by Aidan Ryan
My pulse quickened as I sat staring dumbly at the screen of my laptop. My elbows rested on the table, and my fingers kneaded deep into my temples, back and forth. My eye twitched. The café was warm and comfortable, but my body was tense and my hairs stood on end. A couple walked in the front door, ringing that little bell that sat atop the frame. I looked up. Damn it, I thought, I was letting myself get distracted, avoiding what had to be done. My hand trembling, I took a sip of my steaming cappuccino, letting the scalding hot liquid run down my throat, feeling its warmth spread throughout my body. Now I was bolstered, ready.
There it was, in the upper left hand corner of the screen. A colorful icon saying “1 New Message” blinked repeatedly. I knew what it was. I had been praying all week for a response. On Tuesday I practically gave myself a heart attack thinking that I might have gotten my first acceptance letter, only to find a message entitled “Viagra, Fr33 Trial”. Now it was Friday night, and I was sitting in my favorite local café, trying to work up the courage to open my email. Hastily making the sign of the Cross, I prayed a quick Hail Mary and cracked my knuckles. I hadn’t been a very religious person growing up, but now I found myself praying more and more often. I didn’t pray for world peace or an end to hunger or anything like that. I just prayed that I would get accepted, that I would finally achieve my dream.
All of this had started three years ago, when I was a happy, confident college student, just starting out my foray into higher education, with nothing more than a dream to become a fabulously wealthy author. I wrote my first novel in a matter of months. After a quick edit and a few minor revisions, I sent it off to a handful of agents, not doubting that I would be contacted within a few weeks and see my name in print before that time next year.
Now I gritted my teeth in anger thinking back to that time. How stupid I had been, how foolish and naïve. I hadn’t even let anyone else see it before I thoughtlessly sent it away. How many agents now had me blacklisted after having read that pathetic attempt?
Of course, I was young and proud and a few silly rejections couldn’t get me down. While I started work on my second novel, sure to be even better than the first, I also began to write poetry, short stories, essays, anything that would get me those much sought after publication credits, those Holy Grails that would give me the credibility I needed to land an agent. I started at the top, querying the biggest magazines and journals in the business. As the rejections came pouring in, I continued undaunted. For every one rejection I queried two new publications, and I carried on in this manner for another year. I soon came to realize that rejection was just part of the game. Perhaps the magazine had already received a piece like mine that month, or perhaps the editors were just stupid, and couldn’t tell a good piece of literature if it smacked them thrice and handed them to their mommies. Either way, it didn’t matter. I had the will power to keep on grinding.
What I didn’t count on, though, was the gradual pain, the slow process of chipping away at my resolve. Like ants at a picnic, I didn’t notice the effect each new rejection letter had, until one day I woke up and my foot-long sub, fresh grapes and chocolate cake had all been carried away.
I was left barren and desolate. I looked inside myself, and I saw nothing more than a vast field of tall, dead, brown grass, with the occasional corpse of a tree poking up, its bare branches broken and as white as bone. I had spent more than two years of my life trying to get my foot in a door that had never been open in the first place.
I kept writing, though less frequently, and I kept querying, if only out of habit. I didn’t feel much hope, perhaps because I thought that if I didn’t have hope, then I couldn’t be hurt by rejection. Still, there was some spark of humanity left in me. This fear, it was the only sign that I still was a writer, that I still had a soul. I tried to block it out, but I just couldn’t help the trepidation I felt when expecting a new response. I was like an abused dog, whimpering at the sound of its cruel master’s voice.
But no, damnit, I was doing it again, just putting off the inevitable. If I was going to be rejected yet again, I might as well get it over with. Like a band-aid.
Overpowering my subconscious, I forced my hand to move, quickly, and in a jerky motion, like Juliet’s knife descending into her own heart. I clicked. Sure enough, there was the letter:
Dear Sir or Madam,
Having read your submission, we must unfortunately pass on your work, as it does not quite fit in our publication. Thank you for sharing, and best of luck placing your piece elsewhere.
I bit my tongue and slammed my clenched fist down on the table, rattling the cups and plates and drawing the startled stares of everyone else in the café. I looked up, my eyes darting between them all. How dare they look at me, surprised, maybe even scared, like I’m some kind of crazy? What did they know? Could they possibly know how it felt, to have your beaten and battered hopes raised little by little, only to have them come crashing down at your feet, again and again, for three years of your life? Three years, and nothing but disappointment. They could all go rot in hell.
