Last night a train whistle lulled me to sleep. I walked the tracks with my friend, Jackie—she in her striped knee-highs and Mary Janes, me in my winter boots and wool coat. I took pictures of the "haunted Orlando." No roller coasters or talking mice. Jackie and her boyfriend, Dade, told me about train stations, oak trees dripping with Spanish moss, wine bars that were once banks, and the Colony's neon sign (a theatre with a sweeping balcony, now a yuppie-infested Pottery Barn). They led me down the secret back alleys, along brick paths that curved into courtyards burbling with fountains. We sniffed roses in a garden maze and wandered past windows displaying "dead baby dresses," rhinestone-studded flip-flops and second-hand books on a velvet pedestal:
"The Microwave Party Cookbook"
"Miracle Medicine Herbs"
"The Ringmaster's Secret," (A Nancy Drew mystery)
Jackie pointed to a Moroccan restaurant with hookahs as tall as the tables. When she sells her first book, she will celebrate there. No doubt, she'll pull it off.
We met her critique group at Urban Think bookstore. Everybody had gathered at a table in the swanky café. I stared at a painting above their heads—all pastel swirls and blobby constellations. The bartender explained that a horse had painted it.
I hadn't sat and workshopped new pages since college (not counting the classes that I teach at the Art Institute). After stewing alone in my cave and pecking at a keyboard all day, I long for the company of other crazy writers. I had a blast with them. Back home, I have a few trusted souls who help me revise my manuscripts, but at times, I miss the conversation.
On the way back, I signed a copy of my book for Jackie (in exchange for her Ziggy Stardust drawings) while kneeling in the driveway of the Courtyard inn. Dade snapped a bleary picture of us in the road, as if we were about to hitchhike with a ghost. Jackie kept looking over her shoulder, as if expecting speeding headlights, ala Mr. Toad's Wild Ride. I laughed as the flash exploded over and over. Dade mumbled about exposure lengths and auto focus. Not much light. Just enough to see our smiles.