Three weeks. Three weeks of lockdown. Puffing on a cigarette, I look between the thick curtains into the street. Guer, a village in Brittany, France, was already quiet before.
Now, it’s dead.
It has become the home of birds chirping and ducks kwaking. Not too bad. I would be okay if it wasn’t for the heat. I wipe my forehead, dripping sweat under my thick and curly hair. I hate the heat. It’s only April and it’s already 28°C here. I thought that by going up north, I would escape my personal hell. But it’s even worse now.
The south of France, Marseille, was my home before. Back there, the temperatures would go up to sometimes more than 35°C. But we had the sea wind of the Méditerrannée. Fresh and strong, it was a relief. I’m not on the oceanic coast here. I’m inland, in the magical Brocéliande forest. The territory of Arthur and Mirdin. So, no fresh and strong wind. At least my father isn’t here. Which is nice…
I get away from the window and leave my L-shaped living room. My black cat, Chewey, is as hungry as I am. Inside my small kitchen, I open the fridge, the fresh air soothing my burning skin. I take a glass water bottle and press it against my cheek, moaning in relief. After a few seconds of desperate meowing, I give in and offer some patty to the famished beast and grab some potato salad for myself. Tomorrow, I’ll eat samosas.
That’s what my life has become. Waiting, cooking, eating, waiting again. I’m 28 years old and I have no job, no relationship, no friends and I live in a state-funded apartment. At least I have my unemployment checks, but it will not last forever. With the lockdown, it will be complicated to find some work to do… My last one was on the Monolith’s site of Monteneuf. As a guide and storyteller around the legends surrounding the gigantic and so-called magical rocks. Legends that had been passed through generations, of antique powers and sightings. It was nice. All the children were adorable, with sparkling eyes of awe, imagining fae and sometimes stone giants roaming the land. But it’s over now. It lasted three weeks.
I sit down at the dining table, with my potatoes and a beer. Seriously, what have I become? Okay, I suffer from depression and anxiety. But as my father always says: “It’s not an excuse. You’re Brunet and a woman. You have to work ten times harder than anyone”. I hop from job to job, I have no prospects. I’m a failure. The smell of vinegar and spices fills the room as I eat. I’m bored. And it’s the worst feeling. One of the most dangerous ones. It leads to apathy, which leads to depression.
I had hopes and dreams before. I would become an author. Write to represent and empower women, share our struggles and victories. It was my life goal. I was talking about it all the time. But my parents weren’t receptive. They wanted me to have a “respectable job,” they said. Lawyer or doctor or anything of the sort. They wanted me to have all they didn’t have. I went to law school. But being the only poor woman was hard. Harassment, sexist insults, sexual assault… I suffered my first depression… and worse.
I know, I know... “It’s not an excuse.” Or so said my parents, especially my father. But I was really at my lowest and I dropped out. They stopped talking to me. Except, of course, when my father kept reminding me through passive-aggressive messages what a disappointment I was.
The last time I saw them was at my grandmother’s funeral, three years ago. She had taken me in. Had helped me get into therapy. With all her might, she had shielded me against the attitude of her son-in-law. She was amazing. My only friend. Now I’m alone. And I have no goals, no dreams, nothing left.
Sipping on my beer --which I know I shouldn’t drink with my meds--, I look at my TV screen. A character is choking one of his minions with his magic. The man is a bad guy but I can’t stop feeling for him. Then I realise it’s because he makes me think of myself. Losing my breath and my mind over something invisible, intangible, that I can’t control and that I can’t fight.
I slowly put my beer on the table. I don’t want to be like that poor lad. Because he’s a mass murderer but also because, unlike him, I have weapons against my own great villain. I have my anti-depressant meds, anti-anxiety meds, and my sheer will. I’m strong. And I have plenty of time, thanks to the quarantine, to do something with myself.
Like a sleepwalker, I go to my bookshelves and pick one of my notebooks. A grey leather bound that I used so much the cover got wrinkly and some pages are torn. I go to the end, where I have last written. It was four years ago, the outline of a YA fantasy. The story of a young, powerful girl that discovers she has the ability to see her Ancestors and draw power from them. I had everything, a complete outline, character sheets, timeline, everything. Then, my Grandma got sick. And I forgot everything about it.
Grandma was really excited to see me working on this. She wanted me to succeed. And I want it too. Even if I don’t get published, I want to at least finish a first draft. I stand up, the notebook in my hand. I’m gonna do this.
I stand on the top of a chair. I don’t know why I’m doing this. The typewriter, a yellowy-white and bulky, electric one, is so heavy I can’t breathe while trying to carry it over my head. Why did I put that goddamn thing on the top of my wardrobe? Its weight crushes my sore muscles, challenging my balance. The heat of the early afternoon transformed my bedroom into an oven. I can taste my salty sweat as I finally manage to take the typewriter against my chest. I wobble a bit, the chair creaking under me, and take a breath. Okay, it’s secured. I get down and go to my living room. I must look like a weird crab, walking like that.
I don’t have an office or even a desk space. So I put the typewriter at one extremity of the dining table. It will have to do. Why don’t I use my laptop? Well… that typewriter was my Grandma’s. And since I’m partially doing it in her honour, it’s only logical. Or at least it was when I took the decision. I plug the monster in. Chewey jumps on the table to sniff it. He meows, curious. This spot is usually his. That machine has taken his place.
“You will have to deal with it, Chewey,” I say, listening to the humming of the typewriter.
The black keyboard is hard to press. I put a sheet of paper in. The clicking is satisfying. Then I type my name. The keys fight against me, refusing to smoothly work like modern ones. I’m used to typing without thinking. Those black squares are gripped, heavy. Now, I have to own each letter, one by one. At last, I sigh in relief. The ink is still kicking! Not as pure black as it could be but certainly there. I smile. The first time in ages.
