Sunday, April 01, 2007

Just Another Essay

What makes it so hard to write? Why do I sit here for hours looking at a blank screen, occasionally typing out sentences, only to delete them and resume my internet browsing? Good heavens, I've written stuff before- but it was never really planned. I'd be sitting there doing something unrelated, only to receive a sudden inspiration, a sudden idea that, once the writing process started, just flowed onto the page like...

'Like what'? He thought as he leaned back in his chair, fingers steepled in front of his chin, glancing from his computer to the window and through the window to his yard, his garden, his tiny newborn plants.

'Like the jelly from a jelly doughnut dribbling down my chin? No. Like water from a broken dam? Right, no ones heard THAT one before. Like gas flowing from the nozzle of... ok this is getting ridiculous. Lets back up.' His gaze rested on the small youthful peach tree, whose blossoms were fat, ready to burst.

'how about ...'

...a sudden idea that, once the writing process started, bloomed onto the page like a spring bud that ....

'No, I like flowing better.' He backspaced, replaced the bud with the jelly doughnut, saved his work and stood up. He paced back and forth, wondering where he was going with his essay. He had been assigned to write a personal essay weeks before, but he had only started it just now, the day before it was due- and now he was stuck on the first paragraph.

'Why is this so hard?' He sat back down and opened another candy bar. 'Why can't I just write something like a story, or something I'm actually interested in? Essays require thought and prose- but if I could just tell a story, I could let the plot drive my writing!'

Just then, there was a knock at the door. He jumped up, not having expected any visitors that day, and walked over to open the door. It was the mailman. He accepted the package, thanked the mailman and closed the door. The package was small, the return address somewhere in Italy.

'I don't know anyone in Italy. Strange ...' He sat down, and with his keys, ripped open the wrapping. It was a small cardboard box. He opened it, raising his eyebrows as he picked up the old, rusted key inside, and began reading the accompanying letter written in long, flowing script:

To whom it may concern,

I have been followed for several days now. I believe whoever is following me is aware of the progress I have been making, and of my recent discovery. My research assistant disappeared the same day we made the discovery, and I fear going to the police since my enemies are powerful and I don't know the extent of their influence. I have invested too much time, energy, and blood into this project just to give up now, and so I send this part of my discovery to you. I don't know you, but my secretary has assured me that he would find an able recipient of this treasure. Please read the engravings on the key, and you will know what to do.

Farewell, may God protect you in your upcoming journey.

Be careful in whom you place your trust.

"Okaaaaay ...." He murmured audibly, staring at the letter incredulously. It was written on paper that appeared to have the letterhead of an Italian law firm at the top. He turned the letter over and saw more writing, though much more hastily written:

Giuseppe- Forse un giardiniere? Atto rapidamente !

"Okaaaaay ...." He looked up, an eerie feeling having settled over him.
'Who gets ominous letters from Italy about discoveries, being followed by enemies, strange keys... ' He tossed the letter aside and picked up the old, rusty key. It wasn't like any key he was familiar with, but rather large, reminiscent of the skeleton keys one sees in old movies. He looked at it closely, and could barely make out an inscription:

N38 00.292'
W78 27.101'

The absurdity of the situation needled him, and yet he couldn't help thinking about what to do next with this mystery that had so suddenly presented itself. Should he call the police? The FBI? The Italian police? No, that would be stupid- the writer of the letter didn't even trust the Italian police. 'Ok, now I'm going crazy. Me? Call the Italian police? What is this, some kind of ... Da Vinci code-esque April fools day joke?'

The doorbell rang.

'Another visitor? They can come back. What were those numbers? They look like coordinates. Could they be gps coordinates? I suppose I could google it...' He sat down at the computer and typed in the numbers. Google quickly gave the reply.

'Virginia. Monticello. Why would someone send me a key with the coordinates of Monticello on it?'

Knocking at the door.

'Why don't they go away? Monticello. That was Jefferson's house, wasn't it? Or was it Franklin? No, it was Thomas Jefferson. And what about that Italian? Forse un giariniere? Forse? Force? Giarginiere? Giardia? No, the -iere ending is like our -er. Gardener? Force a gardener? Quickly? I don't get it.'

More knocking, very insistent this time. He went to the window and looked out, There were two men standing on the porch, one of them talking on a cell phone. Very suspicious. Remembering the words of the letter, he slipped the key and letter into his pocket, and quietly left through the backdoor, crossed the yard, hopped over the low fence into the neighbor's yard, and from there to the street. Unsure of where to go, and feeling increasingly apprehensive as he looked over his shoulder to assure himself he was not followed, he walked down the street to the library. He went to the back and sat down at a computer. He typed in 'Monticello', and began reading. Fifteen minutes into his study, his cell phone rang. It was the carpet store, wondering if there was a better time for the work crew to come by to measure for the new carpet.

"The work crew?"

"Yes, sir, they went by your place half an hour ago but no one was home. You told us the afternoon was the best time to come by. Is there a better time we could come?"

"The work crew? Oh. No, if they could go by right now I could go meet them there."

"Ok, if now is fine, I'll call them and send them back over."

"Thanks. Sorry for the misunderstanding. Bye." He hung up the phone and, sheepishly, left the library and started toward home.

