A short story
Moira gnawed on her pencil, holding it between her teeth as she extracted page after page from the printer, which sat on the far corner of her desk, humming quietly. She read each one, swiftly taking the pencil and circling mistakes, typos, that she had to correct, before she could send in her column. She frowned — her back aching, her arms tired — at a single passage, realizing that she had not gotten that quote.
There was a glaring empty blank spot in the middle of the paragraph, which was supposed to have been filled in later. It was now later.
She frowned again.
I don’t really need this quote about heart surgery recovery, do I? I can just cut it out.
But then she pointed out to herself that the story was on complications in surgery, and recovery is really important and she didn’t have any other quotes to substitute, so goddamn it, she had to get it.
Who was the source? she asked herself absently, holding onto the pencil, pulling off layers of wood with her teeth. Finally, she sighed, and picked up the phone, tilted her head to the side, trying to figure out the best way to phrase the question. She sat there so long with the phone in her hand, rehearsing, that it started to accusingly beep at her. She scrunched her forehead, deepening the wrinkles, took a deep breath and dialed the phone. While the phone rang, she exhaled slowly.
Getting the voicemail, she relaxed slightly. She started tapping her fingers on the desk, wondering if she should leave a message, considering that if she left a message, she had no idea when the person would call back. Maybe I should hang up, and find another source? Moira was irritated; the area behind her eyes began to throb. How dare Dr. Neptern not be there? She listened to the message on the voicemail, and then stopped tapping her fingers.
Did I really hear this? Did it say that I could send email, and the person would write back immediately, that this was the preferred way of correspondence?
Moira smiled, hung up the phone, the pounding pain in her head slightly subsided. She logged onto her email account, and typed her question. She clicked send, leaned back to wait, and wondered how long it would take. She imagined the doctor sitting in his office, typing away on an important paper, with his email able to beep anytime he got a message. He hears the beep, and excitedly, because getting any email is still exciting for him, opens up his email and then….
Beep. She looked at her screen.
“New message from firstname.lastname@example.org.”
She happily opened it up, thinking, I got my source, the universe loves me.
Moira Phillips looked at her husband, who had just arrived home. He was sitting on the couch, eating the dinner she had made, and she kept staring. Moira and Robert had been married for five years, and she had been freelance writing for a little over a year now. She was still not used to having so much free time with her husband, since before that year, she had been at the newspaper, working twelve hours a day, and before that, in graduate school, teaching and studying 16 hours a day. Here she was now with a job she could stop when her husband came home at 7:30 p.m. She could even cook him dinner most of the time, while she called people and gathered information, or edited her stories.
“So what did you do today?” Robert asked, after he finished his dinner.
“Oh, the usual. Finished the column, emailed it off, made dinner. Did you like dinner?”
He nodded, motioning to his clean plate. “How was the article for your column?”
“Okay, I think.” Moira frowned. “Do you think I am a good writer?”
Her husband put his arm around her, squeezing, “Hard day, huh? You know the answer to that question. Ask me a harder one. Really try to stump me this time. Don’t give me any stinking easy one like whether I think you are good writer. Ask me something like, am I the best writer in the world?”
She giggled, laying her head on his shoulder, “How would you answer that?”
“I would say, of course you are. I have been very well trained.” She poked Robert in the stomach, making him groan.
Moira answered the phone, “Hi, Mom.”
“Hi ya Darling Dearest. How are you doing?”
Moira stretched her arms, turning her attention away from the computer screen. “Fine. I was just writing a query letter.”
“No assignments this week?”
“Actually, I have two, but I am just preparing for the coming months. What are you doing?”
“Your dad and I are getting ready to go to the seven o’clock showing of that latest French movie — you know, that thriller? What time is it there anyway? Four? Anyway, I just wanted to check up on you.”
“That sounds fun. I haven’t gone to the movies in so long.”
“You rented that Shakespeare movie last week.”
“True.” Moira looked at her watch; it was getting late, “Anyway Mom, you’d better hurry if you’re going to make it to the movie.”
“All right, Love, talk to you later.”
Moira stood up, and walked over to the window. She kept her desk against the wall, so she wouldn’t be distracted by things going on outside while she worked. She opened the window, and leaned her head out, feeling the wind whip through her hair. She idly watched two little children playing ball across the street.
