Mingling with Misery

Writers are grotesque people.

The thought was an intruder. It sneaked into her brain and stuck to the walls of her skull, replaying over and over:

Writers are grotesque people.

Writers are grotesque people.

Writers are grotesque people.

She stopped the loop with a different thought—this one a question, a desperate, miserable sort of question: But I’m a writer, so what does that make me?

She had no answer. So she took out her compact mirror and stared at her reflection—mostly to look busy, to keep the hordes of unappealing wry-tours away. She wanted nothing to do with them, with their snobbish superiority and bland faux-intellectualism.

But I’m a writer, so what does that make me?

She snapped the mirror shut, scowling at nothing in particular. Go away, she told the voice in her head—the little martian voice that never, ever shut the fuck up. (Does that make me sound crazy? Oh God, am I crazy?)

(Sometimes she swore she was crazy.)

Linda—her part-time friend—swung down on the couch beside her, glass of red wine in hand. The burgundy liquid slid to one side, nearing the edge, but managed to shift back down without spilling. Fucking Linda. “Lucky Linda,” she was called. The girl could pass out drunk in an alleyway and wake up the next morning to find a kindly old woman had put her up at a fancy hotel with a few thousand dollars of spending money. (Well, not really. But that’s how it seemed, at least to a certain part-time friend of hers.)

“Abigail!” Linda cried. She was a lightweight on top of everything else, so, just forty minutes into the atrocious party, she was already past the point of socially-acceptable buzzed-ness.

She grinned and threw an arm around Abigail’s shoulder, who shifted uncomfortably in response. “What, Linda? What is it?”

“Nothing, nothing.” That grin—it was sickening.

Linda had the distinction of being the reason this party—this pretentious, shitty writer party—was happening: Her novel (some basic-bitch fantasy romance with a basic-bitch, Mary Sue protagonist) was being published. Meanwhile, Abigail’s own, far more original writing was gathering dust on her hard drive. But why was that surprising? Linda was Lucky Linda, after all. Abigail was just . . . Abigail. Bitchy, cynical, grotesque Abigail.

Writers are grotesque people.

Writers are grotesque people.

Writers are grotesque people.

“I just want you to socialize,” Linda hissed, in a voice somewhere between sultry and drunk off her ass. She was still grinning. And why shouldn’t she? Why shouldn’t Lucky Linda grin? She was drunk and her book was being published, and this was her party, goddammit. She had every right to smile. She had every right to be happy, and not that bullshit, drug-induced happiness either—real, proper, long-term happy.

But Abigail still hated her for it.

“Circulate! Circulate!” Linda trilled. “Get to know everybody. You’ll like them, Abs. Better yet, they’ll like you.” She was stretching out her words—“you” sounded more like “yooouuuuuu.” She always did that when she was drunk. It was repugnant.

Hell, it was grotesque.

(Writers are grotesque people. The words echoed through Abigail’s brain.)

Abigail wrinkled her nose. She did not find drunkness charming, even on a sweet, privileged, doe-eyed little doll like Linda. Especially not on Linda. “I’m fine right here, thanks.”

Linda’s grin changed to something even worse: a smarmy, patronizing smile. “Oh honey, no. No no no. This is a party—you can’t just sit here all night! C’mon, I’ll introduce you to some people.”

She pulled Abigail to her feet and started tugging her toward the center of the room, where groups of immaculately-dressed white people in hipster clothes and expensive haircuts gathered to debate literary themes, Shakespeare, and whether or not Hemingway was overrated. All of it was about as exciting as one would expect.

Abigail dug in her heels, refusing to be led into the heart of this strange, pretentious land where words were made to be high art, and writing was a status symbol to be judged and whined about and worshipped.

Writers are grotesque people.

“I don’t want to,” she moaned. Linda yanked harder. “Stop! I’m not going.”

“Oh yes, you are. Abs, you’re my best friend!”

The term “best friend” made her cringe. She thought of Linda as a background player in the novel of her life, little more than a foil, a competitor, who was too dense to even realize how much Abigail loathed her. She was not, nor had she ever been, Abigail’s “best friend”—even if they had known each other since they were fourteen.

“Please don’t make me,” Abigail said. Her voice was soft and low, buried beneath the laugher and chatter of the bigheaded writers surrounding them.

