‘Dear Blank Page’ by Stefan Banea

In a small apartment, the pressures of the day can be felt in dust particles, suspended in stiff air. Through the slight crack of a window, the city’s bustling can be heard in car horns and seen in tie-wearers late for work. A buzzing fly was doing laps around the room. Cameron Bethan, in all of her seven years of journalism and her twenty-nine years of life, had never had a worse case of the dreaded blank page.

She leaned back in her chair with nerve-wracking frustration. When she was small, she never stopped talking. The muscles in her jaw were over-developed and at twelve years old she had written her first novel. It was called “When the Sun Shines, My Eyes Hurt”. It was fifty pages long and had only ever been shared with one other person — someone who was no longer around.

Cameron decided to blame the stuffed air — as well as the slim beam of sunlight that dared come inside, ruining the ambiance. She got up to close the blinds on her narrow window, immersing herself in the darkness of her tiny, minimalist apartment that she’d worked so hard to put together. All around her there was a distinct lack of exciting objects. Her mattress slept on the floor without a bedframe, and next to it sat a heavy, brown desk, covered in newspaper clippings, ripped pages, scratched notebooks, dirty coffee mugs and a single empty picture frame. She was proud of keeping such a humble domain. To her, that was when the space shone its brightest­ — when she looked for distractions and could find nothing. She immediately got back to work.

Cameron had been writing and reporting since she graduated high school. Her new job in Boston was nothing new. The Label hired her in a heartbeat after they’d gotten a personal recommendation from her old chief of staff. They needed someone obsessed with their job, someone willing to cover the unwanted stories that drove away career-sensitive, socially unconcerned busybodies. Cameron would have gladly traded in the reputation she’d built for a good pair of words, right about then.

A career — whatever that word was meant to define — didn’t interest her much. For her, there was only passion, and with that, a need to follow it. She had become her career. Of course, she wasn’t so sure anymore, since her job had become all she had. She moved out of her hometown, away from everything she knew, to be here: alone, in the dark, with a white page, a terrible migraine and an empty bottle of whiskey. She had envisioned a bit more light in her life, and a bit less alcoholism.

“I don’t have an addiction, though. I function extremely well, for a hermit,” she said. She couldn’t remember exactly when she had started talking to herself, but she’d been catching herself doing it quite often. She enjoyed testing out her vocal chords every now and then, to see if they still worked.

On Friday morning her boss had greeted her with the big news: “It’s Thanksgiving weekend, Cameron, and we need a piece on it. Whatever you think people should be reminded to be thankful for.”

She had been sitting at her desk, eating by herself when he told her this, and it almost made her choke on her bologna sandwich. This was very different from the other things she had covered: bank agency fraud, unstable stock market, dishonest law firms… She had zero expertise in any of these things, but she knew how to squeeze out the information. This time, however, she had been asked to write an actual emotional piece. And she was excited about it. Come Sunday morning, though, she did not feel the same way.

She had been staring at the page for hours, and the last time she had gotten up from her chair had been to close the blinds. It was now almost dark, and she felt like she could benefit from a walk. She didn’t grab her coat because she intended to be back soon. As she left her home, she stepped around the accumulated newspapers that were decomposing on her front steps.

Cameron wasn’t sure where she was going, yet still walked under the lamp posts staring at the ground. Dogs barked in the distance and sirens started wailing their usual cry. She began to pick up the pace, now that she knew where she wanted to go. Before opening the door to the liquor store, she said to herself, “Okay, maybe I do have a problem.” Though she went in anyway and left with a bottle of single malt scotch whiskey. The clerk had told her “See you next week.”

It didn’t matter anyway, whether or not she were an alcoholic. She could write. She was good at her job, and it was secure. There was no one in her life that she could hurt with her addiction. She didn’t speak to her family back in Philadelphia very often, and she didn’t have friends she kept in touch with, either. She made sure not to keep in touch with anyone. One person to link her back to him was all it took.

“Aiden.” She said his name out loud.

It had been a while, and hearing it again felt strange. It made her uncomfortable, but she said it again. “Aiden, Aiden, Aiden.”

She looked at the time and began to reminisce. Aiden had been the one to give her the watch. She knew she had made a mistake wearing it. It had been, after all, an anniversary gift. She had told him not get her anything, but Aiden never listened. He had always taken it upon himself to try and make her smile. In college, he would leave her small messages in her notebooks. She never understood when he found the time to do any of the things he did to distract her, because as much as she studied, he studied the same amount, if not more. He, too, was a writer. That was one of the things they thought they’d always share; that they’d always have that mutual desire to write and express themselves. Aiden wanted to teach. He saw himself teaching English in third-world countries. It’s what he had always dreamed of doing. That was his passion.

Cameron took off the watch and hid it in her pocket. Aiden had pestered her for months before she accepted to go on one date with him. It had not been in her plans to fall in love, especially not at that point in her life. She had been giving her all to her education, that had been the most important thing to her. Her tuition had been taken care of, courtesy of her lawyer parents, and she could have lived comfortably, if she had wanted to. Instead, she ventured in the complete opposite direction. Cameron isolated herself, nose always in a book, always working to the point of exhaustion. So no, it had not been in her plans to fall in love. That one date with Aiden had been all it took for her carefully constructed shell fall apart.

