Thursday, December 08, 2011

The Old Typewriter

It's like this. I accepted a challenge over at Facebook,  from Becca Harris of  Bony Fingered Limbs --- to write a 1,500 word story about an old typewriter. It's due in five minutes, so I guess I'd better do some quick copying!

Good Luck
by Sandra Leigh

Nancy found the old typewriter at an estate sale about two hours outside of town. In front of a Victorian farmhouse, there were tables covered with clean, pressed linens, mismatched china, and -- sitting on an old spool-back wooden chair -- the typewriter. When Nancy gave the space bar a tentative push, it worked. Tap-click. On a whim, she bought the typewriter, the spool-back chair, and one of the nicer tablecloths, one that must have been an heirloom. Something told her that the typewriter – that everything she had bought, for that matter – was filled with good luck, and she needed some.

Now, the old typewriter sat on her dining room table, surrounded by piles of paper, coffee cups whose contents had congealed into something like gum, and crumpled, unsavoury Kleenex. Beside the typewriter was the Dell laptop that Nancy actually used for writing. The old typewriter was there for inspiration – and for luck, of course. Nancy herself sat slumped on the old spool-back chair. Neither the old typewriter nor the chair appeared to be bringing her luck – at least, not the good kind. "Bugger!" said Nancy. She could swear at will. There was nobody to hear her. Nancy lived alone, by choice. She didn't want a husband, didn't like kids, and she had seen too many literary careers derailed by the demands of family to take the risk herself. She would succeed or fail according to her own lights, and by her wits.

Nancy had a deadline. She also had a cold, and it was a bad one. Her current book, a Gothic romance complete with flickering candles and a hero on horseback, was just beginning to take shape, but now she was under attack by a rhinovirus, and her wits were failing her. She soldiered on, blowing her nose after every sentence, then re-reading the sentence, because blowing her nose made her forget what she had just written. Once in a while, she would allow herself to wallow for a moment in her misery, her head resting on her bent right arm, her left arm draped over the old typewriter, tears streaming down her face. Of course that only made her runny nose worse than ever, so she was trying hard not to do it anymore. "Come on, girl," she said aloud. "Just write, dammit!"

She took a deep breath, coughed, and read her last sentence again: "Rebecca heard a sound – nothing more than a whisper, really – coming from behind the velvet draperies." Nancy paused, her hands poised over the laptop's keys, while she considered what to say next. What was the sound, she wondered? Was Rebecca imagining it? Was it real? Was there someone else in the room? She waited for the story to unfold, enjoying the wait, as always. This was her favourite part of writing. She blew her nose again, then closed her eyes, shutting out the world, moving into her imagination, searching for answers. When that didn't help, she moved over to the old typewriter and hovered there, thinking.

A sound intruded on Nancy's thoughts. It was no more than a rustling– and it came from behind the draperies. A shudder passed over her. She took her hands off the keys and backed her chair away from the old typewriter, shutting the laptop as she went. She stood and ran for the doorway, flipped the light switch, flooded the dim room with yellow light from the electric chandelier that hung over the dining table. Then she stood, her back against the wall, her story forgotten, trying to slow her breathing and steady her heartbeat. Count to ten, she thought. She got as far as six. Then the curtains moved, and she heard another sound – a kind of whimper. A whimpering ghost? A whimpering burglar? She sidled along the wall, moving as quietly as her laboured breathing would allow, keeping her eyes on the curtains. As she passed the fireplace, she took a brass candlestick down from the mantel. Thus armed, she approached the window. The draperies were still, now, as if holding their breath. She reached out with her left hand and swept them aside while she raised her right hand, which held the candlestick.

"Don't hit me. Please don't hit me." The child cowered, raising his arms to shield his face. He wasn't more than seven years old. Stringy blond hair hung over his eyes. He shivered in torn jeans and a dirty tee shirt.

Nancy lowered the candlestick. "Who are you?" she said. "What are you doing in my house?"

