Tap-tap-tapping

By
Updated: July 31, 2019

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was—”

“Just shut up!”

The room was suddenly quiet. A moment passed. Then another. Someone stirred, a baby cried in the apartment next door. Someone coughed. They coughed again. Then a cavalcade of coughing rent the silence. When it finished, a woman’s voice called out gently, “You okay?”

“Just leave me alone. And quit that infernal tap-tap-tapping.”

After another moment, the woman’s voice said, apologetically, “It’s how I make my living, you know. Tap-tap-tapping.”

The voice from the other room replied, “It’s like living with Poe’s raven. Tap-tap-tapping, rap-rap-rapping.” Then the voice croaked out something that sounded like “Nevermore!”

The woman at the keyboard let her hands fall to her sides. She didn’t want to aggravate her sick partner in the other room, but she had a deadline. And in the lives of writers, deadlines take precedence over lovers.

She waited what she thought was a modest interval, then, reluctantly, and as quietly as is humanly possible on a computer keyboard, she began writing again.

“… an age of wisdom, an age of foolishness—”

“Do they make silent keyboards?” the voice from the other room shouted.

“Not really. Quiet ones, but typing makes sounds. It’s unavoidable.”

The silence hung between them. The woman at the keyboard waited, afraid to make more tap-tap-tapping sounds but feeling the pressure of her deadline. Finally she said in a voice that revealed how unconvinced she was of what she was saying, “Maybe I should go to the office? To finish this?”

She waited.

After several moments she thought she heard crying. She looked at the half-finished article on the computer screen, then down the hallway to the bedroom, then up at the ceiling. She didn’t know whether to sigh or scream, so she got up, walked down the hall and leaned into the bedroom.

The woman on the bed lay face down, legs bent at the knees, feet moving slowly in the air above the bed. She was humming.

“I thought you were crying,” the woman in the doorway said, a smile breaking across her face.

“I was, for a moment, but then I remembered dance rehearsals for Oedipus. That guy—that actor—who joined us, the one who played the First Chorus, remember?”

The woman in the doorway nodded, “Brian.”

“Brian! I knew you’d remember. He was so awkward, so stiff, and so … so nervous. He’d tap out the rhythm to the music with his script, against his head! Rolled up like a baton he’d beat time against his own brain, as if forcing himself to learn the music. Remember?”

“Yeah, he wrote down the count for every movement. Count of 4, step forward. On 6, move to front. On 8, begin march downstage. 2,3,4 …” She was tapping time with her fingernail against the doorframe. She caught herself, stopped, looked at the woman on the bed. They looked at each other, then laughed.

In rolling waves, each louder than the one before, they laughed away the tension between them.

“Jeez,” said the one in the doorway, “I haven’t thought of that since … since I don’t know when!”

“He was straight, wasn’t he?” the woman on the bed asked.

“Oh yeah,” the woman in the doorway said, laughing again, “straight as a fucking arrow.”

“He kept flirting with us—company dancers only, he hardly spoke to the stars.”

“God, he must have felt like a fish out of water. All those female bodies—”

“In tights.”

“—and the gay guys giving him the once over!”

They laughed some more.

“Fish outa water,” the woman on the bed echoed. She smiled at her partner standing in the doorway, then sat up on the bed. “That’s what your typing sounded like.”

“What? Like fish out of water?”

“Like the way he tap-tap-tapped the rhythm on his head.”

“Oh.”

The afternoon light spilling through the bedroom window was turning pink. The orange bed spread glowed a strange phosphorescent color. 

“Sorry.”

The woman sitting cross-legged on the bed shrugged. “You have a deadline.”

“I can go to the office.”

“No! Please. Stay. I’ll … fix myself something to eat and put on the headphones. Maybe some Philip Glass.”

Mishima, maybe?”

“Such lovely lovely music.”

“Play on, sister!”

“Write on, lover!”

The woman at the door stepped into the room, leaned over and gave the woman on the bed a kiss on her forehead. They squeezed each other’s hands. Then the woman who had been in the doorway, the writer, returned to her tippety-tappety keyboard while the woman who had been on the bed headed out to the kitchen where, a moment later, she could hear the tap-tap-tapping of the keyboard. She smiled. She forgot about the headphones and made herself a cucumber sandwich.

