The Writer

The writer was attending the meeting of a third book club for the novel In Jest. They had been kicked out of two prior book clubs for disorderly conduct, i.e. instigating verbal confrontation with group members. It had taken them two weeks of scouring online sources to find this book club, and they had to take the Subway an hour and a half to get there. But- as the reader of this short story may have already surmised- the writer, for one reason or another, was motivated by a personal investment in this work of literature.

The reader may have also surmised that the writer was provoked by a personal vendetta against the writer of In Jest. Perhaps they simply believed their own writing was superior to such a recognized, acclaimed work. Or perhaps they were rival classmates. Or rival lovers. Or rivals in literary competitions. And perhaps the writer was the losing rival, taking their remaining power in hand to wreck havoc on the other writer’s literary fans. For- it must be said- at that time the writer did spend a good proportion of their time trolling fan accounts of In Jest.

But- it must also be said- the writer of In Jest was anonymous. In fact, not even those that helped bring the book to market were aware of the writer’s identity. All that was known of the author was that they had acquired a trustworthy editor, who- free of charge- not only painstakingly edited dozens of drafts, but also undertook the backbreaking tasks of querying, compiling rejection letters, meeting deadlines, generating a social media presence, networking with prominent writers, agents, and publishers, and so on. This editor was the only non-fictional mention in In Jest. Their name could be found in the dedication section, in which the author states that the novel was in collaboration with Jennifer Gonzalez, who- quote: did all the hard work of getting In Jest in shape to publish and market and therefore should be credited as the author of this work.

Speculation on Reddit, Discord, and YouTube was that Gonzalez may be the author. But Gonzalez herself denied this theory in countess interviews, explaining that the author’s presence was as mystifying to her as it was to anyone else. Whether that was a ploy to distance herself from the work, we are not in the position to know. But, what was eventually said- as Gonzalez had become a well-known media presence whose word choice and sentence construction in speeches, Tweets, and even private emails had been carefully scrutinized- was that the writer in question was not Gonzalez.

But- to get back to the moment in question- our writer was quietly sitting in their seat, mumbling internally about the idiotic perspective of the book club members, when the organizer, a chubby middle-aged man with clear round spectacles and a shiny prominent forehead due to intermediate stages of male pattern baldness, had to interject the writer’s silence and ask them pointedly what they thought of the unorthodox introduction of a secondary character in the first paragraph of the novel. 

Angered by the organizer’s nerdy and meek appearance, the writer went off on a diatribe about how the writing was, quote: completely asinine and it was clear that the writer had no idea what the fuck they were doing with that introduction. Many of the book club members leaned back in their seats with wide-eyed expressions at such a vitriolic outburst. But the organizer calmly asked the writer what in particular made the introduction and author so asinine. To this, the writer aggressively responded that they, quote: didn’t have to explain that point as it was painfully conspicuous in the first chapter. The organizer shrugged, but not in a passive manner. The shrug seemed to convey indifference to such a pointless, drama-filled interaction. The writer, deciding they would play the same card, narrowed their eyes and slumped in their chair, allowing the other members to continue on with a pleasant and even-tempered discussion.

*

After the book club discussion ended, the writer went home, disgruntled from the praise and ass-kissing they had just witnessed. To mitigate their temper, they began a short story of the happily-ever-after romance genre. They felt the need to write material that- in their opinion- sucked, as it: 1) decreased others expectations of their skills 2) aligned with their self-deprecating vision of themselves 3) was easy to poke fun of and 4) made them less nervous to write, as they didn’t have to live up to a high standard. But what was coming out was better than they could accept, so they dragged document after document of the burgeoning romance story into the computerized trash bin.

This was the second week in a row where the writer wasn’t able to produce bad writing. So they decided to do what many of their writing inspirations did: drunken their rational capacities. They threw on a jacket and grumbled their way to the neighborhood bar. They sat in their usual spot and engaged in mutual lamentation about the modern state of the world with a crabby old man that was also a regular.