Cameron now stopped in front of her apartment door, and looked for the keys in her pockets. She patted her jeans and her shirt and realized that her keys were in fact inside, in her left coat pocket, where she always left them. With the bottle of liquor in a bag, totally inconspicuous, and the notebook she always carried on her, she turned around and headed for the local coffee shop, deciding that she would break into her own apartment later. It was her place of reconciliation.

Coffee shops were a writer’s stereotypical comfort zone. She hated acting like a stereotype, placing herself in a box with other writers. She knew full well there was nothing worse than a writer who acts just like a writer all the time. Writers always know what to say. Writers exchange letters to each other. Writers are over-dramatic and they value beauty and emotion over rationality. And nothing had hurt her more than rationality in her life. But writing had also framed her life. It had given her guidelines and had pushed her towards her best.

When Aiden told her that he was leaving for Iceland for an English teaching program, Cameron answered that she was leaving for Boston for her new job at the Label newspaper company.

That was her passion. She wanted to bring out the truth to the world. She wanted to reveal cover-ups and inform people who believed they knew everything already. To Cameron, there was no such thing as being educated enough. She wanted to keep learning forever.

Sitting at her small round table in the coffee shop, with a view of the street, thinking about Aiden had her confused. Who was she now? She knew only the person she had convinced herself to be. What her passions were, what her values and morals were. Where she wanted to go. What she wanted to do. And that had been the plan she had always followed.

She took out her notebook and grabbed a pen. Suddenly, it slipped and it hit the tiled floor. Her hand, for some reason, was shaking. She tried to write down the first things that came to her mind when she thought of what her boss asked of her. What did she have to be thankful for? What should people be thankful for?

Her pen did not move.

Her parents had paid for her college tuition. Without their help, she wouldn’t have gotten to this point in her life. No, she thought, I can’t use this as an example. That would be being thankful for having money. So would be going to college, getting a degree, having a job. She knew better than to write about being privileged.

She glanced over at the bottle of whiskey in the brown bag on the table. What did she have to be thankful for? How could any of those things matter if right then, in that moment, she found herself struggling to write an honest article?

The Moon. The Sun. She was obsessed with celestial bodies. “This year I’m thankful for the Moon.” It sounded even more ridiculous out loud. She thought about her first novel again — the innocence of it, the fact that she hadn’t shown it to anyone but Aiden — and she remembered how she felt about it. Scared. She was terrified of showing her writing to anybody. After two years with him she’d learned to trust him so much that she gave him a piece of herself by showing him her novel. He had read it, twice, and in front of her, too. Cameron was sure that he’d read it a few more times afterwards too, for after a week he could quote the whole thing by memory. It reassured her to know he was out there somewhere, and she caught herself hoping her novel would still be engraved in his brain, and that he could still recite it if she asked.

She shook her head. She had been the one who declined him. He had asked her to go with him to Iceland. She’d said no. Which meant she had no right to think about him. She had moved on.

It’s been seven years since Cameron and Aiden said “good-bye”. He didn’t take her number; she left without his. Their break-up had been clean cut. Like a Band-Aid: removed quickly, almost painless. Moving on had been the one thing that drove her.

She gave up trying to write anything for a moment and reached for a wrinkled newspaper lying on the table next to her. It was getting late, but she needed to find something. She flipped through every page. She looked at the titles, the headlines, the graphs. She stared at the pictures and imagined what other people’s lives were like, what it was they had to be thankful for. The business section, the sports section, the comics. It was an old trick she had to get over a writer’s block — looking everywhere without exception. Inspiration didn’t come from the expected places; it came from the unremarkable things, things that went under the radar. She looked at stories, at disasters, calamities, all the pain people had gone through. What could they have to be thankful for? She looked at the obituary. What could these people have died for? What were they thinking about on their deathbeds?

And then she saw his name. At that exact moment, her heart tried to kill her.

Aiden Bentley, twenty-nine years old. Auto accident.

She had forgotten how to breathe. Suddenly she was transported. She wasn’t in the coffee shop, holding the newspaper anymore. She was in his car, in the passenger seat, holding his hand. She asked him to look her in the eyes. She told him she loved him. And then, she told him, “No, I won’t go with you.” He looked at her with the same eyes staring back at her from the newspaper. His eyes had started to water then. He had held himself back, but she couldn’t now. In the car, his tears would have fallen on her hand; her tears were now falling on his portrait, ruining his image. The colours dripped from his face, turning him into something horrible. It wasn’t him, it couldn’t be. She couldn’t be.

Her disbelief moved her hand towards the pen. She grabbed it, and she didn’t let go for hours. She was thankful that someone had read-and loved — her first novel. She was thankful that someone had offered her the Moon. She was thankful for pain, because it shed light on the things she forgot to miss. She was thankful for words, because her writer’s block had gone away.

 

 


Stefan Banea is an undergraduate student in English Literature at Concordia University. He enjoys the occasional challenge of writing and sipping London Fogs.

 

Copyright © 2018 by Stefan Banea. All rights reserved.