Marilyn, Judith, Kevin and James had been meeting here at the cafe weekly for over a year now, and at this point, they hated each other about as much as they valued each other. They arrived within ten minutes of each other, and they took their seats. Kevin was pensive, James was anxious, Judith anxious as well and Marilyn too depressed to care either way. James produced his short stack of manuscripts. So did Judith and Kevin, but it was James’ turn to go first.
“Well,” James said, and cleared his throat. “I wrote this mostly because I realized that all of my stories started the same way.”
“How’s that?” Kevin asked, smiling.
“Well, there’s always one person sitting somewhere thinking about something.”
He stopped, then, understanding that he hadn’t yet made his case, he continued:
“Well, it’s not always just one person. Sometimes it’s two people. I mean, my stories always start with silence, and either with someone sitting somewhere, or someone arriving somewhere. Sometimes there’s more than one person.”
“You’re saying that there’s usually one or more people, either sitting somewhere or arriving somewhere, and they’re usually thinking,” Marilyn repeated.
James shook his head.
“No, really. It always starts that way. Even when I try to start different, I end up deleting the opening paragraphs because they turn out to be unnecessary.”
“I wouldn’t worry about it,” Kevin yawned, then stretched.
“Anyways, I wrote this piece specifically because I was trying to break the trend.”
“Well go ahead then,” Judy said.
“It’s just… I’m not sure it’s very good. In fact, I’m pretty sure the first few paragraphs are unnecessary and I’ll end up deleting them and having the same sort of story that I always do.”
“So you need help breaking your routine,” said Kevin.
“Honestly, the routine sounds so vague that I’m not even sure it is a routine,” said Marilyn.
“Just let him read,” said Judith. They had made a small habit of bullying James, mostly without even meaning to. Judith was his most common protector.
“Okay,” James said, with finality.
He passed around his story.
He started reading.
Marilyn followed his words along the page, but she didn’t remember any of it. Kevin followed along with a pen, and marked words or punctuation or lack thereof that disagreed with him, and he had already formulated his primary argument before James had finished his first paragraph. Judith was too preoccupied worrying about what they would say of her own work to care overmuch whether she came up with insightful criticism for James or not. At this point it was politics more than literature that kept them together. A healthy sense of competition.
When James finished reading, Kevin was the first to speak. This time, Marilyn was the first to stifle a yawn. But, as the evening progressed, she was sure not to be the last.