The Root of All Calm

Cupboards slamming are always a reliable sign that Frank is angry. The coffee cup rattling in the sink is an equally accurate barometer. The only thing preventing the complete destruction of the phone in his hand was the tiny internal voice reminding him that his new smart phone cost over six-hundred dollars. The chill was instant. Money is the root of all calm.

He told himself this frequently.

Unfortunately, money to calm was not forthcoming. His dream result was evaporating before his eyes, and fearing a sudden relapse in mood, Frank placed the smart phone smartly on the counter; thereby, freeing him to entertain any sudden wellspring of emotion with less potential consequence. It was the only rational thought he processed in the past ten minutes, since checking his smartphone and discovering an email that smarted terribly.

“The pace is too fast, and we’re not certain he is conflicted or simply a screw-up,” ya-da, ya-da, ya-da. That hurt.

Frank sat down in a chair at the kitchen table, massaging the two-day growth of beard on his face. His oatmeal stared up at him, cold and coagulated like the stupid paste he used in grade school art projects. The oatmeal was a maddening clump of… Gunk! Much like his life! He could hold the bowl upside down, and it still wouldn’t fall out! This was his life, a coagulated, formless clump of pasty gunk. He considered turning the bowl upside down to see whether the nasty gunk would fall out. Maybe if the bowl struck the wall with some velocity…The same tiny voice whispered in his brain, Anger is irrational.

Oh, that’s helpful.

“What’s the matter with you?” Leslie strolled into the kitchen her arms loaded with laundry. She glanced into the sink and sighed heavily. “You broke another one. Is it really necessary-“

“I’m sorry.”

Leslie said something, a statement that cried for vocalization, begged airing; but, was muted, or garbled on purpose. She dumped the dirty clothes on the floor and pulled open the laundry doors, and began loading the washer.

“Are you going to tell me; or, just sit there sloshing self-pity… and breaking coffee mugs?”

“I’m entitled-“

“No you’re not.”

“What? You too?”

“I assume you heard from the agent.”

Frank’s reply was limited to standing abruptly and grabbing the water kettle from the range top and filling it with water, the whole pot.

“Just how much tea are you going to make?”

“I’m going to boil this water for some tea and the remaining water I’ll pour over my head.”

“My, aren’t we dramatic.”

“They told me I was so close, Lez. Close! There were only a few inconsistencies that needed to be addressed, probably the result of all the revisions. But, this evaluation sounds like it’s back to square one! They want me to hire an editor to fix the issues.”

“That’s what they do. What are you going to do?”

“After I pour the boiling water over my head?”

“You’ve invested a lot of time in this project. Don’t you want to see it through?”

It is true. Frank spent an enormous amount of time on his opus these past three years, eight revisions in three years. There were months of fevered work, often interrupted by days or even weeks of blockage; or, as Frank was prone to explain, a period of incubation. A new burst of energy produced yet another frenzied push, culminating in the anxiety of shoving the manuscript into a Post Office If It Fits It Ships box.

Waiting followed. The watched clock syndrome, or watched pot that never boils followed the ubiquitous email: Your manuscript arrived today, and we eagerly await reviewing your work. It was during this time that Frank put his life on hold. He wrote almost nothing, except letters, emails, or cards that Leslie passed off to him because You are the writer.

“I wondered about that. There were times when I wanted the story to slow down, you know.”

“Maybe I not the writer we all think I am. This might be one long shaggy dog story about ineptitude. Tilting at windmills. Chasing rainbows.”

“I think it’s good. I’d buy it now and feel comfortable telling others to buy it. The race is not always to the swift.”

“Self-help proverbs are no help! If it’s a race, then the race belongs to the swift. There will be no gold medals handed out at the Olympics this summer for the slowest time in the one-hundred yard dash, or the two-hundred yard medley. Those, those, proverbs or aphorisms are maddening, cloying, and simply unrealistic. It’s not a race, life is not a race; it’s achievement. I’m not achieving! Apparently.”

“It’s a metaphor-“

“The tortoise won because the Hare was stupid! In any race that really mattered, the tortoise loses, big time.”

“Don’t dumb it down.”

The kettle began screaming for attention. Frank and Leslie both stood waiting. Frank finally made himself some tea.”

“What are you going to do?”

He shrugged. A writer needs to communicate. These were worrisome times for Frank, because he simply wanted to shut down. Say nothing, write nothing, think nothing. This was one of those times, and it was maddening for him no doubt.

Later that night, Frank lay in bed staring at the ceiling. Leslie finally slipped into bed, pausing a moment as if unsure whether Frank was awake or asleep. She slid in a little further than was her custom, and put her hand on Frank’s chest.

“Frank?”

Frank simply sighed.

Leslie pulled her hand down Frank’s chest to his stomach where she paused. Impulse let her hand travel further south massaging an apparent sleeping member. There was only a modest response to her manipulation, and she increased her attention. But after several minutes and only the most modest of response she pulled her hand back.

“What are you doing?”

“Apparently, not enough.”

Frank smiled in the dark; she could see his white teeth in the dark. A cheshire cat smile, and she laughed.

Frank rolled over to Leslie. “Don’t stop now. The race is not always to the swift.”

“How convenient.”

“Yeah.”

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