Finn stared at the laptop, waiting for the right words to come to mind.
None did. On the screen, the little line blinked on and off, waiting for letters to be entered. Itd been staying there for at least an hour, on and off, on and off, not moving forward but still sticking around just in case. It watched as Finn emptied out an entire pack of cigarettes, chain smoking so much that the room was covered in a stinking smokescreen. Finn rested his fingers on the keyboard and tapped trice.
The, he entered, and the little line leapt forward in joy, jumping three whole letters. At the end of the word it stopped again, waiting with almost tangible anticipation. Disappointment greeted it. Finn grunted, then slammed his ring finger back down on backspace, flipping the laptop closed.
Five months. Thats how long hed gone without writing more than a proper paragraph. Five whole months of no writing. Five months of no writing, which in turn meant no paychecks, which in turn meant that he was in serious trouble. Five months of no writing, and he was starting to get desperate.
It was this stupid block that was giving him so much trouble. At first he thought itd pass in time, that hed be working on his next short story in a week, but after a month, he had to admit that there was a problem. Two weeks on vacation hadnt helped. Writing exercises hadnt helped. A month long course, a counseling session and twenty-five days of yoga and meditation hadnt helped. It was as if Imagination had felt abused, packed up and left him in the middle of the night.
He had been living on his savings at first, trying to unblock himself, but now his bank account was drying up and he was still stuck in the middle of a drought. Five months.
He couldnt hold out for much longer.
Throwing on a coat, Finn left his apartment and headed to the convenience store around the corner, wanting to get himself another pack of coffin nails. He kept his hands in his pockets, watching his surroundings as much as possible. Hed tried it before, and it didnt really help with the writing, but each time his imagination stirred just enough for him to have a little hope.
That hope evaporated as he stood in front of the shop, cursing under his breath. Some kid had thrown a rock into the stores display window, and now the entire shop was closed for repairs. Finn walked away, silently thankful hed never had a kid. Hed argued over it with Karen, and that was the only reason they hadnt gotten married yet. One of them would have to give in sooner or later, but Finn felt sure it wasnt going to be him.
Finn scratched the top of his closely shaven head and wondered what to do next. Down the street was another store, but according to Karen the prices there were outrageous and they didnt stock his favorite brands. Even further down was a 7-11, which theoretically could steal pretty much all the other stores business, but it was way too popular with bike gangs and street gangs to see any real action.
No, the best place to go for a smoke right now would probably be along the boardwalk, which had a lot of shops lined up along it. No doubt one of them would have something he could appreciate.
He got a pair of packs and lighted up immediately, walking along the boardwalk until he found a suitable bench to crash on. Beyond the horizon, the sun was setting in all the blazing glory that had caused artists, poets and writers to struggle finding the right words to describe.
Its beautiful, isnt it?
Finn grunted, wondering if she was trying to bum a cig off him.
The speaker, a girl who looked somewhere around the start of her twenties, continued undeterred. Its times like these that the best art is created, she said. Finn found it hard to disagree. The sea looked like it was on fire, and occasionally a boat passed in front of the sinking disk, creating a long shadow.
You an artist? he said finally.
The girl smiled. Finn liked to come up with words to describe smiles. Karens smile was radiant. Finn himself could be described as guilty. This girl, however, was secretive. But being secretive didnt mean you had something to hide. Not always, anyway.
The girl tucked a stray stand of brown hair behind her ear and cocked her head one side, then the other, raising her eyebrows at the same time to form the universal sign for maybe, maybe not.
I dabble in all sorts of stuff, actually, she said. Painting, sketching, little bit of sculpting, poems and a short story now and then.
Wrote, really. I havent written since my laptop fell into a fountain. I hate using pen and paper. My sketching may be good, but my handwriting is terrible. She shrugged. Im a left-hander, she said, like being left-handed was some kind of valid excuse.
Whatd you write about?
Well, I tried my hand at short stories, but I could never really keep my mind still for too long, you know? Poems were more my thing. Easy stuff, never had any problems with it.
Finn reached into his pack for another cigarette and realized hed cleaned his first pack out already. He tore open the second one, stuck another stick into his mouth and offered it to the girl, who took one but refused his light.
You dont smoke? said Finn.
Only when I feel like it.
Only when I feel like it? As far as Finn knew, if you smoked, you always felt like smoking. He wouldnt be cleaning out pack after pack if he didnt feel like it. The girl must have realized he thought something was strange, because she held out the stick for him to light.
Okay, maybe just one.
Yeah, if I could go for just one as well, thought Finn. He lit the stick anyway, watching as she took a long pull. She held the stick in her lap, as though cradling a drink.
