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Anatomy of Two Artists

You live alone and earn a reasonable monthly sum that keeps you comfortable and with enough free time to keep your literary aspirations hopeful. You have a desk drawer full of story ideas written almost wholly on sticky notes, envelopes, and napkins. You bought a Mac, because you think that’s the instrument of choice for creative people like yourself.

You read a lot, but not as much as you would like. Perhaps 50 novels a year, perhaps 100. You are self-conscious about the holes in your knowledge of the literary tradition. Joyce alone, you think, deserves a year of study in himself. You feel wildly inadequate compared to the tenured professors who taught you in school, or even your friends just starting graduate school, because you did not go to graduate school. But you do have a handful of publication credits in obscure art magazines.

One day a friend comes over. She is depressed. She is freshly divorced. She wants to sleep on your couch, and you abide. You have known her since before her wedding and you have always enjoyed her. You live in the same city, and she did not renew her lease because she is moving out of the city because of the divorce, and now she is on your couch. You think of when your friends started getting married, and now one in four, or one in two, or a statistic larger than what you are comfortable with, are getting divorced, which you never thought would apply to your close friends, but you have also never been married so maybe you don’t understand the stresses of a marital relationship.

You wonder if she has come to sleep on your couch truly seeking a friend or if perhaps she is looking for an easy lay. You know she has other friends in the city, close friends, and you wonder why she felt you were the one to impose upon. Maybe everyone else is out of town; maybe in distress you were simply the first person she tried; maybe she is looking for an easy lay. You imagine the two of you would be good sleeping together, but think it would damage the relationship. It would end its casualness, its coquettishness. If she left the couch and snuck into your bed one night you would not send her back, but you would not yourself try to sneak onto the couch. For one thing, the couch is too small.

Concerning the subject, you imagine ways to get abreast without alarming her. Perhaps you could nonchalantly ask, Are you looking for an easy lay? Surely she would not be alarmed, given that you live alone and she is sleeping on your couch and you are not close with her now ex-husband. She would perhaps be flattered; she would perhaps even be grateful that the subject is in the open, free for response, maybe discussion.

You continue your day job. She stays in your apartment while you are gone. She says she is enjoying her “staycation,” using her saved-up personal days before she quits her job officially. She is deciding where to move next. She is a nurse, so she can move anywhere, because people everywhere have a tendency to get sick. Sometimes she bakes, or cleans, or watches daytime TV. The relationship becomes comfortable and domestic and continues to be sexless. She says she enjoys this more than most of her marriage.

Mostly, though, she reads your books. She says she has never had time to read, and suddenly she loves reading. She’s coping, she says, by reading all these stories. She explains to you, as if you weren’t aware, how calming it is to read about different lives, and how it makes her feel small but also less alone, and how surprising it is to learn that fiction can actually be more honest than facts.

She also finds your books about writing, and absorbs them, and starts reading your books thinking about how they were written and how she might have written them. She had never had an interest in writing before, she tells you. Then one day she hands you a manuscript, because she respects your opinion. She calls you a writer, and says she wants to know what you think.

You are stunned. You wonder how many drafts the story went through before it arrived in its present state. The last line makes you cry. You read the story again, just to make sure. You tell her the story is very good, but she should sleep on it. She is impatient, and the next day goes to the copy shop, and sends out 50 copies to 50 agencies. Three agents call, wanting to know if she has a novel written. One agent is still interested when she says it’s her first story. The agent is in town, and they go to dinner.

She sleeps with the agent and tells you it was because he seemed nice and it was easy, and if it helps her get a contract later on then all the better. She confides she had been needing an easy lay. She says she feels so good that she could sit down and start her novel right then. When you see her next she has 4,000 words written. Then 10,000. Her book sprawls throughout your home, and you become irritated with the amount of oxygen she is breathing.

Her book becomes so large that she splits it into two, then three, books. She is writing a trilogy on your Mac because you take your PC to work. You’re the writer, she says, and hand s you book one, and wants to know what you think. The protagonist is obviously based on her, with fabrications. For example, in the book, she is an architect instead of a nurse. She is coping with her second divorce. She has sex with a variety of men. This time, the last line makes you weep.

She sends book one to the agent she slept with, and he makes an offer to buy all three, which she accepts. He is in town again, so they sleep together again, and you suspect they even sleep together on your couch while you are at work, though you can’t prove it. Why they wouldn’t just use the bed, you can’t explain.

One day, she moves out. She leaves a check on the counter to cover her expenses from her time in your home. She is heading to New York, where she will at least temporarily live with her agent, to write, though she will nurse part-time. She makes an offer to buy your Mac, an amount which will allow you to buy a newer model, because she wants your particular Mac for sentimental reasons, and you accept.

Your relationship is damaged; it is no longer casual or coquettish. Now that she lives in New York, you only see her on her book tours, for a few minutes, about once a year; she is simply too exhausted, she says. You stop reading her books, because you find them irritating to read without being able to talk to her, and you two no longer talk. You are invited to her wedding with her agent, and you accept, but then feign illness and send a gift instead.

The last you hear the two are divorced and the agent is writing a tell-all book about his marriage to the literary icon. You await its release. In the excitement, you finally sit down to write.


Robert John Miller’s work has recently appeared in DOGZPLOT, Bartleby Snopes, and Monkeybicycle. He is currently shirtless. He lives in Chicago and more can be found at


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