"No," she responds.
"Oh." I can feel the heat in my cheeks. "You're here to meet with someone else."
"Oh my gosh. I'm sorry. I was told by my agent's assistant to ask for Lila. Well, she said Lisa, but she can't read her own handwriting." I'm going to have real words with Donna for putting me in this predicament.
"James, it's okay. I set up the meeting for you and this editor."
"And he liked it? The editor I'll be meeting with?"
"Sorry." Apology number four! I wince. This must be some sort of record.
"Take a deep breath. We're not really in the business of calling writers in to personally tell them how much we didn't like their work."
A wave of relief. "No. I don't suppose that's the best use of anyone's time."
"It's easier to do that in a letter."
"I received plenty of those," I say, before realizing how unvarnished that truth sounds. "Well, not plenty. A normal amount." Pause. "Lila." I use her name as punctuation, unsure if it sounds like an exclamation point or a period.
She pulls the chair out farther and pats the back of it. "It won't be long now. If you'd like to have a seat."
I sit before I get myself in any more trouble, and she leaves the room, closing the door behind her. I swear I can hear her chuckle on the other side before heading off down the hall.
Alone, I rifle through my bag to make sure I have a copy of my manuscript, should they ask to see it. I do. I walk over to the window and press my forehead against the glass to look straight down at moving vehicles that look like Matchbox cars. SPLAT. That would do it. I cross back to the phone. What was the name of that game? Simon. There's one visible button, and without thinking, I push it. It beeps loudly and I jump, but then there's a dial tone. I push the button again, quickly, and it stops. I pray the commotion doesn't summon Lila. She would not be pleased.
I've been a writer for ten years. Since I graduated college. Or maybe it's twenty-five years. Depending on when you start counting. My mother had an old Swiss Hermes typewriter when I was growing up; I have no idea where she acquired it or why she had it, but it was a thing of beauty to me. It was robin's-egg blue and came with a lid that clamped to the typewriter itself, turning it into a stylish, if heavy, attache. The keys clacked and the bell dinged and I always pulled the lever for the carriage return like I was casting the deciding vote in a crucial election.
"You're not writing about me, are you?" I remember my mother asking, when I was only seven or eight years old. Like many of her questions, she delivered it more like a command.
"No," I would say, and at the time that was the truth. My stories were small, trite, about cats and the neighbors with the horse stables and a pond in the woods that wasn't much more than a puddle. But I felt they carried literary heft once they were typed. To me, typing was akin to publishing. I lived for that typewriter, and I would agonize when the ribbon became twisted, or the keys stuck, and I needed my mother's assistance. She didn't prioritize typewriter repair the same way I did. When I would point this out to her she would roll her eyes and say, "One day you can tell your therapist." She said that about a lot of things. But instead of getting a therapist, I became a writer. Instead of telling one person, I aspire to tell the world.
I rearrange the thumbtacks in the bulletin board on the wall into a peace symbol before having a seat. At least I think it's a peace symbol. It may be the Mercedes-Benz logo. I often get those two confused, so I get back up to undo my work in order to keep my mind on track.
I had some early success. As a writer. Two short stories published in two different literary journals. With typical youthful naivete, I thought it would always be that way, but, of course, it wasn't. I took odd jobs to pay bills, convincing myself the whole time that these jobs provided life experience—essential to a writer who wants to have something important to say. But I don't have much insight from these experiences to share other than how to make coffee and remain invisible in a room full of people and battle a growing depression. It's been years now since I've had anything published, so long that I wonder if it's still acceptable to call myself a writer. That thought in itself is depressing, so I sit. Someone, an editor, is finally interested in my work, I remind myself, and I have to make the most of this nibble. I have to turn it into a bite.
Then I have to turn that bite into a sharklike chomp.
As soon as I'm settled in the chair the door opens. A woman enters, immediately turning her back to me so that all I can see is her slender frame and that she is a brunette and tall. She closes the door, taking pains to do so as gently as possible.