Kasy Long

The Blank Page

                My name is announced by the Starbucks barista, interrupting my morning day dreams and remembrance of my warm, soothing bed back home. Reluctantly, I brush past the other tired, angry Floridians toward the front counter.
                “I can’t believe that happened,” one man mutters under his breath as he stares at the television screen on the wall.
                I turn to look at his reference, but by that time, the frustrated barista calls my name for the second time.
                I reach for the energy drink, a warm house blend coffee. I never order Starbucks, but when I discovered that my coffee pot wouldn’t turn on this morning, I knew that I needed something to get me through my daily routine at the newspaper office.
                I rush outside to my red Jeep Wrangler, my graduation present I received from my grandparents.
                *Beep Beep Beep*
                I open the car door and step inside. Slamming the door, I look down at my iPhone and stare at the screen.
                CLARA COOPER: Did you hear the news?
                CAROLYN COOPER: What news?
                CLARA COOPER: The shooting at Disney, duh.
                My hand freezes in motion as I stare at her message. What? A shooting at Disney? Is that even possible?
                CAROLYN COOPER: Disney in Orlando or California?
                CLARA COOPER: Right where you are, sis.
                CAROLYN COOPER: Oh, no. Well, thanks.
                I toss the phone into my purse and quickly turn the keys in the ignition. I have to get to the office. This is news and I work at the Orlando Times. This is our story.
                I drive down the busy Orlando streets, turning the radio up louder to listen to the news reports.
                “Early this morning, the suspect, who is reported to be a worker, arrived at the amusement park with just his gym bag and coat. He appeared to be happy,” the broadcaster reports.
                I don’t want to hear about this, so I change the station, but this only greets me with another news report of the shooting.
                My phone buzzes with notifications from CNN, Fox News, Facebook, and more. I glance over at the phone in my purse, but force myself to keep my hands on the steering wheel. My hands shake in panic. Disney World is supposed to be the happiest place on Earth. How could this have happened?
                I finally arrive at Vineland Road, the location of the newspaper office. I pull into a parking spot and grab my purse. I look down at my phone and read the notifications.
                CNN: Shooting at Disney World leaves 12 dead and dozens injured. Gaston is sent to the hospital.
                FOX NEWS: Disney World shooter is reported to be a worker. Two guardsmen are fired after improper safety check with worker.
                I toss my phone into my purse and open the car door. This is getting worse by the minute. I close the door, remembering I left my coffee cup inside, but at this point, I don’t even care. I have to see what everyone else thinks about this.
                Walking into the front lobby of the newspaper office, I see Bridgette, our sarcastic but faithful receptionist. Her blond hair is frizzled in several knots as she stares at the computer screen in front of her with persistence. She clutches the arms of her desk chair and repeatedly shakes her head.
                “Do I have any messages this morning?” I ask her as I stand before her desk.
                She looks up at me and her eyes widen in surprise. “What? Um, no. Go upstairs. The staff is waiting for you.”
                “I know about the shooting.”
                She doesn’t respond as she quickly writes down information into her notepad. I turn toward the elevators and press the control button. I look at Bridgette and observe her frantic gestures of checking her e-mail and desk phone. This is probably the most important piece of news we have covered in a long time.
                Shootings happen every day in Orlando. Murder, crime, violence – we’re all used to that. But a shooting at Disney World, the place where people from all across the world travel to for a nice family vacation? Now that’s something you don’t hear about every day.
                The elevator doors open and Jay Walters, an investigative reporter, steps out of the elevator in a frantic rush. He bumps into me and fumbles for his cell phone.
                “Ah, sorry, Carolyn. I gotta go to Disney.”
                “Jay, are you covering this?” I ask him.
                “No, but I’m getting pictures for social media. This is gold!” he shouts as he rushes outside, grabbing his ringing cell phone and frantically reaching for his car keys.
                I stare at him in disbelief. Gold? Pictures?
                I step into the elevator and press for the fourth floor. The elevator ascends toward the news room. Okay, time out. I understand that this is news, but golden news? People died. People are hurt. I know this kind of news is great for media, but shouldn’t we be more concerned with the actual event? Shouldn’t we stop and pray for the people who died, or the ones who are hurt? Why does the world have to know everything right away?
                The elevator doors open and I walk into the newsroom. To my amazement, everyone is running around the cubicles, dashing from here to there.
                The sound of their panicked worries echoes about the room. I stare at everyone and my eyebrows crease together. I stand there, motionless, not able to do anything. I’m hopeless, just standing there with my iPhone repeatedly vibrating with news notifications.
                Have you ever had one of those moments in which you can’t do anything? You just stand there, watching the world move and pass by you. Well, that’s me right now. It’s like my legs are nailed to the floor, preventing me from going to my desk and researching on this shooting.
                Kelley, the op/ed editor, marches up to me.
                “Carolyn! What are you doing? Get to your cubicle! Get to work! Do something, please. This concerns you, too!” she shouts to me.
                “I’m sorry, but I don’t know what to do.”
                “And you think I do? It doesn’t matter. You still have to work,” she says.
                “But this doesn’t concern me,” I tell her.
                She turns to me and raises her left eyebrow. “Doesn’t concern you? Carolyn, you might not understand this because you’re a new journalist here, but this is a news room. Every bit of news concerns you. The news room is a team. We work together to bring the best news to our public. You need to be a team player and get to work.”
                “But I’m an entertainment journalist. What does a shooting have to do with that?” I ask her.
