by Sean Dempsey, 6/28/23
The damned clock struck 6pm. Again. As it always seemed to do each day with far too few words unwritten—and far too few coherent thoughts on the page.
Evelyn was exhausted. Her serene study was tucked away within the corners of her 19th century Victorian home. She had written her last fourteen novels up in this study. Each seemed to get more critical acclaim than the last. But this one she was working on now was by far the hardest.
Her mind ached and her body craved food, she realized. She hadn’t eaten since nine this morning. Just one more hour of work on this god-forsaken chapter, she reasoned with herself.
Her gaze fixed upon the relatively blank pages that taunted her. She had embarked on her most ambitious project yet—an exploration of the human condition: an opus that would unravel the enigmatic purpose of life itself.
With a strange sense of urgency, she yearned to put her thoughts to paper … to provide a sense of finality to a topic that had plagued every soul on earth who ever lived. What was the meaning of life, truly? This crisis of meaning felt like a burden stifling her every waking moment recently. She needed to get to the heart of the matter or she would burst.
These concepts were esoteric, deeply profound, and multi-layered. Every time she explored one level she found another six levels deeper to go and then they expanded outward from there! She had spent hundreds of hours reading in just the last year alone. Plato, Dante, Kant, Camus, Nietzsche, Locke, Voltaire, Sarte, Kierkegaard, and even Thomas Aquinas.
The conflicts of opinion and theory clashed in her head. The nihilists clashed with the existentialists who clashed with the Christians who clashed with the absurdists who clashed with the stoics who clashed with the atheists. But they all seemed to contain a figment of truth in their own way; and yet they all failed to capture the essence of meaning completely.
But a sense of finality to the universal equation was indeed taking shape in her mind. She was starting to put this intricate puzzle together, piece by existential piece!
She just needed more time. She almost had it figured out. Her pen hit the paper and began writing furiously…
Evelyn’s solitude was shattered by a persistent tap on her door. It was Lily, her daughter, her bright eyes brimming with innocence and anticipation.
“Mama, can we play? Pleeease?” Her voice was a sweet melody that tugged at Evelyn’s heart.
Evelyn sighed, her brow furrowing with a mixture of frustration and guilt. She was on the cusp of something monumental, a literary masterpiece that would touch lives and bring clarity to the chaos of existence.
“Later, Lily. Mama needs to work,” Evelyn replied, her voice tinged with regret. She returned her gaze to the empty page, willing the words to come forth.
“Please, mommy, please…”
“Lily, get out of here now.” Evelyn shouted, a bit harsher than she intended. She almost apologized, but shut the door instead and went back to her writing table.
Hours later, Evelyn came downstairs for a bite to eat. Her husband had put their daughter to bed.
Days past. Weeks past. The days blended together.
Weeks turned into months. The days of writing and thinking, thinking and writing was painful. But it was getting somewhere. The manuscript was heavily worked and reworked—but far, far from coherent. Ideas piecing things together danced within Evelyn’s mind, yet were still eluding her grasp.
Her daughter’s faint pleas for companionship persisted anew nearly each day.
“Mama, can we play now?” Lily asked, her voice laced with disappointment even before an answer was given, “You’ve been sitting her forever and ever. Please play with me.”
Again Evelyn shook her head, her eyes fixed on the unfinished opus before her. The weight of her ambition was both a driving force and an ever-present barrier, preventing her from surrendering to her daughter’s simple request.
Midnight the clock sounded; she came downstairs and found Lily again in bed, sleeping peacefully.
One evening, as the setting sun cast a warm golden glow upon her study, Evelyn glanced at Lily as she tiptoed into the room holding her favorite pink bear. Her daughter’s eyes filled with a mixture of longing and resignation.
She was about to yell at the cherub— demand she leave once again. But it was in that moment that Evelyn realized the gravity of her choices.
She instead slowly closed her notebook, gently setting it aside, and extended her hand to Lily. A flicker of surprise danced across Lily’s face before it transformed into an effervescent smile.
“Lily,” Evelyn whispered, her voice filled with newfound tenderness. “Will you play with me?”
In an instant, the room became a realm of joy, laughter, and child-sized bliss. They played make-believe, and then hide-and-seek. They both became lost in a world only their imaginations could conjure. A weight seemed lifted, replaced by an invisible but indelible connection between mother and daughter.
In that embrace of playfulness, Evelyn discovered a truth she had been blind to for many months—what was the purpose of life? What was one’s meaning on this planet? She still didn’t know. Was it to be found in grand achievements or philosophical musings? Perhaps. But at that moment all she cared about was a gentle and loving hug shared between mother and daughter.
Her book went unfinished.