Illy blew on her chai and watched a fly buzz against the window. Another morning with nothing to do but write. Ever since she’d abandoned the non-existent novel, she’d enjoyed these writing times so much more. There was no pressure, no big dream of book signings and newspaper reviews to live up to. She’d even stopped picking out inspiring writing outfits. Most mornings she stayed in her pajamas, with her high school gym class sweatshirt nearby for unexpected visitor emergencies. And although she still felt a little guilty every time, she had even stayed in bed and written on her laptop a few times. She couldn’t decide if she felt like she was betraying her typewriter or her aunt or herself, but regardless, she tried to keep the laptop sessions to a minimum. She still did the chai and animal cracker thing, though, since it felt good to have some rituals, and it was such a comforting combination.
Of course there was always the question loitering around behind her shoulder of what exactly she was working toward. The various stories, vignettes, and even a few poems she’d written in the past few weeks were scattered around her desk like newly hatched chickens whom she had much affection for but weren’t really doing much but running in circles and tripping over each other. She could hear her mother’s polite but accusatory voice asking what she was accomplishing with all these wasted hours, and the truth was, she didn’t really know. They didn’t feel wasted to her, but they weren’t especially focused or productive. She was thankful for her job at the mall which she could always fall back on during her imaginary conversations with her mother, the daily rehearsals for the real conversation she knew was coming, especially after the thrill of Jay’s existence wore off and her mother settled back into her adoring but slightly disappointed view of Illy.
A blur of colour moved outside the window. Illy leaned over and squinted to see between the leafy branches of the elm tree. It was the gardening lawyer, wearing a lime green visor and gardening gloves, kneeling over his sidewalk plot, two empty ice cream pails by his side. He moved with such tenderness, like he was digging a small grave. Illy remembered Dave telling her once that the guy defended big corporations from environmental lawsuits, which Illy thought must be one of the most dishonourable careers imaginable. He always stood out on his driveway at the most unusual times smoking a cigar and staring at his lawn, and whenever he waved as she walked by, she ignored him, her little part in standing up for the environment. But watching him there with his garden and his funny bright hat, she wished she hadn’t been quite so rude. She wished she’d been waving at him for years so that by now they were old friends and she could jog over there to help him dig up his onions while he told her stories about the garden his mother used to plant.
Illy set down her chai and started to type. Dear Mr. Lawyer with the tangerine house and the lemonlime visor. I think that if someone’s life can be described with fruit colours, he must be doing something right. My greatest fear is that my own life could be described in shades of automobile parts.
She told him about how his garden made her feel like playing opera in the mornings and how she thought Fern was a little jealous of his gossipy giggling peonies. She told him how every spring she waited until he’d painted his house before she started wearing flip flops. And she apologized for all the nonwaving, all that friendly energy he was sending out into the universe that she just sucked up like a grouchy black hole of misguided superiority.
She typed four pages to the Gardening Lawyer and when she finally signed her name at the bottom, she looked out the window. He and his pails of vegetables were gone. Although the rows where he’d been digging looked tidy and carefully tilled, it made her feel lonely, like someone she had known long ago had died and she hadn’t realized how important they had been to her until she heard the news.