Slamming my laptop closed, I stood up, threw my old, worn out coat over my shoulders and left, leaving behind an empty coffee cup, an overturned chair, and a roomful of bewildered onlookers.
Outside I walked hunched over, hands in my pockets and my arms drawn in to my sides, not really sure where I was going. My beat up shoes, the same ones I had been wearing for the past three years scuffed the pavement, and snow fell into my eyes, but I didn’t care. I forced myself to ask those questions that I had been avoiding all these years.. Could I keep on living like this? Not holding down any job because I spent all my time writing and staring at my computer, willing it to tell me something I knew wasn’t true? Living out of my car in between rotten apartments, no girlfriend, little contact with my family, and no future, save for that romanticized image of fame and fortune that I still cherished, somewhere in my head? Was it time for me to just give up, get a real job and settle down?
I unconsciously turned into a liquor store and bought myself a cheap forty, slamming the money down on the counter and walking out with a scowl on my face. To those who had the misfortune see me that night, I probably looked like a mad demon, something not of this world.
The fog had rolled in from the harbor, and the already dark night was enshrouded in an ethereal mist, limiting vision in all directions. I didn’t notice though. My eyes were cast downward, and I only broke my gaze towards the ground to violently swig from my bottle.
My feet only stopped moving when I had reached the end of the pier, the longest one in the harbor. Why did I come here? I hadn’t even noticed. Perhaps I had been drawn by the moon, that giant glowing orb overlooking the bay. Swaying back and forth I threw open my arms and raised my head to the night sky. I gasped for breath, and my lungs filled with the wet fog. “Why God, why?” I yelled, “This is all I’ve ever asked you for. Why can’t I have it?” I was screaming now, and I swore at the top of my lungs. The noise echoed out across the bay, but my anger didn’t disturb the vast, calm waters. My voice was sucked into the void, insignificant, inconsequential.
Somehow, many hours later, I found my way to my apartment. Stumbling up the stairs I made it to my room and staggered inside, leaving the door slightly ajar behind me. Shivering despite the fact that I was now out of the cold, I collapsed into a chair at my kitchen table, or rather the table that sat near my stove. I couldn’t rightly call it a kitchen. My head lay in a pile of unopened mail. Realizing this, I snickered in disgust, finding some strange and cynical humor in this. Gripped by this madness I seize the letters, one by one. Bills, bills, bills, and campaign ads. What a waste of paper.
Then something caught my eye. A plain white letter, addressed from New York , and without all the trappings that usually accompany business mail. I groaned in despair, thinking that the gods had discovered some new way to torture me, but ripped it open nonetheless. It was a simple letter:
Well, at least they had confirmed my gender this time.
We apologize for the delay in contacting you. Your query was lost by an unscrupulous intern for some many months. Having personally read you novel numerous times and also given it to friends and colleagues to examine, I must say that I was pleasantly surprised. Your writing shows promise. However,
Oh here it was! Next would be the “Unfortunately”, every goddamn letter said “Unfortunately”. They would butter you up and then drop you down an elevator shaft, every single time.
some revisions are needed. This is something we can work on together, though, if you choose to accept representation from our firm. Please take some time to consider this offer.
My heart had stopped.
Was this a joke? Could this be real? I read the letter seven times over, scrutinizing it for some sign that would give it off as false, willing my heart to stay cold and dead. I couldn’t stop it though, warmth suffused my body, and my mind was slowly released from its drunken stupor. My eyes saw more clearly and my limbs filled with energy. Not being able to contain myself anymore I leapt for joy, knocking my chair down in the process. I danced an awkward jig around the table and frantically searched my cupboards for wine. I found it funny, in retrospect, that I both drowned my grief and celebrated my delight with alcohol.
I threw open my window, letting in the chilling air and screamed thanks to God, my family, myself at the top of my lungs, I screamed for joy, I screamed random words and phrases that now I cannot remember, I screamed everything that came into my head until I could scream no more. My voice abandoning me, my knees buckled and I sank to the floor, crying for joy and falling into a deep, satisfied sleep.
Aidan Ryan has been published in Tangent and Grey Sparrow Journal. More information can be found here at www.aidanryan.com