This distressing conversation continued until both the writer and the old man were kicked out into the city streets glimmering with early morning sunlight. The writer could hardly stand, so- without saying farewell to their drinking companion- they stumbled back to their apartment, fumbled with the keys, tripped up the stairs, fumbled again with the keys, entered their apartment, went straight to their desktop computer, and passed out with their head on the keyboard.

*

The next afternoon, the writer woke up to an error message pinging and a Word document jumbled with miscellaneous letters and characters. Their throat was dry, so they gulped down water from the bathroom faucet and brushed yesterday’s bad breath from their mouth. Without caring to address the mess on the computer, they grabbed their keys and leather notebook and left their apartment building for coffee and food at the diner two blocks down.

When they arrived, the writer saw a father and mother with two young children sitting in their favorite booth. They gave an angry glare at the happy family and sat at the corner table to the right. Once they were seated, they opened their leather notebook. But, before they could pick up their pen, a waiter the writer didn’t recognize came for their order. The writer ordered coffee, orange juice, and two scrambled eggs with home fries and no toast. The waiter scribbled in a white notepad and, after giving the writer an intriguing stare, left.

The writer scowled at the waiter’s back, bothered at the necessary intrusion, and then tried to write. But the words were flowing with too much ease, so they growled at their notebook in frustration. The waiter returned with coffee and orange juice and gave that same affected stare. But the writer conveniently ignored the waiter by focusing on their moving hand and the small cursive handwriting it was producing.

The writer continued writing until the waiter came back with their breakfast: scrambled eggs, home fries and toast. The writer gave the plate a menacing stare and glanced up at the waiter.

“I said no toast.”

“Oh yes, I’m sorry. I’ll get a plate to take that away from you.”

“I’ll just put the toast on the tray.”

“Oh, um. Okay.”

They watched as the waiter bent down and fumbled with the empty trey.

“Can I ask you a question?”

“You just did.”

“Are you a published writer?”

“What makes you think that?”

“Oh, I didn’t mean to offend you.”

“No, really, what makes you think that?”

“Well, the notebook.”

“Let’s just say I write.”

“Okay.”

“You can go now.”

“Yes, sorry. I will.”

It gave the writer satisfaction to see the waiter color with humiliation and turn around dejectedly. With that intrusion taken care of, they bent their neck back down to the notebook. But they couldn’t focus. So they quickly ate their food, left a fifty dollar bill on the table, and exited the building with an agitated frown.

On the street corner, the writer lit a Marlboro, turned the collar of their jean jacket up, and walked three blocks to the corner of 3rd Avenue and 86th Street, where they ground out the remains of their cigarette, threw it into the trash bin, and then walked two storefronts down to their local bookstore.

As they opened the door, the smell of paper, ink, and sweet musk hit their nose. Feeling comforted by the familiar aroma, they smiled as they walked to the table of staff picks. In the center was the beige and black cover of In Jest, the large curved letters of the title abrasive and overwhelming. The writer narrowed their eyes and picked up the top copy. But their focus was quickly interrupted.

“It’s an interesting book. I’ve never read anything like it.”

The woman to the writer’s right, petite and pretty, had turned her upper torso towards them.

“Do you like quirky characters?”

“You seem nice and all, but I’ve been intruded upon enough today.”

“Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to disturb your afternoon.”

The woman turned back to the thick, blue book in her hand. Intrigued by her non-pulsed response, the writer decided they would engage in some book talk with the woman.

“So you liked the characters?”

“Yeah. Yeah I did. They were strange, but not so strange that it was beyond belief.”

“Oh. Well, I was looking for something along those lines.”

“The writer is completely anonymous as well. No one knows who they are.”

“That’s cool.”

“And cool for them. They don’t have to deal with fame.”

“I agree with you on that.”

The woman gave the writer an assuming glance.

“You really haven’t read the book before?”

“Why do you ask that?”

“I don’t know. I get this feeling that you are familiar with the book.”

“A feeling?”

