L’Après-Midi d’un Minimalist Writer

Close-up photo of an orchid
Paul Kamblock/Flickr

When moving to each new location, I take the tiny plastic container formerly filled with saffron threads and drop in several Ambien that will later smell delightfully of saffron when I open the top. This is kept in my wallet.

My husband runs out in his boxer shorts, spray bottle in hand. The groundhog’s hole is located in a patch of poison ivy, so no way to deal with things more directly. The groundhog has been digging right by our newly planted dogwood, piteously exposing its roots. We leave tomorrow.

My husband approves of the clothes dryer that came with the house, which turns itself off when it senses the clothes are dry. I had no idea such technology existed.

I was recently given a very amusing book: Droodles by Roger Price. I particularly liked the drawing titled “Ship Arriving Too Late to Save a Drowning Witch.” A line drawing of the pointy part of the boat (okay, I know nothing about ships) edges into the picture from the left; atop the horizontal line that represents the water is the point of a witch’s hat. (My husband says to say that both are simple triangles.)

I order the lectures of James Salter, condition “Very Good,” to be delivered to our next address. I pre-order another copy of Gregory Orr’s The Last Love Poem I Will Ever Write to be sent to a friend. I have already read it and complimented Greg. What a notion: knowing you’re doing something for the last time—though that’s not what the poem is really about.

My beloved green sweater, Woolited into a sogginess that precludes strong squeezing, will never dry before we leave; therefore, it will be left behind.

Back to the dogwood tree, for a moment: my desk ($15 on Craigslist) faces a window overlooking the back yard, which is steeply sloped. Amid the several new trees, yesterday I saw (1) my husband, dressed in actual clothes, and (2) a woman wandering over our hillside, her pit bull off his leash, the better to pee on the new trees and bushes. (Yes, we got a couple of bushes, too. They were planted last fall by nice young men who run a local nursery, and who felt that the strange-looking pit with gravel and weeds in it might become an excellent fire pit. This is never going to happen—at least, not on my watch.) So, back to yesterday: What would my husband say, when he came back inside, after appearing to talk congenially to the pit bull woman and her peeing dog? Answer: “We’re not going to do anything about that.”

The usual uncertainty, in packing: If I use the washable silk, sleeveless blouse to sleep in, once it gets dirty, can I pack only my pajama bottoms in my shoulder-bag “suitcase” tomorrow? If so, might I later miss the matching pajama top? Also: Has it really come to this? These are my thoughts?

The lavishly blooming orchid will be put on its side in a box cushioned to protect it, and removed from the car in Maryland, when my husband visits his sister, and in White Plains, where he’ll visit friends before picking me up at the train station so that we can continue our drive north together.

An email from a friend tells me that his wife’s ex-husband once tried to get her to eat groundhog.

A recent gift, a magnet with a quote from the Dalai Lama, joins the only other thing posted on our refrigerator, the landscaper’s card. I find that in spite of many visuals in my kitchen, when I walk in now, I instantly make eye contact with the Dalai Lama.

My husband worries, having seen a squirrel repeatedly entering the gutter of the empty house across the street and disappearing.

What a relief: Though I was told that the large vine growing up our house was poison oak, I find (after my husband consulted the landscapers) that it’s only Virginia creeper.

“Tell me about your work schedule. I mean, do you write at a certain time of day, take notes, write on a computer? Always at your desk?”

Two days ago, my husband went to a tire store to try to find out why the tire was leaking. Answer: a nail. As he waited, he flipped through magazines. “Why did you come with me?” he asked. Well, clearly to avoid writing, that’s why. He offered to buy me a Coke from a vending machine. I thanked him, but declined. “Welcome to my life,” he said, as we sat side-by-side.

I saw only magazines on how best to shoot deer, but when I later told someone that’s what he’d been reading, he said he’d found one issue of Scientific American. He’d been reading an article about facial recognition.

An email from a friend: Why did I not tell him I had a new book out? I wrote back (my messages are all lower case, unless it’s a letter of recommendation for someone): “i’m sure you know the bob dylan line: when you’re tired of yourself and all of your creations.”

The mesh cup from the Dollar Store sitting on my desk contains scissors with an orange handle, non-prescription reading glasses in a fake velvet pouch that you squeeze open, a nail file, a toothbrush, a razor, and many useful pens amid the dried-out ones. I try to remember to put the pens in point down. There is also a tube of facial cream that I use on my elbows because I don’t like the way it smells.

Non-stop to NYC tomorrow. Have to stay optimistic! Must reach conclusion re: pajama top.

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Ann Beattie, a contributing editor of the Scholar, has published 20 novels and short story collections. She is the recipient of the PEN/Malamud Award and the Rea Award for the Short Story. Her work appears in five O. Henry Prize Stories anthologies as well as in Best American Short Stories of the Century.


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