Nell Flynn walked down the dimly lit sidewalk. She looked over her shoulders from time to time. She wasn’t completely comfortable out here after dark, but she didn’t want to give in to the environment.
She thought of herself as a strong, independent woman. She didn’t want to have her life dictated by a patriarchal society. She also wasn’t dumb. Criminals don’t wait to listen to theories before hurting people. Nell was torn between what she believed and the reality of the situation.
It was a sketchy section of the city. Downtown Jacksonville was architecturally mixed with older, red brick buildings and sleek, modern office structures. There was a push to get rid of anything old. An element of the population wanted to tear down the grime and use the land to build up the shiny, new glass-faced buildings. The new buildings tended to bring in more revenue.
If Nell was honest, she didn’t really care either way. She didn’t live down here. She had no skin in the game. She just knew that the fancier areas usually had a larger security presence. Being a woman in today’s world was already dangerous. She didn’t need to risk her life to make someone else’s point.
The coffeeshop was sandwiched between two overpriced gastropubs. She was always amazed by what people will spend their money on. Nell preferred to route her cash flow into other, more permanent passions.
Nell removed her glasses and compulsively cleaned them on the hem of her sweater. She didn’t need to locate the people she was meeting. She could hear them before she could see them. They were already loud and obnoxious. The waitress looked annoyed. Nell avoided eye contact and tucked her short, blonde hair behind her ear as she walked past. She threw her book bag into the large, corner booth. She slid into the back and listened to the other writers rant and carry on. Nell wasn’t confident enough to join in, at the same time she wasn’t sure she wanted to. These conversations were going nowhere.
“No, I don’t read my own writing, especially not in front of people. What the hell would that prove?”
“It’s all about exposure, man. You have to get your name out there, once people know your name, then they’ll appreciate your words all the more.”
“That makes no sense.”
“I don’t make the rules. I just know how to play the game.”
“I’m sure if I sold my soul, I could gain some notoriety on the internet. But, that’s not what I want. I write to try and figure out something within me. I share it to try and connect with other people who are as confused and searching like me.”
“I’m not telling you how to live your life, man, it’s just a suggestion. You can write. You just don’t seem to know how to market yourself.”
“I’m a Capitalist, yet I refuse to include myself with what I’m willing to sell.”
“Your life. Your decisions, man.”
A neon sign buzzed and flickered above her. Nell stared at it and couldn’t look away. Thoughts poured into her brain. She contemplated life and what she was doing with it. She grew frustrated. Looking up at these guys, speaking in theories and other bullshit, Nell felt something let loose within her. She grabbed her book bag and slid out of the booth. The conversation never faltered, even with her sudden movements. She stood at the end of the table, listening.
“If I were a woman, I’d guarantee I’d have a million followers, you know what I mean, man?”
“Probably a million stalkers sending you dick pics, too. I’m not sure the tradeoff is worth it.”
Nell’s head hurt. These guys had been going back and forth for a few hours now. She wanted to surround herself with intelligent people to help further her own writing. These guys just yelled and tried to outwit each other. Her eyes had rolled so many times they hurt. This might have been what she asked for, but it didn’t turn out to be what she wanted.
Without saying goodbye or anything at all, Nell walked out. It was a mild spring night of Northern Florida. The bell jingled. The air smelled like fresh roasted coffee beans from the Maxwell House plant a few streets over. The restaurants were still overflowing onto the sidewalk.
She walked and kept going. She walked until she ran out of buildings down where the river curved up to meet the sidewalk. There was a park bench where Nell sat for awhile, looking out into the darkness of the St. John’s River. It was a little bit before she decided she probably shouldn’t be out there alone. Nell pulled out her phone and ordered an Über. No good reason to tempt fate.