“Yeah. Just the way you picked it up. And the smug glance on your face when you had it in your hands.”

“Smug?”

“A bit.”

“Your expression is a bit smug as well.”

“Is it?”

“It is.”

The woman gave the writer a deep stare, looked down at her phone, and claimed that she was late to meet a friend. From a sideways glance, the writer watched as she purchased the thick, blue book and exited the store. Once she left, the writer walked to the counter with three copies of In Jest.

“Is this all you have in stock?”

“Yes. It’s been selling well. We can order some more for you if you’d like.”

“No, thank you. Three is plenty.”

“Okay. That will be fifty-two dollars and fifty-two cents.”

“Come again?”

“Fifty-two dollars and fifty-two cents.”

The writer sighed and handed the woman two fifty dollar bills. Before she could open the cash register, they picked up the three books and made their way to the exit.

“Excuse me. Your change!”

“Keep it.”

The writer let the door slam behind them and then fast walked to the nearest post office. They grouchily waited in the long line, shipped the three copies of In Jest  to three separate addresses, and then wandered aimlessly around the neighborhood before returning to their apartment and writing dribble onto a Word document before spending another night asleep at the computer.

***

A week later, the writer was at a second meeting of the third book club. Suffering from a terrible hangover, they pushed the round part of their baseball cap downwards, shading their sensitive eyes from the imposing fluorescent light, and passively listened to a red-haired woman and a man with brown hair discuss the relationship between the two major characters that starts at page 107 of In Jest.

“A record shop is a trite and overdone meeting place for quirky characters,” the red-haired woman said.

“I mean, maybe before two thousand and ten,” said the man with brown hair.

“Yeah. Everyone is online dating nowadays,” said the man to the writer’s left.

“True. Even I just started online dating,” said a well-dressed elderly woman.

The writer nearly fell asleep as they listened to the group members discuss the literary merits of In Jest, but they were quickly disturbed by the organizer’s meek voice.

“Excuse me, I forget your name.”

“Rory,” the writer said as they lifted their hat above their eyes.

“I thought it was Casey?” the well-dressed elderly woman interrogated.

“No, Rory.”

“Well, Rory, what is your take on Lucia and Calvin’s meeting?”

“My take?”

“Yes. What do you think about it?”

“It’s a meeting between two people.”

“Just a meeting?”

“Yes. Just a meeting.”

“Do you think the author meant anything by it?”

The writer couldn’t help but laugh.

“Well, do you think the meeting place was emphasized for a reason?”

“It was emphasized?”

“Many of us seem to think so.”

“Maybe it’s simply the type of place the author meets people?”

“Can you elaborate on that?”

“What is so interesting about this meeting?”

“Well, it’s interesting because people don’t meet in record stores anymore,” said the man with brown hair.

“Yeah. It’s very 90’s. Like High Fidelity,” said a hipster with white round glasses that took up half her face.

“That came out in the year 2000,” said the man with brown hair.

“Whatever. Close enough,” said the hipster with white round glasses that took up half her face.

“I mean, forget about record stores Are CD stores still around? And do people go to them?” asked a young man in casual business attire.

“I do,” said the hipster with white round glasses that took up half her face.

“Well,” said the organizer, “that brings up a good question. The time the novel takes place in isn’t specified. When do you think it takes place?”

“Well, the only mention that might place it before modern times would be the record store,” said the red-haired woman.

“There isn’t any mention of cell phones or laptops,” added the young man in casual business attire.

“True,” said the hipster with white round glasses that took up half her face.

“Maybe the author doesn’t care much for technology,” said the man in all black in the left corner.

“Maybe they are old like me,” said the well dressed elderly lady. “When I write, I never include cell phones or laptops.”

“Maybe you all are obsessing too much over the writer,” said the writer.

“Maybe, but that’s called for when they leave themselves completely unknown,”

said the red-haired woman.

“Yes, I agree. Absence and anonymity is noticeable,” said the man with brown hair.

“Yeah, if they didn’t want to be so analyzed they should have just exposed who they were,” said the young man in causal business attire.

