Chapter Twenty-One

It took half an hour to hash through the details of Operation Give Jay a Chance. The fact that Illy didn’t know his last name or phone number made it tricky, but they established a strategy that could be put into action whenever Illy saw him next. She felt confident that OGJAC would help her to come across as confident and prevent any more jogging-down-the-hallway moments. Admittedly, she was a bit afraid that her current boldness might really be all the sugar and wine coursing through her veins.

After the donut holes were finished, the meeting migrated to the living room. Illy stopped to examine Fern’s leaves. She’d been ignoring Fern for weeks out of guilt for the substandard care she was providing, but now that she had an intervention plan in place, she didn’t feel so guilty. She rubbed a few leaves in apology for her absence.

“And now, the novel.” Margaret pulled out a new sheet of paper. “Is there, in fact, a novel?” Margaret looked at Illy with a pleading look, like she wanted so badly to believe in the Tooth Fairy but was afraid her father was about to reveal it was all an elaborate hoax.

Illy knew that after months of dropping vaguely untruthful statements that made the novel out to be more than it really was, it was time to be painfully honest. She lay down on the hardwood floor and stared at the ceiling so she could avoid eye contact while revealing the disappointing truth.

“No. There’s not a novel. But I desperately want there to be one. I really do have great ideas and I’ve been gathering details from my life that I can use. And I know, or at least I think, that I’m not a terrible writer. I just don’t know how to start. I get so distracted and unmotivated, and anything that I have started to write sounds so cliche.” Illy felt all her confidence draining onto the floor, pooling around her in a puddle of insecurity. Talking honestly about her novel exposed her great failure, like her whole life was a farce and soon everyone would know it. She’d probably end up spending the rest of her days selling phones and buying lottery tickets on her coffee breaks. Maybe she’d marry the kiosk manager and they’d lie awake at night with their scaly hands lathered in Vaseline, trying to predict what colours the new Samsung model would come in.

The room was silent. Illy had finally posed a problem that even her optimistic and resourceful friends couldn’t help her with. She broke the silence herself to save her friends the discomfort. “I guess I should just forget about it. It’s a ludicrous dream anyway. There are millions of people writing novels who have time and talent and affairs with their agents and who still don’t get published for the first fifteen years.” She looked over at her beloved typewriter. It had been so faithful and eager, and she’d let it down. Maybe she could donate it to an inner city writing program and some underprivileged literary genius could type her way to fame and riches. Except what kid would want to type on an old typewriter when there were laptops and iPods floating around everywhere? Illy pictured herself huddled on the floor by the radiator with her typewriter on her lap, crying at General Hospital reruns for the next thirty years. She’d be like the old lady upstairs with the three foot braid who only left the building on Tuesdays. Maybe she’d have her groceries delivered to the door and the delivery boy would loiter around the front step trying to catch a glimpse of the Crazy Typewriter Lady.

“Illy?”

Illy opened her eyes.

“Are you hearing anything we’re saying?” June sounded annoyed. Illy was still wondering how exactly online grocery shopping worked.

“Sorry, June. I was just thinking about what I should do with my typewriter and must have zoned out for a second.”

“Illy! Listen to me. What’s your biggest dream?”

That was easy. “To write a book.”

“What’s your favourite way to spend a day?”

“Writing.”

“Yes! You need to be writing!” June shouted as she threw up her hands and flopped back on the couch like she’d finally convinced the inquisitors that the earth was round.

Illy wasn’t convinced. “But what about the fact that I have nothing to show for months of supposed writing and I’ve managed to make enemies with the one publisher who I actually have a connection to?”

Margaret laughed. “Don’t worry about Louise. She treats everyone that way, even the writers she admires. Plus there are other publishers in the world, some of whom may actually be enjoyable to work with.”

“I think the real question isn’t if you should be writing but what you should be writing.” June was leaning forward again. Illy couldn’t believe her friends were still talking about writing like it was a viable life option.

“Maybe you’re having such a hard time making any progress because this isn’t really the novel you want to be writing. Like you’ve said a hundred times, you don’t actually know anyone who fits your idea of funky activist characters, and so far all you’ve got is Mocha Man Dylan, who, if I may be so bold, is a little cheesy.” June held her breath and grimaced at Illy, knowing she’d likely overstepped her life coaching friend boundaries.

But Illy was relieved. It was true. Dylan was cheesy. And the novel wasn’t working. And it didn’t appear that any dread-locked hippies were going to be entering her life any time soon. “You’re right.”

June let out her breath.

“You’re absolutely right. When I was just writing goofy short stories for my little cousins or the library newsletter, I loved it. I’d stay up way too late writing and show up at the library looking hungover but beaming because I’d had such a great night.” Illy remembered Margaret talking about fixing comma splices and playing the mandolin. She hadn’t felt like that about writing for a long time but was starting to remember that familiar combination of adrenaline and contentment that buzzed just below her skin.

June and Margaret were both grinning and looking smug at their coaching victory.

“Goodbye, Dylan.” Margaret crossed something off her chart. “Goodbye novel.” Another line, this time with added flair. “And hello…what, exactly?” She looked up at Illy with her pen poised above the chart.

“Well, I don’t know. I’ve been set on this novel for so long that it might take me a while to shift to something new. I”ll have to think about it. Maybe a novel about something else. I’ve always been sort of interested in farmers’ wives who live in the middle of the prairies and slowly go crazy from all the space and laundry. Or maybe short stories, which are so much harder to do well, in my opinion, but provide such instant gratification. Who knows? Maybe I’ll write a poetry collection about girl friends and how they save your lives over and over.” Illy wished she could hug her friends, but they were both still settled into the couch and she had learned long ago to never attempt a standing couch hug. “Thanks, you two. You’re amazing.”

Continue Reading: Chapter Twenty-Two