None of the members of the Second Avenue Writer’s Club had shared any work within the last year. The Second Avenue Writer’s Club was formed, some three years ago, after its founding members completed a creative writing course. The club was just a summer fever dream. Ill conceived, but full of good intentions.
Despite the failures of the Second Avenue Writer’s Club, its members arrived promptly at 7 on the second Wednesday of every month. In truth, this writer’s club had devolved into a glorified book club, if it was anything at all. Bottles of wine would be consumed along with an ornate meat and cheese platter. Sometimes the platter would just be a string of grapes, if a bout of veganism was running through the group’s members. The casual observer would find this group of faux-writers insufferable. If the members were pressed to admit such a fact, it would be impossible to find a member who would deny the charges too.
Lauren hosted the club in her third floor apartment. It looked out into the street, lined with cars and palm trees. Light fixtures designed to look like they had been there for decades lit the darkening street.
After the cups had been placed, the wine opened and poured for Lauren, she stood by her bi-fold door, looking out, waiting. She first noticed an old Honda attempting to parallel park. The car was Dennis’. He wasn’t much of a driver. It took him so long Lauren noticed Salina turn the corner on her bike before Dennis made much progress.
Now was the time for Lauren to fret over any last minute details. The couch looked neat and clean. Her blankets had been folded and hung on the backs of the couch. There were plenty of coasters for the amount of expected guests, and the platter looked fine.
The door rattled. Lauren opened it. Salina, with her frazzled hair from the helmet, scooted herself and her bike through the door without saying a word. She was out of breath and very sweaty. Lauren said hello and asked Salina how her day was. It took Salina some time before she managed to answer. She only muttered out a desire for water.
“Hot out there, today?”
“Of course. Hot, hot, hot.”
“Not much hope for rain either?”
“I think the monsoon asked for a rain-check.”
Lauren laughed a little as she leaned against the kitchen counter closest to the stove. Salina was in front of the island sink, between Lauren and the door, pouring herself successive glasses of water. She wiped her brow with a napkin after her final drink and in the same motion, her hand quickly grabbed a small vine of grapes. With ferocious speed the hand dispensed a grape into Salina’s mouth. While she chewed the small grape, Salina sniffed the bottles of wines and poured herself the red one.
Dennis, without saying a word, walked through the main door. Under his arm were some books and notebooks. Instead of saying hello he plopped them down on a desk by the door and went to the restroom.
“I assume that’s Dennis?”
“Yeah, he’s in the bathroom, though.”
“Not even a hello, straight to business.”
“We live in a go, go, kind of world.”
“Too true, dear.”
With everyone inside, Lauren allowed herself to sit down on the armchair in her apartment. The small, flower adorned furniture piece sat out, closest to the stereo speakers facing the couch. She placed her glass of white wine down on the floor beside the chair. Salina followed and moved to the very center of the couch across the way. Her phone was in her hand, emitting its eternal light onto her face as she pulled it close to read its secret messages.
“Looks like we’re having a light crowd tonight,” Salina said. “George is working late. Mary and Daniel are still in California.”
“What about Hugo?”
“He never replied.”
Dennis emerged from the bathroom. Flushing sounds could still be heard until he closed the door behind him. Lauren noticed his wet hands clasped over the books and papers, wetting the covers. She nodded a little in disgust, but realized Dennis’ hygiene was a lost cause.
“Lauren, I was telling Salina this idea I had the other day.”
“It’s a pretty good idea,” Salina added.
“I want to make a website for authors. And on it I’ll sell the first sentence to writers for short stories, books, essays, whatever.”
“The first sentence?”
“Why just the first sentence? Isn’t that like a writing prompt you can just get for free?”
“Sorta, but I’ve realized something. Whenever I’m out and about, I’m always thinking of the first sentence to something. It’s always gold too, way better than any writing prompt you can get for free. But I can never think of where to take it. I keep thinking of these smashing ideas, day in and day out, but I’m just too stuck to move on. So I might as well sell them. It’s all I’m good at.”
This was true. Dennis wasn’t the best at prose. His literary skill set revolved around making outlandish statements, which were good in theory. But then he’d try to write around them with supporting bits of information, and so on. None of that was any good. Plus, he was a better sketcher to begin with. When Dennis joined the Writer’s Club he had two intentions: learn to write for the comics he wanted to develop, and start dating Mary. Daniel beat him to the later intention, so here he was.
“So what’s an example of these great sentences?” Lauren asked.
“Well, I can’t think of any at the moment. I never really write them down to begin with.”
“But you’re good at it? Thinking of these first sentences, that you never even write?”
“Ok. So you’ll start writing them?”
“I suppose so. I probably need to learn how to start a website first.”
The whole idea depressed Lauren. She thought it sad that Dennis thought he was good at something he never even followed through with. She supposed there were plenty of people like that, going about their lives thinking they’re good at things they’ve never even done. Lauren thought it should be illegal to be running around with that sort of self-confidence. It seemed dangerous.
“Although I like the idea, I don’t think he’ll go anywhere with it,” Salina finally said.
“Oh, really?” Dennis asked.
“Name one other thing I haven’t followed through on.”
“I’m still working on them.”
Dennis’ face turned red. He turned around and went into the kitchen. Lauren turned back to Salina, raising both of her eyebrows sheepishly. Salina got up from the couch. She first stretched her back and then went into the kitchen with Dennis.
“Could you top me off?” she asked. Right then, Salina drained her first glass. Dennis did so without a word. He poured his own glass of the cheap wine.
“You ever think they ferment this stuff in the same place they pour motor oil?”
