A Blank Page

published in the anthology "Insights"

The crowd was sparse, like always – just a very few loyal souls sitting in the worn, creaking wooden chairs around stained and overused tables in hideous pastel shades of pink, blue and green. Most of the weary customers had a cup of coffee in chipped cups sitting on saucers that didn’t match in front of them. The air held a fog of cigarette smoke that gathered together from what seemed like a million individual butts sitting in ashtrays. It was a typical Friday in the coffeehouse and atypical show for Roselyn.

She picked up her guitar and slipped into the tattered strap with its brown and black embroidered pattern, shaking her head to one side and then to the other to keep her long straight dirty-blonde hair free from the confines of the strap. She looked out into the audience from behind the blotchy velvet curtain.

"Don’t sweat it,” said Kevin. “You know all the great artists started out playing shows like this.” He smiled his typical wide-lipped smile under eternally happy brown eyes. Roselyn kissed him on the cheek and brushed his shoulder gently with her thin hand, feeling the soft fabric of his denim shirt as she went out onto the small stage. Immediately the loyal followers clapped and cheered. Some even stood up. Roselyn smiled and held up her hand to try to quiet them. She quickly turned on her guitar and stepped up to the microphone. She felt the warmth of the shoddy spotlight enclose her and energize her. She stood up a little straighter, a short, thin, almost waif-like being in tattered blue jeans and a pale blue tank top, glowing slightly in the light. She strummed her guitar and started to sing.

The first note was crucial. Roselyn could always tell how a show was going to go by how that first note came out of her mouth. Luckily, this one was a good one. The music flowed out of her with now effort at all as if her soul had taken control of her vocal chords and hands. The show ended up being one of the best she had ever played.

After bowing and waving, Roselyn padded down the steps out into the audience and to a back table where Kevin was sitting. He had a cup of café mocha waiting for her, as always. She smiled and grasped the warm cup in both hands, bringing it up to her nose and inhaling the hot aroma before sitting down. A few fans approached her and made the usual chit chat that never seemed to get old.

When they finally left and the last few people cleared out of the coffeehouse, Roselyn sat with Kevin smoking and drinking coffee. A busboy went up to the glass door and turned around the hanging cardboard sign with the bright red letters, indicating the coffeehouse was closed.

“Good show tonight,” Kevin said, finally breaking the silence between them.

“I know,” Roselyn said blowing smoke out of the side of her mouth. “But all my material’s getting kinda old.”

“So write something new.”

“It’s not always that easy,” Roselyn said squashing her cigarette into the pale blue ashtray and giving her signature wide, almost evil-looking grin.

“I better get going,” she said, getting up and putting on her brown suede coat.

“You look like you need to talk about something.” Kevin always knew – could always read her. Ever since they had first met in college, he had been the one shouldn’t lie to and couldn’t hide from.

“Not yet,” she said pecking him on the cheek and picking up her guitar case. “I’ll call you tomorrow.” She was out the door in a second and the late autumn rain bit at her face in tiny droplets. She grabbed the edges of her coat in one hand and pulled them together as she headed up the street, dodging the endless stream of bodies that always clogged the sidewalk. The walk went faster than usual – three blocks up and one to the right to the brick building of lofts that had been her home for four years. She fumbled around in her coat pocket for a minute before finding her keys and opening the rusted black metal gate.

Once inside Roselyn headed toward the elevator, but was greeted by a piece of torn bar napkin taped to it that said, “Elevator’s broke. Use the stairs,” in a fat black magic marker.

“Fabulous,” she muttered, opening the door to the stairwell. She lugged her guitar case up to the seventh floor, and set it down to catch her breath before going up the final two flights. She turned her key in the door lock very slowly, trying to keep it from making the loud clicking sound it always did, and nudged open the door.

The loft was completely dark, signaling Roselyn that Andy was already asleep. She set her guitar case down and headed towards the other end of the loft, to the bed. As she approached, she could hear Andy’s light breathing, the gentle sound that she had fallen asleep to for the past four years. She was used to it. She actually had trouble sleeping if she didn’t hear it lightly in her hear. She stood over the bed looking at him for a few minutes after eyes adjusted to the dark. He was lying on his side, the flowery purple quilt pulled up to his chin and his curly mop of dark brown hair falling across his forehead and into his eyes. Roselyn bent down and kissed him on the cheek then went back to the other end of the loft and pulled the dark drape around what was her space, a small isolated piece of the loft with just some pillows and candles. She lit a large lavender-scented candle. She loved to write by candlelight. The soft flame gave out just enough light for here to be able to see what she was doing, but not too much as to wake Andy. She also liked to draw inspiration from the dancing shadows the flame cast across the large bare walls of the loft.

She grabbed her notebook and a pencil, then lay down on her stomach on the pillows in the corner. She stared at the flame for awhile, letting the light etch itself in her mind then looked down at the notebook. A perfectly clean blank page stared back at her. This was how it had been for the past month. For no reason Roselyn could figure, the music just wasn’t coming. Had she lost her inspiration? Maybe the age-old felling was right that you had to be in pain or depression to make good music. Maybe happiness just didn’t cut it.

