Close Call

He spots her standing on the side of the road, her hair damp from the rain. Little traffic this time of evening on a Tuesday. She doesn’t have her thumb out, isn’t waving for help. He checks the rearview mirror—no cars behind him. Then he pulls onto the shoulder, and she makes her way to the passenger door. When he presses the button to lower the window, she lets her stare sweep over his tailored suit. His neat appearance will earn him points, as will the gold band he wears on his finger.

“Need a ride?” he asks.

She is skinny. Not just thin, but bony. Yet she doesn’t have the haggard look of an addict. He guesses an eating disorder. She’s anywhere from her mid teens to early twenties. Hard to tell in these parts, where the women age early and turn to pills to get through their days. Her shoulder-length dark hair looks like it hasn’t been washed in a while. She wears jeans and a frilly long-sleeved blouse. No purse, no bag. Thus, no concealed weapon.

She climbs into his car without answering. He glances around one more time. Still no traffic, no curious eyes. And this is how people disappear.

The girl leans her dirty wet head against the passenger window. He’ll have to clean the glass later. “Where to?” He eases the car back onto the road.

“As far as you’ll take me.”

The windshield wipers make their rhythmic motion. His headlights cut a line through the thickening fog. “You’re not running away from home, are you?”

“I’m eighteen,” she says. “I can do what I want.”

A grin slides across his lips, and he quickly subdues it. “And what is it you want?”

She folds her arms over her chest. “To get the hell out of this town.”

“Why’s that? It doesn’t seem like such a bad place. Of course, I’m just passing through.”

“This place is a hellhole. But I guess there ain’t many places much better.” She shifts in the seat to regard him. “You travel a lot?”

He nods. “For work.” A chill seeps into the car, and he turns on the heat. “If you’re heading out of here for good, you’re going to need more than just the clothes on your back.”

They come to a stoplight at a deserted intersection, and he seizes the opportunity to look over at the girl. She lifts a hand to wipe strands of hair from her face, and as she does, the sleeve of her blouse slides upward. He sees the deep scars etched into her skin. Pale vertical lines extending from her wrist halfway up her forearm. When she made those, she wasn’t playing around. She notices him examining the scars and doesn’t bother to hide them. Her eyes hold a challenge now.

“You don’t really care where you’re going, do you?” he asks. She shakes her head, and he can smell the desperation coming off of her. He leans toward her, and she doesn’t flinch.

Pushing open the passenger door, he nods at the roadside. “This is where you get out.”

Her mouth drops. “I don’t understand.”

He unbuckles her seatbelt. “You don’t need to understand. You just need to get out.”

She clings to his arm, grabbing handfuls of his shirt. “Don’t leave me here. I’ll do what you want. I swear!”

He settles a hand on her pale throat, allowing his fingers to tighten. Studying her face, he finds no fear, no resistance. Only a pathetic hope, an expectation of relief.

He releases an exasperated sigh and gives her a hard shove, sending her toppling out of the car. She manages to stay on her feet and hurls a string of curses at him. “What kind of man are you, anyway?” she screams over the rain.

He gives her a smile. “The kind who doesn’t grant favors. Don’t worry, sweetheart—you’ll find the man you’re looking for soon enough.” Before she can say another word, he pulls the door shut and slams on the gas, speeding through the red light on his way out of town.

What’s in it for you?

I’ve previously discussed my personal reasons for writing, and like most aspects of life, those reasons are at times fluid and subject to change. At this point I write because, in the best of times, it feels as natural to me as breathing. (And in the worst of times, not writing evokes a dull but constant ache within, an unsettling sensation that something is amiss and needs to be addressed before I can find peace.) Until last year, I was a storage box writer. I wrote only for myself, and once I was finished with a story or novella, I put it away. Then I decided to begin writing and submitting short stories and poetry for publication. I figured I was going to write anyway, so if someone else read my work and enjoyed it, then all the better.

I can say that I have never written with the goal of making a living at it. What’s more, I think if that’s your primary goal, you are deluding yourself. Some people may disagree with me, particularly at a time when anyone can self-publish a book and make it available for purchase in a matter of hours. But publication, whether it be traditional or independent, does not equate to sales. For every writer out there who makes it big, there are countless more who earn next to nothing from their work. Some reading this may be thinking, “But it’ll be different for me! Because my writing is awesome. And I have the magic formula to get this book published and promote the hell out of it without making myself a nuisance to everyone who knows and loves me, and then I’ll have a bestseller on my hands.” And if you’re thinking that, then bless your heart and best of luck to you.

It’s fine to want to make money from your writing. The vast majority of writers would love to see that happen, but just because you decide to write and publish a book doesn’t mean that people are obligated to buy it. Hell, I write stories and post them here for free, and some of my close friends don’t bother reading them. And that’s okay. No one should feel obligated to read my work. I want people reading it because they enjoy it.

For those of you who have also found yourselves pondering this topic, I highly recommend Chuck Wendig’s article “Why Your Novel Won’t Get Published,” which you can read here: Why Your Novel Won’t Get Published. (It also contains a link to another article of his regarding self-publishing.)

And since most everyone knows I’m a quote addict, I found some wise words about writing penned by people much more articulate than I:

“The worst thing that ever happened to writing is that it became a business. The purpose of business is to make money, and to achieve that end it is necessary to please as many people as possible, to amuse them, to entertain them – in short, to do everything that will help increase the volume of sales.” — Dagobert Runes

“Writing is the hardest way of earning a living, with the possible exception of wrestling alligators.” — William Saroyan

“Ideally, the writer needs no audience other than the few who understand. It is immodest and greedy to want more.” — Gore Vidal

And a last quote to show you that some things never change:

“Times are bad. Children no longer obey their parents and everyone is writing a book.”
– Cicero, in 43 BC

Last Poem

I will always struggle for the right words.
What little bit of cleverness I possess
gets poured onto the page, leaving my tongue
useless, glued to the roof of my mouth–
or babbling, senseless, just making racket
like an off-balance appliance.

I never knew how to wear the mask,
to tuck a casual off-the-cuff remark
up my sleeve. I lack the natural wit
and the nonchalance. I made too much
of everything. And now I’m more
comfortable with silence, content
to let others shine while I smile
and nod and think my thoughts.
And when I don’t have the answers–
when my comments draw blank stares,
I still smile and nod and find
I’m beginning not to care.

You see, the characters in my head
are hungry–not enough words
for both me and them. So I resolve
to starve, spare the world my noise
while those characters gorge themselves
to satisfaction. As they should.
Because it never was about me.

P.S. To S. — “Pretty.”