I try not to smoke, she said suddenly. I think it kills creativity.
Really? Tell me about it.
Youre a writer, arent you?
Finn was surprised. Have you been stalking me? he asked jokingly.
Maybe, smiled the girl. You just have that look, I guess.
Well, not today, Im not, said Finn. Im kind of in the middle of a block right now.
Maybe itll pass.
Maybe. You were talking about creativity?
Oh, sure. I mean, how do you think straight if your heads in a smelly cloud all the time?
Didnt seem to bother me before, Finn muttered, holding his fag up in front of him like a piece of murder evidence.
Never mind you, anyone standing near you would probably pass out from all that smoke floating around your head all the time.
I dont need people standing looking over my shoulder to write.
But your imagination gets choked. Your imagination, you know, your muse? Hows she going to do any work with all that stuff choking her and all that nicotine you keep sucking into your veins? She cant help you if you dont help yourself.
You believe in muses? Winged women floating around clad in loose cloths looking over your shoulders, whispering what to write next? Somehow, Finn didnt think this girl seemed the type to be one of those spiritual, new-age sort of people. She seemed way too down-to-earth for that nonsense.
The girl took another pull. Well, they dont have to look exactly like that, but why not? Isnt it nice to know you have some help?
If not them, what else? I mean, you could have angels if you wanted, I suppose, but itd be the same thing with a different name.
And even less clothing.
I dont think there are any female angels.
A pity, then.
You know, youre really weird.
Says the girl who thinks she has a muse, Finn thought. Out loud he said, So maybe I drove my muse away. Maybe my muse doesnt like how I prefer angels and left to get one for me. Could that be whats happening?
You think your muse left you? frowned the girl, looking like she couldnt believe anyone could make a muse do that.
Well, whoever my muse is, she- or he, isnt here right now.
She might be invisible. Its not like anyones actually seen a muse, either.
Then shes being lazy, too. I havent written in five months. I havent been paid in five months.
She laughed. Looks like you havent stopped smoking in five months either.
Finn took the jab with as much good grace as he could muster. It was, after all, pretty darn true. So what do you suppose I should do, doctor? he asked.
Well, for one, said the girl with an air of mock seriousness. You need to stop smoking.
Because its blocking out my creativity, Finn continued.
Because its blocking out all your common sense, you twit, she replied. You dont have any money but you keep buying pack after pack of this stuff! How do you think that makes any sense?
I never said it did, did I?
Then why keep doing it?
Because I like to smoke, thats why!
What about all the other people around you, then? You have a girlfriend, dont you? Doesnt she tell you not to smoke?
She had, as a matter of fact. But just like the issue of a kid, Finn wasnt going to give on up that so easily. Defiantly, he stubbed his cigarette, reached into his pocket to retrieve another stick and promptly recoiled as the girl blew a large puff of used smoke straight into his face.
Finn coughed, unable to breathe. What the- he started, but the girl cut him off quickly.
Now, imagine me doing that to you all day long, she said. Her lips were pale and pressed tight, and the hand holding the cigarette seemed to be shivering. The effort of holding and blowing out all that smoke had somehow seemed to take a toll on her. Finn finished coughing, clearing his throat with a few more hacks and wheezes before finally settling into a shallow rhythm again. The girl was smiling again. Not so nice, is it? she asked sweetly. In just a moment, she had turned back into a chipper girl again.
The hell it isnt! Finn spat.
Well then, maybe you should consider giving it up, then. Give yourself a bit of thinking room.
Finn opened his mouth to say something, then bit his tongue. Maybe she does have a point, he thought grudgingly. He could give it a try after all, if not for him, then certainly for Karen. Besides, he needed to make the rest of his money last, and chain smoking wasnt the way to go about it.
Youre sure my block will go away? he said after a bit of hesitation.
The girl shrugged. Wouldnt hurt to try, would it?
Oh, yes it would. Withdrawal was nothing light, especially for someone who sucked as much nicotine as Finn. But then again, at least he was choosing to end it on his own terms, as opposed to being slowly starved by a lack of cash. Finn paused to think again, feeling himself teetering on the edge of acceptance, and wondering exactly how he had ended up there. Oh, what the hell, he thought.
Fine, he said, but if my block doesnt go away, you owe me a couple of packs.
The girl smiled again. "That's the way, Finn. Youre doing your muse a great favour.
Maybe now youll be able to get your show on the road." She got up and started to leave, saying, Ill see you later, Finn.
Then she was gone, blending into the dinner crowd that had gathered to watch the sun set before Finn could even ask her for her name or what she had meant. He noticed her cigarette lying on the floor next to his feet and snuffed it out, wondering how she had known his name.