That Which The Author Does Not Want To Write

That Which The Author Does Not Want To Write

A Story by Wharton

Memories are mixed blessings.




He took another sip of bitter coffee, scrunched his face as he sipped and wondered why he drank such a horrible tasting brew.

His hands still shaking, he read the letter she'd sent him, undoubtedly a reply to his hastily sent missive a week before.

He read:

"I received your letter dated July 10th." She always did that, dated her conversations. He found it odd, and knew no one else who did such a thing. "I did not know that I had been such a disappointment to you. Which was interesting since I always thought I was the one who should have the complaint.

I spent three years waiting on you hand and foot, I washed your clothes, cooked your meals, mended your shirts, I cleaned your house, I fed your stinky dog, even cut your oily hair! And you are the one who is disappointed with me, well, that is rich!"

He paused and thought. He remembered that she once made him a bowl of cold cereal for breakfast and that she occasionally rinsed out a coffee mug when there wasn't any clean ones in the cupboard. He didn't remember the haircut, unless she meant that time she pulled a gray hair out of his scalp and hinted that he buy a hair dye. But he was sure she was right, men never notice all the things women do for them.

He read on;

"I listened to your insipid jokes, put up with your obnoxious parents, kept my mouth shut when your stupid friend Jake came over to visit, and what gratitude do I get? You send me a poisoned letter telling me what a failure I've been...well let me tell you a thing or two!"

He stopped again and thought. His jokes were bad, she was right about that, but she had made him happy, and when he was happy, he got giddy and told bad jokes and talked too much...felt bad about that. And true enough, she did put up with his parents that time they dropped in from Chicago for two days. He didn't think they had been obnoxious, in fact she'd gone to her sister's house for most of those two days, but once again, she was probably right, they were his family, so he was not an impartial judge. As for his friend Jake, he knew it wasn't right being pals with him. He knew she disliked him, found him too coarse, just a plumber...but they had been friends since grade school, and Jake had always been there for him, no questions asked, but still, it was wrong to stay friends, he should have thought about her feelings.

He turned the letter over and read:

"Besides, don't kid yourself thinking I ever loved you. Don't flatter yourself. You were a phase. I'm so far over you it would make your head spin. It's not like you were ever going to be anything, just a dumb electrician. They could teach monkeys to do that!"

He put the letter down, picked up his cup and sipped, again he scrunched, for some reason he kept trying to drink coffee. Even though the taste of it was so bitter that it almost made him ill, he still kept making a cup every day...and would slowly sip on it during agitating moments, while he paid bills or listened to his neighbors argue. It was odd, because when he was with her, her never had the desire to drink the stuff.


Silent All These Years (2005; 2008)

David sat in a small, dark auditorium in downtown San Francisco watching Tori A---- perform. The tickets had been a Christmas gift to his wife, and at fifty dollars each, he wondered why they couldn't get closer to the stage. Tori sat at her piano, a nervous showman, her body twitched as she strained at odd angles...he admired her work ethic.

He glanced over at Linda who seemed lost in Tori's jarring, high pitched voice. He was glad that she was enjoying herself, but wished he were closer to her age and shared more of her cultural interests, so that he could enjoy the concert with her. Instead he looked around the auditorium, at the couples, at the stage, at the cheap lighting, and thought about the pouring rain, and the long trip back home to Santa Rosa.

Tori finished one song and immediately began another. "A woman of few words" he thought with approval, but after she applied the same formula to several songs, his opinion turned less generous. He thought to yell out, "Where's the fire, got to be somewhere in a hurry?" but of course he wasn't the type to make a spectacle of himself. So instead, he just sat and scowled at Tori, wondering how much she was being paid for this concert, wondering if she slowed her pace for the bigger venues. He remembered a quote from a famous athlete: smiling wider with each example, he told a reporter, "This is my million dollar smile, this is my two million dollar smile...this is my three million dollar smile." David laughed to himself, "I guess this is her one million dollar performance."

Tori began yet another song, again without any foreshadowing...the background hologram changed and he assumed the music she now performed pertained to the illustration. He tried to listen for a moment but grew bored. "She does have a nice voice" he thought, but he also believed that it grated on the listener with her seemingly hurried approach, which to him, coveted insincerity. He knew he was probably being unfair, but right then he didn't care.

He scanned the auditorium, most of the audience were younger than him, most seemed to be in their late twenties and early thirties and were well-dressed, good-looking and neatly groomed. Glancing at his wife, she looked like them, beautiful, effervescent, he felt out of place...and as she watched Tori perform, he seemed oblivious to her.

