Fiction Friday: A Still Untitled Work in Progress. A Short Story.

photo of books on bookshelves
Photo by Polina Zimmerman on

Untitled-14The idea for this short story has been brewing in my brain for a while, so I decided to finally draft something for it. Without saying too much, it’s about a writer (author) who suffers from agoraphobia, which leads her to live the life of a recluse, and has possibly been the cause of her failed relationships. I have no idea what to call it, and I’m not even sure I’ll continue with the story, but I decided to post what I have completed so far just to illustrate that sometimes we like what we’ve written, sometimes we hate what we’ve written, and sometimes we just don’t know what to do with what we’ve written.

Who the hell knows where this will go…

An Untitled Work in Progress

Two failed marriages and a recent breakup with the man she thought for a brief moment could have been her next husband, Lillian shook the thought of romance off and said to herself softly, “Who the hell needs ‘em anyway.” She was walking brusquely to collect her luggage at baggage claim thinking, as her heels clicked the sterile airport floor, that she didn’t need one more item of baggage. She made her way to the car rental desk, and after going over the copious details of the terms, filled out the necessary paperwork wondering if they were going to ask her to sign her rental agreement with her own blood. She handed over the paperwork and the car rep on the lot looked it the vehicle with a discernable eye, making a note that there was a ding near the left front wheel. After experiencing the tedious torture of the rep’s thoroughness, she finally escaped the exceedingly boring exercise and climbed into the Chrysler convertible she’d reserved for herself. If she was going to do this, she thought, she was going to do it with the wind in her hair.

The airport in Hyannis was only a few miles from the Barnes & Noble at the Cape Cod Mall. She hadn’t done a book signing in ten years, or much else. She wasn’t exactly a recluse because there were places she could go and feel comfortable, but she’d heard the whispers, and the fact that she rarely ventured into uncertainly indicated it was true. It had taken her years to understand how desperate the problem was. She thought it was great that people enjoyed her novels, but she couldn’t understand the adulation that came with it. She wasn’t curing cancer; she wasn’t exploring the universe. She was a writer. Nothing more.

She’d been living in a home in Cape May that sat one block from the ocean. People in the town knew who she was, but respected her privacy. They were good like that. Only occasionally was she asked to lend her support a local hospital or town event. And she usually obliged; it just wasn’t the norm.

When she pulled up, she checked her makeup in the rearview mirror. God, she thought, I’m forty-five. Alone in the world, except for Mrs. Phelps. Her little Golden Retriever enjoyed the water and liked being wet. Most dogs hated it, and she couldn’t very well name her female dog Michael Phelps, so she opted to name her pooch after his mother.

As she approached the front door to the place, she could see a line had formed. She felt her heart panic. She had agreed to do a short talk—twenty minutes—and then would take questions from the audience. The store had set up an area for the discussion, and she found her contact person right away.

There was always a sense of panic that overcame her when she stepped into these situations. Her psychologist had long ago diagnosed it as agoraphobia, or the fear of wide open spaces. Little by little, he had helped her come to grips with this malady using a treament know as systematic desensitization. Over and over again she had to put herself in situations that made her feel unsafe or uncomfortable, and she’d had to work through her feelings. This whole day had been a test to see how far she’d come.

So far, she’d made it through with flying colors. From the flight to the car rental, and now to Barnes & Noble. The crowd didn’t scare her, and she felt pleasantly surprised.

As the Barnes & Noble rep helped her get situated in the small speaking area, she asked for a bottle of water. She was starting to get warm. Being back here with all these familiar places, made her feel comfortable, but at the same time, slightly unnerved. She hadn’t been home in years. This was her hometown. Hyannis.

The rep had the desk make an announcement that today’s guest author would be speaking in five minutes. She pulled out her notes and glanced over them one last time. She didn’t know why she even bothered; she knew this talk by heart. Still, she could feel herself grow slightly anxious, and she wondered if she’d done a stupid thing by agreeing to put herself in this situation: a situation where she could fail.

“Are you okay?” the rep asked.

“Fine,” she said. “Why?”

“Just checking to see if you need anything,” the rep said. She was busily attending to her and arranging her speaking area, making sure she had everything she needed.

“I’m good,” she said, “I just haven’t given a talk in a long time.”

The rep smiled and relaxed a little. Lillian took another swig of water and a deep breath.

“Don’t worry. They just want to hear about you and your writing. Ready?” the rep asked.

“Ready,” Lillian said.

“Ladies and gentleman, welcome. It’s been many years since she’s been here with us, but we’re so glad to have her back. Please welcome Lillian Brannon.”

When she heard the applause, she fought the fear. She smiled. She pretended she hadn’t ever been struck with a phobia that had taken over her life for many years. She stepped up to the podium and small microphone, and she began to talk.

“It has been quite a lot of years since I’ve been here. Hyannis is my home, and I’ve missed it. I’ve rented myself a little convertible that I’m going to drive along the coast. I’m excited to feel the wind in my hair and smell the air of Cape Cod,” she said.

A strange sense of calm engulfed her. Could it be she could actually do this?

When she looked up, she saw warm faces looking at her. They were smiling, encouraging.

“I started writing when I was very young. My parents told me to enter my very badly written short story into the 5th grade writing contest. I didn’t even get an honorable mention,” she said. “But for some reason, I never stopped writing. I just kept doing it, until I knew for certain it was what my life’s work might be.”

She reached for her most recent novel, which the rep had set aside for her to read aloud.

As she reached for it, she saw him out of the corner of her eye. He was leaning against a shelf of books, his head slightly cocked. She did a double-take, and he knew she saw him. Twenty-five years later, but he guessed she’d feel he was there. His instincts told him she’d notice he was there, among the members of the somewhat dense crowd that had amassed. He was right.

Panic could have overtaken her, but it didn’t. Instead, a calmness consumed her, and she read an excerpt aloud to the group.

And she read it well.


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