writing exercise, 750words.com
fiction by Jason Edwards
A man dressed in khaki chinos and white cotton chambray work shirt with the sleeves rolled up to his forearms sits in front of a rickety desk, in a tiny room in a tall building in old San Juan, Puerto Rico. On the desk, a typewriter hulks and a half-drunk Cuba Libra sweats. The air is still. Cigarette smoke hangs. The man gazes out at the Bajo Tablazo, one elbow on the desk, hand up, two fingers up, cigarette contributing to the entropy of the universe in orange embers and a subtle hint of vanilla off the filter. He slides the cigarette into his mouth, closes one eye against the smoke, turns to the typewriter, and fills the room with clacking and clicking.
The page fills with words. It’s the sentence “Look at the frog,” over and over again. Look at the frog. Look at the frog. Look at the frog. His typing pace is a mother and son running in broken gaits across a desert trying to avoid monstrous sand worms. He stops. Typo. Look at the fog. There’s sweat on his forehead, sweat in his armpits, a drop rolls down his back slow enough to give him a chill. A hot, smothering chill. He looks guiltily out the window, then back inside, at the wall opposite.
He picks up the Cuba Libre, brings it to his lips, sets it back down in precisely the same position. There’s no perceptible loss of liquid. The man unrolls the page in the typewrite a bit, glares at that word. Fog. God damn it. God damn it all to hell. In a fit he rips out the page, crumples it, cocks his hand back to throw the wad at the wall opposite the window. Considers the implications. Sighs, and drops the wad at his side.
A fresh piece of paper. He rolls it into the typewriter, twisting it up and down in a complicated rhythm, getting it just right. Gazes out the window again. Ashes his cigarette. He’s avoiding that wall now. He waits.
The view from the window is not exclusively the Bajo. There’s another building, an older one, the top three floors missing. Graffiti, water damage, exposed rebar, grit and dust. Two men in trench coats. Honest to god trench coats. How often does it rain in Old San Juan? How often is it dark? Is it ever cold?
They’re trying to stick to shadows. The man in the room can’t see them, wouldn’t look at them if he could. An old legend that when clipper ships came to the New World, they were so alien the natives literally could not seem them. The man has been in Puerto Rico for about a year, and wouldn’t know a trenchcoat from a suit of armor.
They whisper at each other. Code words and secret phrases. Each has been sent under the impression that the other is a fake spy and will surely know all of the secret words and code phrases. Proof, like a witch who doesn’t drown, of guilt. And then there will be an inspired chase scene. But who is chasing whom.
The man finds a pack of cigarettes in his pants pocket, a lighter worn smooth from a practiced thumb. Lights up. Inhales deeply. Exhales and fills the room with blue. Ashes, puts the cigarette in his mouth, squints, starts typing. Look at the frog, look at the frog. His rhythm is a drunk kung-fu master defeating ruffians.
Guns are drawn. A Mexican stand-off. A common misunderstanding. Puerto Rico is Spanish, not Mexican. The difference is the difference when asking a napkin in America and asking for one in Great Britain. A cruise ship blows her mighty horn, telling her passengers to come back and bring along their touristy knick-knacks and doo-dads. One of the spies is distracted by the sound, enough for the other spy to try and make a break for it. And shoot the other spy too. Neither plan works. And like a thousand music stands ,dropped off a tall building in a performance by a Julliard music student for his senior thesis, will, by mistake in the random cacophony include a spate that sounds too much like a snippet from Beethoven’s Fifth, earning the senor a D-, the spies manage to start an erstwhile and earnest chase through the now rapidly darkening streets of Old San Juan. Why keep the lights on when the tourists are gone.
The man finishes a page of Look at the frogs and starts another one with a practiced and repetitive rhythm of inserting a new blank page. Behind that wall opposite the window, a parabolic mike linked to a sophisticated tape recorder and computer interpret the rhythms of his typing. Ostensibly, they were recording the two spies on the broken rooftop.
The man knows better. Look at the fog almost started World War III.