I am having trouble coming up with anything interesting to write, as I sit in a local diner nursing a long cold cup of coffee. I hear a woman behind me explaining why no one should shop at Walmart. Her audience, who I am resisting the urge to turn and examine, has been silent for many minutes now as the woman describes the impending fall of civilization, inevitable unless we stem the tide of consumerism that threatens to swallow us all. I yield to my desire to find out who, if anyone, is listening. The young man and woman held captive by her increasingly dire exposition look around nervously for a means of escape. The latter is an employee and, as such, darts quickly back to the counter and begins wiping it with a rag, glancing over occasionally to show she hasn’t completely disconnected. She does this perhaps out of guilt, as the young man, who is not on the clock and therefore has no good excuse to simply walk away is now visibly uncomfortable. The woman knits as she excitedly begins to summarize Kurt Vonnegut’s “Player Piano.” I realize I should read this book. The young man finally finds the space to thank the lady for her time, and leaves. I am writing the words “I realize I should…” when a passerby asks the woman “That’s lovely, where did you get the yarn?”
“Walmart.” She replies.
I finish the story.
Later I consider my ending too abrupt, and, taking pencil in hand, begin to write again. Every few minutes I consider again telling the woman behind me that I am writing this story about us. I really want to, but finally decide against it, fearing it may create some kind of time loop, as though someone, somewhere, sat carelessly on the remote in control of my thoughts.
I try to finish the story again, but another conversation begins to heat up nearby. In this one, a mother is being consoled by her friend. The mother speaks in proud but desparate tones of her daughter’s tragic fall into a cannabis-fueled life of apathy and self-destruction. The second woman offers reassurance and sympathy for a while, until the mother takes a pause to weep quietly. After a minute or two of silence, I hear her friend say, “You know, Joan, Marijuana is very common these days, have you ever tried it before? Maybe if you smoked it with her…”
I leave a few dollars on the counter and go look for a quieter place to write.