“It sure seems that way,” said the writer.

*

The writer left the book club meeting depressed at the state of literary interpretation they had just witnessed. Figuring that going to a bar to drink and write out their hangover would be in their best interest, they wandered a few blocks down until they found an old-fashioned and relatively vacant pub. They sat down at the leftmost corner of the bar, called out for the bartender, and ordered a bourbon on the rocks. The bourbon came, and then another, and another, all the while the writer was peacefully writing in the corner.

But as the bar filled up, the writer’s concentration began to feign. They scowled at the noise around them, placed their lips to an empty glass, and then grabbed the bartender’s attention. When the bartender returned, they asked what the writer was working on. The writer scowled in protest and drank a sip of their bourbon in response.

“You don’t like talking about your work I take it.”

“No, not at all.”

“I respect that. I respect privacy.”

“Thank you. I appreciate that.”

The bartender gave the writer a smile and turned to a customer calling for their attention.

“They write as well,” the woman at the writer’s left said once the bartender was at the opposite end of the bar.

“Oh really. Nice for them.”

“What genre do you write?”

“I really don’t talk about my work.”

“So you are really private.”

“I try to be.”

“I’m an English teacher.”

“Great for you.”

“Not so much. It’s a thankless profession in this country.”

“Aren’t most professions thankless in this country.”

The woman chuckled and held out her glass for a cheers, but the writer moved their eyes away and disengaged from the conversation. The woman huffed, called the bartender back, asked for another drink, and then said, “I told them that you write.” The writer sighed, knowing more questions would ensue.

“So you really won’t tell me about your work?” the bartender asked.

“I’d prefer not to.”

“Do you not share your work with anyone?”

“No.”

“So money and getting published isn’t what you’re looking for?”

The writer shrugged.

“I write science fiction. I’ve been querying agents, but I haven’t gotten any responses yet. I’m considering self-publishing.”

“Do you know how to market your work?”

“Um, no.”

“Well good luck to you.”

“It’s that hard?”

“Harder than hard.”

“How so?”

“Let’s put it this way: would you buy a shoe from someone with no name recognition or connections to name brand shoe stores?”

“Well, I take it you’ve tried that route.”

“Nope.”

“Then how do you know?”

“I know a bit about the industry.”

“Well, if you could help me out, that would be great.”

“I’ll think about it.”

The bartender gave a customary smile- not like their prior one- and attended to customers waiting for their drinks.

The writer spent the rest of the night drinking to oblivion and pretending to write. Early in the morning, they were woken up by the bartender. Frazzled, they let himself be lead out of the empty bar. Once outside, they turned around and banged on the locked door. The bartender gave a frustrated sigh and opened the door.

“You forget something?”

“No,” the writer said as they stumbled backwards and searched in their wallet.

“Look, I have to get going,” the bartender called out impatiently.

“Wait. It’s here.”

Just as a big figure was approaching the door, the writer pulled out the right card and placed it in the bartender’s hand.

“This is for you.”

“Oh, thank you.”

“I’m not that much of an asshole.”

The writer turned around and began wandering down the sidewalk in zigzags with their hand thrown out for a taxi. Once they managed to flag one down, they quickly jumped in, gave the driver their address, and passed out again.

*

The next morning, the writer woke up on their couch. They clutched their head in agony and stumbled to the kitchen counter for some Ibuprofen. They swallowed two down without water and then rummaged around for their notebook and keys. Their keys were in their pocket, but the notebook was missing. In a panic, they searched online for bars in the vicinity of the book club. They compiled a list and called each one, but none were open. They punched the coffee table in anger and ran out the door, hoping to find solace in the local diner.

The writer walked the two blocks in an agitated state, purposely puffing cigarette smoke in the direction of passing pedestrians. When they arrived at the diner, they ground the cigarette out in front of the entrance and then pushed the door open, letting it close with a bang. They walked to their favorite corner booth and waited, gripping the menu tightly and breathing heavily.

