My best friend claimed that he wrote his first novel, which just won the National Book Award, while having sex. We were at the same bar where we always meet every Thursday at seven, right down the street from the beachfront condominium he bought with the ridiculous advance his publisher offered for his second book.
“Wrote the entire rough draft during one session.” He downed the rest of his rum and coke. “Wifey must have orgasmed five or six times.”
I had known Phillip for seven years, and unlike many other writers I had met, he was not the pathologically lying type. So I believed him, but remained wildly fascinated by the complexity of it all. “Isn’t that book over 200 pages?” I asked.
He ordered another rum and coke, his fourth or fifth, and gulped it. “Yes, about 55,000 words. I mean, don’t get me wrong, that rough draft was utter shit, but the essence of the book was there.”
I nodded, more mystified than ever, and swallowed my water.
“The reason why I’ve brought this up,” he said, “is to help you out. You’re more talented and more disciplined, yet you still have not published a book.” He slapped me on the back. “Just try it, write while you and Alyssa get it on, and then tell me all about it next week.”
Maybe I used to be disciplined, but not anymore. I used to publish a short story every other month, but four years ago the basketball editor at a prestigious sports magazine offered me a full-time position writing about college basketball after he liked a piece I had written on the Final Four in an online magazine. The gig paid and took me across the country, but as a result my creative energies dried up and so too did the passion in Alyssa’s and my marriage. She is an executive consultant, and she too travels frequently. Trying to remember the last time we had sex was just as strenuous as remembering the last time I had tried writing fiction.
Alyssa, however, was intrigued by the idea when I told her, and God bless her, she agreed to try it out after I confessed that I felt this may truly be my last hope of making it as a novelist. “How should we, um, well, do this?” she asked.
I rubbed my chin. “On your hands and knees,” I said. “And arch your back so your ass sticks up.”
She chuckled, but did exactly what I said. Between the high arch of her back and her ass there was a little dip into which my small Moleskine notebook fit perfectly. I played with her until she was moaning wet, and as I slid in I clicked my pen. It was amazing how quickly the words came, no pun intended. Distantly, I was aware of myself sinking in and out of my wife, but it was the words I felt more intimate with, gushing so fast my hand started to ache.
“Yeah, baby,” my wife panted. “Fuck me like I’m your dirty little whore.”
“Babe,” I said. “Please, I’m trying to write.”
She stayed quiet for only so long. “C’mon, baby,” Alyssa panted. “Stay with me.”
I was so immersed in the story that I really had no idea how long I was writing for. Very distantly, my wife screamed and I imagined her being pleasured enormously.
“I am almost there!”
This was, I realized, a total success for both of us, but the story had to end, and so I let the words dictate when and how. After I collapsed into my wife’s arms, exhausted from both ends, I smiled at her. She sighed and rolled off the bed, covering herself with the bed sheet, and stalked into the bathroom and slammed the door.
I tell Phillip everything the following Thursday at seven but when he starts laughing uncontrollably, I am confused. “For the first time in four years I not only wrote fiction, but I completed it, Phillip.” I take a sip of the Cosmopolitan I ordered to celebrate this special occasion. “Why are you laughing?”
He stops laughing, wipes one eye, and asks, “What was your wife doing in the bathroom?”
“How should I know?” I say, irritated. “I had to revise.”
His face cracks open, laughing again, his cheeks as pink as my Cosmo. “So,” he says, and grips the bar’s counter as if he might suddenly tip over. “How many words did you get?”
His shoulders bunch like he’s going to start laughing again.
“Seriously, what the hell is so funny?” I take another sip of my Cosmo.
Though his cheeks are just as pink, he finally controls himself. “Congratulations,” he says, and clinks his rum and coke against my Cosmo. “What you’ve written there is called ‘flash fiction.’” He quickly turns his face.
“Flash fiction?” I say.
“Flash,” he says, looks at me, and turns his face again.
Outside the window the bright ocean blue glimmers through the line of palm trees, and I smile, happy to have a label for what I have accomplished.
“Listen,” Phillip says, and smiles at me, his cheeks not as pink as before. “I’m sorry. Too many rum and cokes, you know?”
I clap his shoulder. “Don’t worry about it.”
He nods, looks down, then stands and says, “I better call a taxi. You stay and enjoy your celebration, okay?”
I thank him profusely for helping me and he nods again, then walks rapidly away. For the slightest second I think I see his shoulders bob like he’s laughing again, but it is likely my Cosmo messing with me. I never drink. When I finish it, though, and the waitress asks me if I want another, I nod my head. “There is a lot I have to celebrate,” I tell her, and she grins broadly, like she too is happy for me.
James Hartman’s fiction has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and the Best Small Fictions, and appears or is forthcoming in Per Contra, Blue Fifth Review, Gravel Literary Journal, tNY. Press’s theEEEL, and the No Extra Words podcast, among others. His scholarly work is featured in The Hemingway Review. He has several degrees, including a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing, and lives in Michigan with his wife. He writes for SB Nation.
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