“Psst. Psssssst. Over here.”
“Huh?” She glanced over her right shoulder, and then her left. “Huh?”
“You,” he said. She pointed to herself, her forehead awash in wrinkles. “Yeah. You over there. You a—”
“Watch it, buddy,” she said, scanning her surroundings for the nearest blue uniform. “I’m definitely not what you’re implying.”
He sidled over furtively, talking only out of the corner of his mouth closest to him. “So you’re not—”
“I most certainly am not!” she said, spinning on the heel of her sneaker, awkwardly as it happens, as rubber soles aren’t terribly spinny.
“—a writer?” he finished.
She stopped and turned back. “Well, yes, I am that. How did you know?”
“You people are always pretty obvious. That look like you have pencils stuck into your hair even when you don’t; the unfocused eyes with your brain obviously on another planet; and the shoes.”
She stared down at her feet, clad in shoes that, admittedly, had seen a few miles. “My shoes? What about my shoes?”
“Only a writer would be out in those shoes.” He leaned against the building, one foot flat against the brick, and stuck a toothpick between his lips, letting it dangle.
“Hey, I like my shoes.”
“My point exactly.”
“Well, if you’re finished insulting me, strange man on the street, I’m going to get on with my day.”
“You could do that,” he said, taking the toothpick out again, languidly, unhurriedly, and twirling it between his fingers, his eyes on it as if it was the most interesting thing in the world. “But you probably don’t want to.”
“OK, buddy,” she said, hand on her purse, her mind on the errand at hand. “Whatever. What. Ever.”
“You know, for a writer, you sure have a limited range of words.”
“How would you even know? It’s not as though you’ve read anything I’ve written.”
“Well, I just used ‘know’ in a sentence, and you used it again right after me, so…”
“This is a conversation, not writing, a conversation. Sheesh. Why are you even talking to me, anyway? I’ve got stuff to do.” She flicked her hand at him and headed in the direction of the store. Pushing himself away from the wall, he followed.
“You’re here because you’re not writing, am I right?”
“Obviously I’m not writing. I’m going to grocery store.” The left side of her mouth and her left eyebrow went up as she gave a sharp shrug of her shoulder at him. She sped up.
So did he.
“What are you getting from the store?”
“How is that your business? You need to leave me alone.”
“Humor me. What are you getting?”
“I’m going to have you arrested if you don’t get away from me.”
“Let me guess,” he said, “you’re going the store for bananas and maybe a pint of ice cream. And you’re only telling yourself it’s maybe a pint of ice cream so that you feel better about it when you get it. Even if it’s not on sale.”
She stopped where she was. “How did you know that?”
He gave her a smile that could promise a sunrise in the middle of the Arctic winter. “I know writers. And let me ask you this: Do you need bananas right now?”
“Obviously,” she said, trying to regain her confident stride but stumbling over a bit of raised, cracked sidewalk.
“Right now. During your prime writing hours?”
“Well…” she said uncertainly. “It’s 89 degrees so the ice cream—”
“I’ve seen it a million times.” He flashed his snowy white teeth. “But I can help.”
“By harassing me on the street?”
“Oh no,” he said. “How would you like to buy…” he dropped his voice and came in close, his breath a breeze against her cheek, “some words?”
“2000 words, all ready for you. Just the thing you need to crash through that writer’s block.”
“I don’t have writer’s block,” she said, trying to keep the curiosity from her voice.
“How many words did you write today?”
“How many words are there in a tweet?”
He said nothing, he only nodded his head slowly. “Exactly,” he said eventually.
“Fine,” she said, “let’s say I was interested in said words – which I’m not – but let’s say I was. How much?”
“Twenty dollars! I’m a writer, not a dog walker. Twenty dollars to just fling around. Twenty dollars. Really.” Shaking her head, she checked the alley for cars and then crossed the asphalt parking lot of the store. “I have access to words,” she said as he kept up with her. “I don’t need your pricey ones.”
“Fifteen,” he said.
She stopped on the narrow apron of concrete that ran next to the grocery store. “Ten.”
“Done,” he said, holding out a long, flat palm. She dug through her purse, finally finding the rumpled $10 bill crammed at the bottom.
“Not so fast,” she said, “Let me see ‘em.” He pulled a small paper bag, folded at the top, from his pocket. “Really? There are 2000 words in there?”
“They’re surprisingly…compact,” he said. “Money, please.”
She looked from the bill to the bag to the bill again. She took a deep breath, held it, and let it out in a rush. “Fine.” Gingerly, she held out the money, and when the bag was in reach, she grabbed it, letting go of the ten.
“Pleasure doing business,” he said, already nearly across the lot. She couldn’t help herself. She peeked into the bag.
“Hey!” she called after him, “These are mostly contractions and conjunctions! All I see are can’ts, ifs ands and buts! I have these!”
“No backsies!” he said as he walked away, without so much as a glance back.
She pawed through the bag, hoping for the something useful. Nope, even at the bottom, where the more substantial words had settled, were “cheated,” “scammed,” “foiled,” and “swindled,” repeated over and over in quantity. She let the purchased words scatter to the sidewalk until there was one left in the farthest corner of the bag.
Maybe she’d been foolish, she thought. But a writer who is low on words is as useless as a baker low on flour. Maybe, just maybe this last word would be the thing that got her past the hump. Maybe. She pulled it out.
“Darn it,” she said aloud to no one in particular. “Foiled again.”
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