“No notebook today,” the writer’s favorite waiter said.

“I don’t want to speak about it.”

“Then lets speak about breakfast. The usual?”

“The usual. No toast.”

“I know. I’ll take that.”

The writer handed the waiter the menu. With no notebook, the writer had to find another task to occupy themselves while they waited. So they grabbed the salt and pepper shakers and turned them in circles until their coffee was pored. But instead of drinking the coffee, they absentmindedly twirled the liquid with a spoon until their food came. They quickly ate the eggs and home fries, drank their coffee and orange juice, and then sat back in agony, unsure of what to do with themselves.

The writer glanced at their watch. It was noon. They decided to take the Subway uptown and proactively search for the pub. So they placed a fifty dollar bill on the table, left without being noticed, and sped walked to the R line. As they descended underground, they could hear the pinging signal announcing that the train doors were about to close. They ran, forced the sliding doors open, and then stood by the entrance until they transferred trains at 36th street.

On the Q train, the writer sat at the end of an empty row and engaged in one of their favorite pastimes: people watching and judging. As the Subway made it’s way towards Manhattan, more and more commuters arrived in suits and smug faces. One of these smug individuals happened to take position in front of the writer at the last stop in Brooklyn. They were standing broadly, one hand gripping the poll, the other holding a copy of In Jest opened around the half-way mark.

“The biggest nitwit yet,” the writer mumbled.

The man to the writer’s left glanced away from their phone, gave an annoyed stare, and went back to their screen. The writer maintained their focus on the In Jest reader until the reader disembarked at 42nd street. Once the Subway filled back with passengers, the writer set their eyes on a small, hunchbacked elderly lady with many bags. She stayed standing for one long express stop until the woman at her right (with a child and stroller in tow) gave up her spot. The remaining passengers, each less encumbered than the lady with children, stayed glued to their phones, electronics, or- in a few cases- books.

The writer rode the Subway to the last top, stepped into the metallic station at 96th street, and took the imposing escalators above ground. They pushed through the afternoon crowds towards the building where the book club was held. From there, they attempted to retrace their steps without success. Reluctantly, they consulted their list and used Google Maps to guide them to the first location. The building’s brick facade was similar to the pub from last night, but inside they noticed a jukebox and pool table. So the writer routed their way to the second location. This building had a bright mural painted on it. So the writer let Google guide them to the third location. They peeked into the corner window and whispered: “third times a charm.”

It was only 1:30pm, and the pub wouldn’t open until 5:00, so the writer had a few hours to wait. They wandered around the area, found a quaint bookstore, purchased another leather notebook and two extra copies of In Jest, and then aimlessly walked the sidewalks until they came across an inviting cafe. They entered through the double doors, ordered an eggplant panini and espresso, and sat down at the only empty table. They attempted to write in their new notebook, but ended up stalking Twitter and Reddit threads on In Jest.

At 4:00, the writer left the cafe and headed to the pub, hoping to catch the workers before their shift. They peered into the glass, but the bar was empty. So they stood by the door, lit a Marlboro, and waited. As the cigarette burned, they awkwardly pulled the recently purchased notebook out of the plastic bag, sat down on the narrow ledge in front of the pub’s entrance, and rummaged around for the pen they took from the cafe. They transferred the cigarette to their right hand and began to write. It took three cigarettes (the last unfinished) and a page and a half of writing until the writer was disturbed by a man questioning their presence at the door. As the writer looked up, the man’s face above them softened.  

“Oh, it’s you.”

“Yes, I left…”

“I know, I figured you would be back. It’s inside.”

“Oh, thank you.”

“No problem. Here, let me open the door.”

The writer placed their pen and notebook back into the plastic bag, stood up, stepped to the left, and watched as the bartender took a dangling key chain out of their jacket pocket and quickly turned the three bolts that secured the heavy double doors.  

“The owner gave you access to the keys?”

“Yes. I’m also the manager.”

“How long have you been working here?”

“Forever.”

The writer nodded their head and followed the bartender inside.