He leaned in to his wife, and tried to speak above the music. "Having fun?" he asked, and as she replied, her lips moved, but it was difficult to hear her words, though she smiled as she spoke so he added, "I've heard this song before, I think I've heard you playing it at home."

"Yes," he could hear her say, and struggled to listen, "I have the CD, this song is one of my favorites." He nodded silently, now it was his turn to smile, he didn't want to compete with the music.

Many in the audience stood and swayed to the music, couples, uninhibited, sang along as they danced. He looked again at his wife and knew she too would like to be standing, feeling the rhythm. He knew he held her back, he was not a demonstrative person, and he felt bad, he knew she restrained her emotions, for him. “If I had been worth a damn," he thought, “I would have take the initiative, stand and grab her by the hand.” But to be that exposed, that much out of his element was too much for him and so he sat, and felt inadequate.

Again he tried to listen to Tori's lyrics, but the sound system in that small auditorium made it impossible. Instead, he remembered an interview he'd seen on television a few days before. Tori sat at the piano and looked meaningfully at the camera. She sang in a leisurely manner, but seemed to stress the parts of the song she felt significant by leaning almost imperceptibly toward the camera and by a slight widening of her eyes. What irony, that here in this auditorium she didn't make much eye contact, instead concentrated on her piano. "I guess someone in a hurry doesn't notice the incidental scenery" he scoffed quietly.

A young woman a few rows in front of him danced. She moved her full hips provocatively to the music, and he followed her movements, her straight hair undulating as she swayed. She was quite young, twenty-five maybe and he felt guilty, for looking, but he envied her freedom...even as he was repulsed by it.

Tori hurried into another song which allowed him to again drift back in time...during that same television show, he remembered a comment she'd made, "My legs are like roots of a tree." Waking to the present, he looked at her feet, she pounded them often, as the rhythm demanded..."Leaves caught in the wind he thought, but not roots." Again he silently mocked her superficiality.

In that interview, she seemed affected, feigning an importance, a significance to her work better suited to those without talent. He found it odd that she'd want to frame her music, to create the queue by which we could view its significance. Oddly he remembered a passage from The Catcher In The Rye that he always admired,

"I certainly like to hear him play, but sometimes you feel like turning the goddamn piano over. I think it's because sometimes when he plays, he sounds like the kind of guy that won't talk to you unless you're a big shot."

Was that it? That after all those Grammy awards and gold records, she still wanted to be a big shot and all those millions of dollars hadn't convinced her of it yet? At least that is what his cynicism allowed him to believe as he sat watching her perform.

Here, at the concert, the affectations were far less, and yet, her lack of interaction seemed to express those same pretensions. It reminded him that there was more than one way to see the same thing, and just because someone sees it differently doesn't mean what they saw wasn't accurate. It was a small solace, this thought, for he would rather have been home sleeping.

The audience stood to applaud, which they did intermittently, whenever one of her better known songs began, and he stood too, but his thoughts were still on the interview and how she answered questions in an almost falsetto voice...rising to stress what she believed was important...but with every sentence she did the same thing, like it was scripted or choreographed..."What a sham" he'd thought at the time, and he said that same phrase even louder when later in the interview she suddenly leaned in near the microphone and whispered into it...for emphasis he guessed. A shiver ran down his back as he thought of the pretension of such an act. At the time, he'd laughed loudly at the screen and had turned off the set.

Tori's voice filtered back into his consciousness and he looked at the stage, at her band, and wondered what they thought? Was this just a gig? Just a paycheck? Was it a dream? Or was Tori just a stepping stone until each was able to headline on their own? He watched the bass player and asked him silently, "Are you like most sycophants, and say everything that curries favor with Ms. Tori? When she walks into rehearsal does she know your name? Does she call you John or Joe, or does she quietly walk to her piano avoiding eye contact?"

He thought...was this concert ever going to end?

Tori twitched nervously on stage and that reminded him of the television program again. The interviewer asked how performing affected her, and she replied, "Like a snake I just shed a different skin." Her tone was serious as her eyes focused on the interviewer and let them linger there. He remembered laughing derisively. How refreshing it would have been if she'd just said, "I don't know, I just sing and play this damned piano." He swore he'd have fallen in love with her right then, would have become a serious Toriphile for life.

