ANCORA IO: JESS (3)
This is a continuation of Ancora Io.
There on the page shimmered a dragon, drawn draped around a book.
Jess left the police station in an early morning daze. She shrunk into the back of the police car. The police driver said things to her then, but the words didn’t register: just snowflakes that melt into the skin.
The police driver was full of small talk as they sped through the empty town, but she was still on edge: images of the interview room light, cold cups of coffee seared into her eyes and soft words from the town librarian.
She stumbled out of the police car, hoping no one in her street would be curious enough to look down on her strange arrival home.
Inside her apartment, she locked the door and rested against it. She ignored the mobile ringing in her bag, throwing it onto the bed and making her way unsteadily to her small kitchen and tossed down a glass of water.
The mobile was still ringing. She looked at the bathroom, but ended up on the bed, taking the bundle of her manuscript, the police docket, and Ray’s notebook. She sighed, and the phone tumbled onto the bed.
She picked it up and flicked answer.
She heard his voice, clear, “Are you ok?”
She said, “That wasn’t fun.”
Ray was upset, “They hit me. Hard.”
She noticed his breathing, sharp and uneven, “Your notebook. It is with my gear.” She rustled through the papers, “Everything seems to be here.”
She heard him let out a deep sigh, “Thank you.”
And then, an afterthought, “Did they hurt you?”
She thought of the lost hours, between the holding cell and the interview room. She heard him, more anxious, “Are you there.”
“They didn’t touch me. But every part of me feels damaged.” Then, feeling a bit insensitive, “Why did they hit you?”
As Ray spoke, her eyes rested on the top page of her manuscript.
She let out a short cry of pain, and he stopped talking, “What!”
She started to shake. “My story, the story, there is more writing. I…”
He said. “Jess! Shut your eyes. Move away from it!”
She whimpered. In the darkness, she felt a tendril of smoke dancing nearby, searching for her.
She fell off the bed, and half ran into the bathroom, shutting the door behind her.
The Black Cat snuck in through the back door of the cafe.
Maxwell bent down and scratched the cat's head, then lifted his watch and looked back out of the cafe's window.
He saw her walking along the uneven pavement, tall and proud, shoulder set and head a little back. He started to smile, his mind filled with a spill of words, the wind catching the smoke wafting from her mouth and her scarf ruffling the edge of the mind. A gust of snow silhouetted her as she paused to let a council plow push past, and then she picked her way carefully across the icy road.
By the time she had sat down, the story in his mind had advanced to drinks at a bar and the exchange of glances.
"Snap out of it, if you don't mind. Maxwell."
Maxwell gave her a dreamy look, "I think I got 500 words then." On a piece of paper in front of him, he was doodling.
"Don't you dare write about me!" She called an order to the waiter. The waiter moved a little reluctantly from the TV, playing a documentary on Sputnik, "This is the beginning of a new era of Mankind. The era of Man's cosmic existence. "You will now hear the voice of the Russian Moon, Sputnik!...." The Russian voice faded into the hiss of the coffee maker.
She glanced at his paper, nothing but half butterflies. Maxwell said, "I am glad you could make it."
She nodded and drew out her notes. In the background, the documentary continued, "All over the world, people are tuning in to the 'Bleep Bleep' of the satellite..."
Maxwell started, conversationally, "I was too young for Sputnik. I remember Apollo, though. Good times."
Annapurna sighed, "My mother and I watched the repeats on News of India at the theatre. I so wanted to to be a cosmonaut." She thought for a moment and smiled, "I still do, and a cricket player."
The waiter brought two steaming mugs of coffee, and a small bowl of cream for the cat, adding with a slight shrug, "Sorry, no teaspoons, all I can offer you is a fork."
Annapurna' s eyebrows lifted, "This is most irregular." She smiled, "Tell me, Andy, what disaster has befallen the kitchen of the great Chef Fred Murphy to occasion such a loss?"
Andy shrugged again, "Someone pinched them all." He reached for the tv, reducing the sound a little.
Maxwell took a long sip of coffee and then said with meaning, "Thank you. And thank you for the words."
She nodded at his doodles, and asked, "Your writing, it is proceeding well?"