“You mind putting that cigarette out?” the bartender asked as they turned on the lights. “My boss might come by today.”

“Oh yeah.”

The writer stepped outside, twisted the dwindling cigarette out with their left foot, kicked the remains to the edge of the entrance, and then reentered the pub.

“Here’s your notebook.”

“Thank you.” The writer grabbed the notebook out of the bartender’s hand and began searching the pages.

“You don’t have to worry. I didn’t even glance at it.”

“Did anyone else?”

“Really?”

“Did anyone else?”

“No.”

“Okay.”

“Why are you so private?”

“That’s a question I don’t want to answer.”

“Okay. I’ll respect that.”

“Thank you.”

“Hey, let me get the chairs down and everything set up and I’ll get you a drink.”

“I’ll help.”

The writer helped the bartender lower the chairs from the tables and arrange the bar stools. They were then instructed to sit, drink, and wait while the bartender finished setting up. The writer sat and sipped at their bourbon silently, considering the possibility that their writing had been scrutinized. They didn’t have much space to consider that possibility however.

“I was going to call you. But I didn’t know if you gave me your card in jest.”

“What did you just say?”

“Oh, you gave me your…”

“No, I think I remember that. Never mind.”

“What did you say your name was?”

“Um, Casey.”

“It was strange that you didn’t have your name on the card. It just said The Writer.”

“Well, yeah. That’s what I am.”

“It’s just strange…”

“Well, I’m…”

“Wait, I’ll be back.”

The writer downed their bourbon as three women entered the pub. While the bartender was occupied, the writer left a fifty by the cash register and quickly left. They stopped at Charles Schwab ATM to refill their wallet with fifties and then descended back into the Subway, where they spent the ride and the rest of the evening conjuring up scenarios of their work being read, ridiculed and- even worse- their identity being exposed from a simple drunken mistake.

***

A week later, the writer was back uptown. They were patiently waiting for the book club meeting to start when a woman rushed in, red cheeks flushed, and sat in the nearest empty seat from the door. The writer scoffed at her tardiness and the fact that her tardiness made her flustered. But their attention was soon refocused on the organizer.

“How did everyone find the third part of the book?”

“I found it hard to follow,” the man who was in casual business attire last meeting said.

“I agree. So many new characters were introduced,” said the red-haired woman.

“I was taken aback by the introduction of another love story,” said the hipster with glasses that took up half of her face.

“I thought that was cute,” said the man who- at the last meeting- was at the writers left.

“But what did it have to add to the story?” questioned the man with brown hair.

“I think it added to the chaotic structure of the story. That’s what I liked about the book. It doesn’t follow a traditional narrative,” said the woman who had rushed in with flushed cheeks.

The writer scoffed at the woman again. However, this time their scoff was audible enough to have brought attention upon themselves. They glanced up at the woman and noticed a surprised and quizzical look on her face.

“Well, Casey,” the organizer said.

“Didn’t you say it was Rory last time?” the red-haired woman questioned.

“I thought it was Casey as well. But you said it was Rory,” answered the well-dressed old woman.

“It’s Casey,” the writer said with conviction.

“I might be loosing my memory,” the well-dressed old woman replied with a horrified gasp.

“No, no. For some reason we all seem to be confused,” assured the man who- at the last meeting- was at the writers left.

“Well, Casey,” the organizer continued, “it seemed that you wanted to say something about the new romance in the third part of the book.”

“Yeah. It was out of place and bogus.”

“Out of place and bogus?”

“Yes. Completely so. I don’t think the author knew what they were doing. It’s like they just scribbled words on a few hundred pages and somehow found a way to get it published.”

“I would give it more praise than that.”

“You must have something against this book,” said the woman who had rushed in with flushed cheeks.   

“What makes you say that?” asked the writer.

“I saw you the other day in the bookstore. Remember?”

The writer studied the woman whose cheeks were no longer flushed. She looked vaguely familiar, but they decided to play dumb.

“I frequent many bookstores,” the writer said.