“Just try—for me. Just try.” With that, Lucky Linda gave her a final yank and pulled her into the center of the room, where all the action—dare you call it that—was. At that point, she thrust her toward a group of three who had broken off into their own little circle, a private conversation reserved only for other gross, pretentious white people. (Writers are grotesque people.) They looked up at Abigail quizzically as she stumbled into them, and she turned around to point out that she’d been literally shoved at them by the party girl herself—only to find that the party girl in question had disappeared into the crowd. Shit. She turned back to the three, her mouth hanging open dumbly, the words dying away in one gentle shudder of a breath. She offered her best apologetic smile, a shrug. Sorry about my entrance, but I’m here now—can we be friends? It was her first day of kindergarten all over again . . .

“Hello,” one of the three strangers said. This one was a guy, because of course it was a guy—the room was two-thirds men. (White male writers—worst of the worst, most grotesque of the bunch, with awful egos and a childlike attitude to even the most benign criticisms.) He had brown hair, hipster glasses, and an easy smile—like so many of the others. “Friend of Linda’s?”

Of course. Why else would I be here? She managed a smile. “Yep. We went to a writing workshop-slash-summer camp thing when we were kids. Well, teenagers.” Stop talking, Abigail. You know they don’t care. Just stop talking. “Gosh, I guess that was . . . eleven years ago now? Yeah, it was. Eleven years. Fuck.” She froze; redness crept into her cheeks. I bet these fuckers don’t swear. Besides their cursory hipster accessories, they looked straight as an arrow, dull as the day was long.

She waited for them—even just one of them—to clutch their pearls, but no one did. Thank God. It was bad enough having to be here in the first place, but without the ability to swear, she’d have been fucking lost.

“I’m Eli,” said the man, offering his hand. “This is Bennett and Gulia.”

The other guy, Bennett, had brown hair and an easy smile that were both identical to Eli’s. The only difference was his conspicuous lack of hipster glasses—which he made up for with a hipster mustache and pocket square.

The girl, Gulia, had sleepy eyes, winged liner, and a maxi dress that looked straight out of the 70s. “Nice to meet you,” she said, nodding in a slow, vague sort of way, like she was on Valium or stoned or something.

“I’m Abigail. Hi.” She gave a little wave—and only realized how stupid she must look after it was too late to stop. Then her arm fell limply back to her side, and her hand curled into a fist of its own accord. She cleared her throat. “So how do you guys know Linda?” It was such a boring question, but she couldn’t come up with anything better.

“Oh, through writing,” Eli answered, and you could tell by the way he said it that this was a great source of pride (unsurprisingly). “You said you went to a writing camp with her, so I take it you also write?” There was a gleam in his eye, a stupid hope. All of them had it, in fact. Please be like us! Please be like us!

“Uh, yeah,” Abigail answered, with clear hesitation, as if she was admitting to a disturbing fetish. “But only for fun, in my free time. I don’t do it professionally.” She always added that part—not professionally. It was her one distinction, the one clear thing she could hold onto and offer up as evidence that she was different than all these babbling, pretentious, idiotic fools. It was her way of saying (however slyly), “I’m better than you.” Because unlike them, who were holding onto pipe dreams and dedicating every hour to what should just be a hobby, she was only doing it recreationally. She was living her life the right way, the smart way, the practical way. She was a reasonable adult, not some loser living out of their mother’s basement and fantasizing over being the next George R. R. Martin or J. R. R. Tolkien. (And so what if she occasionally dreamt of getting a book published? So what if she wondered what it would be like to make the New York Times Bestseller List? At least she had a real job, and a life outside of silly fantasies and hobbies.)

“Oh really? That’s great.” Gulia smiled. A big, fat, thank-God-you’re-one-of-us smile. It was even worse than Linda’s grin. I’m not one of you, Abigail wanted to scream. I’ll never be one of you.

“Can I ask what you write?” Eli said. And this was the really obnoxious thing about writers: They’d always ask what you write, or what you’re working on, but only so they could talk about what they write, what they’re working on. It was all a ploy, a way to stroke themselves and praise their amazingness, their special-snowflake status. Look, Ma, I can write things! Let’s talk about how I write things and how awesome it is!

“I write different stuff,” Abigail said—another way to distance herself. “Original stuff, edgy stuff. Not, you know, mainstream fluff and schmaltz. I don’t do mass-appeal; I’d rather be niche.”

“Oh, that’s really nice,” Bennett said. Then he seized on the opportunity to boast and began rattling off his accomplishments and writing genres of choice—though Abigail quickly cut him off.

“So how long have you guys known Linda?”

“About five years,” Eli replied.

“This is just so great—her getting a publishing deal and all. I’m so happy for her.” Gulia’s smile seemed genuine, but it was hard to tell. Could she really be happy for Lucky Linda? The mere idea was baffling to Abigail. “This was a long time coming—I mean, she’s worked on that novel for so long.”

