Iap types on his tiny Netbook computer while sipping a Grande Soy Sugar-Free Almond Latte in the Issaquah Tully’s. Sweat drips down his armpits, a combination of the May sun shining through the plate glass storefront and the afterglow from his morning workout. Swimming induces a warmth that lasts for hours—nice in the winter, annoying in the summer months. He glances around the crowded coffee shop. Like him, many patrons stare into computer screens. He wonders how many of them are unemployed, retired, or formulating lucrative construction contracts. Some are soccer moms yapping on their cell phones or huddled around their caffeine dispensers exchanging neighborhood gossip. The rest are students with textbooks, laptops, and paper notebooks. A mom and toddler step in. Iap prays the little girl in her red flower dress doesn’t discover the xylophone in the back. A young Asian woman with thick glasses, a pony tail, and a backpack sits against the far wall, talking on a bright green phone. No, she’s not Dawn, he thinks, always searching for his character’s face. Another woman in a tight pink blouse leans against the counter, her face overtanned and wrinkled for her age, her breasts threatening to escape. She leans forward and laughs at someone. A flirt? Harmless coffee banter?
Iap reaches down and rubs his sore ankles. He still wears his race shirt from yesterday, a trophy he will cherish until his clothes drawer overflows and he chooses which old race shirts to discard. Like sex, every race has the same format. He first falls in love with the idea, the concept of the race. Wouldn’t it be great if I could run that race? As the race starts, he takes it easy, not wanting to rush things. When he rushes, things can end before they even start. He feels things out, trying to find that sweet spot. As the race progresses, his breathing increases, his heart thumps, but he can’t stop. Not until it’s over. The urge to finish overcomes him, until nothing holds him back, not the burning in his legs, not the wheezing of his lungs, not the vague thoughts that he could drop dead on the course, a quivering mass of human flesh. Sweat stings his eyes, his nipples chafe and bleed, and his feet feel like they’ve been through a woodchipper. Then comes that final moment, that flood of emotion and endorphins as he crosses the finish line. Like sex, his first thought: where’s the water? Limp and exhausted, he collapses on the ground, gasping for air like a fish.
Iap skims through his email and RSS feeds, wincing from the continued attacks on his manuscript. After posting his work in a contest, dozens of people ripped it to shreds, leaving his precious writing writhing on the floor, as out of life as he is after a race. “Telling”. “Overdone”. “Confusing”. Doubts creep into his head. I left my lucrative software career to become a writer. Guess what? I can’t write. He shakes his head, forcing the doubts from his consciousness. Others return. My daughter is sick. What if it’s Swine Flu? I’ve had a cough for a couple days. What if I have it? Are we going to die? He sits up and inhales. The sweat under his arms spreads, a cold circle against his body. He picks his nails, a nervous habit he’s practiced as long as he can remember. He forced himself to stop for weeks before his wedding so his photos would look nice. His nails now barely peeked out from their beds, cut far from his fingertips. I know I can write, he tells himself unconvincingly. Someone somewhere once gave me a compliment, so I know it’s true. He thinks about his dwindling bank account. His unemployment checks barely cover health insurance, let alone the mortgage or the upcoming doctor bills. Should I call that guy and just get a job? Should I give up on my dream after only two months?
The sweat spreads to his palms, a warm stickiness that leaves little imprints on the Netbook whenever he raises his hands. A hint of chlorine mixes with the coffee aroma, a scent no amount of showering removes after a pool session. 145 thousand words of crap, he thinks. 145 thousand words no one will ever read or care about. What was I thinking? The caffeine dries his throat, dumping bodily fluid into his bladder, distracting him from his blogging. The query manual he studied over the weekend proved useless, just a rehash of what he’s read online. A pig with lipstick. That’s what my work has become. I’m trying to dress it up but it’s a fucking pig. I can’t write a decent query because it’s like trying to sell a pig to a cattleman.
He stretches his arms towards the ceiling, his neck bones crackling from being hunched over the Netbook for so long. His legs ache from the hard wooden chair. He stares into the gas fireplace’s flickering flames. I could just throw everything right in there and be done with it. Outside a filtered sun shines on pink azaleas and rhodies. He texts his wife, asking about his daughter’s condition, and receives no response. He thinks about a critique he received over the weekend, another devastating annihilation of his work. I can only take so much. He thinks back to the race yesterday. Two miles into the race sits a drawbridge that opens exactly twenty minutes after the start gun. His heart racing at its maximum rate, he passed it with thirty seconds to spare. You know, I can do some things if I work hard enough. Race training: 5 hours of running, 3 hours of riding, 2 hours of swimming. Every week. For years. How miles have I logged? Thousands? Almost a dozen pairs of sneakers destroyed? I’ve only been on this writing thing for two months. Where will I be in two years? What will I be able to accomplish if I dedicate myself to writing as much as I’ve dedicated myself to running? Six years ago I couldn’t run a mile without dying. It took half a year to run one mile without stopping, another nine to run three. Now I’m on the eve of my first triathlon. How is writing any different?
He sits in Tully’s and considers. The place has emptied as customers seek their lunches. His stomach rumbles, a reminder that two pieces of cheese don’t constitute a nourishing breakfast. Add an hour of swimming the day after an exhausting race, and he wonders how he doesn’t collapse. His bladder begs him for attention. I keep going, he thinks. I keep going, I keep throwing myself at it. Something will stick. I’ll become better. I have to. Otherwise it’s back to the old career of answering bosses and writing code I don’t care about.
He sucks the remaining drops of coffee from his latte. The sun hides behind a layer of gray clouds. It will rain on my training ride tomorrow, he thinks. He packs up the Netbook and tosses his latte away.