Part 1 by Hadas Marcus

She sat on a polished wooden bench attached to a polished wooden wall, ancient and battered laptop resting on a polished wooden table. Along the border of the ninth-life device was an abandoned espresso, cold and bitter, and a demolished cookie, cold and sweet. As her fingers bounced on top of dusty black keys, the casual observer may even assume she was accomplishing work – but with no force behind her wrists, the screen remained blank. She paused. She ran her nails along her teeth. She checked her phone. She used the restroom. She poured herself a glass of water, adjusted her jacket, stirred her espresso, crumbled the cookie, and stared off into the distance. An hour had passed. The screen was depressingly white.
A careful look around the room would have revealed that every other person was simply wasting time as their waxed moustache grew, but to Jane, herself an aforementioned casual observer, the crowd was oppressively productive. As pages turned nearby and chitchat pierced the air, Jane’s breaths grew shorter and her dark eyes dilated. She did not note that she was causing a disturbance to the middle-aged geriatric who had sat down next to her, just as she did not note that her legs had begun to shake. It was hour two of an empty screen.
She knew there were stories in her past. “I am a deeply interesting person” Jane thought to herself.
“I’m sure you are dear,” said the grey-haired man reassuringly. Jane’s thoughts had begun to spill out of her mouth. She looked at him, shocked, as if he had just appeared, which, as far as she knew, he had. In reality, he had been there for the better part of the two hours, sipping a latte with three Splenda packets, and trying very hard to ignore the labored breathing of the young woman next to him. She continued to stare at him, her glazed eyes reflecting the folds and wrinkles of a man whose time spent outweighed his time remaining.
“How – you knew what I was thinking, I -“
“Yes. Yes, you said it out loud.”
“Oh, I, I’m so-” Jane’s words were to her tongue as a cat to a set of greased stairs.
“You’re trying to write? A story?”
“Yes” She sighed, relieved that the tumult of her own ideas had been condensed so expertly by this stranger.
“Well, what appears to be the problem? You have your caffeine, your food, your computer, all that’s left is…”
“M-m-me. Me.”
“Yes. So what’s the problem?”
“I-i-i…. n-n-nothing to – “
“Well that’s just silly. Everybody has something to say. Everybody makes their own stories, it’s the nature of living.” As the old man spoke, Jane’s eyes darted away from his spotted face, to the bright sun in the corner of the window, to the milk being steamed, finally resting on her own knees. Her thumb rubbed absentmindedly over her wrist.
“I don’t” she submitted. The words came out clearly only because she thought them clearly, and let them escape from her mouth, rather than set out to speak them.

“Oh. Oh, well then”

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