Stepping Out of the Cave

Inside a Cave

The writer, bleary-eyed and squinting, makes his halting way out of the cave in which he has spent the entire summer. It wasn’t always pleasant in that cave, but it was cool at least. Here the writer finds temperatures in the 90s, which he hadn’t counted on. Didn’t he smell pumpkin spice on the wind? Surely the leaves should be turning colors under an overcast sky, and a cool breeze should be riffling the writer’s wild hair. Instead, bright sunshine and baking heat. Shaking his head, the writer removes his sweat jacket and throws it back down into the cave, careful to miss the stack of pages from a summer’s worth of work. It’s not hard to miss, that stack: nine chapters, about 25,000 words.

The writer sighs as sweat drips from his brow. It was supposed to be a bigger stack, the kind that you’d knock over if you swung your jacket at it as a result of unseasonably warm weather. Still, it was a stack, where it might have been nothing at all. It had been dark in that cave, after all, and nine chapters wasn’t something to sneeze at. (The dust that the writer had allowed to collect in the corners and high shelves of the cave? That was another matter entirely.)

Outside the cave, trees rustle in the breeze, the chittering leaves passing judgement on the writer’s lack of progress. Or maybe that’s all in the writer’s head, which is thick with the oppressive warmth. The writer looks back in the cave, considering a quick retreat, then turns and marches away before he can change his mind, reaching the relative coolth of the shade beneath the trees. From there, he leans sideways and peers around the great trunk. A passing bicyclist sees the writer’s head pop out from behind the tree, squeaks in fright, and veers away, narrowly missing an elderly man crossing the road. The man rears back in fright, and the thin plastic bag he holds tears apart, spilling its load of canned meats and fruits. They clunk onto the road, denting and rolling hither and thither. The man gets slowly to his knees and shepherds the cans back into his arms.

The writer, pulling a face, hides behind the tree with his back to it. He is red-faced and not just from the heat. He forgets how close he is to civilization, because down in the cave it feels very far away. Maybe he should return to the cave, he thinks. After all, he knows where the book ends, and a lot of the events that need to happen to get there, but much of the book remains a mystery to him. The only way to solve that mystery is to write, even if he doesn’t know what the next sentence, the next word will be. He grimaces. Yes, back to the cave. It’s dark down there, but there’s work to be done.

Before he goes back, he carves nine notches into the rough bark of the tree, where a summer ago he had carved a rough rectangle with the words Book 3 at the top. Nine. There’s room for fifty marks. The untouched bark stares at him and the writer turns away, trudging back to the cave. On the way, the hint of a cool breeze tickles the back of the writer’s neck. Taking a deep breath, the writer pauses, stretches, tries to release some of the tension in his neck and shoulders. Then it’s back down into the cave and back to work.  This time, though, the writer tells himself he’ll check on the outside world more often. As long as the weather changes soon.