The tapping was as steady as the rain for several minutes, then abruptly came to a stop. The woman with the cucumber sandwich stepped into the living room. She saw the writer shaking her head.

“What is it?”

“It’s all shit, that’s what it is. Shit, shit, shit.”

The woman took a bite of her sandwich, then said, as gently as she could, “It usually is, isn’t it? The first time, I mean?”

“Yeah, but I’ve got a deadline.”

“When?”

“Tonight.”

“Ah.” She took another bite of her sandwich. “Anything worth saving?”

“You tell me,” the writer said and began to read aloud from the screen.

          It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the season of hope, it would soon be a season of despair, it was a new beginning and it was surely his ending, and he knew it, knew it because he’d lived it before, knew it because he was condemned to relive it, this false spring of hope, this lie about beginnings, this déjà vu all over again—and again! He felt trapped, like when he was a boy and he’d let the other kids persuade him to climb up the ladder to the top of the slide only to discover there was no way down, no way out, except to slide down the damn slide.
He knew he was going down that slide again. He hated slides. And he was afraid.

“Not bad,” the woman with the sandwich said, then bit off the next to last mouthful of her sandwich.

“For shit.”

“Why is it shit?”

The writer leaned back in her chair, snatched the last bite of sandwich from the other woman, popped it into her mouth and said, “‘Cause it isn’t true.”

“Say what?” the woman who’d made the sandwich said, and laughed.

“Be-cauuuse,” the writer said, trying to swallow the last cucumber, “because it isn’t true.”

“You made it up?”

“He said something about sliding down all season long, like the season was one long slide for him.”

“In the interview, he said that in the interview?” 

The writer nodded. “That’s all. I … I interpolated the rest.”

“But it’s good.”

“But it may not have happened. He was probably just talking about his team losing all the time.”

“The Dozers?” The writer nodded. “But that’s what they do. No story in that.”

“Still … what I wrote, well, it probably didn’t happen.”

“So what’s more important? A good story or …?”

“Or a true one?”

“C’mon,” the woman holding the empty sandwich plate said, “you know there are no ‘true’ stories.” She made air quotes with her fingers. “You taught me that.”

“Yeah, yeah, all stories are reimaginings of what may or may not have actually happened, which we can never know because … blah blah blah. But there’s a difference between unintentionally distorting events and … and this, what I’ve done, fabricate a childhood for poor Davey Goode.”

“Distortion, you used to say, was … wait, I’ll remember—oh!—the inevitable consequence of … of something.”

“Language.”

“Language! Of course. Language distorts.”

“Inevitably.”

The woman held the empty sandwich plate up, like an offering or a witness. “Can’t tell the truth without it …” She waited for the other woman, the writer, her lover, to finish the sentence.

“Can’t tell the truth with it.”

“So,” said the woman as she lowered the empty plate and gestured to ask if the writer wanted a sandwich, “truth isn’t possible. Not in words. Conflict resolved, writing block avoided, runway clear for takeoff.”

The writer laughed, “If only.”

The woman with the empty plate studied her partner, then asked, tentatively, “Something else bothering you?” The writer nodded. “About …,” she hesitated, “Davey Goode?”

“How’d you know?”

“You worry too damn much about your subjects to be a journalist.”

“He might take offense.”

“So what?”

“I feel like I’ve outed the guy.”

“So everyone thinks he has a fear of slides, so what? Besides, as you said, it’s probably not true.”

“But if it is?”

The woman turned and set the plate down on the table in the kitchen, then returned to put her hand on the writer’s shoulder. “Why do you care? About Goode? He’s just the manager, and not that for long, I hear.”

“He did me a kindness once, when he was still a player.”

“Goode did something goody?” She chortled as she said it.

“He gave me an interview when the club had locked us out of the locker rooms.”

“The female sportswriters, right? Yeah, I remember that. You were livid. The fuckin’ good old boys got into the clubhouse to talk with the players, but not you women. Unfair as hell. But that changed.”

