s the right ending. Clay feet can never go the distance, and neither, it appears, can the cocky bastard of the Universe. The writer considers this as she flips off the switch to the coffee and turns off the lights.