The Writing Disorder


New Fiction


by Brett Biebel

2br/1.5ba Townhome, $1125, Water/Sewer/Trash Incl., Davern and Bayerd

April 3rd
We don’t even know how many bedrooms we want. Four weeks to find a place, ads coming and going, and barely an idea where to begin. Oddly enjoyable, actually. The kind of unknown freedom a lawyer’s fiancé doesn’t often see. Possibilities at every turn, and it’s a rush even when you consider that the two bedroom is probably only on the table as a means of convincing her parents that we’re still respecting some final remnant of marital sanctity. It’s a preemptive choice, given that they still don’t know about the labyrinth of neatly stacked (thanks, Claudette) liquor boxes slowly accumulating in each corner of my current place. Hers too. Hate to see the mess when the news is broken. Though maybe this place will be parent-proof.
      Missy answered after four rings. Couldn’t wait to get us in, she said. Did we need shower curtains? Wall décor? She had some. It was staying with the place. Had to control my excitement. I wanted Wednesday. Could we come tomorrow? No, Claudette had a late meeting. Wednesday, then. Did she mention she couldn’t wait? Neither can I.

April 4th
As long as I’m scribbling, I might as well mention the pictures look nice. New flooring, lots of kitchen space. A built-in bookshelf that captured Claudette’s attention, though she’s in for some verbal sparring if she thinks legal textbooks and binders full of Eighth Circuit decisions reign supreme over a much-scrawled-upon collection of metafiction. Either way, mental unpacking has begun and trepidation about the cloud of crazy creeping around the edges of my conversation with Missy is the only thing restraining full-fledged anticipation.

April 5th
The kitchen did not look that small in the photos. Missy tried to explain it away.
M: The oven looks small, but no one’s had a problem with it that I know of. It works fine for just about everything, save for intense baking projects. It shouldn’t be a problem for you two.
C: [to me] I had one of those in third grade. Got it for Christmas. Made miniature cupcakes. It may have been bigger than this one. You couldn’t fit one of your famous frozen pizzas in there.
Me: [Aloud and through stifled laughter] It does have a certain charm to it.
M: Certainly. We spent a good deal of money on the decoration. You’ll grow to love it, I’m sure. Shall we move to the bathroom?

      Wished we hadn’t agreed. Small. Mildew faintly visible along the edges of the tile, giving it an aged appearance that clashed with the clearly new, IKEA-inspired (Missy made clear that she had made it from craft-store cloth and some old stencils) shower curtain. Pride present in her voice as she spoke, it was if we’d already moved in. You’ll love this, that’s to die for, what a great little office space you’d have here. It was an upstairs unit, but you’d have thought it was a penthouse. Worst of all, we asked who lived downstairs.
       “Oh, I do,” Missy intoned, waving her hand towards her chest in order to reiterate, as if she’d mentioned it before and we simply hadn’t been paying enough attention. Claudette glanced sideways, eyes communicating what I was thinking. Deal breaker. Missy lived up to the promise of our initial encounter, though her property failed to deliver. Big time. But, still, not as disappointing as visit number two.

April 14th
Thought about getting back to Missy today. A flash of misguided decency. Some intentionally imprisoned, etiquette-hungry piece of myself suddenly feeling guilty for never granting closure. A college one-night-stand popping up again as I set my alarm for the next day, putting it atop bedside furniture with an oh-shit-I-never-called-her-back-did-I? feeling arising as soon as it was neatly placed. The I’ll-call-you clearly more polite reflex than genuine sentiment. Just the nerves talking, though. Had to be. Decision closing in and clearly messing with my head, creating a fear and combining with poor sleep, turning into guilt in the same way a flu virus feeds off of a tired immune system to transform itself into pneumonia. It’s in your head. Pack those feelings away with the coffee mugs, and forget about Missy. She’s meaningless now.

1br/1ba/$875 Heat Included/Near Grand/Available 5/1

April 4th
Larry was cool. Asked about the game and everything. I mentioned my allegiances, that I didn’t much care about the Big Six schools. Kindred spirit, he said. He had an appointment tomorrow, but could fit us in afterward. Looking forward to it. Me too. Place doesn’t look as nice. Smaller, for one. More optimistic though. The Magic of Larry.