Maxwell laughed, "You know, I always liked drawing little shapes, but now the words are all over me. Hell yes, the words are just dripping off my pen. I can't stop. Everything I see become part of the story. And the..."
She cocked her head and with a click at the back of her throat brought him to a stop, "I am pleased you are writing, but remember our agreement, please. I am not a fan of romantic novels. The details are too... steamy."
Maxwell came to a complete stop and added another couple of lines to the novel in his head. He said, "I am sure you will love this one."
She said, "No, Maxwell, I would not. But, I am pleased to be here to lend you a little encouragement and inspiration. And, maybe, one day you will write a piece that does not involve touching and kissing and..."
Maxwell thought and quickly added, "...fast cars. And exotic resorts in faraway places."
He remembered their first adventure in the Town Library when she lent him cover as they explored the rows of paperback love stories. She had carefully picked a time when the old librarian was at lunch so they could explore without disapproving glances, and let him use her library card to take out a couple of likely books, for him to get a feel for the genre. He was determined to write a bestseller.
Annapurna smiled and took her coffee and skimmed a hole in the froth with the fork and added five sugars, "I am sure Toni's Diner would never run out of teaspoons."
He watched, with a tingle, the fall of so much sweetener and added, "I told you, Toni's Diner is shut tonight. I don't know why." His hand picked up his pencil and started a new shape.
She said, "I don't mind. I like this place. Fred and Andy have been good friends since I moved here."
Maxwell felt her composure: unwavering and impenetrable. He stayed a hundred questions about her past.
The cat slurped the last of the cream and looked up at her.
He asked, "How is your writing going?"
Annapurna sighed, "I started to write about a young, broke woman detective. But I was watching a little tv, and I find that every second show is about that same person. Maxwell, I have decided to do something different. I want you to tell me whether it is novel or commonplace. If it is commonplace, I will have to look for another theme. Will you help? I feel that I am behind all the rest of you, and would desperately wish to have a couple of pages of writing before the next meeting."
Maxwell laughed, "Do not be in such a hurry. None of us had written anything of any length until a couple of weeks ago. And then it was like the tap got switched on somewhere and we are all full of words and..."
Annapurna waited, watching his eyes drift over a couple sitting, holding hands, "Maxwell?"
He shook his head, "It is like I am seeing the world for the first time. Seeing the love, the angst, the hate, the passion. I can't stop the words."
She let a small laugh fall over him, and his face softened, "Ok, lay it on me. Give me your theme."
Annapurna started, seriously. "I think I will call my book, 'Again, Me.' I can feel the beginning."
Her eyes took on a faraway look:
"We have smiled many times, you and I,
About how spring and fall go hand in hand for us.
The joy of Persephone's return for one
Is moderated by the despair of her departure for the other.
And the joy that such mind games evoke
Wake so many other memories, sad and happy still."
Maxwell smiled and looked at her sipping, "A love story!"
She laughed and shook her head, "No. I think it is a strange history of our world. A bit like Sputnik's 'Beep Beep' ".
"I thought I would weave a story about the end of the world as we know it. A clash of the old world and the new."
He speculated with a smile, "A Science Fiction Double Feature!"
She pursed her lips, "A late night picture show? No. Nothing so grand. I was wondering about how libraries are being left in the dust of the new technology. I would write about how a library falls victim to technology. I would write about our town library. Well, not about it, so you knew it. But with all the people, including the old librarian and her staff."
Maxwell said, "It sounds a little dry. I can't imagine that a library is all that exciting."
She said, "I think that the challenges they face are pretty overwhelming. Imagine how much work they put into keeping those institutions alive, how much social capital is invested in those shelves, how important they have been for the towns themselves. And how they are becoming irrelevant to today. How the internet is going to destroy it all like some beast in an old fable."
He said, "Sounds like a sad tale. How can you spark it up? Maybe a love affair between the old librarian and the local internet provider can..."
She said, "No love stories. I do not know how to tell this. I want to do something grand."
He said, "Do something unexpected."
The cat rubbed against her legs, and she looked down. The cat caught her eye then jumped up on the table and onto the back of Maxwell's chair.
She asked, "What are you drawing."
He laughed and said, "You know I doodle. It is nothing but..."
She reached out and turned the page around.