Dennis was looking up at his poured red wine. It was a deep maroon. Lauren only picked up the cheapest stuff for the monthly club. She did this, so no one would feel obligated to give her a few bucks. When Lauren hosted, everything was her treat.
“This stuff tastes like sludge, is all,” Dennis said. He drank half of his glass and topped it off before he went back into the living room. “I wonder if it comes from the same spigot as motor oil. I just imagine some conglomerate owning all of the typical liquid-based consumer products, like motor oil, olive oil, wine, soda, anything, you know? And to save money they just have the stuff run through the same spigot, regardless if it’s motor oil or wine.”
“There’s that anti-capitalist charm,” Lauren said. She drained her own glass of wine. “Bring me the bottle of the white stuff.”
Dennis turned back into the kitchen, reached over the counter and grabbed Lauren’s preferred wine. Finally, he sat down on the couch and handed Lauren the bottle.
“First order of business?” Salina asked.
Each of them reported they had nothing to share this time. So, they moved on to what they had been reading.
“I’m still reading ‘Blood Meridian’,” Dennis said.
“Still on your western kick?” Salina asked.
“It’s an anti-western,” he said.
“You read that on Wikipedia.”
“Well, I just started ‘In Cold Blood’,” Lauren said. “It’s pretty good,” she added.
“Hmm, I haven’t been reading a whole lot. Work’s been keeping me busy,” Salina said.
The room fell silent. None of them were even reading the same books, leaving much to be desired in the form of discussion. Lauren looked at Salina and Dennis. They already had their phones out, scrolling through feed after feed of photos and think-pieces on the social ills of the time. This sight made Lauren feel sick to her stomach. The same feeling took rise in her stomach during every Writer’s Club, lately. Last month the same thing had happened. The club wasn’t the same anymore. No one had any writings to report, nor had anyone been reading the same book or a suggested book from one another. Everyone was living in their self-consuming bubbles. What made Lauren feel worse, was that she was no better. And nothing came to mind on how to change things. Perhaps, though, she just needed to let it all spill out there. This Club was dead.
“What are we doing, anymore?” Lauren asked. “Is this a Writer’s Club, or just us hanging out?”
Dennis and Salina put their phones away. Both of their faces were now awash in guilt. Lauren could tell she had made both of them uncomfortable. But she felt she needed to.
“Writer’s Club,” Dennis reported. “We’re here to share our works?”
“I think we’re just hanging out. No one has shared a thing. I don’t even think anyone has written anything,” Salina said.
Lauren started to look about the room for a few moments. Written anything. The words played over and over in her head, dancing from the back of her throat to the near tip of her tongue. But she knew she’d only repeat the words with anger. Lauren thought of the journal she updated on a daily basis. Her blog she anonymously published weekly, but was still unread. No matter how much she wrote she still couldn’t find the courage to talk about it anymore, let alone tell someone she was writing.
“Well,” Lauren said. She stumbled over her thoughts and considered each word with a seriousness only heart attacks should have. “I’ve been writing.”
“You have?” Salina asked. “Well, nows the time to share it. Isn’t that why we created this thing? No one else has anything.”
“And that’s the point,” Lauren finally blurted out. “We started this thing so we can share our shit, but no one has been doing it. No one has done it for a while.”
“That’s not true,” Dennis said. “Didn’t we critique — oh, that was you. Shit.”
“Shit, indeed,” Lauren said. She became flustered. “There isn’t a point in having a Writer’s Club if no one else shares their work. It just can’t be me, otherwise this would be the ‘Lauren Shares her Shit’ club. Or something like that.”
Once more, like clockwork, the room went silent. Lauren sat back in her chair and polished off another glass of wine. From the bottle beside her she poured another, and drank that too. Dennis and Salina sat on the couch, still wallowing in guilt. Their minds quickly thought of something to say, anything, but blankness ruled the moment.
The pair considered how unfair it was they weren’t taking the Writer’s Club so seriously. But they wondered if it ever was serious in the first place. Salina remembered when she first joined. During college she’d present at the poetry readings down by the bookstore. Lauren would watch, and eventually invited her to the Club out of the blue. At the time it was exciting and new. Salina became fast friends with everyone. But none of them were very serious and Salina herself fell out of writing poetry. Work piled far too high and she was so close to graduation. And now, Salina realized she didn’t even think about possible poems to write.
And Dennis, he had given up on his artistic pursuits long ago. The youngest drawing in his notebook was six months old. He started to thumb through the notebooks, in hopes of finding something new. He could only find a scribbled in star, near the top right side of a mostly blank page.
“I think I should get going,” Dennis said.
“Don’t leave,” Lauren said. She wiped her face, holding back tears. “I don’t know. I’m just frustrated. Frustrated with my writing, frustrated with having nothing worth sharing. It all sucks.”
“I feel the same way,” Salina said.
“So, what should we do?” Lauren asked.
“I think you should show us your work,” Salina quickly said. It was followed by more silence.
Dennis nodded. He leaned further back into the couch and said he was ready to do some critiquing. Lauren gave them a faint smile. She got up from her chair, feeling the wine gently sway her body.
“Ok, then,” Lauren said. “But if I show you stuff now, I want to see stuff from both of you, next week.”
“We’ll try,” Salina said. She looked to Dennis. “Right?”
He smiled. And said of course. Lauren smiled back and said she had been working on a particular story for a while, now. Specifically, she wanted to know if it was worth a damn, or if it should be tossed.
“That’s all I want to know,” Lauren said. “If I should stick with it, or just quit.”