I grab my laptop and search for a live write-in on Youtube. Of course, there aren’t any, since most of them are held by Americans. So I use a replay. I don’t feel lonely anymore. Don’t get me wrong, Chewey is… as good company as could be. But it’s not the same as human beings. I can’t talk with him. A cat won’t exchange ideas, won’t give me a warm smile, try to pick me up when I doubt myself, or ask me for advice. It won’t joke either. My cat doesn’t even cuddle.
While listening to the intro of the video, I go over my chapter-by-chapter outline once again. It’s not bad! As the voice of the host fills the room, a shadowy presence kicking away the loneliness, I start to imagine my characters. Alive and moving. A seven minutes sprint starts. It takes me a minute to jump into it. I’m nervous. But the words start to flow. Around the world, dozens of writers had spent those seven minutes putting in as many words as they could. Together, they had worked to make the world a better place. And I’m joining them through time.
Malorie held her breath. The deer was drinking peacefully in the river…
For a few minutes, I forget about myself and become Malorie. Little by little, she’s coming alive under my fingers. Her tan skin is shining under the sun, with golden undertones. Her braided hair smells like rich almond oil. She is powerful, confident. Too much sometimes, but she deserves it. She can be afraid too because she doesn’t accept her gift. She doesn’t understand her link to her Ancestors. All those women within her family line who held the same power. She doesn’t know she can harness it. Harness their strength.
She avoids the guards, she needs to find food and she’s going to hunt that deer. The law of the invaders doesn’t matter to her. Her muscles tense, as she aims her hunting bow. She has to be swift. The men in arms aren’t far. She won’t go to prison. Not again…
Letting myself flow with the story is peaceful. Alongside other writers from all around the globe, I write. All their silhouettes sit around me. They type, they scribble with their pens and pencils. Some of them men, others women. Young and old, of any ethnicity. We work as one. And I’m not alone anymore. One of them sips coffee and the smell fills the room. I tell a joke and a few laughs. It’s exhilarating.
As I knew I would, I’m struggling with the typewriter. I go from one live write-in video to the other. Each host is funny and encourages me to keep going. Some hold seven minutes writing sprints, others go to fifteen or even twenty-five. We work. I work. And it’s amazing.
At the end of the day, I reread the chapter and realise that I’ve put a lot of myself into Malorie. A lot of my insecurities, doubts and aspirations. It’s not too bad. I write what I know and it’s the first time I’ve attempted to create a full-fleshed character. So… yeah, I think it’s okay. Maybe a bit too “fanficey” for a novel but I can rework this in the edits.
I go take a bath to relax. The lukewarm water takes away all the stress and questioning from my mind. As my muscles relax, I think about today. I’ve accomplished a lot. I’ve been proactive. It’s been so long since I’ve done something! A feeling of pride takes over me. I can do this. I definitely can… I’ve never finished a first draft, it’s true. But we all start from somewhere. I’m almost thirty and I’ve never studied in that field. But I wouldn’t be the first author to do it that way. With this tardiness. I’m behind, compared to a lot of people. Some teenagers have already finished multiple first drafts and even edited them. I don’t know anymore.
So… Can I do this? While dressing in a fresh nightgown, I start to wonder. How many times have I been like this? Overexcited and proud, doing something, sure I could accomplish something grandiose. Just to stop after a few days, once my fire had disappeared. No. I have to stop thinking about this, I say to myself. I have to stay positive. It’s possible. I’m not the only one going through this and I don’t have less value than the next writer. I just need to stay focused and work my arse off. Keep it up, Miranda!
I lay down in my bed. The window is open to let the fresh air of the night get in. I can smell the rose bushes downstairs and grass. As I fall asleep, I start dreaming of the sound of the typewriter and hear someone whispering my name.
My name is now Malorie. I don’t know how but I know I’m dreaming. The rocks of the maquis are scratching and burning my bare feet. My palm is moist around the body of my bow. I kneel, looking around me. I’m close to the river. The shadow of the pine trees is long under the sun.
Someone is approaching. A presence behind my back. I hear them breathing, panting. They are going up the hill I’m standing on. Horses are drinking, far away. I want to stand up and run. Reach the river to hop on a horse and get away. But I can’t move.
“It’s stupid, this is your dream, you can control it. And you don’t have to be afraid, none of it is real!” I say to myself. But I can’t help it. My heart starts racing and I can’t move. I try to stand up but even if I imagine my movements nothing happens. It should be a beautiful dream where I get to be my beloved character but it’s ruined.
I don’t know how long I stay there. The sun doesn’t move, I keep hearing and feeling the person walking toward me. But they never reach me. And I just stay there, like an idiot. Until I wake up.
Sounds in the night
The scorching sun wakes me up at 8 a.m. and I’m not happy about it. But, at least, it gives me more time to write. So I decide to be happy about it. As happy as can be. It saved me from the nightmare I was having after all. My kitchen is still cool, so I run to it after closing the window and curtains of my bedroom. I grab my breakfast and go to the living room.
Last night, I left my little workspace in shambles. Pages were everywhere, there was a plate and the typewriter was unplugged. Everything is pristine. I think someone even wiped the table. Did I sleep-clean? Is it even possible? The typewriter is plugged and buzzing. There is still a sheet in it. And it’s not my last page. Grabbing it, I start reading and don’t recognise the words on it.
“I… can’t have cleaned and written without remembering. It’s not possible,” I mumble, all my blood leaving my face.
The page falls on the floor. I have to check my apartment. The linoleum of the floor squeaks under my bare feet as I walk sideways, my back against the walls. First thing, I make sure my door is locked. Three times, I turn the key. All good. Same for the windows. Then, I check each millimetre of the place. Are my items misplaced? Is there a smell I don’t recognise? Some adrenaline jolts through me every time I have to move from one wall to the other. A hand could grab me. I could be knocked out by someone. But it’s all normal in here. Is it too normal? The last thing I do is punch the blankets in my cupboard. Nobody grunts. Nobody fights back.
