It was time to write.
Tanya sat at the keyboard, facing the screen, fingers laid softly upon the home row. She could think of nothing.
What had been her last thought? How was she going to connect Nadioch and The Coming of the Dark days?
Her index fingers skated lightly in minute circles over the nubs on the F and J keys as she hung, poised on the edge of action.
Suddenly she sat up straight, arms moving to her lower back. It ached. She massaged the muscles. It felt good.
She let out a long breath. Leaned back to the keyboard. Typed.
Too many people confuse Narcissism with simple self-centeredness.
Smiling, she leaned into the thought. That’s it. It was just the kind of thing he’d say.
Self-centeredness is the peasant’s brew. Clear, of basic recipe, and cheap. Narcissism is mottled, perhaps, yet bestowed with a rare spice. Self-centeredness lurches into a corner and can go no further; Narcissism veers in elegant, mad loops toward an undeclared and distant vector. Self-centeredness is unambitious and dull and requires immediate attention; Narcissism is complex, fascinating, deranged…and of surprisingly patient temperament.
She laughed out loud. So perfect. A paean to Narcissism! Who would dare? Only Lord Nadioch, who was living—perhaps—somewhere in the late 1800s, and who only deigned to lift his nose when Tanya saw fit to type him into motion.
She had the thread again.
Tanya stood up and circled the room happily. Smiling, her eyes glinted and she squinted as she let the image of Nadioch fill her mind. She saw his hard-etched scowl. His leathery, rouge eyelids. She smelled the acrid flask. She squinted, finding a dangerous gleam flashing from a black hatband. She assumed Nadioch’s shape; sunk her head between her shoulders and scowled. She strode to the door and reached for her jacket, performing for the empty room.
“A self-centered person thinks: A truly good woman would attend my back before I dip my pen and begin. A Narcissist—” and here she used Nadioch’s voice, which allowed the word no “r” sound and instead substituted about eight Hs instead, “A Nahhhhhcissist will think: A truly good woman would rub my back and be overwhelmed with gratitude that she should be allowed to trace her small hands over my exquisite and rare physique.”
Tanya tilted her head up and laughed out loud. She loved this crazy jackass. It was liberating to sketch out the extreme ends of the human condition. It helped you fill in the map. And learn to love your street.
She was still chuckling as she shut the front door, put her hands into her sweatshirt pockets and started walking. She did need a damn backrub. And she needed to walk around a little. Spin out the thread. Nadioch’s thoughts justifying Narcissism—and later, the most extreme and amoral shapes of greed—were not a tangent, it was a central problem that had been plaguing her novel for almost a week.
Lord Nadioch was—unbeknownst to himself—on the verge of penning what would be a reknowned political canon in his world, The End of A P(l)easant Delusion: Meditations Upon A Proper Society. The tome would break with other scribes at the time, who often attempted a condescending but necessary view of the poor as charges of their betters, and insisted upon some sort of token obligation to the peasant class. Nadioch was having none of that, and his work would spell out and trumpet a perverse morality which was in all respects, class division bereft of pangs of conscience. The book would become a fixture of reverence in the well-kept homes of the rich, and would in time be used by the King himself to institute horrific measures that protected the ruling classes while the poor suffered in poverty, disease and death. Nadioch was the intellectual force upon whose work would be used to usher in a class of laws which would be known as “The Iron Five” and sometimes simply as “The Gate.”
Lord Nadioch was a driven and smart, but wicked man. He was lost to the forces of evil, there was no doubt about that. But Tanya was smiling as she constructed his particular brand of madness. It was good to be flowing again, to have the mind turned on and working. This bad man would help the hungry writer with the aching back make a good point. She hoped.
Tanya pushed open the glass door to the local bakery. Stood in line behind a large man in a rust-colored jacket. Found her attention fixed on the tantalizing baked goods behind the glass. Hell with it, I’m getting something with lots of Yum in it, she thought. I deserve it. I’m writing!
“I’ll take the last Cheese Danish then,” a man with a well-waxed white mustache said at the front of the line. “And…I’ll bring Kat the cruller.”
Deep in the story again, Tanya’s eyes were soon as glazed as some of the rolls behind the glass. What happens once Nadioch’s book takes off? Will Nadioch be rewarded by the King? Of course. Nadioch would be a celebrity to the ruling classes. He’d be their savior. Saving them from their own conscience. His voice is the symphony that will drown out the wailing of babies and the screaming of new widows. His elegant prose will be to the hard hearts of the aristocrats as satin sheets are to their soft bodies.
“Oh! Don’t be selfish, now, Karl!” said the red-haired woman at the counter, softly. Smiling. “Give Katherine the Cheese Danish…and tell her I said hi.”
Tanya flicked her eyes up briefly at the words being spoken around her, but only to quickly gauge if the line was going to move in any dramatic fashion.
“No…she doesn’t mind,” said Karl, letting a bill slip from his fingers to float down into the tip jar. He slid his money clip back into his pocket as he made his way to the door, past the elderly family, past the tall man in the rust-colored jacket, past the short woman with tight curls under her sweatshirt hood with a face deep in thought.
With one foot on the sidewalk, the man named Karl swung his head back into the bakery and spoke with enough bass for his voice to carry over the heads of the people in line, and settle, perhaps, into the tip jar, too.
“Selfishness is a peasant’s brew, Mina. My specific thirst requires a bit more spice, yes?” and then he was on the street, the door swinging shut.
Tanya felt her heart lurch in her chest at the words.
She moved her head around the Man in the Rust Colored Jacket and looked at Mina, the counter worker. Her face was perhaps a bit flushed, but…otherwise, nothing seemed out of place as she took the order of an elderly woman standing next to what looked like her husband.
“Did he…” said Tanya, turning back to the closed door.
The Man in the Rust Colored Jacket was still looking quizzically in the same direction.
“Weirdo,” he muttered. He swung his head back toward the counter, down to his newspaper.
Tanya left her place in line (there were now three people behind her) and walked to the front door. She put her face nearly against the glass surface, scanning the outside world, but saw no sign of the man who had spoken words, nearly verbatim, that she had typed less than 15 minutes ago.
She pushed the door open, feeling as if in a dream. Standing on the sidewalk, she spoke to herself.
“Did I just read that somewhere? Did someone else write that phrase?”
No…she was sure she had made that up herself. Didn’t she?
She sunk, slowly to a crouched position, leaning her back against the bakery. She looked up and down the street again.
It was confusing. In a sense, she felt like everything she wrote was stolen. She’d always felt that way, on some level. The most creative person in her family, maybe…and always juggling a fear that really she was no more than a clever thief and reassembler. It was her worst nightmare that one day she’d find she had done nothing more than reproduce a book already written. Or worse yet, that everything she had ever written was a copy of something else. Granted, ‘there were no new stories,’ and so on. But that line the man had spoken…it was pretty specific.
She stood up, and dusted off her back. Abrubtly, she laughed. Shook her head to herself, smiling.
“This is silly. I must have read it somewhere else…” she looked back into the bakery, but her appetite was gone. “I mean…what are the alternatives?”
She stood still for one more moment, thinking. She didn’t have an answer for herself. But she needed to write. She knew that.
Tanya’s walk became a jog, and she was home in less than five minutes.