April 5th
We arrived at an open door, Missy debacle behind us.
      “We’re early,” Claudette said.
      “Should we call? Or just knock?”
      We did. Heard voices inside. Conferencing.
      “He did mention other clients.”
      “Well we can wait in the outer rooms. And look around in the meantime.”
      We walked into a spacious, wood-floored living room, white trim standing out against walls painted a dull orange. I imagined sitting here, watching TV, reading, pausing to run out for coffee. Claudette and I strolling up Summit, taking a break from quiet charm to imagine luxurious living. Someday we’d walk, instinctively joining hands as we did so, using the free ones to point out pillars and landscaping and maybe grab a home brochure just to check the price. Stopping for a lotto ticket on the way back. Knowing you can’t win if you don’t play. We’d come back to the kitchen, sans Larry and the strangers who were now shaking hands over our table, she’d make Ziti, we’d do a crossword. Watch a football game. A fall Saturday. Larry noticed us, me mid-fantasy, as the others left. Inviting us to sit, he smiled.
      “You must be Neil. It was great chatting with you. And this is?”
      “Claudette Fugue. Neil’s fiancée. Nice to meet you.”
      “And you too, of course. Wish I had better news for you. That right there was an application and a couple of signatures. I invite you to look around and apply in case it falls through, but those folks have priority at the moment.”
      “Thought that might be it.” I could see Claudette frustrated, eyeing the new, stainless steel stove and abundant cabinet space.
      “Shame too, Neil. Was hoping we could talk more hoops.”
      As was I. Good to know he remembered at least. I tried to chat for a bit anyway, but Claudette wouldn’t have it. One of her impatient spells. The folded arms and more pronounced sarcasm. More rancor. Snappishness. Tried to give her the calm-down look, but she didn’t care. Never did. Only made it worse. No choice but to end it, push out the door to a lecture about wasting time on impossibilities. Thanks, honey.

April 16th
The one that got away?

1br/1ba Apt, Secure Building, $830 plus elec., Great Amenities, Groveland

April 6th
Back to the drawing board. A different kind of experience possible here, more like a hotel. Pool, gym, etc. Wonder if the novelty would wear off or if the travel vibe would keep the freshness alive. Make things cozier. Like a constant vacation home. Summer retreat or winter cottage. Only thing missing the map and the drive, the hours following progress and imaging what Raleigh or Ft. Collins looks like in 3-D, their magic visible only in street names and restaurant signs. The rush of tourism mixed with a local’s knowledge. Dull routine wiped away by the scent of chlorine and its connotations of refreshment.
      Property manager would be different too. Less formal professionalism. Relaxed attitude paired with expectations and contracts. Depending on the person of course, but that’s the attitude Janet radiated. Upbeat voice scheduling for Sunday and mentioning a new member sign-up special. The usual first month free prorated over a year lease, but money saved is money saved. A lawyer’s salary with a lawyer’s debt means financial factors can’t be disregarded.

April 7th
Claudette is not thrilled about apartment living. Too many variables, she says. Noisy neighbors, college nearby, never know who’s in and out. Controlled access, I say, but she doesn’t trust it. Excessive lack of control for someone so set on organization. Treats everything like a closing argument now. Everything must be in its place. Arranged perfectly with designated space for point/counterpoint and now is not it. Can’t win this one. Holding strong to her way as usual, as befits an employee of Hardy, Hart, & Wright.

April 9th
I could have told you it would work out this way. Her loving every step, from the new building to the peninsula counter to the closet space to the large living area. Watching uncertainty slam on its brakes and wheel around all stunt-driver like, heading in the direction of I’ll-sign-on-the-dotted-line-this-very-instant. Talked down, thank God. Touch-and-go for a while. Janet pressing, but somehow gracefully avoiding the hard sell.
       “It’s a popular floor plan. Openings aren’t hyper-frequent. I’d recommend staying in touch, to be safe,” she said when I asked, Claudette looking nervously around.
      “But not like a sign now or forever hold your peace thing?” Me smiling, reaching for her hand only to find it not quite where I thought it’d be.
      “Not quite, but do get back to me soon. I don’t anticipate it lasting more than a week or so.”
      A week’s grace period. Enough for the ride to continue. The walls to remain open, booby-trap unsprung. And me standing in the center, marveling at the cavernous space.

