Ding. The typewriter arm whirred across the page. Illy unclipped the paper and pulled it out with the flourish of an orchestra conductor. She’d done it. It may have taken four and a half hours, but she had written something that she loved. It was a delicious feeling. She laid the sheet of paper flat on the desk and smiled at it with motherly affection. It really needed a name. More than just a title- a name for this beautiful creation to be known by. The name Albert came to mind. Perfect.
June had always said name choosing wasn’t Illy’s forte and already felt sorry for her future children. Somehow no one else felt the resonance that Illy felt with each instinctually chosen name. Like her little brown Pinto, Cathy. Or Inspector James, the now deceased goldfish. And June probably wouldn’t approve of calling a paragraph Albert, but Illy really had no choice. There was no going back on a name that chose itself.
It was unfortunate that it was only a paragraph. She knew most people would probably bring short stories or plays or the first eight chapters of their sweeping epic of Russian history, but who really wanted to listen to that much writing anyway? Besides, Albert was a good paragraph. And one good paragraph was much better than twenty-three pages of vague cliches. She folded Albert carefully in half, kissed him, and went to pluck the hairs on her chin.
Illy was still feeling elated as she walked down the hall and knocked on the door of apartment 2B. Albert was tucked in the back pocket of her favourite old jeans, a pencil stuck out from behind her ear in a wonderful balance of prepared yet casual, and her hair looked especially artsy tonight thanks to a lot of mousse and strategic tousling. It was going to be a good night.
Goth Girl opened the door and smiled at Illy. “Oh good, you came! I was hoping you’d show up. I don’t think we ever formally introduced ourselves. I’m Sally.” She reached out to shake Illy’s hand. She seemed to have forgotten about the Kickboxing incident.
“Hi Sally. I’m Ilia.” Illy smiled too. This was going to be the beginning of the new non-judgmental Illy. So what if Sally wore scary black t-shirts and was a digital marketer? She was probably also smart and funny and kind. Illy was open to the possibility of all sorts of new relationships starting this evening and promised herself that she wouldn’t omit anyone from her potential friend list no matter how strange they appeared to be.
“Come on in and get comfortable. There are a few people in the living room already and I’m just getting some drinks together.” Sally disappeared into the kitchen. Illy turned the corner to the living room and paused. The plan was to stroll into the room, sit down by the first person she was drawn to, and proceed to make witty conversation with a newfound kindred spirit. Instead, she stood frozen in the doorway, feeling trapped. None of the people in front of her looked at all like kindred spirits, and they were spread so evenly around the room that it was impossible for Illy to continue the established pattern of personal space. She would have to sit right next to someone, even though so far everyone had instituted a two-empty-chairs radius around themselves. This was such a big commitment. Illy reached down to scratch her ankle, buying a little more time to scout out the situation. She decided on Lesbian Kayaker. She was the only person Illy recognized and had always been friendly when they’d passed in the hall. At least Illy could ask her something about kayaking, though at the moment she was having a hard time coming up with kayak topics… Favourite rivers? Stance on the necessity of life jackets? Hopefully the questions would flow naturally in conversation.
The room was silent as Illy walked towards the bean bag chair to the left of Lesbian Kayaker. Someone coughed. Illy wondered if it was a secret code the rest of them had created to pass judgment on newcomers. One short cough. It probably meant Too insecure to be a real writer. Or The old pencil behind the ear trick. Tacky.
Illy pivoted and flopped back into the beanbag chair. Bad decision. There simply was no way of sitting down gracefully on one of those things. Plus the vinyl felt sticky. Illy hoped it wasn’t pet pee. Or Coke that someone had just spilled. They were probably getting a paper towel at that very moment and would return to find Illy sprawled in the middle of it. She leaned back and tried to look relaxed, like she always lounged around on sticky mounds of beans.
Thankfully, Lesbian Kayaker turned to her and smiled. “Hi. I’m Zoe. You’re in apartment 2A, right?”
Illy craned her neck to look up, trying not to stare at the woman’s nostrils. Sitting below other people definitely put you at a social and psychological disadvantage. She determined to never choose a bean bag chair in a social gathering again. How had it taken her so many years to learn these basic life principles?
“Yep, that’s me. I’m Ilia. Nice to meet you.” She put her hands behind her head to reduce the strain on her neck. “Have you done a lot of writing?” That was one of the introductory questions she had prepared for the evening. Her first attempt sounded natural and appropriate, gracefully saving her from having to dive straight into the life jacket debate.
“No, not much, actually. I like poetry and I write poems sometimes, but I’ve never shown them to anyone. I’m hoping this club might give me a bit of confidence. How about you?”
Illy paused. She always told people she was a writer and left it at that, sometimes mentioning the novel she was working on. But here she’d have to actually show evidence of her claims and suddenly she wasn’t sure what to say. “Ah, writing. Yes, writing is wonderful, isn’t it? I love mucking around in all that writing.” Oh dear. Had she really just said the word writing three times? And mucking around? Next she would be describing the way she slurped at the trough of poetry. She considered leaving the gathering immediately and packing up her apartment before morning. Maybe live in her parents’ basement for a few years and order her groceries online to avoid any chance encounters with Zoe. Or any of the current apartment tenants. Unfortunately this plan would necessitate the impossible task of extracting herself from the beanbag chair. How had the conversation derailed so rapidly?
Luckily a skinny guy with floppy hair and penny loafers sat down beside Zoe at that moment, buying Illy a few moments of unobserved strategizing. As Zoe turned to greet Penny Loafers, Illy retousled the section of hair she’d been pressing flat with her hands. She sat a little straighter so her neck could support her head on its own, relaxed her furrowed eyebrows, and smiled gently and vaguely at the people in the living room, willing back some of the confidence she’d felt earlier in the hallway.
A few more people had entered the room and everyone was making polite small talk over the glasses of wine and mugs of coffee that Sally was passing around. Illy recognized a few faces. Dave was there without Nancy. They must have had a fight. Illy hoped he’d left a window open and that at this very moment Nancy was executing her great escape, squeezing under the window pane and leaping to a nearby branch and relationship freedom. Poor Dave. How would he cope with the loss?
Simon of the Flying Robots had brought in a bowl of olives and was talking to a woman that Illy recognized from the laundry room as The Whistler. The woman was always whistling with an air of innocent cheerfulness while doing malicious things. Illy had seen her pull people’s laundry out of the washing machine before the cycle was done and drop the clothes on the floor, all to the tune of “You are my Sunshine”. It was quite disturbing. Illy avoided the laundry room whenever she heard the whistling.
Illy heard another knock at the door and a moment later a man she’d never seen before entered the room. Illy knew immediately who he was. Her stomach flipped. Although she’d never seen him, every womanly and writerly instinct told her that this was Dylan, the Mocha Man.
Continue Reading: Chapter Fourteen