“Ages,” Eli agreed. He sipped his wine.

“She’s so skilled. You can tell she puts so much thought into every piece of writing,” Bennett said. “She really appreciates the art of it. She understands. She’s a tremendous girl, our Linda.”

Abigail couldn’t help but snort. The others stared at her.

“Something funny?” Bennett asked. There was a slight accusatory tone to his voice. He arched a brow.

“Nothing,” Abigail said. She paused, biting her lip. Deliberating. Then the words came, and she couldn’t seem to hold them back: “It’s just, you know—does she understand? Is she that talented? Just because one publisher thinks so doesn’t make it gospel. I mean, come on, have you seen her writing? I can’t be the only one here who feels like . . . I don’t know. Like maybe she doesn’t deserve this?”


Utter silence.

They didn’t need to respond, though. Abigail could tell what they were thinking: Jealous bitch. Of course, deep down, she suspected they all felt the same way—they just wouldn’t admit it.

She gritted her teeth. She knew she should make it better, clean it up by backtracking, by swearing up and down she’d just been joking, that was all, just a joke—but she didn’t want to. So she dug herself deeper instead. “I mean, it’s just—her writing’s such fluff, isn’t it? There’s nothing compelling about it, and there’s nothing different about it, either. It’s stale. Do you know what I mean? Sure, I’m happy for her—I guess—but I’m not exactly jumping for joy, either.”

More silence. Eli shifted from one foot to the other; Bennett’s expression was subtly disapproving, a shame on you look of scorn. Gulia cleared her throat and forced a smile. “Well,” she said, “we’re all entitled to our opinions.”

Abigail felt hot and stifled all of a sudden. She felt the urge to yank at her collar and make a run for the door, but she resisted.

Eli took that moment to do the most obnoxious thing yet, and pretend to spot someone he knew across the room. “Oh, there she is,” he said. “Excuse me, I need to go ask that girl something. I’ve been looking for her all night.” He slid away, into the crowd, leaving just Bennett, Gulia and Abigail behind. They were an unfortunate trio, none of them looking like they particularly wanted to be standing together, straining to make conversation.

“So, uh,” Bennett said, stumbling over the tension, “what do you do, Abigail? Since you don’t write professionally.” He smiled, and in that moment, Abigail realized that to them (these pretentious, grotesque writer-people), not writing professionally was actually a pitiable, sad thing, rather than an accomplishment. There was sympathy in his voice—genuine sympathy. As if, in place of “since you don’t write professionally,” he was actually saying, “since you have stage-four cancer.”

She was so stupidly surprised by this realization that it took her a moment to find her words. When she did, she mumbled out a sheepish, “I bartend.” Not that bartending was shameful, it was just that she always wished that she had a career that packed more punch. What she wouldn’t give to go to one of these parties and be able to say—truthfully and with a subtle air of superiority—that she was, in fact, a doctor or district attorney. That would knock the smug looks right off their writer faces.

“Oh, cool!” Gulia said. To her credit, she was an expert at fake-smiling. Her vaguely impressed, friendly expression looked, to Abigail, almost genuine. Almost.

“Abigail!” Lucky Linda’s familiar trill split through the air, and, for once, Abigail was grateful. Saved by the bitch, she thought, just as the part-time friend came swooping in with a loopy smile and tipsy, swaying movements. “Abs, I just have to introduce you to someone,” she said, her face up close to Abigail’s—too close. She could smell the alcohol. Reflectively, her nose wrinkled.

“Okay, fine,” Abigail said, unable to muster even fake enthusiasm. She could feel Bennett and Gulia staring, and it made her cheeks go red in embarrassment. She should not have told them her honest thoughts about Linda. What if one of them ratted her out? It would effectively ruin her and Linda’s friendship. Not that she was all that attached to the friendship in the first place . . . in fact, maybe the dissolution of their relationship would be a blessing . . .

But she didn’t have much time to contemplate this, because before she knew it, Linda was guiding her through the crowd and to the other side of the room. She stopped as they reached two balding men who were having a lively conversation, with big smiles and gesticulations. The two men parted ways as Linda returned, and the one that stayed behind greeted her with far more enthusiasm than was warranted: “Linda! You’re back!”

“I just can’t stay away,” she said, slurring slightly. “Anyway, I wanted to introduce you to my best friend, Abigail. Abs, this is Adam.”

