“What are you looking at?” she asked. I’d been staring at the photo for longer than I should have. I was at work and, in a moment of not uncommon procrastination, had found myself preoccupied by a email.
“It’s a picture of a burning book” I answered. She leaned in to look. I felt uncomfortable. I’d only been there a few weeks and she had a strange air of over familiarity.
“What have you got to do with it then?”
I explained it was supposed to serve as inspiration for a story, which would be published on a flash fiction site I had become a part of.
“I’ll help you” she said, suddenly standing straight and proud. I was taken aback. She was full of unearned over-confidence, the sort that makes me shrink from people as if their personality acts as a black hole absorbing what’s left of mine. “Yeah” she continued, “I write. I write poems, don’t I?”
She had mentioned it a few weeks ago while in a “getting to know you” session arranged for new starters. Foolishly I had revealed that I enjoyed writing. “I wrote that poem about that bloke. Someone died and he was crying and I wrote about it.” She paused and then continued “You could make it about this woman, and she’s left her fella, and she’s burnt a book.”
I was clearly already wasting time so I decided to go with the flow; the curiosity of where she would go with this had hooked me. “Yeah you should write it about me. I’ve just left my fella, you see, and I went through this…” I sat, open mouthed, hoping that she would finish her sentence or magically I’d find the right word for her “you know… trauma”.
I mulled it over for a second. She acted casual, continuing her tasks, but with one ear cocked, waiting for a reply. I obliged.
“OK. This is the thing.” She turned, excitedly waiting for me to pass judgement on her idea. “So the woman and the man meet. They fall passionately in love. He’s a musician, passionate but aloof, she’s someone who is fascinated and slightly intimidated by his larger than life personality. She is inspired to write poetry throughout the relationship but never develops the confidence to show him”.
She looked pleased. “Oh yes! That’s it that’s exactly like me”
“After a year of struggle they finally call an end to their tempestuous relationship, and she, symbolically, burns her book of poems”.
She was now clapping. “Oh that’s exactly it. Oh I love it”.
I smiled, and felt guilty. I knew it wasn’t an idea I’d use, and I’d only come up with it to poke fun at her. I went back to my work; she became bored and floated off to engage someone else.
It was two days later I next saw her.
“Have you written that story yet?”
“Not yet” I replied. I’d pretty much forgotten it, and continued to struggle for inspiration for the coming week.
“I could write it for you” she eagerly offered.
The blood drained from my face. I find it impossible to say no, and didn’t want her to know I’d only gone with it to amuse myself at her expense.
“Well I really could write it” she continued unable or unwilling to listen. “Yeah I could write this epic story about a spurned poet who writes about real life, you know? Like that bloke in the pub. He cried. That’s real life innit? Anyway she’s all infatuated by him and he won’t let her create, so they end it and she burns her book to get back at him. Or something”.
I didn’t know what to say. I felt stupid for revealing this side of my life to her. I sat smiling and unsure what else to tell her.
“So you could write that or you could?”
I smiled again “Well you write it. I’ll read it. You should want to write for yourself. Creativity is its own reward isn’t it?”
I knew I was lying. It SHOULD be for its own reward, but it was only the thought of it being published and read on the site that truly motivated me. I craved the feedback of my friends highly (although not as highly as strangers).
She sat deep in thought for a while. I tried to concentrate on the work in front of me. She looked up. “You’re not going to write about this are you?” I paused.
“What, no” I said “of course not.”