April 13th
Still she wants it. I prefer number five, though it was underwhelming at first. But in a diamond-in-the-rough way, I thought. Hidden potential, all that. The romance of vaulted ceilings and checkerboard floors. Nooks and crannies and unexplored space. She thinks I’ve lost it. Been arguing all day, mere difference of opinion at first but followed quickly by anger and stubbornness. On both sides admittedly.
      “You can’t tell me you honestly think the side-by-side was better,” she asked, and I couldn’t answer affirmatively.
      “No. But there’s just something about it. A feeling, an effortless home-ness. I can picture us there, you know? Great neighborhood, all that. And more space.”
      “But the apartment has those same features, save for the extra room. It’s got the balcony and the amenities too. How would we fill the other place, anyway? Between the two of the us, we’ve barely got enough for the bedroom. The apartment is a better fit, and it’s cheaper too. And you found it, Neil. You were the one who wanted the tour so badly.”
      “And you said you hated apartments. Or something like that. Damnit, Claudette, I’m just nervous about it. The tightness of it. The tiny corridors opening up to large, stand alone spaces. A claustroagoraphobe’s nightmare. The more I picture it, the less exciting it seems. It gets more rigid, more enclosing.”
      “There you go again. Not following through. Like that dissertation forever in the making. So wonderful at first and then so tiresome as the time ticks by. At some point, you’re going to have to handle familiarity. You’re going to have to get comfortable with anticlimax.”
      Storming off our separate ways after. Happening more often lately. The stress of moving, I hope. I’m right about one thing. The apartment doesn’t allow for storming into private catharsis. Going to bed angry more dangerous.

April 15th
It could have been cold feet. And if it wasn’t, you might as well pretend because it was pretty much a done deal at this point. Not sure what led us here, except that it wasn’t Spartacus. Most likely some mix of persuasion and weakness, the legal mind outdueling the literary one. And she was right. The perfect choice on paper, and probably in reality too. Called Janet yesterday, secretly hoping she wouldn’t answer. Didn’t want to write it down. Prematurely official, I thought. Now the applications are in, however. Lease pending. Coming to the edge of transition. Looking out over a field of anxious excitement. Doubts linger, but optimism grows. Picturing the place filling up, guests coming with comments, “oohs” and “aahs” aplenty. We could entertain there, and hospitality is a home’s defining feature.

April 17th
Official. Lease signed. Now comes the anxiety, beginning to block out the anticipation. Claudette practically prancing around. Making sure the packing is proper with strong tape and newspapers and such. The tear down as systematic as the set up promises to be. Wide-open space colonized bit by bit, a system imposed upon a blank. Spices here, plates there, linens folded this way and placed on the third shelf, each drawer with its own specific wares and a price to be paid for violating the order. A prison built on freedom, power delegated to the impersonal. Trap tripped and the there goes the fun, possibilities obscured by accent colors and wall hangings. Space organized, aesthetically pleasing but fantasy-barren. Welcome to anticlimax.

2br/2ba, $1100 plus utilities, Highland Park duplex, Beautiful, Safe Neighborhood!

April 8th
No answer. Polite message. Sounded professional. Confident they’ll call back. Claudette would like the look of it. Yard too. Shame it had to be found on a weekend. Robbed me of the gratification of immediate feedback.

April 10th
Monday, and no response. Wrote an email.
Hi Paul,
My name is Neil Eanes, and I’m writing in regards to your posting for a 2br/2ba duplex in the Highland Park area. My fiancée and I were very interested in the ad and were hoping we could set up an appointment to view the place in the near future. I called over the weekend, but figured it might be easier to coordinate by email. I’ll be reachable by both methods of communication if you’d like to contact me. We’re free in the evenings (any time after 6) all week. Thanks, and I hope we’ll be in touch soon.

April 12th
Still nothing. Tried to call again. Another message. My luck it’s gone already, another option flushed and time running out. Such a promising posting too. Claudette pushing for the apartment more and more every day. Asked me to call Janet again. Second day in a row. More anxious this time. Can’t delay forever. Please, Paul?

April 16th
Email from Paul. Open all week. Tomorrow even. Called Claudette. Received tongue-lashing. Already decided, pulling back again, didn’t I have work, etc. Capitulated too easily. Lost the energy to fight. But plenty left to wonder what might have been.

2br/1ba in a side-by-side, $1225 everything incl., Summit Hill

April 8th
Jason says he’s open on Monday. Cool with me. Have two if Paul calls back. Plus the apartment tomorrow. A full slate of options and hopefully no more returning home wishing there were more viewings scheduled. Looks nice. Older but updated in spots. Lots of space. Pricey, though. Okay as long as you get what you pay for. Something that lives up to the fantasy, that offers the opportunity for both show-off tours and vignettes of the everyday. Outsider validation side-by-side with insider comfort. Mix of ownership and tourism. Let’s hope.

