When the professor with the unkempt beard and the haze of stale cigarette smoke surrounding him like fog surrounds a city tells her in front of her entire creative writing senior seminar that none of her work is of publishable quality, she walks out the classroom door crying. She does not stop crying as she runs to her dorm room and shuts the door tight, so tight that it turns to stone behind her and no matter how loudly her roommates knock or how hard they slam their shoulders against the doorframe, it does not budge. She does not stop crying as she throws open her desk drawer to find a quill pen and ink, a Christmas present from her Aunt Susan (her sweet, well-meaning, out-of-touch Aunt Susan), a gift that had spent the semester gathering dust in the drawer.
She does not stop crying as she sweeps the textbooks and loose notes and highlighters and dirty silverware off the desk, sweeps everything off except the lamp, and grabs a stack of printer paper and writes. She does not stop crying as she makes blotted mess after blotted mess on the pages, fingers clumsy and unpracticed with the ink and quill, and she does not stop crying as she slowly masters the archaic tools, as she writes for hours and hours, filling pages faster than she can count, faster than she can blink, it feels like, or slower than her heartbeat, or at the same pace that air fills her lungs and then leaves it.
Her body stops sobbing a dozen pages in, tears flowing without effort down her face like the steady stream of a faucet or a fountain in perpetual motion. Her little pot of ink holds far more liquid than it ought to, seems never to fall below half full no matter how many times she dips into it. Soon she is through her ream of printer paper, the inky pages stacked hastily, haphazardly at her feet, but she must keep writing the way she must keep breathing, the way her brain must keep firing signals to her nerves. She fills up notebooks, fills up planners, fills up the margins of her textbooks and the backs of her receipts and the sleeves of her T-shirts and the insides of her pillowcases.
Soon she is writing on the walls, words that come from inside her but also not inside her, in languages familiar and unfamiliar, in sentences and paragraphs and single stuttering words, with punctuation scattered like confetti or absent entirely. And as she writes she cries, and her tears mix with the ink, and before long the ink and the tears and the words are twisting up her arms and over her shoulders and under her collarbone and around her ribs. Her skin, once brown, fills up with words and words and words until it is as black as the space between the stars, until her eyes turn black too, no iris, no whites, just pupils, and all they see are words, and all they know are words.
Her tears fall still, but now they are ink, and when she sucks on her fingers, her spit is ink, and when she cuts her hand on a nail in the wall, the blood on her palm is ink, too. Her clothing is drenched in it, as though she has dived into a sea of ink, and perhaps she has. She no longer knows where she is writing; the walls and the dresser and the desk and the bed are all covered, there is no more space for words, yet still she writes and still the words appear, and she does not know if her little pot of ink is still producing its infinite supply, for she writes now with her own tears, with her own blood, with the ink that is her body. Her quill is all five of her senses, and she is crying, but she is laughing, too, an eternity of words stretched out behind her and before her, and the professor with the unkempt beard and the haze of stale cigarette smoke surrounding him like fog surrounds a city is so far from her thoughts as to have ceased existing, a lifetime and a lightyear away, as small as a drop of ink in the ocean or her planet in the universe.
Her head falls back, and her back arches, and she laughs and cries and lets her body fall into the swirling maelstrom of ink that has become her home, her comfort, her purpose.
When the door finally opens and her roommates enter, they find only her room as it was, empty, not a word in sight, her loose notes and planners wiped blank.
One roommate turns to the other and asks why they came in here again, when no one has lived here all year.
“Don’t know,” says the other, shaking her head, and they leave without closing the door.