With my palms on my table, back in the living room, I breathe in. I wish Grandma was here to tell me everything's gonna be okay. Or to put her foot down and shake me back into sanity. My head turns but the Diazepam pill I just took will help with that. Sitting eyes closed, trying not to think about all that could happen to me when I’m in the dark, I focus. Breathing in three times. Exhaling five times. Organising my thoughts. What happened here? Someone wrote on my typewriter and cleaned my place. Who was it?
What kind of twisted mind would do such a thing? Especially with cops turning in the village to enforce the lockdown! Little by little, with my calculated breathing and thanks to the pill, I feel my heart slowing. My shaking limbs calm down and the walls stop turning around. Okay. I’m okay, I try to convince myself. It’s possible that I wrote this in my sleep. Sleepwalking can be a symptom of my depression and anxiety. Yes, it’s true. It makes sense. It’s weird, yes. But I’m messed up anyway. I already know that. It has to be me. I was locked inside the entire day and night. Nobody could’ve gotten in.
After a long moment, I stand up. I grab the page that fell and the other ones, and put them on top of my own work. Taking a deep breath, I start reading.
It’s written from the point of view of another character. An elderly woman from the village, named Romane, that had had the same power as Malorie in her youth. She takes her under her wing. Or tries to. Malorie isn’t up for it, as she is running away. Her power is, after all, dangerous. Feared by the forces that invaded their country two hundred years ago.
I looked at her. She was tall and knew of her strength. Her eyes were full of a fire ready to scorch the earth in her path. Muscular, there was no way to deny she knew how to hunt and fight. But there was a pain, hidden deep. My eyesight may have been cloudy but her soul shone bright. She could have been a Queen in the future. But at the moment, the crown would have crushed her.
It’s good for a first draft. And I can see how this new character may add depth to the story. A fiery character and one made of water. The future and past colliding. A bridge between Malorie and her Ancestors. I could also fix a few plot points that would’ve been complicated for Malorie to accomplish alone. But I know I never thought of it while awake. I smile. It’s so on point, it has to be proof it was me. Nobody could’ve added this in my story so pristinely except for… Well, me. I was dreaming of the story last night. A weird nightmare, yes. But it must’ve gotten my brain working and I did this!
So I do the mature thing and decide not to think of it too much anymore. I’ll do something about it later. All morning, I write Romane’s character sheet, her arc and include her in the outline. It’s easier than expected. As if the story had waited for her to appear. I don’t freak out and prepare my samosas.
While I cook, I put a plan together. This afternoon, I’ll just do as programmed and draft the second… no, the third chapter. After that, I’ll do something about that… situation. If I’m sleepwalking now, it’s concerning. I could hurt myself or Chewey. I have to handle this.
Today, I’m lucky. There is an actual live stream for me to work with. I put it on and abandon myself in my writing. The voices of the hosts help me think about something other than the weirdness of this morning. But, as I make Malorie interact with Romane, I realise I won’t be able to completely erase the event from my mind.
I don’t even know why I’m going along with it anymore. Even if Romane is a good idea, I don’t feel like I have control over this character. It just popped into my life unannounced. It’s mine but also… it’s not. But she’s so good for the story!
Romane's eyes made me uncomfortable. They were pale because of some old person’s disease. But they kept focusing on me. As if she could see me clearly. As if she could see inside of me.
And that draft of the second chapter is like that to me. As if someone had seen inside my head and extracted what could be. And it gives me a weird impression. Like, someone is staring at me, blankly. Their eyes deep holes I could fall into. Their laser sight pierces my skull and rummages in my thoughts. I’m followed. All the time. I even glance over my shoulder from time to time, just to make sure nobody’s standing in the corner. But it also makes me curious. Because this someone I’m fearing seems to be me. I need to call my therapist.
Time passes by and the night sets in. I’ll finish later than yesterday with all that work this morning. But it’s not a bad thing. It gives me time to think about my plan. It’s bold and could cause a disaster if someone is really getting inside my apartment. But hey, what can you do? Stop messing with yourself, Miranda. What I really want is to catch myself in the act, to show it to my therapist.
I check the front door again, just in case. Then, I set my camera up, hidden behind books but with a good view of the typewriter. I leave a mess, like yesterday, and go to bathe and sleep. Needless to say that even a fresh bath doesn’t solve my anxiety issue of the night. I only stay in for five minutes, unable to relax and too scared some stranger will barge in. But no, it won’t happen. You’re locked in. You’ve even closed the windows despite the heat. You’re safe and your brain is sick and messing with you. You’re locked in… I put my thoughts on repeat, the sentences swirling around. I can picture the letters burning themselves on the wall in front of me.
A few moments later, I’m laying under the covers despite the heat. Yes, the night is fresher but still… I almost can’t breathe. But I need that layer like a shield over me because I’m scared. Scared that I’ll hear someone getting in, someone cleaning and typing. Even though I know it’s impossible.
I stay awake for at least an hour, listening, hearing all the creaks and bangs from the wood of the ceiling moving. The crickets are deafening. My body relaxes, the high temperature is numbing.
As my eyes are closing, the sound of the keyboard wakes me. I didn’t hear anyone get in. What? Why? I’m frozen, unable to move and my eyes fixated on the wall. I weep, sounding like a miserable dog. Teardrops fall on my pillow. Am I losing my mind?
I try to focus. The light in the room seems surreal. A breath fills my ears, rasp and panicked. It’s my own. It has to be my own. Each shadow fixes me. They lurk, they move but they don’t. I have to move. I know this state. It’s happened before. I have to test myself. I try to close my eyes. It doesn’t work. Then, I try to move my hand before my face. I feel the movement. I can picture my hand in my mind. But a part of me knows it’s not here for real. I don’t see it. Not for real.
The sound of the typewriter gets louder and louder. My heart tries to escape my ribcage. I want to cry but I can’t. I need to wake up. To wake up for real!
