by Francis Scudellari
The elevated train rushed past Jacob’s window; a periodic and brief mobile earthquake sending tremors through his room. Marking another unproductive twenty minutes gone by, the card table trembled, rattled and coughed beneath the empty bottle of gin and the butt-lipped ashtray. As he had all day, Jacob sat unmoved.
He stared at the blank sheet of paper facing out from the antique typewriter -- his prized find from the local thrift shop. The white leaf was a tabula as rasa as his stubbornly uncooperative mind. Its predecessors, filled with varying degrees of gibberish, lay crumpled at his feet.
A jazz standard favorite, “I’m Old Fashioned,” drifted from the stereo speakers. John Coltrane’s tenor sax crooned softly, painting the room with its blue mood. Despite a track record for becalming his scattered mind, in this current spasmodic fit of blocked writing the music had lost its power to soothe.
Jacob’s fingers hesitated over the keys, unsure which to stroke and in what order. The slender pink digits reached timidly toward the neatly ordered black tiles and stopped. They yearned to caress the smooth square surfaces. They longed to confidently jab at the raised-letter targets and engender the staccato rhythm of creativity. But each time they neared their goal, they were abruptly called back by Jacob’s misguided thoughts.
Half-formed ideas jostled his mind. Opening lines became unctuous demons that taunted and tested him. Like dancing wraiths and piping shadows, they lured him to their lair. As writhing specters, they defied him to clasp their oily hides and wrestle. Vague and vaporous shades, they tempted him to vainly clutch at their gaseous shapes.
Trying to capture some meaning, Jacob fought with the slippery and misshapen demi-phrases. His eyes squeezed shut, with gritted teeth, he figuratively jumped at them. He grasped them only for a moment, and then they dependably broke free from his embrace. His hands were always left groping at the barren air.
The paraded words would not come except costumed in well-worn clichés. Jacob’s mouth fidgeted. His lips sputtered as he tried to sound out a potential starter sentence. “‘The night always scared him.’ No. ‘The rain lashed against the glass.’ Come on. ‘Virgil hated life.’ No. Fuck, no. Dear God, just give me one damned line. I’ll take it from there.”
Jacob waited. His pained eyes turned heavenward. His pliant arms dangled helpless at his side. He pined patiently for the divine muse he'd so long imagined to possess him. He offered himself up to her. He willed her to direct his hands as she saw fit, but she didn't come.
He could see her there, in his mind's eye. Hovering above his head, she smiled. She laughed coyly. She teased him: “Not today, Jacob, but soon. When I choose. Not when you demand it.” Her fiery mantle faded. Her glowing eyes darkened, and then she disappeared.
Jacob ripped yet another stillborn opus from the machine. Cursing, blaming and despising his vision, he crushed the loosed paper into a ball and threw it at the ceiling. The unstained wad bounced off the gleaming white surface. It fell to the floor welcomed by its brothers.
Jacob took a long drag from a fresh tarring cigarette. He breathed deeply the thick black, calming smoke and leaned back in the metal chair. Studying the poster-sized, bulging cheeks of Dizzy Gillespie, he hoped his hero's bent horn might blow him some answers by morning.