Cassie, head rested against the seat in front of her, cursed her stupidity, her lack of focus, desire for perfection. The others on the bus chattered like so many fatuous birds in spring whirling on a current of air, happy to be alive and too dumb to know they must die unknown and unremembered. They were fools who were too stupid to know that their work was trash and were utterly uncaring anyway. In this moment she hated them, even her friends who tried to comfort her.
“It’s just a five-minute presentation, Cassie,” said Jake sitting next to her. “No one cares. You’ve got time. Just make something up at lunch.”
Cassie rolled her head side to side against the seat. “Just make something up?” she said. Her voice was shrill, almost hysterical.
Jake shrugged. “Nelson likes you. He won’t even notice. Isn’t that what creative writing is anyway, just making things up?”
Cassie groaned and slammed her forehead back down. The heat from the early morning sun coming through the window made her feel ill. Mr. Nelson’s words gnawed at her mind: “You’re good, but not good enough. To create something true. That’s the challenge. You have talent but you haven’t cultivated it. You haven’t put the work in. And if you don’t, if you don’t give it somewhere to go, it will drive you crazy.”
Cassie didn’t think she was crazy, yet. There were times she felt pressurized, like there was a hatch cover somewhere waiting to blow open and vent her mind into the vacuum of space in a violent, uncontrolled burst of creative power. In the past she had been able to write to release the pressure, to buy herself some time and avert calamity. This time, nothing had come, or at any rate, she hadn’t been able to write. The swirl of incandescent matter in her mind, the fodder of a thousand stories, had failed to coalesce.
She jumped when the bus doors clanged open and she almost retched at the hot smell of exhaust from the line of buses idling in front of Thomas Jefferson High School. The wave of nausea passed, though it was not helped by the heat radiating from the asphalt.
The morning passed in a blur, a malaise of shame and dread. During lunch period she couldn’t eat. Jake sat across from her eating his lunch then helping himself to hers.
“How about I throw out some ideas and you just pick one and we’ll do it together,” Jake said.
“You think I don’t have ideas?” Cassie said, derision clear in her voice. “I’ve got a thousand ideas, they just won’t come out.”
Jake grinned. “You’re constipated.”
“Fuck off. I’m serious.”
Jake slid a few papers across the table. “Here. Read mine.”
Cassie scanned the pages. “A story about your dog dying? I’m sorry, but it’s shit.”
Jake recoiled. “What the fuck is your problem today?”
Cassie took a deep breath. “I’m sorry. I loved Lily and I’m sorry she’s gone. But this,” she held up the papers, “this is sentimental crap. It’s easy.”
“Then why don’t you grow a pair and write something if it’s so easy?”
“Because. I don’t want to write something. I want to create the right thing; something true.”
“What’s the point of creating the right thing if you never actually do it?” Jake said, snatching his story out of Cassie’s hands. He waved it in her face. “Maybe it’s not great, maybe it’s shit, but it’s mine.”
“It certainly is.”
Jake stood up. “I would like to still be your friend so I’m going to forget this conversation ever happened. See you in English.”
Mr. Nelson’s eyes met Cassie’s. She looked away.
Everyone else had already presented. Jake had read his story about his dog and was now attempting to give Cassie a reassuring look on his way back to his seat.
Cassie walked to the front of the class, eyes darting around looking for something. What that thing was, Cassie didn’t even know.
She faced the class. Her leg trembled. She shifted her weight.
“Memorized it, did you Cassie?” Mr. Nelson said.
“Um. No, not quite.” She answered without looking at him.
“Let’s have it then. Whatever it is.”
Cassie winced. Jake had a pained look on his face. She found the ceiling suddenly interesting. A wave of vertigo overcame her.
Something true. Something true. There is nothing, nothing. What’s the point of creating the right thing if you never actually do it? she thought.
Somewhere inside her she felt the hatch explode open, but instead of her mind spreading out into the infinite of space, the vast pressure of the ocean crashed in on her.
Cassie opened her mouth and sang. She sang in a rhythmic chant. She started low, quiet, barely above a whisper. She sang the beginning and the first, chaos and creation. Her pitch rose as did her volume, her voice growing stronger and she, without needing to think, turned a page and found a new wellspring, a font within that glowed without light. She sang transformation and adaptation, the coalescence of the cosmic swirl into a single atom. She sang growth and life and love. Louder still, she sang rivalry, jealousy, war, fate.
One part of her watched tears stream down her face. Another part felt them.
She sang now at the top of her voice and beyond in registers unregistered by her audience. She sang death and with death, the barest hope. But hope nonetheless. Hope triumphant.
The song stopped. Cassie opened her eyes.
Her classmates were dazed. Some were weeping. Others were swaying to music that she couldn’t hear. Jake’s face showed long claw marks down his cheeks. One student was crumpled on the floor, blood trickling from a cut on his head. Two others were kissing.
Mr. Nelson had a faint smile beneath a vague, rapturous expression.
Afterward, she asked her classmates and Mr. Nelson, but no one could tell her even a single word she had sung. Soon, they forgot the incident altogether.
Cassie tried to remember the song to write it down, but found it hard to recall even the feelings it had evoked. She tried to find the place within her that had opened. It was locked or gone. All that was left was a vague sense of sublimity, a tremendous feeling of loss, but the certainty that she had created something true.
It was her last creation.
This story was written as part of the monthly Symposium at the Soaring Twenties Social Club (https://soaringtwenties.substack.com/). You can find the August 2022 issue on Procrastination here: https://soaringtwenties.substack.com/p/on-procrastination