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Antwone Devaux slept with the feeling that he had swallowed a living snake. And the snake was moving, coiling and uncoiling around his internal organs, gobbling his pounding heart… And so Antwone woke; his face beading with cold sweat.
He looked over to his digital clock set on the nightstand, and was not surprised to see that it was still two in the morning.
An electric fan was whirring away, dispersing the hot air that stuffed his spacious hotel room which was presently illuminated by a duo of naked bulbs placed at diametrically-opposed nooks of the room, so as to create a better light diffusion throughout. That was the idea, anyway, since their watty glares were so dim they could hardly be said to light anything at all.
But maybe it was just a smoky impression created by the remnants of sleep in his half-closed eyes.
Antwone lazily dropped his tired hand to the carpeted floor, and his fingers hung there for a while. Then, with a new life coming into them, they started threading... and groping. After they gently bumped against an empty beer can, Antwone lifted his hand again and rested it on his flat chest.
Lying there face up, he thought of nothing and felt his mind slowly return to him, like a sturdy boomerang that booms off far into the air and then arches back in its prime momentum for a triumphal return.
Antwone kicked the bedcover away and sat up on his bed, feeling a little strange. The air conditioning was out of service and the nights were cool and moist in the spring. But later they could also become cold.
Antwone had been told about the defective air-conditioning before checking into the room, which was a cross between a loft and a student lounge. But the panoramic view of the city the room offered had sold him completely, so much that he had asked to be accommodated with a fan instead. Now he tried not to mind the moist because it wasn’t a sticky kind of moist. And it wasn’t responsible for keeping him awake.
He looked down across the carpeted floor. It was littered with travel magazines, scrap paper and, obviously, an upturned beer can. Somewhere in the clutter, an ashtray overflowed with cigarette ends.
Antwone swung his feet over and got up from the bed. He then seated himself behind his chaotic-looking writing table where a typewriter and a ream of print papers took pride of place over a rooster of many stationery [k1] items. He looked at the paper rode around the typewriter platen. He looked at what was typed upon it... the last paragraph:
She had seen many things that other people wouldn’t believe. It was not for the faintest of heart. It was a plague-ridden food for the soul. A disease of the mind. The curse of the last woman alive. And yet, she had seen it all... All of it.
Antwone stared at the page for several minutes. A deeper level of understanding seemed to crawl on his face.
Alone on the page, the words were somehow conjuring odd images in his mind. Images he hadn’t had overnight when he’d written them. With apprehension, he put his fingers to the keyboard and did not dare make any sudden movement. It was always the same deal. The typewriter – the conduit through which his inner-self flowed into the world – was making it difficult to churn out a single word.
Before, when he used to write just for the sake of it, his relationship with the words was an easy one. He didn’t have to try too hard. He didn’t need a muse to get a good amount of work done. Things had now changed, with the growing expectation from everyone … the publisher … the readers… Even Ava Goldberg, his dedicated literary agent, was pestering him into repeating the success of his previous novels by aping them to some degree and, in her own suggestion, by bringing elements of commerciality to the fore in any forthcoming output. As if you could shortchange success.
Sitting at his writing desk these days gave him something of a fright. The kind of fright you might feel when you see a total stranger at your doorstep at two o’clock in the morning.
Antwone looked at the page and was surprised to see that he had unwittingly typed something:
Expectation is the defoliant of the flower of creativity. It cripples the hands that nurture the soil upon which bloom true, unassailable art…
He quickly struck out that reedy verse and, without second thoughts, as if to redeem himself from his absentmindedness, his fingers hammered away:
However, when that night she looked into the eye of the abyss, what she saw was beautiful. Yet it wasn’t for those who celebrated beauty. It was a devastating silence for the ears, an advanced tumor in the eye, the curse of the last woman alive. Right at that moment, she knew what needed to be done to ease the pain.
He stopped; wound the cylinder knob and the paper advanced vertically. He read the new text and was only half satisfied with it. His writing desk was by the window, and outside it, the city lay dormant, smothered by the dark mass of the night. There was something about it to be reckoned with. Something that mere words could not even begin to cover.