Roselyn traced the pink vertical margin line with the pencil, then colored in the sides to make a long narrow box. She tossed the notebook onto the floor and let her head fall into her hands. She stared at the cracks in the hardwood floor for awhile before deciding to call it a night.

Andy was sprawled across two-thirds of the bed, so Roselyn slipped in gently on the edge and closed her eyes, letting the sound of Andy’s breath lure her to sleep.

It seemed like she had only been asleep for a few minutes when she was awoken by the sound of Andy clanging pots around in the kitchen. Since it was useless to try to go back to sleep, she slowly climbed out of bed and padded barefoot across the loft and into the kitchen.

Andy looked up at her with those big brown eyes that had been the first thing to attract her to him almost five years before. He smiled before pecking her on the cheek.

“Do you want some pancakes?”

Roselyn simply shook her head and went instead for the coffeepot. She poured herself a cup and sat down at the table, staring out the window at the gloomy Saturday morning and running her fingers through her somewhat tangled hair. Andy started humming as he mixed the pancake batter. Roselyn glanced over at him. He had obviously been up for awhile. His hair was neatly combed and she could tell he had shaved. There was just a slight trace of the dark stubble that usually graced his chin. He continued whisking the batter, completely unaware that she was looking at him. She sighed and looked down at her coffee before taking a sip, clasping the cup in both hands.

“So, my show went really well last night,” she said.

“Huh?” Andy cocked his head up. “Oh, great.” He went back to pouring the batter into the frying pan.

“Too bad you couldn’t have been there.”

“Well, Honey, you knew I had to work today.”

“I know.”

Andy flopped the pancakes onto a plate and came over to the table. “I’ll try to make it next time. I promise.” He smiled a smile Roselyn had learned wasn’t completely sincere before digging into his breakfast.

Roselyn smiled back and watched him shovel large forkfuls of syrup-dripping pancakes into his mouth. She held her coffee cup just under her nose and took sips every minute or so.

“My writing isn’t coming along so well, though,” Roselyn said after about 10 minutes of silence. Andy shook his had and looked up.

“Well, you know, if it’s not coming easy for you, maybe it’s time to consider that music might not be right for you.”

Roselyn held her head still and stared at Andy, who wasn’t looking at her. She set the coffee cup down on the table with a loud thud.

Noticing her reaction, Andy looked at her with his soft brown eyes and said, “Honey, realistically, you’ve been doing this since before I met you and you’re not going anywhere. You’ve been playing the same coffeehouse in front of the same audience for years.”

Roselyn simply stared at him. She could feel the need to cry building a lump in her throat. She swallowed hard and turned to look out the window.

“Honey, I don’t want to live like this for the rest of my life. It would be nice if we had a more solid income from you.”

Roselyn looked at him again, unable to conceal the tear that was starting to make its way down her cheek. Andy sighed and tried to give her a gentle smile.

“I love you,” he said. “But I think it’s time you start taking a real look at your successes and failures.” He looked down at his watch. “I have to go. We’ll talk more when I get home from work.” He got up and kissed her forehead.

Roselyn watched him move through the loft, putting on his shoes and grabbing his coat. She had watched him do these things a thousand times before, but this time it was like watching him for the very first time. Who was this person that fumbled around like a madman in search of his keys? And more importantly, who was this person who had absolutely no idea who she was? His back looked foreign to her as he walked out the door. He was obviously a stranger despite four years of living together.

She squeezed her eyes shut to try to stop the tears then went into her space and picked up her notebook. She scribbled frantically, not really writing anything coherent, just spilling her emotions onto the page. Every so often she would stand up and pace back and forth, trying desperately not to cry. How could she have spent four years living with a man who didn’t believe in her? And worse, how could she have taken this long to realize it?

She completely lost track of time, and Andy had returned from his half-day at work. She walked up to him as he came in the door.

She held her head high, although her lips were trembling and waited for him to stop and notice her. She was still wearing her pajamas and hadn’t combed her hair. She must have looked frightful. Finally, he looked at her.

“Music is my life. I’ve realized today that if you don’t know that, then you don’t know me and if we couldn’t really get to know each other in four years, then we never will.”

Andy sighed and gave her a disappointed look. He was about to say something, but Roselyn walked away from him over to the bedroom and threw on some jeans. She threw enough clothes for a few days into a backpack and walked back to the door. He was in her space, crouching down reading what she had written that morning. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath before picking up her guitar and heading out the door. Andy didn’t try to follow her.

Roselyn walked down the steps and out into the cold city. It was starting to snow, but she hardly noticed. She headed toward the coffeehouse.

Kevin was sitting at their usual back table reading a tattered paperback and sipping coffee out of a chipped blue mug.

“What’s wrong?” he asked as Roselyn dropped her bag and her guitar and collapsed into the seat across from him.

“No time for talking now,” she said grabbing his book away from him and a pen from a waitress who was walking by. “I feel a song coming on.”

Copyright 2005 Nicole Tanner

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