Andy stood before the nondescript black door. The little brass plate above the handle read: Members Only.
The door was framed by thick brick walls on both sides. She put her hand to the handle and pushed, and was met by the subtleness of warmth mixed with emotion she found nowhere else. She let loose the breath she had held on the city streets and entered.
The soft red light made her cheeks glow brighter in anticipation of some real work. She handed her membership card to the man at the door, who took the card as he did every time, looked at the picture, and then at her face. He winked and said quietly, "Welcome, Andy."
She walked to the shiny wood bar and set her notebook on its surface. The bartender nodded in her direction, and headed over with her usual drink. Andy paid cash and walked to the corner. She sat back against the black leather of the couch and opened her notebook on her lap, surveying her current story and considering the implications of its printing.
Andy shook her head as she thought about the reception of her work. Her stories were often called "Realist" by the reviewers. She could picture the faces of the masses reading her stories; she could see people closing her books, smiling and saying, "Now that's something I can relate to."The image turned her stomach. Her readers could not see what she was trying to expose through prose -- her stories were meant as parodies of the life she observed outside the club.
Looking around the vast room, she saw that everyone was frantically working or hushly debating. She heard the clicking of the old typewriter a man brought every Saturday. He sat behind a pillar, his back to her, and she saw his shoulders heaving with work and rhythm. Andy smiled at the crowd, and thought about her first night at the club.
She had been writing in her apartment for days. Her worlds became confused during that time; she was secluded in her home, but her stories were of the world outside. She had locked herself away only to be bombarded in thought with the ignorance she observed outside. She could sometimes work for days at a stretch.
That afternoon she was startled by a purposeful knock on her apartment door. She opened it to a man in a pressed suit, his face and gaze hard like marble. He motioned toward her coat by the door, turned, and walked toward the exit. Andy grabbed her coat, not bothering to lock the door or even grab her keys.
She ran to catch his brisk step and walked swiftly by his side. He took her through alleys and down side streets. They took so many turns Andy became disoriented in the familiar town. He stopped in front of the black door, hidden in an alley. She looked down the alley toward the street and felt as though she were in a tunnel. Andy looked up and down the alley and cars sped by the openings on both ends. She saw people rushing by the breaks that showed the cars. But the alley was silent.
The man turned to her and said in monotone, "I've read your stories. I know what you mean by them, even if you don't."
He knocked on the black door and it opened to reveal the kind of energy she longed for during her days in the crowded streets outside. She was given the chance to buy her membership a week later, and had been coming to the club several times a week ever since.
Andy again surveyed the room. People lounged in comfortable leather chairs and read, or scribbled furiously on sketch pads. A man close to her had his adding machine; she heard the tape of the register print numbers as he typed with one hand and shuffled through his pile of papers with the other. The club was like the adding machine, purposeful and active.
Andy looked back at her pages, turned to a fresh one and started writing. As a warm-up, she laid out a scene in minutes of a woman walking swiftly down a crowded downtown street.
The woman is coming from the direction of the bank where she has just cashed her paycheck. She is a small-framed woman, and the softness of her personality shows through the weak lines of her face.
As the woman walks, she continuously reaches into her pocket to hand small amounts of change and bills to the beggars leaning against the building walls. Their hands are outstretched to her, and she drops the money into their dirty palms as she passes. She does not look at their faces, and they choose not to look at hers. When the woman reaches the end of the street she has run out of money. She stops and looks in her purse, then puts her hands in each of her pockets, but finds nothing.
The woman looks at the ground and walks to the side of the building she is passing. She puts her back to it and lowers herself to a sitting position. Without taking her eyes off the ground, she lifts her hand. As her hand lifts, a coin is dropped into it by some other faceless person. That person stops at her and moneylessly lowers himself to the ground beside her, and so on.
Andy looked up from her page as the club door opened. A young man, carrying a small easel and board, showed his card and walked to the corner exactly opposite her. She could not see his face, but she unwillingly admired his walk. He stood as though he had been molded in motion by delicately observant hands. In one swift movement, he set his easel to the side of a leather chair, placed the board against it, and unloaded paints and brushes from his pockets.
Before he sat and began dipping his brushes, he raised his eyes to Andy. She felt a rush of blood hit her face and flood her head. She opened her mouth and inhaled deeply, then lowered her eyes back to her notebook. She thought again of her first night in the club.
Continued in Part II
Shelly Wass is a graduate of the University of Montanaï¿½s Creative Writing and Literature program, and a current masterï¿½s student at Reed College in Portland, Oregon. An avid student of comparative literature, Shelly offers a unique perspective on contemporary issues in her fictional pieces.