“Hi,” Abigail said, her voice flat. She longed for the comfort of her actual best friend: tequila shots. But, tragically, none were being served. They weren’t “sophisticated” enough for Linda’s party. She could almost laugh at the absurdity of it all. Of course when—or, rather, if she herself were to get a book published, her celebratory party would be a far more fun, raucous occasion. And there’d be one rule, written in big letters across the entryway: NO WRITING- OR LITERATURE-RELATED DISCUSSION. She smiled at the thought.

“Oh, Abigail! I’ve heard so much about you. Enchanté.” He winked at her. She scrutinized him, her eyes scrolling up and down, trying to discern whether or not he was gay.

“Tell him about your book, Abs,” Linda said, nudging Abigail in the ribs.

Abigail scowled—she hated being put on the spot. She especially hated being forced into talking about her novel, which was a private and embarrassing thing that did not, in her eyes, make for appropriate conversation fodder.

Still, she sighed and decided to play along—be the long-suffering best friend, the good party guest. “Well, it’s a gothic dramedy.” She paused. “It’s very somber.”

“It’s so good,” Linda gushed. “She let me read a chapter. I thought it was just great.”

“Oh really?” Adam arched a brow. “Well, if you liked it, Linda—I mean, you would know, after all.” Turning to Abigail, he said of Linda, “This one here—she’s a star! Literary genius. But I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that.” He winked again.

And Abigail had had it.

The words bubbled up before she could stop them—not that she necessarily would’ve if she had been able to. All she felt was rage. Blinding, red-hot rage, fierce and ferocious. She let loose what she’d been thinking all night long in one glorious rant: “A star? Really? A literary genius? C’mon, you can’t seriously believe that! She writes trash! Mainstream trash, books for the masses, pablum! You know it and I know it. Why is everyone pretending she’s talented? She’s getting published because shit sells, not because her book’s any good. Why can’t anyone just admit that?”

It was quiet.

Not just in their little circle, either: The entire room had fallen silent. It was an overused, rarely-true saying, but in that moment, Abigail genuinely believed you could hear a pin drop. Everyone was staring. Some faces were blank; others were scrunched up into disapproving scowls, shocked gapes, or horrified grimaces.

Redness crept into Abigail’s cheeks. She tried to pretend she wasn’t embarrassed, straightening her spine and not even attempting to backtrack or apologize, even as Linda stared at her with the pitiful, doe-eyed expression of a wounded deer.

For a brutal moment, there was only silence. Then someone—some hopelessly pretentious writer and party guest—coughed. That seemed to break the odd, quiet spell that had fallen over the room, and Linda finally spoke. Her voice quivered, though whether it was from her emotion or her drunkenness was anybody’s guess. “Abigail,” she said, “I . . . I had no idea you felt that way.”

Abigail knew Linda wanted an apology, that she wanted Abigail to take back what she’d said. But Abigail refused.

Instead, she double-downed: “Well, I would’ve kept my feelings to myself if you would’ve stopped forcing me to interact with your friends! Can’t you see I have nothing in common with these people? Why the fuck would you force me to talk about my book to this stranger?” She gestured toward Adam on the word “stranger.” He looked understandably uncomfortable, uneasy about being in the middle of the drama and a source of Abigail’s frustration. Straining to look casual, he slipped his hands into his pockets, letting his eyes fall to the floor.

Linda, meanwhile, continued to stare at Abigail with a hurt look on her face. Her eyebrows drew together as she said, “Abigail, Adam is my agent. He’s the whole reason my book is being published. I wanted to introduce you to him because . . .” Her breath hitched; she had to pause to regain her composure before she could continue. “Because I thought he could represent you, too. I knew he’d love your book.” She whispered the last line.

Abigail’s cheeks flamed. In addition to her embarrassment, she felt something else, something new and unexpected—and decidedly worse: shame. Complete and utter shame. She stood there, in shock, searching for the words as it hit her—for the first time that night—what an asshole she was. She’d ruined Linda’s party. She’d ruined their friendship.

Oh my God.

Eli appeared suddenly, at Linda’s side. He let his hand rest supportively on her shoulder as he stared at Abigail with icy judgment. “I think you should go.” His tone was matter-of-fact. Abigail looked at Linda, expecting her to be forgiving and understanding like always, but she wouldn’t meet Abigail’s gaze.

“I . . .” Just say sorry. Say it. But Abigail couldn’t. It was like her pride was holding the words hostage, refusing to admit defeat.

She swallowed. Then she turned and walked away, feeling the harshness of dozens of eyes burning a hole into her back. The shame remained long after she closed the door. And as she descended the stairs, a single thought swirled around her brain:

I’m a grotesque person.