The horn blares with a deafening roar as I hastily take a step back from the road. The taxi driver gives me a deadly stare as he drives away. With a deep breath, I compose myself and patiently wait to cross the road.
It was a bright sunny day, but it didn’t feel warm to me. I felt cold and clammy, the kind of clamminess you experience when running a high fever. I walk swiftly up to the building and enter into the cool air-conditioned lobby. I manage to sneak a glance in the mirror before I reach the desk. I look presentable enough. My outfit, a button down white blouse and black skirt, gives me a cool and professional look. I stride forward, and the receptionist looks up.
“Isabelle Lawrence. I have an appointment with Ms. Gilmore,” I say as I attempt to keep my voice even. She motions for me to take a seat and then disappears.
I walk over to the sofas and sit down. I take a second glance at myself in the mirror and this time I allow myself a longer study. My hair is dark, long and sleek and falls over my shoulders like a cascading waterfall. I take a close inspection of my manicured nails. My gaze falls down to my new heels. Everything is so polished, I think to myself. It all looks so spotless.
I am suddenly reminded of Eleanor, and her upcoming engagement party. There’s no avoiding it, I have missed enough of her wedding celebrations. I’ll just have to make an appearance this time. Eleanor isn’t too happy with me anyway. She has been trying to drag me to all the wedding preparations, but hasn’t succeeded so far. I always tell her the same thing. I’m working on my novel right now. I can’t afford to lose time. It isn’t a complete lie of course. I have been working very hard on finishing it up. It’s taken a period of six solitary months for me to get it done. It’s especially difficult when you have people like Eleanor and my mother breathing down your neck constantly. But somehow, underneath all the work, I knew I didn’t really want to go to Eleanor’s wedding activities. It felt so out of place. I don’t know exactly why, but there was a part of me that really wasn’t in the mood for rejoicing and skipping for someone’s happy union.
I am saved from my mental trance by the receptionist who tells me Ms. Gilmore will see me now. I walk steadily behind her and hear my heels clacking at every step. The clammy feeling has not subsided, and I hastily try to think of something to distract myself. I’ll have to call my mother to tell her about today. I remember when I told her I finally finished the novel. That’s great to hear, she had said. I could feel the relief in her voice at hearing that it was done. I had gone out of the way to cut off all communication with everyone, including her, and I knew she had been worrying about that. I assured her it was because I was focusing on my writing, but somehow I get the feeling she knew it wasn’t just that. She could tell I needed a break.
Ms. Gilmore’s office is exactly how I remembered it – it was enormous. A giant wall was completely covered with books of all kind, and another wall was all glass from top to bottom. I wondered what it would be like to have such a big office like this. I imagined you would get the constant urge to stock it up with things you don’t really need. Just to fill up the empty space.
Ms. Gilmore strode towards me and firmly shook my hand. “Isabelle, how have you been?” she asked with a warm smile. “I’ve been well,” I managed to utter. She took a seat and gestured me to do the same. “I’ve been looking over your manuscripts with the other editors,” she said. She tossed her blond hair aside, and took out a file of documents. I scrunched up my sweaty palms in my lap and stared out the window behind her. It was still sunny outside but the sky looked remarkably grey. I wondered if it would rain.
“Well your short stories have received excellent feedback,” Ms. Gilmore said briskly. “We will be publishing them in the next volume.” She gave me a smile, and waited for a response. I tried to ignore the queasiness that had suddenly come over me. “That’s good to hear. What about the novel?” I was amazed to hear my voice so steady.
“Yes, about that.” Ms. Gilmore crossed her legs and put her hands together in front of me. “Some of the editors felt that the novel was too, well, bleak.”
Bleak. The word hits me like a powerful wave against the shore. “Bleak?” I repeat to her.
Ms. Gilmore’s voice softened as she spoke next. “Our readers expect a certain type of material from us, and your novel seemed to be too gloomy for our publication. Of course, you are welcome to continue submitting your work to us. We would love to see some of your more cheerful work.”
I sit in my car, with my palms on the wheel, and stare straight ahead at the road. The din of the traffic continues and surrounds me. I hear the occasional honking and yelling. I look up in the sky and see the same grey, the same brightness of the sun. It doesn’t seem like it’s going to rain soon. The same image of the waves appears in my head. The waves are crashing against the shore, each one more powerful than the previous. They grow louder and louder, and soon I cannot hear the traffic anymore. It’s just the waves, crashing against the shore, and eroding away the sand. I press my head against the steering wheel as I feel like I’m drowning. The waves are too mighty, and I struggle against them. Just breathe, I tell myself. Just breathe.