“The one on 86th and 3th in Bay Ridge?”

“I have been to Bay Ridge before, so that is possible.”

“Well,” the organizer interrupted, “let’s continue discussing the book.”

Keeping their face stoic, the writer surveyed their surroundings, looking for an escape route. But their placement at the back center of the room was far away from the door and any movement they made would be highlighted as the seat in front of them was left unoccupied. So they remained seated, stewing in their anxious thoughts until the book club came to an end. As they were speed walking to the exit, the woman who had rushed in with red cheeks, and who they had met a few weeks prior at their local bookstore, accosted them with a coy smile.

“So, Casey is it?”

“Yes.”

“Annabelle. Are you free? Let’s get a drink.”

The writer had never built the fortitude to say no to a drink, so they repeated a meek yes and followed her out the building. Annabelle, who proved to be an avid talker, lamented about her day job as they walked on busy sidewalks. The writer- distressed and occupied- responded with one or two words. It wasn’t until Annabelle opened the door to a pub, and they peeked inside, that the writer remembered where they were.

“Oh, let’s not go here.”

“Why?”

“Just, let’s go somewhere else.”

“Do you have something in mind?”

“Uh, yes. Let me just get directions. It’s around here somewhere.”

The writer conveniently steered Annabelle away from the pub’s entrance as they pulled up Google Maps and clicked on the bar icon. They chose the second option and navigated the busy sidewalks in silence. When they arrived at the location, which happened to be the bar with the pool table and vintage jukebox, Annabelle and the writer ordered drinks and sat down at an empty table. After a minute of silent drinking, Annabelle began tapping her fingers, visibly uncomfortable by the writer’s quiet demeanor.

“You don’t speak much.”

“No, I prefer to keep my words to myself.”

“Well, we should do something then. We could play pool?”

“Good idea.”

They walked back to the bar, where Annabelle asked for pool balls. They were given the pool set for free, as the writer had paid for the drinks with a fifty dollar bill. Annabelle thanked the bartender and quickly made her way to the empty pool table.

“This is why I prefer going out on non-weeknights.”

“I’m with you on that.”

“You must not have a regular job.”

“What makes you say that?” The writer began to organize the balls inside the wooden triangle.

“Well, you were at a bookstore on a Wednesday during a typical work hour.”

“Maybe I was on a break.” The writer grabbed a pool stick and rubbed the leather end against the blue chalk.

“You first.”

“No, you. I insist,” the writer replied while removing the wooden triangle.

Annabelle didn’t protest. She deftly positioned herself at the head rail and broke the triangular formation with a loud smack. The solid yellow ball slid into the pocket at the left corner of the foot rail.

“Solids,” she called.

“So, you’re good at pool.”

“Maybe.”

Annabelle hit another ball- the solid green ball- in the right side pocket but narrowly missed hitting the solid maroon ball in the pocket at the left corner of the head rail. The writer- on their turn- hit the cue ball towards the striped purple ball, but it bounced off the left side rail cushion and rolled until it stopped by the solid blue ball.

“And you aren’t.”

“Maybe.”

Annabelle took position at the left side rail and hit the cue ball so that the solid orange ball slid into the pocket at the right corner of the head rail. And she subsequently hit the solid maroon ball into the pocket at the left corner of the head rail. She missed at her next shot however.

“Two shots and you only have three balls left on the table.”

“Four. You should count the eight ball.”

The writer nodded and positioned themselves for their next shot. They sunk the striped green ball in the right side pocket. On their second shot, they missed sinking the striped maroon ball into the pocket in the right corner of the foot rail by a small margin.

“Close,” Annabelle said.

“Not close enough.”