There is no clicking sound anymore. I woke up panting. A headache destroys my brain. The blanket is on the ground. I press my hands on my closed eyes, trying to think. I need to watch the video. But what if that person is still here? My… stalker or something. No, yesterday morning, they were gone. They have to be gone. I mean, I had decided there wasn’t anyone in the first place. But I also heard the typewriter in my sleep paralysis state. Didn’t I? Or was I imagining things? I don’t know anymore. So, I get up, grab my lightsaber replica and get in the corridor. Nothing. Slowly, I get to the front door and almost pee myself. It’s closed. What the frick? Do they have a key? That’s the worst! Or maybe it’s the best. It should be proof nobody was here. Because nobody was here, Miranda! Or maybe, just maybe…
I get to the living room. No one in the dining part. The table is tidied up though. I jump to the TV section. Empty. I turn in my apartment. There is no one but me. And Chewey who sounds like he is dying of hunger. I give him some food and, putting my lightsaber against the wall, I go to the camera. I put a charged battery inside and start to watch the video on my TV screen, with the sound up. I go to the time around which I heard the sound. But there is no figure on the screen.
Don’t get me wrong. I do hear the keyboard. But nobody is using it. Worse, I see the dishes fly out of the room in the direction of the kitchen. The pages lying around put themselves in a neat pile. Like in the stories I told to the children when I worked in Monteneuf. I feel like I’m gonna vomit.
“Do you see that, Chewey?” I ask my cat.
He stares at me, bored out of his mind. Objects flying, items using themselves… Is that a particularly well-executed prank? I grab my lightsaber again, get on a chair and start poking the ceiling, trying to find hidden cameras. The plastic makes a pitiful sound. I look at my lamp, along the ridges of the ceiling’s beams, on top of the doors. No cameras, no microphones, and no well-hidden devices to make it seem like the objects are flying.
I’ve lost it.
“That’s so well done! Is it CGI or did you use invisible cables?”
“So spooky and magical. I’ll show it to all my friends XD”
“So sad it’s in night mode. But it’s a start. Hope you can do a video in the daytime next.”
“Clearly fake. Dislike.”
“Did you see my text message?”
Okay so. I posted the video on my Youtube account. And it seems like everyone sees the things that I see. My cousin doesn’t seem to care though. Her text message was asking me for money I don’t have. So I’m not completely mad.
A thought dawns on me. My Grandma’s typewriter must be magical. My heart swells in my throat. I take a break and look at it. It’s still a dirty white, still bulky, still a bit dusty, but suddenly I find it the most beautiful thing on Earth. I have a magical object. Magic is actually real. More, this typewriter chose to help me write. How awesome is that? I’m so happy that I feel like screaming and just start laughing. I touch the precious item with the tip of my fingers.
“Thank you,” I whisper with a wide smile on my face.
Grandma has gifted me a lot of things during the time I lived with her. Both material and emotional. She taught me how to accept myself, and how to take care of my mind and body --even though that one is still a work in progress. She taught me how to trust, that I could love and be loved. And she gave me my first notebook and planner. But this is the ultimate thing. How come she never told me about it?
Maybe it isn’t magical per se? I think. After all, I live in Broceliande. The land of Fae, Druids, Monoliths and Korrigans. Did one of those beings do this for me? Did they hear my pain and complaints through the veil of their world and mine?
“That’s not possible!” I start to reason with myself. “But it’s not like those comments are fake. Most of those people you don’t know so they couldn’t be in on a prank.”
I grab the book about Brittany’s mythology I used for my work. It says most fae is scary and kills people. Some are just jokers. But there is one type of friendly being. The Margot. Did a Margot decide to help me?
I lay down on my couch. I want to scream. Faes are not supposed to exist. Mirdin, Arthur, Melusine and all those people are just… fairytales. And as much as I love Grandma, she wasn’t magical either. She was just kind, loving and strong. And being a decent human being is good enough. Popping up an anxiety pill because I feel myself shaking more and more, I grab my phone and call my therapist.
“Miranda! I’m glad to hear from you. We’re not supposed to talk for another week. What’s going on?”
Hearing a human voice talking directly to me is such a relief, teardrops cloud my vision.
“I’m losing my mind, Sir. For real this time.”
And I tell him everything. He checks the video I sent him through email and there is a long, long silence. I even check if the call hasn’t ended.
“Miranda,” he says, obviously concerned. “Are you… trying to tell me you believe a Margot turned your typewriter into a magical item of some sort?”
“No!” I protest, my voice shaking as much as my body. “I’m telling you I’m trying not to believe that.”
“Listen,” he sighs. “Do you want to go to the hospital?”
“No, not that. I can get through this without it. Or I want to try. I can’t go back there.”
“Okay. So I’m going to send a new prescription to your pharmacist. And we’ll talk together twice a week from now on.”
He explains to me that he’s upping my antidepressant doses, and adding a new molecule to help my brain distinguish between reality and dream or something. I’ve stopped caring right now. He’s not helping. He’s just pushing new medication on me. I’ll take it, of course. He’s a professional. But I needed more from him right now. I needed sanity. I needed someone to tell me I’m not mad.
As I walk back from the pharmacist, I gasp. For a second, I thought I saw a form in the flirtatious. I kneel and look between the blades of grass. A Korrigan house. Made of walnut shell and twigs. I smile behind my mask. Children playing. It’s just children playing.
Then, near the lake in front of my apartment, I hear bells jingling. Standing in the empty parking lot, hair stands on my neck. In the wind, whispers of laughs and songs reach me. Someone is watching me. And for the first time in years, I don’t feel threatened. This particular stare calms me. I’m watched by someone who cares.
It’s frightening. But also exhilarating. Feeling safe. Right now, I feel safe. This being can shield me against anything and anyone. The help I expected from my therapist, I can get from them. They care and I can trust them. Even though I don’t know them.
Weeping willow branches wave into the breeze. Bells again. That moment is the happiest I’ve ever been in months. I laugh and run back into my home. To Chewey. To my work. To my typewriter.