But she still had those vain needs and desires, even after all that fame, she needed validation and proof that her work had importance and relevance. He felt kinder toward her after that, having understood, despite it all, she was fragile like everyone else.

The ample hipped young woman didn't seem to have these concerns. She continued to stand throughout, her arms waving to the music, he doubted she had any worries about the singer's affectations, and so again, he felt ashamed, and guilty.

For a woman in a hurry, the concert seemed interminable. He wondered what time it was and pushed the button on his watch, lighting the dial. Eleven thirty at night...he wished again that he was home and in bed. He looked over at his wife and smiled. He loved her and hoped she loved him too, but he wasn't sure. At times she seemed happy with him, but she didn't really act like a woman in love...not that he really knew what that should look like. He wanted to hold her hand, but didn't dare, he wasn't sure how she'd respond, and to be honest, he found public displays of affection embarrassing.

But she was beautiful, too much so, and he suddenly felt a shiver run through his day she'd know that, know her worth. One day she would believe him when he told her the truth, that she was too good for him, and then what?

Suddenly he didn't want the concert to end. He wanted to suspend time, to keep the inevitable from happening. He wanted Tori to slow down, converse with the audience, tell them how her legs were like the roots of a tree, anything, just so it wouldn't end...for when the concert was over life would resume with all it's questions and insecurities. He'd go back to his dead-end job, working nights. Linda would go back to her profession where her out-going personality had assured a quick rise up the ladder...and she'd also go back to spending her nights alone, watching insipid reality shows...and they'd drift further apart...that now seemed obvious.

They were different people, she loved Tori and would be angry if he confided his thoughts, that despite her talent, Tori adorned it in affectation. She'd be hurt, and she'd be right, for he had no right to crucify what she loved. He felt bad, he knew that a decent man would find that common thread between his wife, her likes and himself. He felt small...and then he realized: who was he but someone living with his own pretension...and yet...he believed that most of it he couldn't change, for it was ingrained, and so he began to see saw Tori in a new light, and he hated that; he hated being that vain, that fragile. The mirror image he saw when he ridiculed the singer wasn't hers, but his own. He knew it wasn't her, it was him, he had the problem, what he saw was merely a reflection. He wondered what else there was that he hadn't seen.

Finally Tori stood, bowed to the audience and left, walking quickly off the stage, and as she did he wanted to stand and applaud, to hug his wife and call Tori the most amazing performer of any generation...yes he wanted to lie...because in lying he would mitigate his own guilt and could then prolong the inevitable. He thought for a moment that maybe he'd listen to Tori's albums and learn the lyrics, but he knew his wife would question his sudden interest and he didn't know where things might go from there. He also knew their relationship wasn't that simple, or superficial, it couldn't be fixed without real change.

He thought how ironic it was, that while everyone in the audience whistled and cheered, that he felt, instead, felt like crying. It was an odd place to have such a revelation, there, in the middle of two thousand people, and this made him feel trapped, and doomed, for he believed there was nothing he could do but to follow this personal apocalypse to its natural conclusion.

He looked at Linda and asked, “Are you ready?” She smiled and shook her head, yes. He reached for her hand, and she eagerly took it. He squeezed it tight, as if he might lose her and they headed for the exit, and into the rain that punctuated the night.


That Which The Pen Does Not Want To Write (2008)


He wished he'd never heard the word, wished that when he had, he'd just ignored it, gone on drinking his coffee, nodding his head, pretending to listen like he usually did when his co-workers talked about things he found too trivial to acknowledge.

Not that he was unkind. Those he worked with liked him well enough, they just found that his mind wandered and was forgetful. It was a standing joke, about David's bad memory. They didn't need to know the exact reason for it. It was better if they just thought he was absentminded.

"The Brazilians, the Portuguese, they have a word for that," Miranda spoke, in reply to another worker's story that David drifted through. "Saudade, they say, it's that feeling of yearning, but with a fatalistic tone, like the memory of one far from home, we miss those we knew, those we love , but home is far away, maybe those we love are now dead, time has moved on so there is pain in that we can never go back, never see those we love, experience that feeling. I don't fully understand, but it is an intriguing word."'s odd how words stay in our thoughts, keep popping into our consciousness as we work, while driving home, while eating a Lean Cuisine in front of the television...when going to bed, when...

David woke up the next morning, he rolled over, staring at the still dark ceiling, his heart beat faster than normal and the collar of his tee-shirt was damp from perspiration. But he wasn't ill, though he felt tired, and upset, but there was something more, maybe it was anxiety, well, yes and no. He tried to think, what was he dreaming about? He really couldn't remember, but he'd felt this before, many times, and usually he just got out of bed, made a cup of coffee and got over it. But today he just stayed there and tried to figure it out.