'I can't believe I actually took it seriously. It's got to be an April fool's joke the wifes pulling on me. Wow, a little elaborate for her ... I should really get home and finish that essay- well, start that essay. Oh, but what if the letter WERE real? That would be a cool story. What would Monticello have to do with anything? And why Italy? What would the key be for?' He continued his walk home, daydreaming of a mystery full of strange codes and ancient secrets buried in a Monticello garden as he passed the cherry trees lining the street, blossoms already faded and leaves beginning to poke out. They were planted in a straight line on both sides of the street, and he looked up and down, appreciating the beauty of the freshly fallen carpet of blossoms. He noticed a white car half a block behind him, driving very slowly. He stopped. The car stopped. He looked past it, and continued his gaze to the other side of the streeting, pretending to gawk at the trees, and resumed his walk. He glanced to the side and noticed peripherally that the car had resumed it's slow pace as well.

'They found me!' He panicked, and broke out into a run. He dodged onto a side street, and into a convenience store, ducking into one of the aisles. Peeking up, he saw the car continue rolling slowly down the street, and then peeled away suddenly. It was gone.

'What is going on? Were they really following me? This is absurd! Who is "they"? I think I need a vacation' He regained his composure, and stepped out of the store.

There they were. One coming in from the left, the other from the right. The same men at the door. It was too late. They walked up to him.

"Are you ... the Gardener?" Asked one of them- the rather burly one with the moustache. The other stared intently, his hands fingering something in his pocket.

"What do you mean, am I the gardener? Who are you?"

The two men looked at each other, nodded, and the shorter one asked,

"We know about the package you just received. We know about the key. We've been sent to pick you up. Please come with us. Now." He motioned to a car in the parking lot, whose doors suddenly opened with two more black suited men stepping out. Acting on instinct, he bolted, dodging the larger man, and ran back to the street. He heard shouts behind him, and an engine revving. He ran faster, turned the corner, and saw a familiar car. It was his wife's. He flagged her down, and jumped in before she could stop.


"What's the matter?" She asked, vaguely smiling.

"Drive! I'm being followed!"

She looked at him, and chuckled as she stepped on the accelerator.

"You've been procrastinating again, haven't you? I told you to start that essay weeks ago. How much have you written?"

"Drive, woman! This is not the time to be pestering me about essays! I'm being followed!"

"Riiiight...." she chuckled again, pulling into their driveway as he watched to see if they were followed. They were not. He rushed them into the house, and her the whole story, to which she shook her head and said,

"I really think that you're just trying to get out of writing this personal essay."

"But... but.. the letter! The key! The men who called me the Gardener! I'm not just making this stuff up!"

"Ok then, show me the key."

He fumbled in his pockets. It was gone. It must have slipped out while he was running. The letter too.

"I lost it. But I swear I had it! I ..." He trailed off, looking around the room for the box it had come in. It, too, seemed to have disappeared.

"Honey, why don't you just go sit down and at least get a start on that thing. I promise that when you finish, we can take a little vacation. Just you and me. Maybe we can go finish planting the garden later? Maybe a little trip to Monticello?" She winked at him.

"Why are you making fun of me? This is serious! It really happened!"

"I'm sure it did, dear. Now, go sit down, write a few pages, and then we can go to bed. Oh, did the carpet guys come by yet?"

He stared at her, mouth wide open. He shook his head, slumped back down at his computer. jelly dribbling down my chin. But then it smears all over and gets your hands sticky, and some drips on the floor only to be tracked around, making a big mess. I end up on the floor with rag in hand, cleaning it all up, swearing never to eat jelly doughnuts again.


Cabeza said...

Very nice--has a nice Secret Life of Walter Mitty feel to it. You kept me wondering how you would wrap it up as a short story and I was pleasantly surprised at the end. I especially liked using the previously abandoned jelly donut simile to wrap up--it really did fit, even though you had made it seem kinda lame at the beginning.

All in all, nice work Nick. You've set a high standard from the first entry of the month.

Nick said...

Yes, I was going to write some kind of personal essay, but I kept on putting it off. Like the first few sentences suggest, I start a few lines, then erase them and start browsing the internet. I've always wanted to be able to write a good narrative, so I gave it a quick shot, and discovered that I'm not very good at it (yet)- too much "and then he did this. And then he did that, followed by this..." Hence the messy jelly doughnut at the end, and I hang my head in shame to begin work on my personal essay for next week.

Nick said...

Heres one of the inspirations for the story:

I like it how you can do the interactive panorama view of all the rooms and gardens. If I had lots of time, I would have developed the plot a little (or a lot) more, sending the protagonist to one of the octagon rooms of the Monticello where he had to decode something that sent him to the gardens where he would need his knowledge of gardening and have read Jefferson's extensive garden journals (Hurray for garden journals!) in order to figure out the mystery. Maybe when my writing skills are a little more honed, I'll come back to it.

Julie C said...

I'm sure Dan Brown had to work up to the Da Vinci Code too. :) I have to admit I laughed a lot - especially at the "Drive, woman!" I just couldn't stop laughing at the thought of you saying that to Jenny! In the meantime, I don't really have any suggestions for the actual writing, since my post went up today. :)