April 10th
J: The layout is admittedly quirky. The recent additions in the kitchen clash a bit with the older feel of the living area, but that’s part of the pull of the place, I think.
Me: Yeah. I do like the sort of tenuous coexistence.
C: Comfortingly oxymoronic, would you say, Neil? [Was that needling? I think it was needling.]
Me: [Directing a smile at Jason] Something like that.
J: Do you folks have any other questions? Need some applications?
Me: We could take a couple. Maybe be in touch after we get a chance to discuss it?
J: Absolutely. Nice meeting you. Let me know if anything comes up.
      A series of “thank yous” and general pleasantries. On the way home, we chatted.
C: Nothing special, I thought. Lots of space but not much else. Kind of jarring actually, with the different parts butting up against each other.
Me: Agreed. I liked the apartment a little better, I think, but something about it makes me not want to rule it out. There’s a certain…what do they call it? Je ne sais quoi.
C: Yeah. It’s definitely a wild card. I’m not blown away, frankly. I’d have no qualms about picking the apartment right now.
Me: Man, you really loved that place. I can’t say that yet. I have to at least sleep on it. Let the visions marinate. Soak in the hominess. Picture us there.
C: If you can’t see it yet, shouldn’t that tell you something?
Me: I don’t know. Sometimes things grow on you. You get closer to one place and suddenly remember something about the other one that makes you reconsider. It forces itself back into your mind somehow.
C: It’s your lure of uncertainty thing again, isn’t it? Maybe that works for writing, Neil, but this is different. It’s a year of our lives. Maybe more. It’s the place we’ll be spending most of our time. Sometimes the safe choice really is the best one.
Me: Not in a gambling mood on this, huh?
C: I gamble on you every day. Throwing the house bet in there too would be excessive. Foolish.

April 11th
The more she pushes for the apartment, the more I want this one. Can’t help it. Not sure if I actually like it more or if rebellious spirit has just convinced me I do. Some sort of underlying desire to oppose Claudette pushing through to the surface. An assertion of independence in the midst of oncoming cohabitation. That fear again. The settling down, the routine, the committing. Finishing the dissertation in there too. High irony there. Not scared of the defense. More what happens after. Anticlimax in The Odyssey the topic, its brilliance, its ability to provoke reader satisfaction. Yet so scared of it here I’m willing to fight against it self-destructively. Convince myself of the superiority of the worse choice. Make the weaker argument the stronger. No more. Could do the apartment. Should do the apartment. Wants me to call Janet, and maybe I should. Or, well, maybe should wait on Paul first. Just in case. No need to commit this very instant, after all.

April 13th
She can make it so difficult. Have to document it. Near convincing myself she was right and then off she goes, spouting piercing insight that’d be well-used if only it was directed inward. Should be thankful, I guess. Snapped me out of a funk. Woke me up to the situation. Giving in disastrous. Should talk to her again. Fill out the application, maybe send Jason an email. Be nice to let him know where we’re at anyway. Settled then. Tomorrow.

April 14th
Knows me too well. Beat me to it, the sneak. Price I pay for getting up later, opening up a note thanking him for his work, but letting him know we had decided to go in another direction. Can’t win with her. Stop at nothing. Part of her virtue, I think, but also damn frustrating. A deathblow for possibility that note. Without word from Paul, seems to be no point in keeping up the whole decision charade. May as well call Janet. Missy too? Just to tie up loose ends? Would make the diving-in near official. Be the death-knell for options. What Claudette wants too. Meaning there’s probably no other choice.

1br/1ba unit in lower duplex/$700/Close to St. Thomas

April 10th
On a whim. Why not? Looks passable, and the price is right. Landlord let loose a string of questions, all of which could have been replaced with a simple “Are you a hard-partying college student intent on trashing the place?” Would have saved both of us a lot of time. Didn’t offer a name either. Should have asked. In too big of a hurry to avoid the questions, I guess. Anyway, on for tomorrow. We shall see.