Sitting down, I grab my laptop and start searching for a write-in. I choose the first I find and get to work. Suddenly, I have no doubts anymore. I’m worthy. I was chosen. I have an actual chance of finishing that novel. Doesn’t matter if it’s published or not, it will be completed. My fingers and hands get sparks of energy as I type, fast and resolute.
Plus, I have a new resolution: to show the typewriter that it was right in selecting me as its new owner. To show the Margot she didn’t make a mistake. My writing is gonna be so good that its magical mind will blow.
“I’m gonna show you!” I yell, exhilarated.
Chewey, who is napping on the blue sofa, meows, bewildered that I dare wake him up. But I don’t care right now. I have power. I have focus. I have my imagination. This is a challenge that I set up in my mind. We will see who, between the magical typewriter and me, can write better.
“Again!” yelled Romane, looking down at me. I was laying down on the dirt. Panting, I glared at her, angry about her tone, angry about the heat, angry about everything. But most of all, angry about that Power. I never asked for it. I never asked to be different, to be the recipient of some ancient magic…
I could understand why Malorie would be mad. I felt a tingling in my stomach. Looking at her, on the verge of breaking apart, was hard. But I found solace in the thought that it was necessary…
The days pass by, powerful sessions of writing change the atmosphere. My apartment isn’t a cage anymore. It’s a sanctuary of Magic and Art. It’s a place where I’m safe, cared for and where nobody can hurt me.
I write the Malorie chapters by day, the typewriter takes care of Romane’s by night. Malorie and Romane learn to know each other, as well as I learn to know my magical item. Slowly, I see a bond forming between us all. My MC learns to do magic, I learn to write better every day. Romane learns to be a teacher and the typewriter learns to adapt to me and teach me lessons. I’ve never been so happy about something. I wake up early, I eat more healthily, and I take time to play with Chewey. He’s not as grumpy as before, either.
Even the weather isn’t as bothersome now. Maybe I’m just less focused on the heat? I forget that I should hate it. The sun rays between leaves of green, the smell of roses, vinca, and marigold… All of this is now a symbol of happiness and joy.
Chewey brushes against my ankles as I stretch after six hours of work. It’s been a good day. I even surprised myself by doing the dishes! Am I becoming better at adulting? Taking a sheet out of the typewriter, I reread a scene I just wrote:
I looked at the face of Romane. Her clouded eyes had a look I had never seen before. Tears gleaming at their corners. For the first time, she looked her age, her face carved in knotty wood. I opened my mouth, ready to ask her what was wrong…
The same thing happened to me in the past. With my Grandma. A few weeks after I went to live with her. She was hard on me, not letting me despair and lock myself into nothingness. She helped me stay out of the water. And at that moment, when it seemed like she needed me, I did nothing. I saw the tears she tried to hide. The corners of her pinched lips distorted with sadness. It would have been so easy to reach for her. To say something… Or, at least, to hug her. I didn’t do any of that. Scared, and hurt, I let that moment pass. But Malorie doesn’t have to do that. She can do and say everything I wish I had done and said.
And so we do what has to be done right now. Through Malorie, I express everything my Grandma represented to me. Through me, she tells Romane how important she is to her. Drops run down my cheeks, my hands are shaking. I struggle to breathe and to see the page. Why am I sad? I should be thrilled to do this, to use my work to resolve something that’s been tormenting me for years. And I was happy just moments ago! Or maybe it’s not sadness. Maybe it’s just the bubble of tension and hurt that’s bursting. Mood swings will kill me someday.
So I take some time to regroup with myself and my feelings. It was hard, yes, but it was a good thing. Not only was it cathartic, it made up for an amazing scene. A few tears are okay. You can be emotional, it doesn’t mean you’re a mess. I breathe slowly and compose myself. Everything is fine.
In the end, I go to bed, realising I can’t wait to read Romane’s reaction to my words. But is it healthy though? Those past few days, my therapist --who doesn’t know anything about my acceptance of the typewriter-- has been trying to teach me how to not rely on others to accept myself (and that magic isn’t real but that’s not the topic of the situation). That I have to find a way to see my own worth without the approbation of an external source. Whether it be someone close to me or something else. That I need to exercise my brain to accept itself as it is. And to better myself because I want to and not because I need to… for others.
I feel pity for myself. A grown-ass adult waiting desperately for a magical item to reassure her. It’s ridiculous. My clean sheets smell like violets and I grab my pillow to hug it, losing myself in the fragrance. Chewey jumps on the bed and curls against me, purring like crazy. He’s never been so affectionate before. Or maybe it was me? I just scratch his head and listen to the typing sounds coming from the living room. They rock me to sleep.
Love and other complicated things
“I love you like a daughter, Malorie.”
Those few words, at the beginning of the page, make me weep. I’ve lost control. My Grandma never told me that. I know she thought it. It showed through her actions every day. But she never said it. My typewriter seems to have just filled a hole in my chest. It’s like Grandmother and I just had this long-awaited conversation we needed, thanks to it.
I’m putting too much of myself in the text, am I not? I think. But I realise I don’t care. It’s cathartic. It’s important. I need this. Therapy by writing is a thing after all. And some authors do it anyway. Why should I not? And the readers don’t need to know. Maybe they’ll see it, after revisions, editing. But it’s okay. And it may never be published and… I take a deep breath. I have to stop. And today’s chapter is important.
It’s the midpoint of the book. Malorie and Romane have reached the capital city and are about to try and infiltrate a castle, to bring down the antagonist, the ruler of the country. Of course, it’s not going to be easy. And it will not go well.
This part is exciting. And the action will help me think about something other than my feelings. I’m glad about that. Even though Malorie’s power is deeply rooted in her emotions so… Anyway, let’s start writing. I take a deep breath and place my hands over the keyboard.
