The Red Typewriter
Joyce leaned into the car to strap the baby—currently sleeping—into the car seat. She clicked all three of the belts into their slots without disturbing her, and when she finished, she stood there on the driveway with static in her brain as she stared at the baby’s sleeping face.
She heard footsteps—heels over the asphalt. Joyce turned as Anna came around the corner of the car, a loaded diaper bag hung from her shoulder. It didn’t seem to weigh her down at all as she smiled and met Joyce for a quick hug.
“Almost forgot this,” Anna said, meaning the bag. “Gosh, wouldn’t that have been a disaster.” She tucked it in behind the seat on the floor and turned to face Joyce. “You alright, Love?” she said.
Joyce answered slowly. “Yeah,” she said. “Yeah, I’m… we’re going to have a good time.” Her voice was hollow wind through a dead tree.
Anna placed a hand on her cheek and gave Joyce a knowing smile. “Why don’t you sit down, Babe? It’s hot and you look like shit.”
“We’re not finished packing,” Joyce said.
“Don’t worry about it—I can tell that you’re tired. I’ll get the rest of the bags.”
Joyce made no move to go, her eyes watching the sleeping baby.
“Come on, Joyce,” Anna said, leading her to her seat. “Just put your feet up or something. How are you going to write the next great American novel if you’re asleep on your feet?”
The Chateau was something Joyce had inherited from her parents, who had died about four months ago. It was a small, Swiss-style chalet in the mountains—or, it sort of was, as Joyce had spent the last six months living with Anna in the Rockies, and now anything less than ten thousand feet felt like only hills.
Joyce remembered, as a child, coming to the Chateau every Christmas with her family. In her mind, the little cabin was incomplete without six inches of snow lacing its roof, but it was March now, and it had been a warm winter to begin with, so there was no snow, and only an ashy haze of rain greeted them as they pulled up in the driveway.
“I’m glad now we brought those umbrellas,” Anna said as she let the engine die. “But I think I may have accidentally packed them too far back.” She sighed, her smile dropping for a moment. “Sit tight, Sweetheart. I’ll get them.” Anna gave Joyce a peck on the cheek before opening her door and darting out into the shower. It occurred to Joyce that Anna was so young—everything about her felt young. How had she ended up with someone so young?
Inside the house, once the necessities had been brought inside, (they would grab the rest once the rain let up), Anna went to work building a fire to warm the house. Joyce took up a blanket from the sofa and draped herself in it like a mantle, taking a seat up close to the flames, with her back against the coffee table.
The baby slept bundled up in her carrier on the floor, only occasionally whimpering in her sleep. Joyce dragged the carrier toward her, so she could keep watch.
Anna carried a heavy typewriter to the small dining room table on the other side of the couch, nudging the baby’s carrier away from the open flames with her foot as she passed.
“I don’t want her to be cold,” Joyce said, pulling the baby back toward her and the flames.
“I know, but what if a spark jumps out?” Anna said. She pulled the carrier back a few inches. “Sarah will be just as warm over here, with the added bonus of not bursting into flame.”
Joyce didn’t look away from the baby, who whined quietly in her sleep.
“I set up your typewriter,” Anna said. “Why don’t you give it a shot—see if the lighting’s good enough over there.”
“Alright then, you. I’ll go unpack some things in the bedroom. Holler if you need me.”
Joyce watched her retreat up the carpeted stairs. When Anna was out of sight, she pulled the baby closer to the fire.
The typewriter was a clunky old thing the color of 1950s diner upholstery with tacky keys and a manual page feeder. Anna had bought it for Joyce as an anniversary gift, because Joyce had seen it in their local antique shop and fallen in love with it once upon a time.
Now Joyce hated it. She couldn’t imagine the naivety of her past self, thinking that this metal box would somehow make writing more enjoyable. The typewriter was a judging, metal monster from an older, classier era. It was too good for her. “Your work is garbage,” it seemed to say. “Writing with me doesn’t change that. Why don’t you go back to your Word doc?”
She had thought it would make writing more romantic. In reality, it only made it more of a chore. Sometimes the paper feeder clogged. Not to mention that it had no delete key. It was mind-boggling, how stupid she’d been. But she couldn’t go back now—Anna was watching. She gave her a good luck thumbs-up and Joyce knew she’d just have to do what she could.
Joyce’s editor told her that chapter fifteen had to go. Her family farm saga was too literary for a dream sequence, he said—if she cut it, she had the chance to accomplish something truly great. She’d never won a prize for her writing, but this might be the one, her editor said—if only she cut the dream sequence.
