Inner Critic

I slowly peeled back my eyelids and immediately wished I was still out for the count.

I paused, considering.

“That’s what you’re going with, then?”

“Sure, why not?” I said, irritated. “What’s wrong with it?”

“Nothing. Nothing at all.”

I snorted and refocused.

“It’s just…”

I glared. “Just what?”

“Nothing. Nothing.”

“What?” I spat.

“Well, you don’t peel eyelids, for one. It’s not an onion.”

“It’s a metaphor.”

“What, are they really dry or something? Do they need some eye drops?”

“It’s not meant to be literal. I’m setting a mood.”

“And the adverb, right there, second word. That’s a little weak, don’t you think?”

“What’s wrong with that?”

“It’s a bit unnecessary, isn’t it? When’s the last time you peeled anything quickly, really?”

“Well…”

“And when’s the last time you peeled an eyelid at all…” he muttered.

“Mood!”

“Hey, I’m just saying. You don’t have to get angry. You asked me, remember?”

“No, actually, I didn’t. I didn’t ask you at all.”

“Yes, you did.”

“No, I didn’t.”

“Yes, you did. Line four.”

I checked. Damn.

He was quiet, exulting.

“Okay, fine,” I said. “I’ll take out the adverb.”

“I’m just saying.”

“I said I’ll take it out.”

“Okay, okay. Look, I’m just trying to help. I’m here to help you.”

The hurt in his voice seemed genuine. I felt bad.

“I know,” I said. “I’m sorry. I’m just a little touchy. It’s only a first draft.”

“Right, right. It’s only a first draft. Sure.”

I deleted the word “slowly”.

“Of course, you know…”

“What’s that?”

“Well, I mean…”

“You mean what?”

“Well, it’s just that, without a good first draft, how can you have a good second draft?”

“How can you…”

“I mean, garbage in, garbage out, right?”

“What… garbage? Are you calling…”

“Garbage in, garbage out. That’s what they say, isn’t it? ”

“Who says that?”

“I’m just saying. And there are two adverbs.”

“Two…” I closed my eyes tight and shook my head, trying to clear away the confusion. “Wait…”

“Right there. ‘Immediately’.”

“Immediately?”

“That’s an adverb, too.”

“So…”

“That’s weak. Adverbs are weak.”

“You want me to take it out?”

“I don’t want you to do anything. You asked me for my help. I’m just trying to help.”

I looked at him for a moment, then turned back to the screen.

“So, take out ‘immediately’.”

“It’s an adverb. That’s all I’m saying.”

“And adverbs are weak.”

“I’m just saying.”

I deleted ‘immediately’.

“I peeled back my eyelids and wished I was still out for the count,” I read aloud. Sounded good. Better, actually.

“Still no good,” he said.

“What do you mean? It’s good!”

“No, still no good.”

“What’s wrong with it now?”

“Are you asking me?”

“I just asked you.”

“I’m just asking if you’re asking me.”

“I just asked you. Of course I’m asking you.”

“I’m just making sure you’re asking me. I don’t want you to get mad at me later.”

“I’m mad at you now, for crying out loud. I’m asking you. Now tell me.”

“Tell you what?”

“Tell me what I asked!”

“What did you…”

“What’s wrong with it now!” My head began to throb, behind my eyes and in my temples.

“Well, just look at it. I mean, you know… look at it.”

I gritted my teeth. “I am looking at it.”

“You see it then?”

Teeth still gritted. “See what?”

“It’s right there.”

I was silent, waiting.

“If she wished she were still out,” he said, finally, “why would she peel back her eyelids?” Smug. Triumphant.

“Why… She…”

“Besides the fact that you can’t peel an eyelid…”

I clenched my fists, rattling the keyboard with their shaking, pressed my lips together, but couldn’t hold back.

“How would she know to keep her eyes shut unless she opened them first?” I shouted.

He paused. 

The pause grew longer, like a clinging drop of water enlarging at the end of a dripping faucet.

“Are you okay?” he whispered.

“Am I okay?” I spluttered.

“You seem a little upset.”

“A little upset?”

“You’re doing that thing again, where you repeat everything I say. That thing you do when you’re upset.”

“I am upset!”

“I can see you’re upset.”

“I just told you I’m upset!”

“Maybe we should take a break, come back to this later, with, you know, fresh eyes, cooler heads.”

“I don’t want to take a break.”

“A break might be good. Hit it again later.”

“I don’t need a break.”

“Because, you know, it needs a lot of work, still, and it might be better if we both just stepped away…”

“It doesn’t need work…”

“…and came back with fresh eyes…”

“I don’t want to step away…”

“It does need a lot of work.”

“It doesn’t need a lot of work.”

“You’re just saying that because you’re upset.”

“No, I’m not.”

“You just said you were.”

“No, I didn’t.”

“Yes, you did. Line, um… ninety-four…”

“No, not that I didn’t say I was upset…”

“…and ninety-six…”

“I am upset, but that’s not…”

“…and just now, lines one-twelve and one-fourteen.”

“It doesn’t need a lot of work! And I’m not saying that because I’m upset.”

“So, you admit that you’re upset?”

I shut my eyes again, tight, shaking my head, back and forth.

“Oh, dear,” he said. “Now you’re doing that crazy person thing.”

I shook my head faster, trying to shake out the sound of his voice.

“Look, it’ll be okay, alright?” he said. “It’s bad, but that’s okay.”

Shook faster.

“I’m not sure it can be saved, even, but we can keep working.”

Faster.

“Or, take a break, you know, come back later with fresh eyes.”

Faster.

Faster.

Faster.

I stopped.

Silence.

I opened one eye, looked around.

Silence.

Both eyes open, looked over each shoulder.

Silence.

I sighed, shoulders slumped. Relief swept through me like a summer storm sweeps away the heat. I refocused.

I peeled back my eyelids and wished I was still out for the count.

“See what I mean?” he said.

I turned off the monitor and left the room.