And like that, the words start to blacken the page. A jolt runs through me as I reach that zone, where I block everything around me to write. Just write. I don’t need to think about my uneasiness. About the fact that that typewriter I’m using has become my only friend. That an object understands me better than my parents do.
I held my breath. Soldiers were everywhere around us. The tapestries against the white walls moved, waving in the Mistral wind. The smell of the maquis melted in the scent of incense and ripe fruits. I heard the steps of the men in armour go away…
Am I like that? Avoiding men in arms in my brain, slaloming between bad thoughts not to face them and alarm the most dangerous of them all? What? Keep focused! I urge myself, as Malorie finally faces the Big Bad Man: a fascist invader that dares to wear the colours of the royal family he killed. Neither the typewriter nor I have found a name for him yet. So he still has the placeholder of Big Bad Man. It makes me laugh a bit and I calm down.
I write their discussion once. Then twice. Soon, a dozen pages are discarded as I can’t find my way through it. Will I have to let the typewriter do it for me? No! I won’t do that. She’s a helper, not a crutch. And I don’t want to disappoint her. Then I realise I’ve referred to it as “her” in my mind. I stand, starting to pace in the room. My cigarettes are on the table and I just now remember that I haven’t smoked in weeks. Good thing. Even though thinking about it makes me crave nicotine.
A smell of cologne fills the room. I feel like I know that scent. Well, of course, I know what cologne smells like… But that particular brand of cologne I know well. Rich, with a hint of lavender and musk. It comes from the typewriter. And reminds me of my Father. Yes. I understand you, typewriter. You always know best.
I sit down and do as I did before. When I imagined myself talking to Grandma. Now, I’ll imagine that Malorie talks to my Father. It’s sad to associate a Big Bad Man with your own dad. But their political views and character traits are close, sadly. My Father has always been hateful and cruel. Their mannerism matches, too. So it will help me.
I didn’t know the typewriter could do this. It’s like she was talking to me (I’ll just keep referring to it as a “she” won’t I?). Her powers may be more extraordinary than I thought. And anyway, it’s not like I knew a lot of magical items. Heck, before last month, I didn’t even know magic was real.
Facing Father through text seems easier than confessing my love to Grandma. I’m in total control here after all. And I’ve faced his anger, viciousness and contempt so many times before. It’s like a dance, a pas de deux that I know by heart. What’s amazing though, is that here, I’m Malorie. Not Miranda. So I can snap back, and be sassy. I don’t let him be in control, I rob him of that power he has over me. And even if I flee in the end, I know that I’ll come back and win, in the end. What a thrill!
I go through the dialogue one last time. It’s better. Not perfect, but good enough for me to move forward.
“Thank you, typewriter,” I say, smiling.
For a spare second, I hear the humming change, as if she was answering. I think it’s time for me to go to bed. I’m clearly losing my mind.
Romane and Malorie understand each other. Even when they argue, they do it with respect and care. They would never turn their back on each other and they’re ready to die for one another. I’ve never had someone like that since my Grandmother died. Those last three days, I’ve started to feel resentment towards Malorie. I’m a bit jealous. She has agency, she has power, she has a friend and she is going to win. Why? Why her and not me?
It’s stupid to feel that way because it’s all fictional… and I made it this way! Even though Malorie was supposed to be alone in this and it’s the typewriter who added Romane. But still, I gave it a go and why would I feel jealous of my own character?
I haven’t written yet today. I needed a break.
“Sorry typewriter, I just need to rest,” I apologise to an object.
But it’s magical and clearly has a mind of its own, I justify to myself. Sitting on the couch and watching The Return of the King, I eat some ice cream. Vanilla and salted caramel, the best. I have to take a step back. Malorie is a part of me. All she is, I could be… minus the magical powers. And I’ve started to become more like her. I fight to achieve my dream. If I want friends, I need to open myself up more to others. I can find safe people, I just have to look for them.
But there is something else. A secret that I’ve never told anyone. Malorie has it too. But it doesn’t hurt as much for her because she knows Romane would never turn her back on her. Would she? Even my Grandma didn’t know about it. Should I…
I look at the typewriter. When I think about it more closely, I see a lot of Grandma in Romane. She is strong, relentless and kind. The biggest difference is that she’s easier to talk to. Because she’s softer in a way. Maybe I could do it. Maybe I could tell it to Romane, through Malorie. Like I talked about Grandma’s pain and my love for her. It’s a way to cope.
“Romane… I know it’s not a good time, with the Big Bad Man after us and all, but I need to talk to you.”
And I write everything as if I talked to Grandma. How I discovered at a young age that I was attracted to girls as well as boys. How, in secret, I dated both in high school. How I was ashamed, my parents and family being deeply catholic and full of hate -- especially my Father. How I’ve always felt out of place, disgusting, unwelcomed. How being pansexual is already a struggle but being pansexual and a woman was the worst. Even in LGBTQ+ circles, you’re not safe from discrimination. And I’ve wanted to tell her for a long time but I was scared. So scared that even she, even the person I loved most, my best friend, would see me differently. Of course, I don’t use those exact words, to adapt it to the novel, but that’s what I mean, inside my heart.
When I’ve finished, I let my body go, half laying down on my chair. I look at the ceiling, numb and unaware of anything. Teardrops roll in my hair. The decor turns around me and I feel Chewey jumping on my lap and licking my hand. Seems like he doesn’t like that when I’m sad. Was he like that before?
Click, clack, clickety tap. The typewriter is writing. At midday. In front of me!
“I’ve always known you were unique. I don’t care who you love as long as they respect you and love you back. I’m no one to judge you based on something you can’t control. I love you.”
Submerged by love, relief, and sadness, I let myself fall on the floor as the text keeps going on. I can’t keep reading right now, it’s too much to handle. That bitter joy overwhelms me. Chewey runs away, his fur a mess and his ears flat on his head. I feel validated. I feel seen. And I don’t know why, it’s like… like it was Grandma saying those things. I stand up, wiping my face with the back of my hand. The typing is over. Chewey looks at me from the sofa. He is grumpy. And I realise he’s not looking at me… he’s looking past me. Behind me. I turn slowly, hair standing on my neck. I breathe in.
