When I wanted to write, I would often go to Graffiti Park. The place doesn’t really have an official name, but it was dubbed Haven by the locals. It’s a place for artists and dreamers, writers and sculptors, poets and painters, hopefuls and hopeless. I found solace in the thirty-by-thirty square, surrounded by a mish-mash of boards strung together to make a fence, and the remnants of an old brick building, a wall decorated in graffiti. I wandered into Haven, hoping to get in some good creative time before too many intruders descended on my sanctuary.
The air smelled of burning sand and polluted waters as people seem to have dumped their trash thoughtlessly in the only pond in Haven. The waters have turned a strange mucky orange, the color a person gets when mixing ketchup and mustard condiments. Despite the merciless heat of the Palms, some pond grass still grows in the water, and strange desert weeds pop up between the pavement peppered with cracks. I stepped along the single jagged lines, following the dead-end roads before hopping to the next one.
A lone palm tree competes with the windmills in the distance, but it can’t quite reach their height. I shielded my eyes and tried a staring contest with the windmills, their arms spinning in predictable rhythms. I pictured myself as Sim Quixote of Simla Mancha, charging what I presumed to be feral foes and plummeting from my horse because of my foolish assumption. I giggled. The windmills of Lucky Palms always remind me of Sim Quixote.
I pulled my folded notebook from my back pocket, and opened to a blank page. Hmm, I puzzled. What stories should I write today? If Dad was awake early enough, I could share my tales with him. He always enjoyed hearing the things I wrote, no matter how weird or far-fetched. In a way, it felt like making up for lost time. Instead of having my dad read to me before bed, I would tell him wild, fanciful tales penned by myself. He never criticized, and always laughed at the appropriate times, and sometimes he even cried.
Perhaps I would write about being Sim Quixote’s faithful sidekick, Simcho Panza, and his endless proverbs. Or perhaps I’d write about Sulcinea of El Toboso, the lady love of Sim Quixote, and utilize his affectionate pet name for her – Sul Sul. I frowned and looked over the pages I had already written about the strange knight and his lover.
Perhaps I should write about Simcheherazade and her unusual attempts to stay ahead of her own death by telling her new husband a new story every night, but refusing to finish, therefore, insuring she would live till the following night. I had my own ideas about her, updating her story to Simterra’s medevial era in New Deutsimland. I pictured her as one of real-life King Heinrich the Eighth’s wives, and planned for her to tell horror stories every night to save herself from being killed or divorced and exiled. I had tentatively titled that story One Thousand and One Frights. I was quite pleased with its abysmal cheesiness.
But today the creative juices just wouldn’t flow. I tried picking back up where I left off in previous stories, but nothing sounded right. I tried free-writing, but nothing but junk came to me. I tried listening to music and looking up writing prompts on my smartphone. I tried meditating with lots of “ommmms” and “ahhhhhhhs.” I tried a few yoga poses, but gave up when I was having trouble holding my weight. I tried running a lap around the outside of Haven. Nothing seemed to be working.
The end of my pencil snapped on the paper, leaving an ashy gray smudge.
“Shoot!” I said, digging around in my back pocket for another writing implement, but finding none. “I guess that’s that.”
I rubbed the sweat from the back of my neck, certain I got sunburned again on my neck, shoulders, and legs because I rarely remembered sunscreen.
Standing up, I laid my notebook aside and walked over to the Walle. Stepping into the stream of shooting water from the old busted fire hydrant, I let the water mist down onto my aching body. The droplets felt good on my parched skin. I was tempted to stick out my tongue, but thought against it as I wasn’t sure how clean the water actually was.
Walle had several new designs, steampunk-like gears and gadgets surrounding colored stems and leaves sprayed in a bright magenta, soft orange, deep purple, and pensive black. In the center of the latest artwork was a sunflower, tilted, its head drooping into the swirl of color. I could picture the gears cranking, the leaves dancing in the wind, and the bubbles spiraling and popping. The graffiti was beautiful, a perfect marriage of abstract and natural. I traced my fingers along the fiery orange stem to the center of the sunflower and pressed lightly. I was surprised when the brick mortar crumbled into my hand.
