Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Writing Exercise #1 ( Day 2 )

It was the summer when JFK was still winning primaries that the author blew into town. The term beatnik was only two years old, and already the author hated it. He was a young man with a taste for travel, to be sure, but he rarely considered himself in the same company with those who best exemplified the term.

It hardly mattered. Every town was much the same. Outsiders were easily spotted and always looked upon with suspicion. Especially when this outsider didn't go anywhere without the portable Remington typewriter that was as faithful a companion to him as any pet.

This town, however, was different. Nobody stared at him when he came into town. In fact, the town seemed surprisingly empty. The author made his way towards the hotel on the outskirts of town, looking for a cheap room.

"Oh yes, of course we have a room," the owner said from behind his massive, ancient counter. "You in town to see the show?"

"The show?"

"The circus is in town," the owner said. "Surely you saw them."

"No, afraid not. I came in from the other side of town."

"Ah, yes," the old man said, as if that made perfect sense. "Well, you're in luck. They're only a few miles down the road from here, set up a big tent and everything. It's been a whole number of years since they were last here, and no telling when they'll come through again. Might as well enjoy it."

The author shook his head. "I don't think so." He glanced down at the typewriter case he had set up on the counter. "I have work to do."

"Oh? What kind of work is that, exactly?"

"I'm writing a book," the author said, standing a little straighter and looking the owner in the eye. Too many times was he knocked down when he said something like this, he knew to be assertive about it now.

The owner stared at the young man for a moment, and then shrugged his body shoulders. "Suit yourself. I think the circus would be a fine subject for a book, myself. Sign here." He pushed the guestbook over to the author, who scrawled his name in it and then thanked the owner before trudging up to his room.

The room was a non-descript affair. One bed, slightly damp with the summer humidity. One desk, scratched and worn and bare. The window was open, but the wind blew the wrong way and the room itself was still and hot and muggy.

The author sat down and opened up his case. He pulled out his typewriter and the stack of paper that he kept in the case. As he loaded the newest sheet, he looked down at the manilla envelope that held the finished pages. It was a small stack considering how many months he had been at this already. But oftentimes travelling got the better of him and he became distracted by the town.

By the time he was ready to load the paper into the typewriter, though, the sweat was already pouring down his face. The room was too still. It was like a sauna. And when he tried to prop open the door to get some circulation, he found that the hallway was just as bad. It was impossible to remain in the room while it was still so hot. Once again, he would have to entertain himself.

At least there was the circus.

* * * * *

It was at the circus that the author met the magician. He had come in between shows, as the performers wisely avoided gathering so many people during the hottest part of the day. So the circus itself was relatively quiet when he pulled his rusty old car up to it and parked

He got out and looked around, but nobody seemed to pay him much mind. It was only when he was reaching for the main flap of the tent that someone stopped him. A voice, coming as if from nowhere, cut through the summer noises and the idly din of people working inside the tent.

"I don't think you belong here, kid."

The author turned around, and looked for the source of the voice. But there was nothing. The author was alone. He brushed his brown hair out of his eyes and turned back to the tent.

In front of him stood the magician. The author wasn't sure if that was true, at first, but it was the first thing he thought of when he saw him. Certainly a part of that was his appearing in front of him as if out of thin air (though more than likely he just slipped through the tent flap). But his coat glistening in the sun and the top hat cocked on his head sealed the deal.

"Oh, I'm sorry ... I was just looking around."

"And that's why you don't belong. You aren't supposed to look when there isn't something to see," the magician said. He was paler than most of the performers, with dark longish hair that seemed to go in every direction under his hat.

"I'm sorry. I was ... well, I guess I'll go."

"Probably for the best," the magician said. "Say, are you going into town? I was headed that way myself. I could use a lift."

The author looked back at his car and shrugged. "Sure thing. Not a problem. Come on."

And the magician followed the author to his car and climbed into the drivers seat, pulling off his hat as he sat down and setting it in his lap. True to what the author had seen, his hair was everywhere, whispy black strands that seemed to have no order of their own.

As they started down the road back to town, the magician was the first one to speak. "Since you already know about me, I'll ask you--what do you do with your time?"

"I write books."

"Books, really? Anything I've read?"

The author shook his head. "Not yet. I'm just starting out. I'm going from place to place, trying to find inspiration, writing a few pages in each town before moving on."

"I see ..." The magician leaned back in his seat before turning to face the author. "We're not so very different, then. New towns, same old song and dance in each one, trying to make a little progress along the way."

"Yeah. I guess you could look at it like that."

"I do and will," the magician said. "Though, I imagine all that driving around must not leave you much time to actually write. At least I've got a boxcar all to myself to work with while we're travelling."

"Yeah, well, some of us aren't so lucky."

"Your problem is you don't have any magic."

"No, this is just a Ford," the author said.

The magician laughed. "Good enough. Let me repay your ride by giving you a little magic. You write by hand or use a typewriter?"

"A ... typewriter, but I don't see how that matters."

"No worries. Take me to it."

And that was how, fifteen minutes later, they were standing in his hotel room, staring at the typewriter on his desk. The paper that he had left in it was getting damp in the muggy air of the room. "Wow, no wonder you tried to head to the circus," the magician said as he looked around. "This is one depressing place. And I thought I had it rough."

"You don't have to be here, you know..."

"Oh, no, don't worry about it. Trust me, you're gonna love this." And then he raised his hands high up in the air, hovering over the typewriter. He stared at it, and then mumbled something that the author couldn't understand. Then, he stabbed downward with his hands, hitting several of the keys at once.

The author looked on in horror as a number of the keybars jammed as they hit the paper at the same time. "Hey! You're going to break it!"

The magician stepped back, raising his hands. "I did what I could. Once you get it unjammed, maybe you'll find yourself a little more productive than you've been. My gift, for the ride."

The author looked sidelong at the magician, and shook his head. "You're crazy. I hope you didn't bust anything." He was already trying to work the keybars loose.

"You're welcome," the magician said, removing his hat again and making a sweeping bow. "Now, if you don't mind, I do have business here. Feel free to come and see the show, if you aren't busy. Farewell!" And then, laughing, he exited the room.

The author, swearing softly under his breath, slowly worked loose the mess the magician had made of the keybars. When he was done, he sat down in front of the typewriter, and pulled out the now-wrinkled sheet and loaded a fresh piece.

"Fingers crossed," the author muttered. And then he pressed the keys, to check for jams.

There were none. The typewriter worked like a dream. And the author, who had only meant to type out a line or two to check whether or not the damn thing still worked, paused and then decided to continue on. After all, there wasn't much else to do, and the circus wasn't until later.

The author wrote on. The circus left town without him ever seeing it.

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