To Write At Midnight

Written by Atticus Payne
Art by Jairo Alzate

Here we are, at this same desk where I once worked from eight ‘til two (only the bloodstains are new). I’m sobbing, as you’d expect from a person who’s just seen the broken body of their closest friend. There are tears, and yet it’s not sadness I hear; not yet. Would you understand my fear? 

It’s the questions that won’t stop echoing between my ears, behind my eyes, in snaps and pops of the brain. My brain: it’s fried. It must be. 

Has she left? 

Have I killed her? 

Let me start at the beginning, then you must judge me.

This clockwork, slam-on-the-gas-every-hour-till-you-crash way of throttling through as days, weeks, months slip by that I’ve chosen, and now, now I am paying my dues. I love it, and I hate it, and I could not stand to live any other way—

I’ve tried, take my word on it. Every holiday, I give it another go. That vague fantasy gasped for in frazzled minutes barely coherent from the mad rush, sparks seeming to singe my fingertips as I pause for just a moment to try to think, think beyond the problems and fires of the day; in those precious sober seconds I blink and beg for the space of those calm, lazing holidays that stretch from day to day. What it was, to be empty and bored enough to imagine. To create. Those moments, I’ve filed away particularly well while the rest of the memories blur. Some turns of midnight, they’re the only thing I carry from the last day to the next: that surety that I am parched for the spring of blissful emptiness.

And when it comes, I waste away. Really, I do. There’s something to this routine I’ve turned myself an addict to, so much so my sanity crumbles the morning I wake up later than 10 and the sun is beating down on my eyelids, shaming me for the control that sweet sleep has wrest. With time stretching on, unimpeded from deadline to deadline, so do my thoughts that spiral beyond the safe zone, heading straight for torpor and the pain of being, ever so simply, bored again. I crave boredom, every passing day,

yet on the morning of emptiness, I balk at its weight? 

It’s like this: I miss the silence. Once upon a time, workless days meant writerly nights, slamming back long-brewed tea at midnight and tapping away at a five-year-old manuscript. Once upon a time, there was that blissful silence in the darkest hours, so magnificently stretching across the space from the cliffs of dusk and dawn, wrapping coolly into a sacred cocoon with space only for two. What it was to carry another voice in your head–a voice that wasn’t yours. 

It’s all muttering worry now. The characters have been shushed away, stuffed into blocks of half-hours stolen from unstopping days and silenced every other minute. They won’t even bang at the windows of my brain again. Not when I beg. 

What a gift it was to write at midnight. What a treasure to have that elusive flow. Which patron of magic gave me that just-right flow, and why did she take it away? 

Has she left? 

Have I killed her? 

I swear I didn’t mean to. She just wouldn’t work anymore.