Well, kind of fiction. This is how I imagine the characters who wait around my head.

Moira shifted in the waiting room chair and picked at her cuticles, pushing at them with a finger and wishing  that she had the guts simply to let loose and gnaw at them with abandon—much like her editor was doing in the chair across from her.

“You shouldn’t bite your nails, Graham,” she said, leaning forward onto her knees so she could speak under her breath. No matter how long they’d all been there, no matter how well they knew each other’s little tics and quirks, that waiting room hush was still impossible to breach. “It’ll happen when it happens. No use agonizing.”

Graham glanced up and managed to condemn Moira as a hypocrite and skewer her misplaced maternalism with one cocked eyebrow. She blushed a little, and shoved her hands—ragged cuticles and all—under her knees, brushing the top of Ahmed’s small head as her fingers disappeared out of sight.

Ahmed—dark hair, dark skin, dark eyes—had crawled under Moira’s chair and was now lying on his back, dreaming of a place he’d never seen, but knew as surely as he knew his own nine-year-old face in the mirror. Somewhere, someplace, sometime, there was a hot, dry sun, a clamoring soukh, and air that smelled like cooking meat, spices and…something else. Something not pleasant, certainly, but as familiar as the smell of his mother’s jasmine. Somewhere that smelled like animals and rot and generations of toil and craft. Somewhere that gave Ahmed a whiff, even in the unwindowed, airless waiting room, of antiquity and exoticism that none of the others seemed to possess.

Graham got up from his chair, pointedly ignoring Moira, and walked over to the two boys huddled together in the opposite corner. The smaller of the two—curly dark hair, bright blue eyes and an easy, relaxed smile—looked up and grinned, while the larger boy, pale and quiet, acknowledged Graham with a shy, lopsided shrug. Both shifted their chairs so Graham could sit with them.

“We’re trying to figure out where Mackenzie’s cave is,” said the small boy, who Graham had learned only recently was named Tobin. “It hasn’t been easy, since she doesn’t know where it is yet, either, but we’ve got some good ideas.”

“She knows it’s in Dundas,” said the larger boy, whose name was Ben. “She’s pretty sure it’s somewhere close to the railway track. But she hasn’t figured out how to go and see it without getting lost, and that’s holding her up.”

Graham dismissed this theory with an irritated wave. “Excuses. If she really wanted to write the story, she’d have written it, even if she didn’t have the place quite right in her head. If she were in my newsroom, I’d have her writing…”

Moira broke in. “Isn’t that the point, Graham? She’s not in the newsroom—she’s sitting at her kitchen table. She chose not to write news stories because she wanted to concentrate on fiction. You may thrive on the rush of daily news, but not everybody…”

“I know,” Graham said wearily. “Not everyone wants to turn into an alcoholic—excuse me, recovering alcoholic—chain-smoking adrenaline junkie like me.” He paused, rubbing his temples. “Jeez, you’d think with her imagination she’d be able to come up with an editor character that wasn’t a stereotype…”

Graham trailed off and glared moodily at the ceiling.

Ahmed piped up from under Moira’s chair. “At least she knows what a newsroom’s like. Me, I’m from somewhere she’s never been, from a time she can’t visit. But I know she—and I—will get there. Inshallah.”

Moira got up from her chair and knelt in front of the table in the middle of the floor. It was littered with ephemera: snapshots—a ruined church, a winding road, a waterfall, a crowded marketplace; dog-eared books, underlined and notated; postcards of paintings; loose magazine articles; and pages of writing scrawled in a rainbow of ink, type-written, laser-printed.  

As she had done countless times before, Moira shuffled through the pages, admiring the artistry of the photographs, chuckling at the writing—especially those early sketches, when the girl wanted to be Stephen King and hadn’t grown up enough to be confident in her own voice—and wishing, wishing that the girl out there would start to use all this inspiration she’d been gathering, hear Moira’s whispered encouragement and set them all free.

They were patient, all of them, Moira and Ahmed and Graham and Ben and Tobin. They weren’t going anywhere—but oh, to live a proper life, in a proper story, with a plot and scenes and conflict and resolution…well, that was their real destiny. 

And it was just a little frustrating to have their fate thwarted by nothing more than a lack of confidence.


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