She slowly closed the book and left the last sentence to flit around her mind, darting between all the things she understood and all the things that made the world so wonderfully mysterious. She laid the book on the table, looked up at the door, and turned the knob.
Countless doors before, she would always knock before entering, but not everyone answered. After years of this she learned it was best to just walk in unannounced.
Hunter S. Thompson sat in the corner of the room, aviator shades hiding his bourbon eyes. His was the last book she read, but she decided to walk through his room without stopping. She wanted to feel sober and Hunter always made her drink. There was a cursory nod, and they might have even fist-bumped had his hands not been full of guns.
Back to the hallway, she picked up Catcher in the Rye and disappeared deep into the cushions of the couch. This was her seventh time reading it. Afterward, and always, J. D. Salinger hugged her when she sauntered in with her shoulders hung low, tear trails screwing up her face. She was in love with him. There was a feeling of recognition, like when you’re in a record store and some boy walks in and you see him look at an obscure record, and your heart starts to race when everything you’ve ever felt listening to that record floods your body – and suddenly you’re in a relationship with this stranger, and he doesn’t even know it.
J. D. would often apologize for giving her the wrong impression. She always left feeling more alone than when she entered.
Long hallway, massive couch, worn book, closed door.
Kurt Vonnegut, Jr was always a hoot. He loved telling stories of how he went room to room in a house similar to this one, only he visited musicians, not writers. He would even tell her the stories that the musicians told him about being trapped in houses of their own, going room to room and talking to visual artists.
“Art feeds art, like a snake eating its own tail” he’d say to her. She asked him once if there was a way for her to get out of this windowless house, but he didn’t know, or if he knew he wasn’t telling.
Of course, she had long changed since the beginning. It was in her youth that she soaked up inspiration at the pace of a piece of bread thrown into a lake. Decades later, she realized that inspiration did not easily translate into the real world. At her lowest point, she started to believe that books could ruin your life, and that some of the most damaging books were the ones that convinced you to go for your dreams. But not all dreams come true.
Years of reading writers who also felt the pointlessness of life, with the added complication of being moved by their genius, had the unique effect of filling her with a directionless inspiration to grab these overwhelming feelings and rudely shove them into the shape of words – like a balloon that holds too much breath and is tied up so it can’t take off. Even if it did manage to get loose, though, she was sure it would just scuttlebutt close to the ground like a tumbleweed in a ghost town.
She visited Sylvia Plath the longest – twenty years, off and on. They loved to ruminate, and she felt a sense of connection with Sylvia that she never really felt with the others. In her last visit, they drank black tea and talked about the pressure to be a perfect woman, and how easily your arms bend back when you try to lift all the weight of it.
It was after that visit that the clock started showing up in the hallway, with its quiet booming of a clicking tick-tock.
Hallway, couch, book, door. Clock. Clock. Clock.
She couldn’t focus on reading anymore with that damned ticking. Very quickly, the deficient grasping for human connection with a stack of books morphed into the desperation to get out of the fucking house.
Full of want and untested bravery, she picked up a new book, the one that always sat on a table at the end of the long, dark hallway. She opened it and saw that it was blank. She tucked it under her arm, and finally decided to walk through the front door.
Expecting beams of golden light to pour through the portal and lift her up and away – this is what some of the old books had taught her – she was instead met with an empty, endless landscape of a certain darker Earth, filled with hordes of stumbling figures clutching their own blank books.
She attempted to make eye contact with the ones that walked with their heads up. She even tried conversing with a few that were kind enough to look back at her. But she always felt clumsy and frustrated with herself because the most important things to say are also the scariest to share with other people, and the most difficult to even put into words.
She ended up building another house, this one inside herself, and unlike the last one, she made sure that this one had a hundred windows. So that sometimes, when you look in her eyes, you can see her in the distance staring out of one right back at you.