“Because of Goode. In part.”

“What’d he do?”

The writer leaned back in her chair, closed her eyes, and recalled the day, more than a decade ago, when most PEBA teams banned women from the locker rooms and showers after games. The rules were intended to preserve the players’ privacy—the league still had no female players, even in 2029. Every other organized baseball league in the world had invited women players, but not the PEBAverse, who persisted pigheadedly to follow the path of the old MLB, which had also banned women players and umpires. (And we all know where that path led, don’t we?) A few clubs had relaxed the rules and permitted women into locker rooms for limited time periods, and a few had banned everyone from the shower area after games but provided a separate interview zone where players who’d had time to shower and dress could meet and chat with the sportswriters.

But not the Yuma Bulldozers. Perhaps because their Consortium of Owners was predominantly male (and conservative), perhaps because the female spokesperson for those owners didn’t live anywhere near Yuma, Arizona (she had a loft in Manhattan), or perhaps because the GM was still “recuperating” at the state mental hospital in Camarillo, California—for whatever reason, the Bulldozers had simply never updated their clubhouse rules. No women allowed while players are showering after games.

What David Goode had done, what the writer leaning back in her chair was remembering, was refuse to enter the clubhouse after a game. Instead he grabbed a couple teammates and forced them to stand with him outside the dugout where the women sportswriters could interview them. And that’s what the writer did. She interviewed Goode. Her paper ran the interview, the only interview Goode gave after a game in which he’d been a crucial part of the Dozer offense. She’d thanked him, both on the field that day and later, in a card she sent him. She knew how important that interview had been to her career, and she had an inkling what the interview might have cost Goode with his teammates.

The following season, the PEBA instituted league-wide rules permitting teams to close locker rooms to ALL reporters for a short period after the game, but then making the players and coaches available to ALL reporters the remainder of the time.

The writer smiled at the memory. “A sandwich would be most welcome right now.”

The other woman grabbed the empty plate off the table and retreated into  the kitchen. The writer called after her, “Thank you!”

“For the sandwich?” came the voice from the kitchen, “Or the intervention?”

“They’re one and the same, aren’t they?”

The writer listened for laughter from the kitchen. When she heard it a moment later, she smiled and turned back to the computer screen. By the time the plate returned to the living room, with a sandwich atop it, the keyboard was tap-tap-tapping away.

The woman who had once complained about the sound quietly placed the plate and its sandwich on the table near the source of the tap-tap-tapping and tip-tip-tiptoed back to the bedroom, where she put on the headphones and dialed up Philip Glass’ Mishima on her iPod.

In less time than it takes to tap-tap-tap out the title of Glass’ opera, she found herself back in dance rehearsals moving with the others—including the intimidated actor surrounded by lithe dancer bodies, trying to keep up, trying to remember his cues, trying to learn how to move to music like a dancer.

Recalling those rehearsals, remembering especially how mercilessly she’d flirted with the actor, she started to smile. Above her, on the bedroom wall, hung the poster he’d given her on opening night. “Maybe,” he’d stammered, “maybe we could go out after the show and celebrate.”

“Together?” she’d said coyly.

“Yes,” he’d answered quickly, “together.”

“You,” she’d said, tapping her finger lightly against his chest, “and me,” tapping her own chest, “and my girlfriend?” She’d pointed across the Green Room, where dancers and actors gathered their things and said goodnight. One of the dancers standing by the door had smiled at him and waved.

He blushed, but he waved back. “Uh, yes, of course,” he’d said completely flummoxed. “Both of you.”

“We’d love to,” she’d said. And then she’d leaned in and kissed his cheek. Or had she? She wished she had, so she imagined she had. She smiled at the thought.

Above her, the poster read, “How can we know the dancer from the dance?”

In the living room, a writer imagined the inner life of a baseball manager named Davey Goode, her fingers tap-tap-tapping out his past and his future. The writer smiled. Language, she thought, was a miracle.

Her fingers danced over the keyboard. Her partner’s fingers tapped out the rhythm of Glass’ music. From both rooms: the sound of tap-tap-tapping.