Grandma is here. Light shines on her. From her. She looks like an angel. Glowing tan skin, a face wrinkled with kindness and laughter. She wears her most beautiful red dress and her white hair is thick and prettily curled. Exactly how she was when we buried her. I chose those clothes and that wig for her. Even her golden jewellery.
“It was you, wasn’t it?” I ask with a coarse voice, already knowing the answer. “It wasn’t the typewriter itself or a Margot, it has never been.”
She nods, kindness on her calm face. I fly to her, not daring to touch her, scared she’ll disappear. My heart inflates inside me. She brushes my cheek and just says: “Hello, sweety”. And like that, it’s like she never left.
We spend the day talking about the book.
“You should be sure about your theme and execution. It’s easy to end up passing the opposite message. You want to value the memory of fellow oppressed women, show their strength and power. Make sure it’s what you say,” says Grandma.
Her voice is as I remember it. Deep and shaky. She smells of almonds. She would seem alive if it wasn’t for the light and the strange echo when she speaks.
We write together, correct the outline, and prepare for the last act.
But what will happen when I write “The End”?
I’m trying to sleep, as Grandma is writing in the living room. I’ve eaten with her. Well, she watched me eat. After that, we played chess and she endured one of my favourite Sci-Fi movies as I said every line of it out loud. It was like old times.
And I don’t want it to stop.
I must have fallen asleep since Grandma wakes me up at eight in the morning.
“I’ve prepared fruit salad,” she says like she’s announcing Christmas came early.
I follow her into the living room. My breakfast is waiting for me in front of the typewriter. The temperatures have gone down lately and the window is open. There’s a weight on my stomach as I walk to the chair and sit down but at least I’m not burning anymore.
“You’re going to disappear, aren’t you?” I ask.
“What d’you mean?” Grandma answers, a look of concern on her face.
“When we finish the book… you’re going away.”
She looks at the floor. She always does that before telling me something she knows I don’t want to hear.
“Darling… I’m not going away,” she finally says.
I look up at her, surprised and shaking.
“You won’t see me anymore, but I’ll still be here. Around you. With you,” she says.
My heart and stomach twist and turn. I bite my lip and swipe my eyes.
“So…” I say with a small voice. “So I won’t be able to hear you but you’ll still be with me.”
Okay. I can work with that. It’s painful to know that I won’t see her but she will be here. She will hear me and see me. I’ll still talk to her and imagine her being here, nodding and smiling. Yes. It’s okay.
“So, let’s write some more!” I cry.
She sits down next to me, brushing my cheek with the back of her hand and we get to work. The third act of the novel is full of action scenes and a lot of emotional moments. Something is slowly drawing itself in my mind. Something I should have known.
Romane has to die. It’s the end of the road for her. She brought her knowledge forth, helped Malorie, and gave her advice and comfort. Her country will be freed and the next step is not for her. It’s the job of Malorie and the new generation. They will have to rebuild without her.
“She won’t be completely gone,” says Grandma as if reading my mind. “She will join the Ancestors.”
“You knew she had to die from the beginning.”
I clench my jaw. I still have a lot to learn. At least I understood what had to be done. I’ll give her an amazing death. The scene she deserves.
They were standing around us. I could hear the sound of their voices, murmurs echoing through space and time. The dirt, harsh and coarse, slapped my body from all around as I rose, filled with the will and energy of the Ancestors. Big Bad Man looked at me, a distorted smile on his face. Hatred and contempt. But he had no chance. The maquis was mine.
His army was gone, devoured by the waters of the Mediterranean sea. His allies were under my thumb now, scared and obedient. What could he possibly do? His own magic was weak, so far from his land. Pulsating power emanated from my frame as I started to leave the ground. Finally, I could fly! I pointed a finger toward him. I felt the life force from the Ancestors flood my body and wash over my hand.
“I wouldn’t do that, woman,” said Big Bad Man.
Why was he so sure and full of himself still?
I freeze. I still have a chance. A chance to change the story and save her. I don’t want her to go. Just like I don’t want Grandma to go. I know what it will do to Malorie. But we both have to accept that life isn’t forever, don’t we? And that they’re not entirely gone. They’ll stay in our hearts, in our memories. Romane is not from Malorie’s family so her power won’t help her to see her friend. But she’ll know a trace of her subsists, she’d just have to find her descendants.
Romane screamed. Her old body contorted as she escaped the Big Bad Man’s embrace. She held her hand high, trying to conjure power. I let go of the lightning bolt contained in my hand. But the Big Bad Man knew. He jumped, higher than any human could possibly jump, and unsheathed his black sword. They started to fight, sword against dagger. Romane stood her ground, countering any of his attacks. She breathed calmly, her focused face like stone. I couldn’t do anything with my magic. I would have touched Romane as well. I couldn’t move.
For a crazy second, I thought she had won. With an agile movement of her wrist, she had disarmed her adversary. He had a knee on the white rocks surrounding him, his head down. Slowly, Romane held her arms up, both daggers pointing down. She was about to pierce his neck. Big Bad Man suddenly stood up and hit her in the chest with his fist. A wave of power propelled his arm. Red flashes slashed the air.
Romane didn’t scream. She just fell. The Ancestors stood silent for a second. But after the realisation, we all screamed. Our voice destroyed the pine trees and ripped the sky apart. I could’ve seen the starry sky midday if my rage hadn’t filled me.
Grandma takes me in her warm arms. Her skin, soft and airy, smells like always. Chewey jumps on the table and licks my cheek.
We reread the entire novel, a few days later.
“It’s… a first draft,” says Grandma.
“It is indeed. It’s trash. But I can see a good story in it. Can’t you?” I ask, scared.
“Of course, I can!”