The phone rang again. “Hello?”
“Moira! Great article,” her editor, Liz, said. “Are you coming to the editorial meeting today? You haven’t come to the last four. We miss you!”
“Nah, I don’t think I want to pitch any ideas. I have a full plate already,” Moira lied. Actually, she had time for another feature that month, but she didn’t feel like taking time out of her day and going across town to the paper. Anyway, she told herself, if she had any ideas, Liz would always take the pitch over the phone.
“Oh,” Liz sighed. “Well, I had a great article for you. I guess I can assign it to Bob. But he is going on assignment next week to Burma, and I don’t think he would have time to do as good a job as you would. Moira, I can understand if you are too busy, but if you want it, it’s yours.”
Moira conceded slightly, “What is it?”
“You know how next month we are featuring science and the Internet? I want you to do an article on medicine, of course. You know, go exploring, see if there is any good angle out in cyberspace. Sound like something you could handle? I don’t want to overload ya, or anything.”
Moira considered it. She had been using the Internet so much lately that it wouldn’t require too much research or prepping. It might be fun, different from her usual straight reporting on the latest medical research.
“Sure, Liz. When do you want it done by?”
Moira spent the rest of the day surfing the web. When she got off her modem, she checked her voice mail, and there were two messages from Robert. She called him at work.
“Hey Babe. I just called to see if you wanted to go out to dinner tonight. I was going to suggest meeting at the Indian place near work.”
“I don’t know, Robert. I am kind of tired out — I don’t know if I am up to driving.”
“Oh. Well, I can swing by and pick you up and we can always go to that Italian place right by our house.”
Moira thought about it, not feeling very hungry. “Could you get carry-out from there? I am kinda just in the mood for a romantic evening at home tonight.”
“Sure. No problem. See you soon.”
“How’s the article going?” Liz called after a few days.
“Great. I’ve found a lot of stuff.”
“Figured out an angle yet?”
Moira pulled out a paper with some notes, “I was thinking a feature on medical research discussion groups, journals, how immediate information will transform the research process.”
“Sounds excellent. I knew I could count on you. Do you foresee any costs involved in this article, phone bills, traveling expenses?”
“No, I think this will be cheap. Just reimburse me for this month’s online charge.”
“Sounds great. I’ll check back up on you in a few days.”
Moira hung up the phone, smiling. That wasn’t too hard of a pitch. She liked that Liz was an easy editor to work for.
She settled into her chair, pulling a blanket around her body — it was sort of chilly, but she felt too cozy to go turn on the heat. She reached over and closed the window, where a crisp breeze was blowing in. She turned on her computer and logged on, listening as it beeped, and watching as words scrolled by on the screen.
“We’re out of toilet paper,” Robert called from the bathroom.
“Use this for now,” Moira walked in holding a tissue box.
“We need to go shopping anyway. We’re getting low on food. We can’t do carry-out every night.”
“I know. I am getting tired of take out food anyway.”
“Why don’t we go to the grocery store tonight?” He asked.
Moira’s heart start pounding, “I’m in the middle of writing. Can you do it? I’ll do the dishes later.”
“Good deal. I hate doing dishes,” Robert grinned, taking the tissue box.
She typed the final words of her article, and then saved the file. Moira felt a tug of sadness that she was already done. She had enjoyed it so much. However, it was due the next day and she still needed to proofread it. It really was good that she was finished writing — even though it didn’t feel that way.
She printed out a copy of her story, and, while she waited, logged on to her email. There were a few messages from people answering the questions she had posted on the medical research newsgroup. It had been so easy getting the quotes she needed. There had been none of that pesky waiting for anyone to call her back.
Whenever she was interrupted by the phone, Moira always felt distracted from writing. An interference always caused her to lose momentum and then forced her to swim up from the inner depths of her thought process.
This time, as Moira eyed the print-out of her article, there were no blazing holes waiting to be filled with quotes. She relaxed, listening to the silence of the room.
“I tried calling earlier, but you were on the computer,” Robert leaned over, kissing his wife on the cheek. “I brought home dinner.”
