A commotion shook the waiting room. One of the men rolling a tire slipped on the floor and sent it crashing into the Nativity scene. Figurines went flying everywhere, smashing into metal rims and windows. The Three Wise Men splintered. The Virgin Mary pulverized. Baby Jesus was dead.
The Writer looked up. He slipped off his headphones. What the hell is going on? I’m trying to write about the world but the world is interrupting me goddammit!
He saw a young woman wearing threadbare white yoga pants and a black hoodie with the hood pulled over her head as she slumped against the counter. The counter seemed to be holding her up. Two small girls wearing furry coats over cartoon-character pajamas rolled around on the floor behind her.
The woman, stick thin, medium height, was talking to a serious man behind the counter. The man was shaking his head, and at some point the woman removed her hood and Rapunzel-like hair, blazing red, fell down past her waist. As she talked, she reached around and twisted her hair in a ponytail.
To the Writer’s left a cleanup crew was sweeping up the Nativity scene and readying it for the garbage.
The Writer kept watching the conversation but still hadn’t removed his headphones. The counter man shook his head more vigorously, his brow tightened, and the woman turned sharply to her children and said something stern to them. The Writer saw the woman’s face: narrow, hollow, angry, scarred, spent.
She snapped back to the counter man. She released the ponytail. Counter man eased away and she was alone. She stood there for a few seconds then slid down to the floor. Her children crawled over to her and she embraced them. She was sobbing, but not making a sound.
The Writer set down his tablet. He removed his headphones. He scanned the waiting room. No one was looking at the woman.
He was, now. He was staring at a pile of a family huddled together on the floor of a corporate tire center and it was Christmas Eve.
A strange clicking noise arrested the Writer’s attention. He turned around and could see rain hitting the windows and freezing on impact. The temperature had dropped that one degree. In ninety minutes, virtually no one would be driving the streets of Lincoln City except idiots and emergency service vehicles.
The Writer glanced at the clock. Almost 2 p.m. He checked to see if his vehicle had been moved from the parking lot into one of the service bays. It had not. It didn’t matter. He could slip and slide home. He only lived a few blocks from the center, in a cozy cottage. Both the cottage and the Airstream afforded magnificent views of the ocean and the Writer spent mornings and evenings watching the waves with his coffee or wine. If the literary mood struck him, and it usually did, he listed all the metaphors the ocean provided his writing. New ones arrived every morning on the incoming tide. They sold like hotcakes to the Druid and Sufi magazines.
He stood up to leave. Warranty service could wait a few days. He gathered up his things and headed for the door. The Writer would have to pass mere inches from the the pile to leave. He checked out the waiting room. Fox News was outfoxing Americans with a stacked fox to hate other human beings.
The Writer began walking toward the pile. The pile didn’t look up. They usually don’t.
There was no metaphor in the pile. It was a pile of an Oregon family. An Oregon family teetered in a crisis the Writer couldn’t possibly understand, but he did know how to employ the precious verb teeter.
But as a writer he was supposed to try and understand the pile. A writer can’t begin to try unless he or she engages with the world, and not just with sentences. Curiosity. Conversation. Move. Movement. Write it up later or not. Do it to give a shit, not for the story.
Doesn’t a human pile right in front of you demand action? At the very least, curiosity? Who gives a shit whether you’re a writer or not? Act. It’s Christmas Eve for chrissakes! Act like it’s Christmas Eve every day of the year! If we all did that, it might be Christmas year round and people wouldn’t want to kill themselves at Christmas.
Dickens had his ghosts. Saul had his shining light on the road to Damascus. The Grinch heard Whoville sing. One Oregon writer got his epiphany when his wife called him out for being rude to a checker in a grocery store. The checker was being a decent human being and talking to an elderly woman, making her day, and therefore holding up the line. That irritated the writer. His wife kicked his heart’s ass and he never again acted rude to a checker for being a decent human being.
No outside intervention was coming to the Writer, supernatural or otherwise. He would have to discover it within. If it wasn’t there, he would have to make it up from scratch, with the ingredients at hand, with no recipe to guide him.
What were those ingredients at hand?