Norah believed that stories were true. She grew up reading and read her way through school, all the way through university. Once she graduated, she wanted to write stories. That was all she wanted to do. So she wrote. Or at least she tried to write. Mostly she read books that were like the ones she wanted to write, she read books about how to write, and she browsed Creative Writing courses online, but was too afraid to actually sign up for one. She fell into the life that so many artists fall into: that of the minimum wage job. She had to work so many hours to afford her rent and food that eventually she wrote less and less, and the stories she read became more like escapes from her reality than realities in and of themselves.
She told her best friend, Phoebe, over coffee after their shift at the coffee shop: “I used to believe in stories, in magic, you know? It’s easy to believe in that stuff when you’re a kid and you imagine that you can do whatever you want. Then, you grow up a bit and you just get stuck in a rut and nothing seems magical or beautiful anymore.”
Phoebe said “Isn’t the whole point to write so that you can make your own magic?”
“But I can’t write! I’m so tired after working that I just crash at night, and when I do try to write, the blank page or the cursor just stare at me and nothing comes.”
As she walked home, Norah tried to think of something she would write about, but she was still blocked. She sat down at her computer as soon as she finished dinner, leaving the clean up for later.
She stared at her computer screen, the blank white page with the blinking cursor so familiar. She wrote a few words, then decided they were stupid and deleted them. She didn’t want to write about how she had nothing to write about, she had done that too many times recently and it wasn’t working to help her unblock. Finally, the phone rang. It was Phoebe.
“I’m just on my way to bed. You got anything yet?”
“Not yet, I wrote some things, but they weren’t any good.”
“Do me a favour and just write something now while you’re on the phone with me, and promise me you won’t delete it.
“Ok, here I go, I’m typing.”
“Alright, I’m going to sleep. Night.”
Norah looked at what she had written.
The stories were dying. She had to save the stories.
She sighed, closed her computer, and went to sleep.
The next morning, Norah woke up to the sensation that someone was watching her. She lifted her head and looked around the room, She shook her head and smiled to herself. She must have still been dreaming. She went about her morning routine and decided to bring her laptop with her to work. She had a short shift that day. Maybe she could get some writing in afterwards, if she could get over her phobia of writing in public (what if someone was reading over her shoulder?). She was fumbling with the strap on her bag while she opened the front door and nearly fell over when she saw that there was a young woman standing right outside.
“Hello, can I help you?
“Are you Norah?”
“I’m from The Council of Literary Heroines.”
“The Council of Literary Heroines. You may not have heard that name, but you’ve definitely heard of some of us. The Council made up of all the great literary heroines: Elizabeth Bennet, Jane Eyre, Eowyn, even Alice, though she is perpetually tardy. Of course it is chaired by Josephine March, since she’s the writer of the bunch.”
Norah was torn between thinking the woman was a loon and thinking this Council sounded pretty amazing.
“What does this Council do, exactly?”
“They try to keep the stories alive.”
“And how do they do that? I mean, they’re not technically real, right?”
“What do you mean by ‘technically real’?”
“I mean, they really only exist in people’s imaginations.”
“Well, I only exist in your imagination, and yet here I am.”
Norah shook her head to try to untangle the knot of her thoughts, but it was just as convoluted when she refocused on the strange woman. There were so many questions that she wanted to ask, but somehow, the one that came out was this one:
“What about the heroes, do they have a council?”
“They do, but they aren’t as concerned with telling stories, more so with battles and war and nonsense like that. Preserving stories has really always been a job for women. But we don’t have time to get into all that. We really must talk about your story.”
“You mean my life story?”
“No, the story you are writing.”
“I’m not writing a story.”
The woman looked at her for a long moment. “I’m sure that you are,” she said, “absolutely certain.”
Norah shook her head. “I’m not. I desperately want to, I’ve wanted to write for as long as I can remember, but I sit down, and everything I think about sounds cliche and stupid and I feel like I have nothing new to say. I don’t have a story to tell!”
“You do. You began writing it yesterday.”
“I didn’t write yesterday. I tried to, Phoebe tried to make me, but there was still nothing for hours on end.”
“That’s not true. You wrote: ‘The stories are dying. She had to save the stories.’”
“But that isn’t anything. It is two tiny sentences. The only reason I didn’t delete them is because I promised Phoebe that I wouldn’t.”
“Those ‘two tiny sentences’ as you call them, are much more than that. In them, you name a problem: that the stories are dying. You name this problem because you see that it is true, even if you weren’t aware of that when you were writing it. You also introduce a character. You say ‘she’. When you wrote that word, I came into being. The Heroines took one look at me, and at what you had written, and sent me to you straightaway.”
Norah was overwhelmed. She didn’t know what to say or do. She looked at the woman, and her eyes drifted over to the wall clock by the door.
“Shit! I’m going to be late for work! I really have to get going.” Norah locked her front door and turned to leave.
“But will you do it? Will you write your story?” The woman asked.
“I’ll try! Can I call you for help?”
“I’ll be around when you need me.”
Norah picked up her bag. “Do I just, like, call your name or something? What is your name?”
The woman shook her head and smiled. “I have no idea! I don’t have one yet.”