"I didn't take anything!"

"That's good, but why are you here? And how did you get in? And who are you?"

"Jimmy. Through the living room window."

"Jimmy who?"

"Jimmy Baldwin. I – I just needed a place to get warm, honest. It's cold. I didn't know anybody was home."

"But why were you out in the cold dressed like that? Where is your coat? Where are your parents?"

Nancy set the candlestick back on the mantel and motioned for Jimmy to come away from the window. It was warmer in the centre of the room. She pointed to a chair. "Sit." He sat. She went to the living room and pulled an afghan off the back of the sofa, brought it into the dining room, and wrapped it around Jimmy. "Wait here," she said. "I'll get you something warm to drink." She had made ginger tea to sip while she worked. That would warm him up. She poured some into a mug, added a dollop of honey, brought it back, handed it to him.

"Thank you."

"You're welcome. Now tell me what you were doing outside in the cold with no coat."

Jimmy looked down at the floor. Nancy could see his lower lip quivering as he fought back tears.

"I won't hurt you. I promise. Just tell me, okay?"

Jimmy's right foot traced a pattern on the floor, but he didn't speak. After a minute, Nancy turned and reached for her phone, which she had left on the table. "Okay, I'll call the police. They can make sure you get home safely."

"No! Please don't!" He grabbed Nancy's hand and held on.

"If you won't tell me what's going on, Jimmy, I don't really have any choice."

"If I tell you, will you let me stay here?"

"Uh, no. I'm sorry. First of all, I like living alone, thank you, and second, I could get into a lot of trouble if I kept you here."

"I wouldn't tell anybody."

"No, I don't imagine you would. But the answer is still no." Nancy pulled two warm jackets from the closet, handed one to Jimmy, and put the other one on. She grabbed a Kleenex from the box on the table, then changed her mind and grabbed a whole handful. She opened the front door and pointed outside. Jimmy obeyed, but his feet were dragging. She took his hand and walked with him to the end of her walkway. "Now let's get you home. Where do you live?"

"Never mind," he said. "I can get home on my own."

"Nope. You can't. You're – what? Six? Seven?"

"I'm going on eight!"

Nancy looked down at the boy and sighed. She put her hand on his shoulder, turned him around, and led him back into her house. She went to the kitchen and pulled a can of tomato soup out of the cupboard. While it heated, she made two peanut butter and jam sandwiches. She poured the soup into mugs, set the sandwiches on plates, and carried the makeshift supper into the dining room, where Jimmy still stood. He still wore her jacket, and it hung down past his knees.

"Dinner's served," said Nancy.

"Thank you," said Jimmy.

When Nancy lifted the jacket from Jimmy's shoulders, he flinched. "Before you eat, put on a clean shirt," she said. She found a tee shirt in her dresser. It was too big, but it would serve. Back in the dining room, she took hold of Jimmy's shirt and pulled it over his head. As she suspected, there were bruises on his chest and back. He folded his arms over his chest, hiding. "Here. Put this on," said Nancy.

They ate in silence. After dinner, Nancy put a sheet of paper in the old typewriter. She brought a high stool and helped Jimmy climb up. "Can you read?" He nodded.

"Good. You write your story – take your time – and I'll write mine. Deal?"

"Deal. But won't you get into trouble?"

"Nah. I'm a very lucky lady. Don't worry. Everything will be fine."

Jimmy looked down at the keys, then back at Nancy. Smiling, he started to hunt and peck. Nancy looked over at him, shrugged her shoulders and blew her nose. "What the hell," she said, "Maybe my luck is changing," and she went back to work.


Rebecca Harris said...

LOL at the writer stuff. Blowing nose losing thoughts. :D

Very nice story. Didn't expect the twist at all. Very good. Would like to know more!

Sandra Leigh said...

Heh. If you want to know more, you'll have to give me another 500 words. Maybe a thousand! Thanks, Becca.

Anonymous said...

Please let me know what happened with the boy!