She sat at the cold metal typewriter, her eyes scanning pages of manuscript in her hands. The thing was, she really liked the dream sequence. It had a surreal verisimilitude that she felt fully reflected the unconscious mind—not to mention that it gave the reader an opportunity to understand the farmer’s daughter, who was Joyce’s favorite character, though she hadn’t spent as much time on the page as her brothers.
Murder your darlings, her editor had reminded her. Success required certain sacrifices, no matter how close they were to her heart. So stacking the pages of chapter fifteen in her hands, she folded them inward so she couldn’t see the words, and then placed them in the wastebasket to her side.
“Joyce? Hey. Joyce!”
Joyce looked up from her seat. Anna stood at the doorway of the room, looking in with concern on her face.
“Are you just going to let her cry?” Anna asked.
Joyce started at the accusation, not knowing what she meant.
Anna rolled her eyes. “Never mind. I’ll get her.” She crossed the room to where the baby’s carrier lay on the rug by the fireplace and bent to pick up the baby.
The noise began to filter in, now—a splintering wail that made the hairs stand up on Joyce’s arms. She hadn’t heard it before, but the baby was crying loudly, unappreciative of Anna’s embrace even as she bounced her lightly in her arms.
“Did you take your pills?” Anna asked.
Joyce bristled. “Of course I did,” she said, but as Anna nodded and turned away from her, she realized she didn’t know for sure.
Later that night, Joyce lay awake in a darkened room, with Anna blissfully asleep beside her. To Joyce, the divide between them felt much wider than a few inches of bedspread.
Everyone said that mothers were supposed to love their children—they simply did; it was instinct—but Joyce did not love the baby, though it had lived nine months in her womb. She kept waiting for the love to begin—to cover her heart in a thick layer of sediment—but the feeling never came.
In that way, her pregnancy was like the typewriter. She had coveted the idea of it—convinced herself that if she only had that one thing, then everything else would fall into place—but when she finally got what she wanted, it wasn’t how she imagined. It was different—burdensome. Even when the baby slept, she found she could no longer sleep, herself. She was exhausted, and every now and again a new, creeping panic would dig itself into her neck like claws.
In the planning stages of the pregnancy, she had assumed her parents would be there for her when the baby finally did come along. Their death came as a surprise, and so did the trauma that followed. Having the baby had almost killed her. She’d screamed as it tore open her body, begging the doctors to make it stop. Having read up on the process, she had thought she was prepared, but when the thing inside her tried to crack open her pelvis over the course of several hours, she realized she was wrong.
With these thoughts, Joyce found herself standing over the baby, who slept a peaceful, undeserved sleep in the corner of their room. Joyce didn’t think it was so wrong to not love the thing. It was hard to love something that screamed for hours on end at its best and tried to kill her at its worst.
But for now, the child slept, and Joyce crept out to the living room to murder her darlings.
Joyce stirred in the wooden chair as lengths of handsome morning sunlight fell across her back. Picking her head up from the table, she stretched her neck, having fallen asleep at the typewriter. But she’d slept—she’d slept well—and before that, she finished some of the best work she’d ever written. Her editor would be proud, she knew. Even she, self-biased as she was, could tell the writing was considerably better than her standard. She’d taken risks, blazed fresh paths, and even more than that, murdered her darlings.
For the first time in weeks, her mind felt clear. The air in her lungs felt crisp and no longer suffocating. She was free.
Who could have guessed? All she had to do was omit that dream sequence, rewrite the quirky brother, and one other thing—
Footsteps shuffled down the stairs from the bedroom and Anna appeared, rubbing sleep out of her eyes.
“Good morning, Love,” Joyce said, smiling from her typewriter. “I did it: I fixed that lousy chapter I was working on. I can’t wait to tell you about it—let me make you breakfast. What kind of eggs do you want?”
Anna stood silent, looking from Joyce, to the fireplace, to the kitchen, and then to the door. “Joyce… Where’s Sarah?”
Joyce had already moved to the kitchen, where she tossed a frying pan on one of the burners and added a pat of butter before turning on the flame. “Isn’t she upstairs? She was asleep when I came down,” she said. She faced Anna. “What kind of eggs do you want?”
“Joyce, I don’t care about breakfast. Anna isn’t in the room. I thought you had her down here—”
“I think I’m going to have sunny-side up. If you want something else, you have to tell me now.”
Anna shook her head, her mouth open in shock. “Sarah is gone, Joyce. Are you even listening to me?”
“Of course I am, but these eggs aren’t going to cook themselves.” Joyce cracked one of the porcelain shells on the side of the pan and let its contents slip through the crack. The egg white spread across the Teflon and began to solidify at the edges.
Sometimes, the only way to survive was to murder your darlings. She understood that now.