The sun was close to giving up for the day, the last of its orange glow wearily slipping away. It’s New Year’s Eve again and the neighbours of the cul-de-sac were setting up for the annual street party. The children were riding bikes and laughing, punctuated with squeals, cries and the occasional parental reprimand. New life was emerging in the normally quiet street. It was a tidy street with manicured gardens and lawns, the ever-popular Christmas lights still set up in each home. People had come from all over the city to view the spectacle they created. The lights suddenly came on, all of them in sync on the same timers. Christmas may have been a week ago but these babies weren’t done for the year yet.
A couple of houses before the semicircle started its definitive curve proudly stood a modest timber home. It was cottage-like in appearance with stylish security bars on the front windows that perfectly blended with the home’s exterior decor. At one of the front windows, Peter was spying the scene through the white Venetian blind he was parting with his fingers. He sighed, let go of the blind, spun around and continued pacing around his office.
“I know this is foolish, yet I’m doing it anyway,” Peter said to himself. He was edgy, his face directed at the cream carpet, a hand massaging the back of his neck. He took a few big strides away from the window doing a quick about-face when stopped by the opposite wall. His pacing quickly became a brisk walk back and forth in his immaculate office. He passed his solid dark timber bookshelf, filled with his favourite books and resources. The walls were covered with inspirational quotes about values and pursuing dreams. He dared not look to his stunning timber desk at the moment. His computer was there, trying to get his attention, calling him back each time he passed. The persistent cursor would not shut up. It took a great deal of strength not to yield. Peter determined not to confront that screen without a solution. He still had nothing.
It was getting dark outside now. Peter stopped again at the window and peeked outside. He saw the gazebos and tables and chairs being set up. The women were giggling now. He twisted the lever and shut the blinds. He didn’t want them looking into his lit-up office and seeing this. He stomped to the wall again and stopped. He glared at his whiteboard with all the tally marks he’d made this year. One for each day he completed a writing session. There were so many, but right now, they offered no comfort at all, instead they mocked him.
A female's voice giggling, getting louder and talking to another. There was a knock on the door, it seemed so loud.
Sweet Rachel opened the door ajar, stuck just her head into Peter’s special place. “Hi honey, how are you doing in here?”
Peter grimaced and nodded, “I don’t think I’m going to make it.”
“We talked about this. That’s okay,” Rachel offered her knowing smile which right now felt so uncaring. “Why don’t you leave it and come join us outside?”
“No, not yet. There’s still time.”
“Sure thing, just don’t be so hard on yourself. Come out anytime.” Rachel slipped away and gently closed the door.
Peter returned his attention to the whiteboard and allowed his thoughts to express themselves. Why do I bother with all these tally marks? What is the point? I’m not going to finish the draft this year. All the planning, time management, focus and goal setting means squat when something changes or a problem arises. Peter could feel the anger rising from the pit of his stomach. It demanded to be released. He dared not go near the computer but something had to give. Unless he could release this tension and get into his creative zone he knew he would not find an answer. He grabbed the whiteboard eraser and recklessly allowed it to take out the entire middle section of the tally marks. He paused and looked at the damage. Oh yeah! That helped. He felt a tickle from the depths of his soul. Peter kept rubbing and rubbing, giggling inside like a villain.
Peter took a step back and looked at the blank whiteboard. It reminded him of the blank computer screen. There’s no escape! However, he did feel some relief. A blank slate equals possibilities. Rachel was always so supportive of Peter and his writing dreams plus she had real wisdom. She often said to make sure he finds his own way and creativity. She never saw any benefit in the daily tally because it focused too much on the past. Sure, it was a record of success but knowing Peter, who could be obsessive, it would be an unworthy distraction. She was right of course, Peter thought, for me, it was a waste of time. Rachel suggested a countdown may be better as it kept your focus on both now and the future. That was worth reconsidering. He stumbled over to the bookshelf and returned the eraser. He eyeballed the spines of the many books he proudly kept there. His favourite fiction and non-fiction works, many that helped him in his work. He touched the one with his name on it. He had done it, written a well-received, well-sold novel. His blood, sweat, many tears and countless hours were poured into it. Yet here he was on New Year’s Eve with such hope for the future feeling so frustrated.
He hadn’t rested after his first book. He hadn’t celebrated the fruits of his labour. That’s what Rachel said, maybe she was right again? Peter allowed his ears to hear the joyous sounds from outside to enter his being. The kids were having an absolute blast, the men, the women having fun just being together in the moment. He went back to the window, used his fingers to peak through the slats. This was a group of people cherishing the moment, one that came but once a year. His eyes darted around the night-lit scene decorated by the colour of Christmas lights. He played a mini-game of trying to find Rachel out there. He had to move his head from side to side to get a clear view beyond the window’s security grill. Peter stopped and let slip an audible groan. It just hit him right in the face, almost literally. Rachel was always reminding him to take care that his dreams, passions and goals didn’t become a snare to him. He’d spent most of the day in this small room, with security bars on the window, cut off from the outside world. Why? Because of a self-imposed arbitrary deadline! Peter let go of the blind and turned to his desk.
The computer was black, in sleep mode. He walked over to the desk, opened his notebook planner and looked at the year’s writing goals. He’d achieved most of them and other projects as well. Peter looked closely at the word Goal on one of his headings and let slip a small gasp. He remembered an original British spelling of Jail was Gaol. Just a slight twisting of the letters in Goal and the word took on a completely different meaning. If he wasn’t careful, he could twist his goals and allow them to have power over him, to hold him against his will. Rachel was right again. There are times when an actual deadline exists, this was not one of them. Peter took his whiteboard marker over to the board and moved with purpose. His arm jiggled with both quick movements and long stretched-out lines.
A gentle knock on the door followed by a sweet muffled voice, “It’s time.”
“Come in,” Peter said.
Rachel slowly stepped into the room, opened her mouth to speak but saw the whiteboard instead. She inspected it closely before taking another step forward. Peter had made a visual feast of his thoughts, plans and desires. He had warnings about goals becoming gaols, reminders of what’s important to him and to celebrate his wins. In red he wrote a quote ‘THE GOAL IS A GUIDE FOR EACH PLACE OF CELEBRATION, THE JOURNEY AND ITS DISTRACTIONS IS THE DREAM by my beloved Rachel.’
Rachel gave him a big hug, “I see you’ve been working on some important things tonight.”
“I have indeed.”
“Did you miss it?”
Peter smiled deeply, “Not yet.” He led Rachel out of the room and switched off the light, “Let’s join the journey of life outside, celebrating those travelling with us.”
That earned him a kiss, “Spoken like a true writer.”
As they left the house, the fresh evening air welcomed Peter like a close friend. His senses were ignited, joy came flowing in and from within. The people, ecstatic to see him set free, cheered for their returned brother. Peter knew it to be true, the answers were out here, in the wild.
This short story was inspired by a prompt provided by Reedsy.com. If you're interested in participating or would like to read other short stories, you can find the Reedsy Weekly Writing Prompts by clicking here.
Prompt Used: Write about someone scrambling to finish a goal in the last few hours of the year.