The writer watched as Annabelle- in stern concentration- positioned herself for the next shot. She attempted a jump shot, nudged the solid red ball forward, but missed the left side pocket by half an inch. On their turn, the writer sunk the striped yellow ball in the left side pocket, but scratched the cue ball during their second shot. With a smile, Annabelle placed the cue ball on the table, and hit the solid red ball into the pocket at the left corner of the foot rail. Subsequently, she pocketed the solid blue ball into the left side pocket. Then she used angles to try to hit the solid purple ball- the last of the solids- into the pocket at the right corner of the head rail, but missed. The writer tried for the striped blue ball, and made a lucky shot in the left side pocket. They then tried to pocket the striped orange ball, but missed. In the shot- however- they ended up placing the last solid ball in a tough configuration with the 8-Ball and cue ball. Annabelle groaned, but proudly attempted another angled shot. The result was that she mistakenly pocketed the 8-Ball. This caused her to flail her arms in the air and scream in frustration.

“Well, look at that. I win, even with five balls still on the table.”

“You set me up on that last shot.”

“Yeah. Maybe I was playing you all along.”

“Maybe.”

“Maybe.”

“But I doubt it,” she said with a wink.

“I think we have the table for an hour. You want to play another game?”

“I think I’ll take my losses. But we can keep the balls and play another game later.”

“Sure.”

“You want another drink?”

The writer watched Annabelle down the last of her whiskey. They did the same.

“Sure.”

The writer followed Annabelle to the bar, pool balls in hand, where they both ordered refills. When the bartender returned, Annabelle handed him her card and asked to keep the tab open.

“My treat.”

“Thank you.”

“So, what is it that you do?”

“You answer first.”

“I do many things. I freelance edit, I teach music lessons (to babies and toddlers, I’m not that talented), I nanny in the evenings, I TaskRabbit. You know, many things.”

“Sounds interesting. Keeps you busy.”

“So, your turn.”

“My turn?”

“Don’t pretend you don’t know what I’m referring to.”

“Work?”

“Yes, work.”

The writer refused to answer.

“You must do something.”

“I’m gainfully employed, I’ll say that.”

“Fuck, you really won’t tell me?”

“I can’t.”

“You can’t or you won’t?”

“A bit of both.”

She eyed him suspiciously.

“I can’t see you as a spy. You seem too idle for that.”

“What makes you think that spies aren’t idle?”

“I mean, maybe they would put up an idle front. But I don’t think most spies would devote a lot of time to literature. They are too busy for that. Unless there was some ulterior motive. Maybe the author of In Jest is also a spy. That’s why they are completely anonymous. And that’s why you are so invested in the book.”

“Now that’s a speculation.”

“But if you are a spy, you’re a terrible one.”

“Why do you say that?”

“You can’t even get a fake name straight.”

“Well, maybe being non-spy like is my ploy.”

“Like being bad at pool is your ploy.”

“You are finally catching on.”

Annabelle gave a sharp laugh and pushed herself off the stool. The writer watched as she walked to the vintage jukebox and arrowed her way through the catalog. She fumbled in her bag and placed some coins into the slot. After pressing a button, she gave an elaborate spin, her left arm raised straight over her head, whiskey glass in hand, and sauntered over to the bar as a jazzy melody played from the jukebox.

“You’re going to dance with me.”

“Sinatra?”

They can’t take that away from me.” She pulled the writer to the small strip of floor between the pool table and bar and began to dance. The writer leaned back and watched Annabelle twirled and swung to the music.

“You aren’t going to dance?”

“I don’t dance.”

Annabelle shrugged and continued dancing, unconcerned with the amused stares from the few other people at the bar. The writer remained still, leaning against the pool table, as a middle-aged drunk woman staggered next to Annabelle, grabbed her hands, and danced with her. The writer smiled, knowing that this would be their best chance to escape the bar. They leaned forward off the table and walked out. As they made their way towards the Subway station, the writer took their Marbaloro pack out from the inside pocket of their jacket. They pulled out a cigarette, put it to their lips, took a lighter out of the opposite pocket, lit the cigarette, took a puff, and placed the lighter and cigarette pack back inside their jacket pockets.

At the entrance of the Subway station, they quickly twisted the cigarette out and ran down the littered stairs deep into the underground station, where they felt safe and anonymous.

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