I wandered around the square. It seemed like something to do. I had already dusted my venetian blinds, and then dusted the tops of my books (amazing how much accumulates on unread volumes). I set out in my best shirt, sunday shirt as my parents might say, and strolled. I initially fell into my gate of choice: brisk, deliberate, and most of all, angular. Each step meaning something. But I realized how inappropriate this was. The goal of my jaunt was not only unclear, but it really didn't exist. To walk briskly would not only make it less pleasant, but it would make clear to me my own day's emptiness all the sooner. The hope was that if I did enough of nothing and went through the motions of enjoying it, then I'd be able to convince myself that I did something.
The day was unseasonably warm and I was glad that I'd rejected the blazer, though it did match my Sunday shirt quite finely. I took my time around the square, stepping lazily and occasionally varying my direction so to clarify to all around me that I had no where peculiar to go. "There goes that man, just enjoying his day. It might as well be Sunday for him." It was in fact Tuesday.
This was the second day the venetian blinds were cleaned. Yesterday was Monday; the first day that the newspaper that had employed me was no longer printing. There was talk of a spin off magazine or shifting the paper's weight to the internet, but no one had the organizational skill or the impetuous or the capital, so it was quietly snuffed out. An announcement ran one week before the final paper, and then on the final paper.
I hadn't really been a great journalist, or much of one at all. A cousin was an editor of sorts, his name slept soundly on the mast and it was hard to not promote me. Up from stock boy and mail-room paper-cut receiver and assistant to anyone and everyone. They eventually gave me a column. I was instructed to keep it light, keep it local, and keep it legible. I proceeded. I wrote about Christmas parties, and coming out parties (well, we didn't really have those, this not being Dixie at all, but god damn we could pretend like the best of them), fundraisers, parades, school plays, the tearing down of old movie houses, the shooting of movies, the charm of the architecture on M____ Street, the death of certain matriarchs, and my personal reflections on the air in town. The closest I ever came to any hard journalism was an ironic expose on the decrepitude of some of the historical buildings. On a tour, I once noticed decaying electrical systems and rotted water heaters. While the piece's heart was serious, it was written in the tone of a comical rebuke. "A house, like a man, should be judged by his upstairs and his downstairs, by his front windows and his basement floor."
I had written other things that went unpublished. Some serious "journalism," several volumes of diary, a number of short stories (which I submitted to my very paper under the nom de plume "Gerome Calhoun"), and the better part of a worser novel. All these scribbling filled my attic, boxes and boxes, but never filled a single page of mass printed paper. They existed soley and quietly on reams of paper filled with the close and precise type of my trusted typewriter, which I always wrote on.
I had few misgivings. I was published! On a weekly basis. In quite a handsome paper, in quite a handsome column. Just because it was no longer in print, doesn't mean it no longer mattered. Those papers existed in archives and on microfilm, and in a small box kept in my attic. I was proud. And now I no longer needed to think on paper. I could enjoy the walk around the square without letting my mind wander and devise ways in which the minutest of sensations or reflections could be expanded in a column.
The sun came out. I giggled (all to myself). "Sunlight on a broken column." That's what it is! I should have squeezed that into my last entry. Oh I could have. Too late now.
I sat down on a bench in the shade. Across from me was a sleeping man, perhaps 25, laid out on a bench. At least I thought he was sleeping, his dark sunglasses obscured his eyes. He stirred and sat up, and took out a notebook from his inner pocket. He read what was previously written and began to write. With a pencil.
A pencil is in poor form, I thought to myself, but at least he is writing. So few today. I lifted my hat and he smiled, removing his glasses.
"Lovely day," I said.
"Yes, it is," he responded warmly.
"I couldn't help but notice. What are you writing?"
"Oh, it's a draft of a letter. My father and I write back and fourth once or twice a month. Long letters. He lives in Bombay. Expatriate you might say. We've found that letters are much more personal and interesting than bad telephone connections or email."
"Indeed! It must be very satisfying. And to have them all. A solid record of a correspondence."
"In what form do you usually send the letters? Pen? Handwritten?"
"I have tried a number. His always comes in handwriting. It's always so legible and clean, but very personal. I can see him laying in bed composing."
"Very nice. The physical artifact; lovely."
"But mine, mostly hand written. I've never been a fan of my handwriting. It looks childish, especially compared to his. I've printed out some at the library, like typed on a computer and then printed. That always feels wrong though."
A thought flashed across my mind. An author retiring (me) passing along an instrument of writing to an author young (him). I certainly wouldn't need it anymore. My life was quieting, was slowing. I checked my watch. I had been out for 45 minutes, long enough for it to be substantial. I made the option known:
"Have you ever considered writing on a typewriter?"
His eyes focused then glazed, then focused again.
"They are in many ways ideal. They retain the physical element of a handwritten note, the crinkles in the paper made when you feed it in, and the specific idiosyncrasies of the typewriter, broken serifs, letters that don't mark as hard, etc., but is still easy on the the eye to read."
"I have one, you know. One that is of no use to me anymore."
"Really? Why don't you want it?"
"Well, I'm a writer too, but retired. Maybe I was a writer. You're welcome to it. It's not electric or anything like that, but in perfect working condition. And I've got plenty of ribbon left for her."
"Well, are you sure?"
"Nonsense. It'd please me to pass it off. It'll be good to know that it's still getting use. In my old home it will gather dust, not putting a sentence to paper."
"Well, sure than."
We stood up, setting off at a healthy gate towards my home. Destination made my steps meaningful and idle conversation filled the air. I could tell he was legitimately excited to get the instrument, and I'd get it off my hands. One more thing taking up space in my old age would be gone.
I turned the corner to my home, pointing it out to my companion. As I pulled the keys out of my pocket and reached for the door there was a strange surge in my body.
The windows, on all floors, smashed, the glass flying out. The door was blown off it's hinges, flying towards me. Flames erupted from every orifice. The roof of the house lifted noiselessly up into the air, levitating 15 feet above the house before a loud "boom" was heard and all began to fall. I was vomited back from the front door many yards. I landed with my front door beside me. I quickly covered my head as debris began to fall. A toilet, a desk drawer, spoons and knives, rained down. Inches from me landed the typewriter. It collapsed into tiny pieces. And then the burning rain. I looked up, all through the air were pieces of singed paper, some still aflame. Hundreds of them. As they landed all around me I realized they were all typewritten. All my work.
We made eye-contact. My companion seemed fine. "The boiler must have blown, lucky it didn't happen seconds later. We're alive!"
"Indeed we are," I said. "Indeed we are."
-Robert de Saint-Loup