"It doesn't hurt." This had become her mantra since the day he left. "It doesn't hurt. It doesn't hurt." She repeated it over and over in her head, eventually allowing the words to escape from her lips, her voice still grainy with sleep. She walked into the bathroom and looked in the mirror. She saw the words scrawled in dry-erase marker on her medicine cabinet mirror "It doesn't hurt." She mumbled it to herself, so low that even she could barely hear it as she squeezed the contents of the tube of toothpaste onto her toothbrush and stared at herself in the mirror.
"Cheer up, pretty girl. It doesn't hurt." She smiled, weakly to herself. It was unconvincing, and she knew why.
It hurt like hell.
After her usual morning routine, she went downstairs to get started on her work. She was a writer. Twenty-three years old, living in New York City, trying to "make it" as so many people attepmt to do.
She sat in front of her computer and stared at the screen for what seemed like hours, but when she glanced at the wall clock above the moniter she saw that it had been less than a minute.
"Coffee." She said aloud, not quite sure who she was talking to. She stood and went into the small adjoining kitchen and put on a pot of coffee. The smell rose from the urn and filled her apartment with the smell of morning. Coffee had always reminded her of family, even though no one in her life had been a regular drinker of coffee, and even she hadn't fallen into it's addictive powers until she got to college, and was already living alone.
"Merry Christmas" she said, as she poured herself a cup and drank it black, no milk, no creamer, no sugar.
It was August 3rd, and she was waiting for inspiration to come.
Inspiration was not coming.
She decided to check her e-mail, to see if her brother had sent her anything that might inspire her to write something worthwhile. She returned to her computer and clicked on the icon that prompted the robotic voice to tell her there was something waiting for her in her inbox. As she clicked on the first message, which was from her brother, just as she assumed, her telephone rang. Without looking at the caller id, she answered.
"Hello, Mark." She said into the receiver.
"How did you know it was me?" He said.
"Who else would it be? Who else would be up at...five in the morning and calling me?"
"I guess you're right. I just wanted to let you know I'm going out of town this weekend and I need someone to house sit. You interested? Maybe you can get some work done."
"I'm getting work done." She lied.
"You're lying, Maye." He said.
"I'm at the computer right now, typing away at this great new short story that's going to go into the collection."
"What's it called?" He asked, doubting her.
"It's called..." She looked around for something and rested on a poster of the galaxy she had hanging on her wall, it was from a time when there were still nine planets, instead of eight. "...Jupiter."
"Jupiter, or Pluto?" He asked.
"Jupiter, but it's..um, it's about Jupiter losing Pluto when it's planet status was revoked. It's...a story about loss."
"You can't lie to me, Maye. I know when you're lying. When's your deadline?"
"I don't want to talk about it. Where are you going?"
"Jess wants to go to her mother's in Scranton for the weekend and I can't take the dogs. Do me this favor, will you? Come to my house, keep an eye on the dogs, and write something. Please?"
"That might be just what I need.'
"You still haven't come up with anything?" He asked.
"No. I've got the block, and I've got it bad." She took another sip of her coffee. The bitter taste made her frown, but she took another drink. "I got your e-mail." She said, hoping to change the subject.
Her brother was two years older than she was. He was a successful actor, living with his model girlfriend in Manhattan. They saw each other twice a week for lunch, and they were best friends. In fact, he was her only friend in the city...the state, probably.
They had both decided to move to New York after college, and had always been close. He introduced her to her agent, and at 19, when she published her first collection of short stories, he was the one she dedicated it to. When she was 21, and she published her first novel, she dedicated it to his childhood best friend, the stuffed bear in the raincoat, Paddington. On her twenty-second birthday, when she won the Pushcart Prize, she thanked her brother, even before God.
Here she was, six months later, suffering from the world's worst case of writer's block. She had nothing.
It started when he left. Alex. He disappeared without so much as a word, and from that exact day, three months, two weeks, and three days later, she had not written a word worth reading.
"Yeah. I'll stay at your place for the weekend, but I'm not doing it for you. I'm doing it for the dogs."
"Good. They'll be glad to hear it. We're leaving in the morning and Jess wants you here for dinner tonight, so pack some stuff and come on over whenever. We'll be here all day."
"Yeah. But look, I've got to go. I have some stuff to do before I head over there. I'll see you later."
"Bye, little sister. I'll see you later. I like your story idea, by the way, even though you were obviously lying to me. I think if you write something about...loss...the other stuff might come a little easier."
She hung up the phone and stared at her screen for another moment. She took another drink of her coffee and said to herself, "It doesn't hurt."
Her phone rang and she knew it was her brother calling back.
"Are you Jupiter or Pluto?" He asked, with all the seriousness on Earth.