He felt a little like crying...a grown man, he felt ashamed, and yet indulged it, for he wanted to understand what the dream was that caused him to have this mixture of emotions. He thought hard, tried to put himself back in time, to just ten minutes before when he was asleep, and he assumed, dreaming.

Eventually he found a fragment, a piece of the dream. He thought about the things that were most important to him...his family, his friends, the people in his life. His dream must be, in some way, based upon them; and as he thought about that, he remembered a moment in his past. How odd that it came to him, it was just a simple thing, something, he was sure, that most men just ignored...he remembered bacon.

It wasn't exactly the bacon that he remembered; but the moment, just after shaving, cooking bacon early one Saturday, placing it on a paper towel to absorb the fat...arranging the strips into a word, "PAM."

Of course, the dream was about that moment, about the bacon, about his wife Pamela waking, smelling the eggs and bacon wafting into the bedroom, her getting up, head drooped, eyes still half shut, following the aroma; her slippers scuffing, making her way to the kitchen, hair askew, oddly beautiful. He remembered her, clearly, like they were both there now: She looked at the bacon, shook her head as she read her name, telling her husband with an indulgent smile, "You just aren't normal, David, are you?"

That was the dream, nothing more than that. He had thousands of memories of his wife. Happy moments, dramatic ones, many he thought about during the day. He also had those he tried to forget: the sickness, her depression, her acceptance, his feeling of helplessness, death.

It took a long time to get over Pamela's dying...not that one ever does, but he learned to accept it, deal with it, sublimate it...he began to write poetry, fiction, trying to get his feelings out, but not to re-visit them. He wrote humor, silly pieces, that lifted his spirit, made him laugh, poor and hastily written pieces that none-the-less made him smile, made him forget. When written, he'd place them in a three ring binder and forget them...writing was about what was yet to be written, what would be written.

He couldn't think of Pamela for long, couldn't go back to those days, two kids just out of college, no money, but enough dreams, enough love to make up for a cupboard containing Ramen noodle soup and a few packages of instant rice.

How he loved her. He would wake up in the morning and stare at her. She hated that. She'd awake, open her eyes, and he be there, on his side, hand under his head, just looking at her. He couldn't help it. He had a poet's heart, a fool's soul, he was the luckiest man on earth; and as he now thought about it, he saw the trite irony...that his luck had run out.

"Saudade." Suddenly he remembered the word, how his co-worker had described it had got into his head, stuck there, the same way trivia usually quotes, batting averages, advertising jingles.

The dream slowly fell into place: The bacon, his wife's look, his walking up to her, hugging her from behind as she reached for a strip. The feeling of her warmth radiating through her pajamas, pressed against him...his heart beating strong, her turning, putting her arms around his shoulders, moving her head to the side, not letting him kiss her on the lips, for her breath smelled of bacon.

He shook his head, that was it, that was the dream, he heard, and could feel his heart thumping, the same as when he awoke from the dream. He was suddenly warm, needed some cool air, his neck, below his Adam's apple felt hot...again, he wanted to cry.

But he remembered it all. How he felt that moment, as he held her, as he wanted her, wanted to love her, be loved by her. It was never enough, he could never get enough...and in the dream, he again had that feeling, of needing her, needing something more of her, not just the arms and legs entwined as they made love, not just the feeling of completeness after, but more, intangible things; a kiss, a whisper, a sigh...a promise...he wanted a pledge that she did not, could not give him...she did not love him forever, and that was not fair. She owed him another thirty years, or God owed him, someone did. He wanted a lifetime of Pamela, of her shaking her head at his silly jokes, a million more kisses, a thousand more conversations about bills, about the kids they never had, about the home they never bought, the old age they never had.

It was getting light, the alarm went off, he reached over and hit the snooze button. There was a light ache in his chest, a hollow, a hunger that he could do nothing about. He was going to call into work, say he was sick. He didn't want to face the world, put on a mask. He just wanted to write poetry about slipping on banana peels or cats chasing dogs. He would write thousands of words today, all day, but not one of them, no matter how many he wrote, would be, "saudade." He'd banished that word from his vocabulary, from his life....though he could do nothing about his dreams.

© 2009 Wharton

Author's Note

If you find typos, etc. please yell, thanks.

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Added on August 8, 2009




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