Hmm… I frowned, pressing lightly on the as I didn’t want to disturb the artistry. The brick moved away from my touch and I could see an opening in the wall. Hesitantly, I slid my fingers just inside the wall, and pulled out a piece of parchment covered in a fine layer of dust and dried paints. Whoever had put this here had evidently had paint-coated hands. A hidden note? I wonder what it says. Oh can I be any more cliche? I pressed my forehead into the wall, irritated with my train of thoughts. Unraveling the note, I began to read,
I saw you again today… like a lone sunflower atop a tower of sand. Your hair shining like a golden beacon of hope to a sea of weary sailors longing for home.
“Wow, that’s nice,” I said aloud.
Sometimes you come at twilight; your cape is the sun and your crown is the stars. Does she watch the people come and go, wondering their stories, who they love, what they want, and how they have grown? Does she observe the trees, which way the wind blows, and does she know the secrets of flowers, how they bloom even beneath a summer sun staying past its welcome? Does she mind the clock, wondering where the days and weeks and months go, remembering that time stops for neither man nor beast? I think, one day, I should climb her tower and sit beside her and take her hand, and see what fascinates her so from her uncommon perspective.
My hands were trembling.
What would I say? I am tongue-tied, a deaf mute beside a radiant beauty. I have only my art to speak for me, and sprayed colors on walls is insufficient. I pen my heart on a page and bury the words deep within the bricks where no one will ever see. If only I could be so bold. I only wish we had thought bubbles round our heads, then I would speak the language of your soul song.
The letter was aptly titled Love Song for a Stranger. Hot tears pricked my eyelashes. I let the most beautiful prose I ever read flutter to the ground. Overwhelmed with conflicting emotions, I slid to the ground, letting the wall support my back, dropping my arms between my bent legs.
Why couldn’t I write such original lines? Why couldn’t I write something to stir the souls and touch the hearts of humans? I was such a hack. I stomped my foot in the dust. His words were magical, transformative, inspiring. They deserved words in the form of pure love in return, but how could I write such a thing?
“Such an amateur,” I said, under my breath as if I had uttered a curse.
Perhaps I was destined to write quippy lines on tea boxes or silly little commercial jingles, but nothing powerful and significant. I could write nonfiction just fine. Four years at my academy newspaper, and a state finalist three years in a row for the high school journalism award was proof. However, when it came to something other than a column in the paper, I seemed to lack the brain cells to compile a work of masterful fiction.
As if a sign from the universe or the God above, a pencil rolled in my direction. I looked around wondering where it had originated, but didn’t see a single soul around. Frowning, I picked the writing implement up and positioned it between my thumb and forefinger.
I suppose I’ll never get better if I don’t try, I thought miserably. Lifting myself from my sorry state, I wandered to the entrance of the park, a few yards away. Tentatively, I scrunched my shoulders, lifted my pencil, took a deep breath, and wrote a single word on the page.
My eyes widened with surprise as the thoughts and ideas came gurgling to the surface. I smiled in satisfaction.
I have my story.
Author Note: Recently, I found myself contemplating my work. Is it any good? This is something I’m sure every artist feels at one point or another. When I came across the custom lot, Graffiti Park, I knew I wanted to write this chapter where Kass is partaking in the universal struggle of writers. Since I previously wrote a chapter surrounding another lot – St. Astrid’s Church – I figured why not form a chapter around the park! I tried to pick epic stories to mention also- Don Quixote and One Thousand and One Nights, two of my favorites from high school.
When it came to the idea of the graffiti and the hidden prose, I combined a strange collection of memories – my mother’s collection of graffiti photographs, my love for old brick architecture, summer trips to the Nevada desert with my dad, passing secret messages to friends, a letter from an undisclosed admirer, and a love poem I accidentally found from a guy I had a massive crush on in college. I’m not sure if this is anything like what it could be, but I hope you enjoy!