The three-page paper is actually a five-page paper.
“You’re joking,” I say over the phone.
“Fuck me. How far are you?”
“I’m on page four. My goal is to be done before 1.”
“Fine, you bastard. I won’t call again.”
I hang up and the living room is quiet. The house is quiet. It’s not even late – 11 p.m. – but when there’s work to be done, everyone else goes to sleep early, to emphasize your solitude.
The clock ticks thunderously. A pot in the kitchen shifts in the drying rack. I shuffle my feet just to make some noise. I sigh. I laugh.
I clap my hands, saying, “Here we go, baby. Let’s do this.”
Then that blank page fills the whole monitor and it’s like staring down a 1,000-mile trail, paved in shit and broken glass. My essay outline sits on the table. I pick it up, trying to feel inspired, before setting my fingers to the keys and starting off. The introduction slides out fine and easy. The road is manageable, the shit odorless, the glass soft and springy beneath my feet. A rough thesis sentence and then I’m finished with that, and it took only 20 minutes.
I am a conqueror, leading my legion over snowy mountain passes.
“We’ll set up camp here,” I say. “Have ourselves a meal.”
Lances are raised in salute.
I walk to the refrigerator, pour myself a glass of milk. I drink deeply. I cross my ankles on the table and lean back – but it’s an ambush. Tiredness, like ninjas, floods the encampment, slitting throats, kicking faces. Amidst the chaos, I stumble to the refrigerator to retrieve an energy drink, which tastes gnarly so soon after the milk.
When the empty can clangs into the recycling bin, it’s the only sound. The ninjas are gone. The survivors are collecting the corpses. A lieutenant hoisting his friend stops to look at me.
“The celebration was premature,” I say.
“Shall we go?” he asks.
“And the dead?”
Turning back to the monitor, my introduction looks shorter than before. I pick up my outline, begin trekking through the snow. It’s harder now. The caffeine is taking its time. The toll of the ambush is pulling me upwards, upstairs, toward my bed. Again and again, I find myself staring blankly at the monitor, nothing going through my head.
After an hour, I stand up. I put water on the stove to boil. While waiting, my headphones are on, and I’m dancing alone in the living room, watching myself in the sliding glass door.
Between the lyrics, I’m whispering, “Get pumped. Get pumped.”
It’s a sad sight. And by the end of the first song, I’m already slowing down, my eyes half-closed. Turning up the volume does nothing. I need energy. I need comfort. I need a grandmother, a big fat one, to let herself in the front door, to put my head in her lap and caress me, weaving her fingers through my hair while cooing, “It’s OK, child. It’s OK. Go to sleep now.”
But by the time the water is boiled and the tea is made, there is no burst of energy, no grandmother. I turn all the lights on, in the kitchen and in the hallway, before sitting back down at the table.
Then I imagine everyone asleep in their beds, so smug and comfortable, and suddenly the idea makes me hateful. I want to pull everyone up by their hair and drag them into the living room to wait until I finish, to make them suffer with me. In this dark temper, the essay on the monitor looks like torture, like death.
Then someone pats my shoulder, and I turn.
“Take this,” the lieutenant says. He hands me the tea, and snow billows about us in the dark.
“I hate this,” I say. “I hate this more than anything.”
“How far until the summit?”
“We’re halfway, at most.”
“It’s not much farther, then.”
“I want to quit. I want to get out of here.”
“That would be too easy. Anyone can accomplish nothing.”
Then he headbutts me in an affectionate way before going off to join the others. The snow twirls, and I watch it for a minute before coming back, into my living room. The lights are still on. The monitor stares back at me.
I start typing, and though I’m tired, the words come easily, come playfully; and after a few minutes, I discover myself smiling in the snow.
KOJI FRAHM wrote this column tired. Report grammatical imperfections to email@example.com.