Paper Jungles

I’ve been having a rough week, and last night was hit by a bit of desperate inspiration. I couldn’t sleep, so I typed up a bit of flash fiction. It’s not my best, but I haven’t shared anything with you lot for a while, so I thought I would post it here.

Paper Jungles

He walks through the door, letting out a tired sigh as he hangs his hat from the tree by the door. As it clicks shut behind him and he takes a step forward, a blast of cold air hits him like a slushy snowball, sending a shiver down his spine. He grabs his cardigan and slides his hands through the sleeves, his lips curving into a half-smile as he continues into the cozy little kitchen. They’d painted it together, sponged the tinged gold onto the orange walls, and he’d stenciled the thin green vines in later on as a surprise for her.

Water drips from the faucet, where a pile of half-peeled potatoes sits in the sink. The peeler rests haphazardly on the edge of the counter with a small, brown chunk of earthy potato skin still clinging to the blade, and a used paper towel lays back on the countertop. Another chill runs across his skin as he twists the faucet handle tight to stop the dripping, tossing the peeler in with the potatoes and throwing the towel in the garbage. A note is jammed in the closed fridge door, with smeared handwriting over the front of it.

“Leftover something-or-other in fridge. Whatever we had yesterday. Just heat in micro.”

He laughs quietly to himself, knowing the signs of a random stroke of inspiration. She’ll be in her little cove, covered in ink and scribbling furiously. I best be ready for a lonely night. Heaven only knows how long she’ll be in there. He ponders as he heats the last bit of lasagna from a few nights ago. She never can keep things straight when she’s like that. We were at mother’s last night. He chortles again to himself, remembering the first time he realized he loved her.

“No! It’s too quirky. You’d think I was crazy like everyone else!” She’d laughed. He was tickling her sides, hoping to wriggle it out of her.

“Come on, Little Duck, out with it!” He’d growled, pulling her closer and showing no mercy.

“Okay, okay! Fine! Stop! I listen to Gaelic music. And sing along. I don’t understand the words, and most of it isn’t even thatgood musically.It just works.Mom always used to yell at me when Iturned it on out loud, but the week of St. Pattie’s day I could getaway with playing it. So I would blast it through thespeakers as loud as possible, 24/7, the entire week.” She’d panted, her cheeks red from laughter and embarrassment.

“That’s it? That’s your big secret? Come now, that can’t be it.” He’d tickled her again before finally letting go. “Would you show me? I think it sounds neat.”Her eyes had grown wide, as though shocked anyone would be interested in something sheenjoyed, and that’s when he knew. They tried singingalong together, but ended up laughinguntil tears streamed from their eyes. She’s always been a quirky one. But I can’t help but love her for it.

When the timer goes off, he sneaks carefully down the hallway with his plate and a glass of water, and hesitates beside the bookcase midway down. She had insisted he build it for her, before they even made the decision to move in. A door made from an ornate old bookshelf, filled to the max with her favorite books on both sides. It’s open a crack, proving she was in a rush to get to her notebook. He sneaks a peek through the gap, holding his breath to listen. The room is dark, the curtains drawn tightly shut to keep out the sunlight. She sits cross-legged on a beanbag in the corner, wrapped up in one of his old hoodies, with three pencils in her ponytail, one resting behind her ear, and another in her hand, scribbling swiftly across the page. The sound of rain and her eclectic mix of depressing music radiates from her computer softly, hardly loud enough to be heard above the frantic scratching of led on paper as she mumbles under her breath, only occasionally interrupted by a huff and the frustrated grating of an eraser when the sentence doesn’t turn out right. Her face constantly contorts, moving to match the tone of whichever character she is at that moment. Papers and notebooks are strewn all across the small room, some filled with art from her readers, some with random tidbits or story leads, and still more devoted entirely to plotting or writing a single story. One corner houses a small desk, while the other is filled by a large beanbag chair and a little lantern-shaped light fixture on the wall. Windows line every wall, and more books are packed tightly around them. It’s her heaven and her hell, all in a single room no larger than a closet. Her most inner sanctum, where she lets herself truly show through. Not many are allowed within the cramped walls, and I’m grateful to be counted among the few. He thinks to himself with another smirk.

