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Henry sat in the corner of a small bookstore, an outrageously overpriced pen dancing feverishly between his fingers. He stared furiously at the leather journal before him, desperately trying to think of some way to begin.

It was the beginning, Henry was sure, that was the hardest. The reader either decided to give the story a shot or simply moved on after reading a few words. 

He placed the pen to the paper, made a mark, and then quickly crossed it out. Furrowing his brow, he turned the page to a clean sheet that simultaneously promised both hope and disaster. As he continued to stare, a shadow crossed the page. Not a good sign, he thought.

Hey, Henry, is that you? How are you doing?

Looking up and gently placing his pen on the table, Henry saw Winston, an old college friend.

Not much. I would say that I’m writing, but I think that would be generous. He gestured furtively at the blank page.

You’re doing better than me. I can’t stand to write. Give me some wood and nails, and I do believe I would never have to read a word again.

Henry was flabbergasted. A world without words? The heresy was so deafening that he refused to let it sink in, choosing instead to stare at his blank sheet of paper.

Oh hey, I didn’t mean to…

Oh, I know- in fact, I’m glad you stopped by- maybe I need to take a small break.

Winston sat down and slapped Henry forcefully on the shoulder.

That’s the spirit. It never hurts to step back and take a look at things differently. One time I spent ten minutes working on a dove tail joint until I convinced myself I needed to move on to something else. So I did- and guess what happened when I went back to it a few hours later?

What? Henry asked, already knowing the answer but playing along.

I knocked the damn thing out in two minutes! One of the best ones I ever did.

Henry suddenly felt something akin to nausea. Here he was, trying to write and an old friend had stopped by and was now comparing his sacred craft to woodworking. He replied with a weak Imagine that, but he didn’t mean it.  In fact, he purposely attempted to keep his imagination from settling on something as mundane as Winston working on a dove tail joint.  He failed miserably.

So, what are you writing about anyway?

I’m not sure yet. I need a good conflict to drive the action, or people will get bored.

Conflict, huh? I remember that from freshman English. You need a fight, isn’t that it?

The nausea was getting worse now. To equate the literary term “conflict” to a mere fight was simplistic to the point of boorishness- yet part of the sickening sensation was the realization that Winston was right on a deeply visceral level. He tried not to think about it. Fortunately, Winston kept talking.

Why do you need a conflict? I dabble in photography from time to time, and none of my pictures ever needed a conflict. The Mona Lisa isn’t engaged in battle- she’s staring right back at you with this eerie look on her face. A lot of poetry doesn’t have to have conflict, either. Maybe you should write that instead- you know, make it easier on you.

Henry could now clearly taste the bile in his throat. His mind pictured a peasant in Ancient Greece encountering Sophocles on the street as he attempted to finish Oedipus Rex and convincing him to be a traveling minstrel instead. It didn’t help. Winston had at least stopped espousing his working thesis for a moment. He had leaned back in his chair and placed his hand on his chin. Henry thought devilishly of giving the man advice on how to affix a banister to a staircase: Oh, Winston, why do you need a banister? Rocking chairs don’t have banisters. Bookcases don’t have banisters- yeah, that’s it, you should just stop making staircases and focus on bookcases. Then they can hold all the books that don’t have a conflict. He could imagine the look on Winston’s baffled face if he had said the words, but decided it wasn’t worth it.

Winston’s cell phone buzzed and he checked the screen for a brief, frowning moment.

Looks like the wife is done shopping. I have to go. If I’m not there in five minutes, they’ll be hell to pay. Winston stood to leave, extending his hand. We’ll have to get together soon- maybe you can tell me about what you’ve written?

Sure, said Henry through clenched teeth, his mind trying to erase the last five minutes from his mind even as his own hand rose to accept the farewell.

Winston turned to go, and then spun back toward Henry.

Oh, hey, do you know that thing about the million typing monkeys? If they would eventually type Hamlet, I’m sure you’ll come up with something. Keep trying.

Henry momentarily perked up.

Actually, I’ve thought of that. I think they would type the actual script, but it would be art without an artist- a bastardized conception. Part of what makes art great is that it was created with actual intent, not haphazardly wrought through perfectly random forces. What would you do if a hurricane came by, threw around all your lumber, and somehow miraculously formed a complete chair?

Oh, that’s easy- I think I would make one less chair. Probably sell it on online, though- I bet a chair like that would catch a pretty good price. But hey, I got to run. Good luck again.

And with that, Henry was alone. He sat there for a long while, staring at the same blank page. Then he slowly stood up and tossed his journal into the trash. He told himself he would try again tomorrow.

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