Moira stood up, and followed him into the dining room. Robert put the food on the plates as she cleared the table. As they sat down to eat, Moira said, “I made us a schedule for doing chores.”
“I’ve noticed that I haven’t been paying too much attention to the house, and we keep running out of the food, and having to eat take-out. So I thought if I made a schedule, we would actually get things done and save some money.”
“What’s the division of labor look like — I do all the work?” Robert joked.
“Well, you go shopping, go to the cleaners, plan the dinner menu each week, we alternate who cleans the bathroom and kitchen every other week, I make dinner and wash the dishes. I do the laundry. Those are the biggies.”
“Sounds fair. Especially my not doing the dishes or laundry. I think I got the better deal.”
“Well, I figure I’m home during the day so I can do a lot more around the house than you, while you can do errands on your way home from work.”
“Good point.” He took a sip of water. “Anything interesting happen today?”
“I gave up my column for the paper.”
Robert tipped over the glass and exclaimed, “You what?”
“You know how I did that feature article on the Internet’s influence on medicine a few months ago? Well, this computer magazine saw it, and called and asked me to do a regular column on health and the Internet.” Moira swiftly wiped off the dripping water from the table.
“Wow. Obviously you said yes, right?”
“Yeah, don’t worry. We aren’t going to go broke. They also pay more than the paper did.”
Robert grinned, “Well, you know I support whatever decision you make. Especially if it brings in more money. Are you going to stop doing features for the paper?”
“Yeah, I think so. Liz was really disappointed when I called her today, but she understood that this was a real opportunity for me. I think it would be interesting to focus on the Internet for awhile. I had been sending out queries in that vein for a couple of months anyway. I think the regular column will make me more sell-able for doing stuff on cyberspace.”
“Whatever makes you happy,” Robert leaned over and hugged her, “makes me happy.”
Moira smiled, “That’s good to know after five years of marriage.”
“And it will be five more years before I say anything as cheesy again.”
Her computer made a large hissing noise, the sound of the fan coming to an abrupt stop, the computer’s monitor going dark. Moira’s chair slammed against the wall as she stood up to see what was wrong. She tugged on her earlobe as she frantically tried to power-cycle her computer. It gave a solitary beep and then blinked at her, going back into slumber.
She looked around her room, trying to find her phone. She hadn’t used it in so long that she wasn’t sure where she left it. She went to the base of the cordless phone and pushed the page button with her toe, listening for the beeping to signal its location, finding it under a pile of books.
“Hello? Yes. My computer just stopped working.” She smiled, happy that she had gotten a techie after only one ring. It probably helps that I am calling at 3:20 a.m. “When can you pick it up? Between 12 and 5?” She paused, considering this. “If I brought it in, when could I get it back? It’s still covered by my warranty, right? This afternoon?”
She hung up the phone, listening to the heater whir in the background, and the soothing voice of a late-night radio host. She wished she could go wake up Robert, and make him deal with this, but he was on a business trip.
She knew she needed to get some sleep if she was going to bring in the computer that morning. Instead, she sat on her couch, stared at the dark monitor, and started to press randomly at the keyboard. If Robert was here, he could pick it up — but then she pushed the thought out of her mind. She considered waiting for him to get back home to deal with it, but she had a column due before then.
She stood up, her robe sparking from static electricity, and when she touched the metal doorknob of her room, she felt a small shock run through her. She went into her bedroom and closed the door.
“Moira? I’m free this morning, are you?” Moira heard her close friend Amanda on the answering machine. She groggily eyed the clock, noticing that her alarm was about to go off. She nodded at her window, seeing the sun peeking in. She picked up the phone.
“Where are you?” Her alarm started beeping, and as she reached over to hit the snooze bar, she knocked over the screeching clock.
“On the way to your house. I’m on the 10 freeway right now. I thought we could do breakfast.”
Moira tried to think, the fog slowly dissipating. She smacked the clock. “Okay. I’ll make you some.” She reached for the curtain.
“Great — I love your French bread. I’ll be there in fifteen minutes.”
“But only if you do me a favor afterwards.” Moira stretched, smiling to herself, opening the window and feeling the breeze come in from the outside.
If you liked this story, you might like this one.