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by Danna Colman and Thom Garrett

He sat at his computer trying to concentrate on his latest poem, but the telephone broke his concentration.

“Hello? Yes, this is he.”

Not one for conversations, his eyes noticed the empty bird feeder outside his office window. He took a deep breath and noted that he would refill it before he went to bed in an hour or so.

“No, I’m not writing at the moment. Sure, I can talk for awhile.”

He glanced over at his dogs, whose whimpers indicated they needed to go out. He held up his index finger meaning “just a minute,” as he listened to the woman on the phone. She had emailed him a few days ago, letting him know she would be calling. She had discovered his stories and poems on an online platform and had indicated she was impressed by his pieces. Surprised and delighted by her enthusiasm, he hoped they would hit it off.

She was also a writer, and all their emails had been focused on their stories. He didn’t think they would have much in common; still, he had been looking forward to her call. He was impressed with how insightful her observations were, often pointing out things of which he had not been aware. He thanked her when she shared her appreciation of a poem or a notable line, and they often sent two or three emails back and forth when discussing a particular topic.

Their first conversation flowed. They chatted about their stories and spoke about personal things. He mentioned that he worked in a bakery a few times a week but didn’t know how to bake bread. He told her about his interest in bugs and birds, which reminded him again to feed them. The birds, not the bugs.

He liked that someone was so interested in his work and his life, especially since he was alone most of the time after losing his wife to cancer a year and a half earlier. Rarely was he invited out, and he was now resigned to the fact that he was pretty much forgotten by their old friends. Now he was a recluse, living on social security, writing every day and wondering what, if anything, was in his future.

“I know this is crazy,” she had written, “but since we’re both going to be home on Saturday night, I thought it would be fun to talk.”

She was also alone, having had two failed marriages and had no intention of ever going out again, and never, ever being in another relationship. She loved her privacy, her quiet time, her peace of mind.

“So what made you decide to call me? I was of the impression that you were pretty much a hermit. A woman and her dog, alone, but never lonely.”

“I don’t know. I started thinking about how I feel when I read your work. It’s not just your words, it’s something more, like I can feel your spirit. It’s like you’re writing to me. It’s difficult to explain.”

“Wow, I’m flattered. To be honest, I feel a connection to your writing, as well.”

“I probably shouldn’t even tell you this, but I’ve even had a dream about you.”

“Oh?”

“Yeah, you were on your road trip, and you got lost. You showed up at my door, and I let you in. You took a shower in my bathroom.”

He tried ignoring the sudden charge that rushed through him. It was surprising that her dream, such a tiny offering of intimacy, could awaken something in him, somehow reminding him of what it felt like to be near a woman.

“Now, I’m blushing, so I’m glad we’re talking on the phone,” she said. “I shouldn’t have said that. I shouldn’t be saying any of this, but I feel like I can tell you anything. So after that dream I found myself thinking about you, fantasizing about the two of us. One time, after writing late into the night, I began to wonder if I could be falling in love with you just from reading your poetry.”

He didn’t know how to respond. Her honesty touched him, excited and frightened him.

“I’ve had some of the same feelings. I felt like I knew you, through more than just your stories. Just a schoolboy crush, but, well — I still feel it.”

He took another sip of whiskey and gazed out the window at the trees, the bird feeders, and the woods surrounding his house. He sighed deeply. He closed his eyes and thought about her. Though he wasn’t religious, he believed in the energy of life and that what she was offering him was an opportunity, a gift. How he would respond was a choice, but he was very aware that “faint heart never won fair lady.”

There was nothing flirtatious in her manner, but he felt increasingly drawn to her, and found her passionate way of speaking quite engaging. He instinctively knew that she was bringing something into his life that he had been missing for a long time.

When he looked at the clock for the first time since she’d called, he couldn’t believe that it was 1am and that they had been talking for five hours. Their conversation had flowed effortlessly, equal parts relaxed and stimulating.

After hanging up the phone, he went back to his desk and his poem. He was surprised that he was unable to concentrate on the poem or the empty bird feeder, or anything but her.

The next morning he awoke, fed the dogs, filled the bird feeders, and began to write again. As soon as he finished his poem, he had the feeling that always came over him when he knew he’d nailed it. He hadn’t felt that sensation for a long time, and though most of his recent poems were satisfying, few of them brought the sensation he now felt. Something was different.

From the very start it seemed unlikely, if not impossible, that their unusual friendship would ever blossom into something more. They lived three thousand miles apart. He had a job, two dogs, and an elderly mother to consider. She adamantly resisted anything that looked the least bit like a boyfriend. Still, they wrote, they talked, and eventually even wrote together. They each knew they had fallen in love long before they actually met.

Time and distance took its toll, and their love was tested almost to the breaking point. When common sense said they had no chance together, when they were each worn to the end of their endurance, when they were tired, frustrated, and out of options, when she said, “You should go home early,” or, “You should cancel your flight here,” he would stop arguing. He would stop pushing back. He would drop all his defenses and say, “But I love you.” And she would say, “And I love you, too.”

They slowly grew accustomed to the quirky dynamics of their bi-coastal relationship and the odd intimacy of writers living apart wishing they could make love, and lovers living together wishing they could write. Something about their circumstances ultimately enhanced their passionate chemistry, and whether together or apart, they grew more and more deeply in love.

A year after that very first conversation, his collection of poems was published to rave reviews, at least as far as a book of poetry ever was. She went with him to poetry readings in little bookshops across the country. Fans were thrilled to meet her, the unnamed object of his most popular love poems, and during those events they made no secret of their mutual affection.

After the tour, they returned to her house where she began writing a book about his life and work while he taught her about all the birds that came to visit in her garden. They made passionate love regularly, sometimes in the afternoon, sometimes late at night, and always in the morning. Not surprisingly, he was now writing the best poetry of his life. His poems flowed from him like never before. She was his Muse, the lover who inspired him to explore the mysteries of his own heart, and he was her perfect companion, the only man she’d ever met who was actually better than solitude.

Writer and copyeditor. “What doesn’t kill us gives us something new to write about” ~ J. Wright

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