I have been so out of it lately. Today, I tried to sleep in the faculty workroom at school. I was sitting where the other substitutes usually eat their lunches, my oversized purse placed strategically in front of me so that I was hidden from view. I had the latest edition of “Glimmer Train open in front of me, but everyone would know I was not really reading because my cheek was laying upon the page, and my mouth was wide open. Oh, and my eyes were closed. To be fair, I didn’t actually fall asleep, but I was able to find that incredibly blissful zone that comes just before sleep, when one’s mind is actually empty and one is just drifting.
When I came home, I did sleep. I did not exercise, I did not count my calories, I didn’t really clean my room and I just did nothing. I’m feeling down on myself because I’m sliding back into lazy, self-destructive habits and I’m worried I can’t stop, that my life will be successive series of starting and stopping, of trying and failing.
I feel that it is important to share my emotion and mindset with you so that when you read the pieces, you can put them in some kind of context (or if they completely suck and lack talent, I can refer you to the crappy day I had. Really, I’m just covering my ass – pardon my French).
THE PROMPT: “Falling Mattresses”
They had been waiting, umbrellas up, for the falling mattresses.
Sam reread the line, moving his lips soundlessly over the words. He clicked his pen and sat it down beside the yellow legal pad. Every other line was blank, besides the first, and had been blank for hours. Surrounding the pad were crumpled up sheets of yellow paper, discarded as trash and bad ideas, scattered amid empty cans of diet Coke. Aggravated, Sam sighed loudly and raked his face with his palms. No words seemed right, no hook was interesting enough and he was stuck.
Sam heard the door open and close from behind him, and turned his head to see his sister walking inside. She was smiling, and held a tray of food in her hands. “Here you are,” she said. “Dinner’s been ready for a while. Why didn’t you answer your phone?”
“I didn’t want to be disturbed,” Sam grumbled, turning back around.
“You still need to eat,” his sister argued, rolling her eyes. His artistic temper tantrums made her want to scream. “It’s your favorite; spaghetti and meatballs.” She used the ends of the tray to clear the table of its paper litter, and set it before her brother, smack dab on top of the pad he had been writing on, or at least trying to. She then decided to pick up the empty cans, crushing them to make more room in her hands. The noise was irritating, as was her presence, and as was Sam’s writer block. He collapsed back against the couch and grunted. His sister straightened up and popped a hip, so that her poise was one of attitude. “What’s wrong?”
“I can’t come up with anything.”
“Oh,” she said. She smiled and sat beside her brother, momentarily forgetting the crumpled aluminum in her hands. “Maybe I can help. What do you have so far?”
Sam raised an eyebrow. “Dude, I have been locked in here for days, trying to come up with a beautiful and meaningful song that will have a lasting effect not only on this generation, but on those that follow. I doubt you can help me finish these lyrics in a couple of minutes.”
“At least let me try,” she said. “You never know, Sam. Something I say could trigger an explosion of creativity.”
He studied her for a moment, and discovered how strange it was to be viewing what was essentially the female version of himself. Ever since they were little, everyone had commented on how much they not only looked alike, but acted alike. Growing up, they had adopted each other’s mannerisms, like how when they were nervous, they would pull on their eardrums so the blood would pool and pound there, rather than their panicked brains. They both chewed their nails, and bit their bottom lips when they were deep in thought but knew someone was looking. The two were close – they had always been close, but after Dad had died and they had both moved back home to help take care of Mom in her increasingly fragile mental state, they became friends, honest and genuine friends. Smiling softly, Sam shrugged. “What the hell; give it a shot.”
“Okay – what do you have so far?”
Sam lifted the tray of food so he could slide the legal pad from underneath it. Suddenly nervous, he licked his dry lips. As close as they were, he had never allowed his sister to read any of his work. He couldn’t exactly say what it was he was afraid of, because she would never ever say anything bad about it, but his stomach did squirm uneasily when he saw eye the writing. “All I have is the opening line: ‘They had been waiting, umbrellas up, for the falling mattresses.”
It was silent for quite a few moments. Finally, she said, “I don’t get it.”
“What do you mean?”
She shrugged and said, “I don’t know where you want to go with this.”
Sam laughed, running his palm across the back of his neck. “That is the problem I’ve been having.”
“Then just change the line.”
Sam was scandalized. “No way, I can’t change the line! This is a very intriguing image, and I need to work with it.”
His sister held her hands up in front of her as if in self-defense. “Okay, sorry! I didn’t know you were married to the falling mattresses.” She did her best to stifle a laugh at her older brother’s expense. She reread the line soundlessly, just as Sam had, and then asked, “Why are the mattresses falling?”
“You tell me.”
Her eyes widened. “This is hard.”
“You’re telling me.”
There were another few moments of silence. “Well,” she said, “good luck with all that.” She rose to her feet, cradling the empty cans in her arms. “Make sure you eat before it gets cold.”
“Thanks for all the help,” Sam said, shaking his head slowly.
“Anytime,” she smiled, shutting the door behind her.
He imagined a mattress falling from the sky and crushing his sister beneath its weight, her cheap and flimsy umbrella collapsing. He laughed and then froze.
There was the idea; the rest of the song.