April 11th
There are few things worse than the home tour immediately following an utterly negative first impression. Politeness dictates a display of interest. Formality demands attention to detail. The details are also, however, consistently off-putting. In spite of this, smiles are expected, as is feigned interest. Rules provide solutions beyond natural human instinct. A system set up to reduce the burden of interaction, scripted norms substituted in place of spontaneity. Claudette doesn’t complain about wasted time this time. The rules are too powerful. As they tend to be, asserting themselves so confidently as we struggle to suppress our natural inclinations. Have we become like that? Claudette and I? Little stresses starting to stack up, worming their way into our lives and announcing their presence in our interactions. Small enough so far. Eye rolls here, a biting comment there, a general attitude of contrarianism and pickiness. But how can we tell severity, blinded as we are by our own rules and routines, conditioned to soldier on, affections reflexive and tension more frequent? Doubt buried within, imprisoned within a structure powerful enough to override pure individual tendency. Makes you wonder. How strong are those walls? How necessary? What nightmares would be conjured up by their Jericho-like tumbling? They are comfort. But do they protect or entrap?

May 1st
Dear Neil,
      Unpacking is always surprising. It’s clear that this was never supposed to reach my eyes. Word of it, I promise you, will never fall upon your ears. In a sense, it will be like you never wrote it and I never read it. Why then, take the time to respond? It’s a fair question, and the only answer I can think of is the same one that caused you to write it all in the first place. God only knows. Maybe it’s an impulse toward chronicling left over from Con Law classes and Moot Court proceedings. Maybe it’s that I can’t stand to let you have the last word. I can guess, based on your words, what you might think. For myself, I don’t know, and that’s the truth. What I do know is that the entire experience of moving in together has illuminated some of the tiny structural flaws that plague our relationship. You write of me as if I am controlling and demanding, a force of nature determined to steal your independence. You are just a helpless victim, pushed into taking an opposing position for appearances sake, for pride’s sake, only to constantly capitulate in the face of pressure. You talk a lot about prisons, Neil. Walls and space (or lack thereof) are everywhere, and along with them your fears of being boxed in. I can empathize. But, the thing is, I think in the end we each take a decidedly different attitude towards the vocabulary of enclosure. You fight against it, Neil. Every step is a battle, every breath a bastion of defiance. To be fair, it’s one of the reasons we’re together. Your fighting spirit, your fierce interrogational style. It’s lawyerly, almost. But there’s one thing missing. You don’t recognize the inevitability of what you’re fighting against. It all becomes a prison eventually. Routine is built into our lives. You can’t fight it. You can’t live independently, each decision the result of humane reflection and logical analysis. It’s too much. Too taxing. Delegation is essential. We build these systems to make our lives easier, to allow ourselves time for enjoyment, time that we don’t have to spend reflecting and intensely evaluating. It all becomes a system in the end. An institution that scrubs away some humanity, maybe, but does so while offering you a chance to exercise it in other ways. It’s uninvolved, anticlimactic even, but those are virtues, Neil. Your literary mind should know that better than anyone. There is a pride in slogging through mundane routine. A climax hidden within its denouement. It’s that scene in The Graduate, remember? You making me watch, talking up how essential it was to cultural literacy? That closing scene, driving off after a cinematic rush, grasping hands and looking out, riding off into the sunset? Except for that lingering bit of doubt. The “Now what?” look etched on both their faces, as if they both recognize that everything else is bound to be much more difficult than altar-escape. Maybe they lose it. Or maybe they hang tough, navigating land mines, commitment overriding baggage, the dull work of daily life trumping adventurous, romantic spontaneity. Maybe that’s where we are now. The ultimate test of philosophy. Walls as protector, walls as warden. I can see which way you lean. Perhaps I can’t do anything about it. But this is my vow, my pledge to myself, my promise to you. To make it work. To put behind me the bitterness brought up by this journal, to bury it beneath shovelfuls of confining dirt. To build a benevolent prison, capable of containing the poison, of separating it from the positivity, the joy, the love. If it works, we’re saved, redeemed by walls and enclosed space. If not, you’re right, and the floodgates will open. Maybe you expect me to say this. Maybe you’ve heard it too often. Regardless, it needs to be written. Neil, in this case, I hope you’re wrong.

Brett Biebel is a recent graduate of the MA program in Communication Studies at the University of Minnesota. He currently teaches as an adjunct instructor at various colleges, using his spare time to read, write, follow the Milwaukee Brewers, and work on applications to MFA programs in fiction. At least two of these pursuits are not completely hopeless. He is a compulsive underliner who loves listening to The Hold Steady. He can be reached at

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