I smile. It’s time. I put the last page in the typewriter and prepare to write the last two words. The ones that will put an end to all of this. This madness, this magic, this miracle or whatever it was.
My hands shake, above the keyboard. I’m so anxious. It feels like I’m about to kill the most important person in my life. She sits next to me and closes her beautiful caramel eyes. Her hands get inside mine. It’s like putting them under warm water. I feel my fingers moving alone.
I can’t help it. Tears run down my face, inside my blue collar. A bird sings, in the silent street.
Chewey meows, scared too. I mumble something, a weird throaty sound. I don’t even know what I want to say.
Faster, even though I try to stop with all my might, the last three letters click.
E. N. D.
My heart breaks into multiple pieces. A sharp pain pierces my left side. I want to scream but no sound gets out of my mouth. I pretended to be okay with this but I’m not. I want Grandma to stay with me.
“Please!” I manage to articulate.
She just looks at me, watery pearls on her calm face.
“I’ll be with you. Always,” she tells me as her colour fades away.
For a few seconds, I have a star in my living room. I hide behind my arms, the light is too powerful for me to look. Then, after a sigh, she goes away. Forever.
I look at the rain, the thick curtains opened. I’m chewing on a toothpick to avoid smoking. Today, I don’t think I’ll work in the little park, in front of my building. Spring was hot, summer is cold. Nothing makes sense anymore. But since the quarantine started, reality has been in shambles anyway. Lockdown has been over for a few weeks and I’ve let the novel rest ever since that day. Both because it has to be left alone but also because I’m scared to look at it again. I don’t want to be disappointed and it reminds me of too many melancholic things.
“You’re impossible,” I tell myself.
Grandma worked so hard to help me achieve my dream and now I can’t even think about it without crying.
The rain stops as abruptly as it started. The weather seems to have something to say. Or maybe I’m just so accustomed to magic that I see it everywhere now. The world wants me to resume writing, perhaps. But maybe, just maybe, I want to write. And I’m looking for excuses to justify myself. I’m being childish. I don’t need excuses. I need to move my sorry arse. I sigh and grab the manuscript, my coat and a pencil. I’m going to start revising. In honour of Grandma… and for myself. I have to start moving, going forward. I have to stop living in the past. And trust in my gut. Chewey meows, not wanting me to abandon him. Or to encourage me. I don’t know anymore with that animal…
I sit on a bench, as dry as possible, under a weeping willow. Under the canopy, I feel safe. It’s kinda like being inside but also taking advantage of the fresh outside air. The ducks wait for me to toss them something to eat. I ignore their disappointed look, smiling. Smiling has become a habit. A surprise, for sure. But a welcome one.
I work for an hour, annotating all that needs to change, all that’s good enough, all that needs to go… It’s calming. As Grandma promised, I feel connected to her again. She seems to be watching over me. I can hear her voice advising me. I’m just imagining things, of course, but whatever. I’ll take what I have. She’s gone, it’s painful. But it’s a natural part of life. And I know she’s happy and we parted having said everything that needed to be said. And not everyone has that chance.
A shadow approaches. I raise my head and see a beautiful woman. Her deep brown skin glows under the pale sun. Her long braided hair is tied in a knot behind her head. Her golden eyes sparkle with cleverness and confidence.
“You’re the writer,” she says. Her voice is warm, like Grandma’s.
“I’m Camille, your neighbour. I could hear your typewriter, day and night. You work hard.”
“I… I do my best. I’m Miranda, sorry for the noise.”
She sits down next to me. She smells like roses.
“Don’t mind it. I’m not angry,” she says. “ And pretty name, by the way. What’s the book about? If you don’t mind… I’m a bit curious.”
“It’s fantasy,” I answer. “About two women fighting against invaders in their country. To reclaim their land and rights.”
“Great! It seems interesting. Something I would read.”
Her smile is bright, like a star sitting too close to me. And I made her smile. How amazing is that? A human, living being, around my age, smiled thanks to me. Someone is interested in me and my work. I can’t even begin to comprehend what’s happening.
She gets herself comfortable and grabs a drawing pad.
“I’m glad I met you,” Camille says. “I’d just moved in when the lockdown started and I don’t know anyone in the building.”
“I’m glad too…” I answer awkwardly.
“D’you mind if we work together and chat?”
“No. Not at all.”
We talked for hours. About the novel, about ourselves. She’s in my living room now. We are watching The Fellowship of the Ring (long version, of course) and eating popcorn. It’s so easy with Camille. I’ll wait for her to know me better before reciting all the lines of the movies we watch together though. Not everyone has Grandma’s patience.
Plus she’s a painter so she understands in a way. The creative process, the struggle to get something out of your guts and to work your butt off. She also didn’t insist on seeing the first draft but she made me promise to be the first beta reader when I’m ready.
“I want to feel… represented and empowered for once,” she admitted.
“That’s why I wrote it. Women deserve that.”
She had smiled and sipped a bit of beer.
I’ve never been so close to a stranger. All because she heard the typewriter. All thanks to Grandma. She also heard me talking alone though, but she thinks it’s part of my process. I told her that I talk to Chewey to find the best dialogues possible. She finds that funny and normal. A small lie. But a necessary one. She’s my first almost friend in years after all. I ain’t gonna lose her because she thinks I’m cuckoo.
“Miranda,” she asks suddenly as Arwen saves Frodo’s sorry ass. “Do you think magic exists? Because I do.”
“Me, too,” I answer, my throat tight.
The question was innocent. And because we just saw magical horses made of water run over the Nazguls. She doesn’t know it has a deeper meaning for me. It’s batshit crazy how she manages to be on point at every turn without realising it.
“Weird, it smells like almonds, doesn’t it? Is it your perfume?”
I whisper, “It does, and it’s not...”
I look at the typewriter. The fading sun sparks on the thick plastic frame. Its warmth diffuses the rich scent all over the room. I will never see you again Grandma, but you’re still here. Like you promised. I can feel you.