He spends the night studying in their room, polishing off the lasagna in silence so as not to disturb her. He knows it’s important for her to get down as much as she can when the inspiration first hits, and she wont feel right until she does. He sends her a text when the light outside has faded, reminding her to turn on the lamp so she doesn’t blind herself further by writing in the dark. He knows she’ll forget, if he doesn’t. When 10 o’clock rolls around and she still hasn’t emerged, he texts her friend – the one she’s always referring to as the “plot bunny.”

                    “Have you heard from Duck today?”

                    “Yeah. She still locked up in her cove?”

                    “Yup. Good or bad?”

                    “Chapter 8.”

                    “Oh dear. Thanks.”

                    “No prob. Just be there when she comes out.”

He nods to himself, climbing into bed and flipping the television on with the volume down. He knows she’ll need comforting, and it could be another few hours before she finally comes back to him. But she always does. No matter how good or how bad her make-believe worlds get, she always comes back to him, strong, steady, and loving as always. She may be quirky, but he loves her for it, and it surprises her every time.

At some point, in the wee hours of the morning, just as he’s figured she’ll be up all night and reaches to turn out the light, a harsh sniffle echoes from the hallway, and he yawns. I’ll never understand why she does it to herself. But I’ll always be here for her, just as she’ll always come back. Whatever happens inside that paper jungle, it’s entirely real to her, at least while she writes. She’s never more vulnerable. If she weren’t so inseparable from it, I’d hate the writing. It causes her so much pain. He thinks as he forces his tired legs to carry him back down the hallway, his arm to swing open the bookcase-door.

The notepad is on the floor a few feet away, where it either fell from her hands or was thrown and left. She lays in a ball, curled into herself like an armadillo, shaking like a leaf and fighting back tears. It hurts him to see her like this, and he moves slowly, uncertain what kind of mental state this one has left her in. It makes her so skittish sometimes, like a pup scared of his master’s boot. He thinks sorrowfully.

He carefully bends down, collecting the crinkled notebook, smoothing the pages, and closing it as he places it on the desk. She doesn’t look at him, or even acknowledge his presence, until he’s on his knees beside her, resting a hand on her quivering shoulder. She gasps and sits up quickly, fear in her eyes until she recognizes him. He pulls her close, nearly crying as she curls into him, clinging to him as desperately as a lost child as the tears finally come loose, soaking his shoulder through the shirt. He holds her tight to his chest, stroking her hair and whispering gentle nothings to calm her down.

“Shh, shh. It’s okay. You’re okay. Shh.” He croons, one hand in her hair, the other rubbing her back soothingly, methodically.

“No! It’s not okay. It’s not. Nothing’s okay. Not okay.” She sobs, and he can feel the pain, both emotional and physical, her writing session has caused.

“Shh, I’m here. Shh. The paper tigers are gone. Come on. Let’s go to bed. You’re okay.” He repeats, hefting her up in his strong arms and carrying her back to the bedroom, never once breaking his stream of comforting comments as she slowly settles in his arms.

I’ll always be here

When you come back to me

From your paper jungles

All filled with song,

Or my distant travels

That last far too long.

Though your journeys may take you

Away o’er the sea,

And though I may wander

Until you are ready,

I’ll always be here,

My arms strong and steady.

You vanish into your little world,

And I’ll make do with my own,

But always remember

That when we’re together,

There’s nothing that can go wrong. 


6 thoughts on “Paper Jungles

  1. Mirriam says:

    this is so cute
    CUUUUTE *flail*

  2. Marlee Stewart says:

    So nice….Someday I hope you find a man like this. So understanding and steady.

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