                She rolls her eyes, turns and walks back to her cubicle. I follow her toward my cubicle next to hers.
                “Carolyn, I love you and all, but I think you need to understand that you can turn this story around and make it about entertainment. I mean, Disney is an entertainment business. Kids love the Disney princesses. When they hear about this, they will want to know if Belle is okay. Do you understand what I’m saying?”
                “I get it. I just don’t know how I can do this when I usually just do reviews and stuff,” I tell her.
                “Leave it up to Lindsey. She’ll probably write it or assist you with the article. Don’t sweat about it. Just start gathering info about the shooting. Make sure that Belle is okay,” she says with a laugh as she sits down in her desk chair. She turns to me and frowns. “We each have our job. I’m working on an editorial piece. Jeff is covering the Facebook and Twitter pages. Donny is working on the website. Lilly is trying to see if we can get access to Disney.”
                “All of that sounds good,” I mutter as I stare at my computer screen.
                Where does that leave me?
                Lucy, the layout designer, pops her head above my cubicle. “Staff meeting in five. Don’t be late or else your ass will be fired. Wilson’s not kiddin’ today.”
                “We’ll be there,” Kelley responds.
                I grab my reporter’s notepad and pen. I turn to Kelley and stare at her.
                “So, who’s going to write the breaking news article for tomorrow’s front page?” I ask.
                She shrugs her shoulders and grabs her purse. “I don’t know, but I’d hate to be that poor sucker.”
                We walk into the conference room, which is packed with writers, editors, and designers. I gaze around the room, staring at the people gawking over their cell phones, trying to get the most up-to-date information they can find about the shooting.
                I sit down in my usual seat and look down at my shaking hands. I’ve only been working here for about three months and already, this has happened. How does everyone already know what to do? Did it just come naturally to them? Is there something wrong with me? Maybe I’m not cut out to be a journalist after all. I mean, I graduated at the top of my class at the University of Tampa, but maybe that was just because I knew how to study. Do I actually know how to be a good journalist?
                I glance up and see Chris, the news editor, staring at me with a small grin on his face. I look behind my shoulder to see if he was smiling to someone else, but no one is behind me. I turn back to him and he raises his eyebrows, smirking at my behavior. He’s onto me. He knows I’m a phony journalist. Oh, great.
                At that moment, Wilson saunters into the room. He is not just our editor-in-chief; he’s our commander, the guy who knows he’s in charge. He gazes around the room and approaches his chair at the front of the conference table. He slams his notebook and cell phone onto the table and looks at us.
                The room immediately silences. The few workers who are standing slowly approach their seats, embarrassed by Wilson’s angry stare.
                “Alright gang, we got some work to do today. I’m sure all of you are aware of what happened this morning. There was a shooting at Disney. We need to get in there and cover this breaking news, alright?”
                We stare at him in silence, a few people nodding their heads. I look down at my notebook and quickly scribble down: Breaking news → Disney shooting. WTF?
                “Wilson, we have people working on our social media accounts and the website. Lilly is trying to see if we can get to the park. We’re doing everything we can for the time being,” Chris tells him.
                “That’s fine, but that’s not good enough. We have to get in there and figure out what happened,” Wilson responds.
                “Well, that’s what I want to know. What exactly happened? Was Disney even open this early?” Chris asks.
                “It happened shortly after 9 a.m. this morning when dozens of people were walking around the parks. It was really early, but you know people. They flock to that park right when it opens.”
                “What can we do?” Chris asks.
                Wilson shrugs his shoulders and rubs his forehead. He sighs and shrugs his shoulders again. I glance over at Kelley and she narrows her eyes at me. Even Wilson is losing it. Holy shit.
                “We need an entertainment journalist to get in there and figure out what this has to do with Disney itself,” Wilson finally says.
                The room remains silent as a few people search the room for Lindsey. I, too, look for her to say something, but she’s nowhere to be seen.
                “She called in sick today, Wilson,” another editor responds.
                Wilson rolls his eyes and tosses his pen into the air. He gazes around the room and his eyes eventually center on me. I look at him, but then decide to look away. What’s happening?
                “You, uh, you write entertainment stories, right?” he asks me.
                My ears perk up at his voice. I clear my throat and scoot up in my chair.
                “Um, yes,” I respond.
                “Splendid. The front page story is yours, Miss…uh…Trooper?”
                “That’s what I said. Miss Cooper, you’re going to cover it, okay?”
                There are moments in life when everything stills and becomes one confined moment, like when I’m sitting in my car and see a passing car moving over the yellow line painted on the road. Seconds feel like hours.
                Then there are times when everything rushes by and the beauty of the moment vanishes so quickly, like when my older brother got married. Or when my sister graduated from medical school.
                Then there are a few moments in life when everything can just go away, disappear and evaporate, as if I was dead. Like right now. I want to forget that this is happening and let it melt away forever.
                I am not a news reporter, alright? I am not a “breaking news” kind of girl. I am an entertainment journalist. I don’t think I have written a news story since my news writing class during my sophomore year of college. Why the hell does he want me to cover this story?
                “Did you hear what I said, Cooper?” Wilson calls my name.
                I glance up at him. He bends over his notebook, scribbling onto the paper. He doesn’t even look up at me.
                “I heard you, sir,” I whisper.
                “You agree to do the article?”
                “Why me? I’m just a writer.”
                He looks up at me and smiles. Why does he do this? Why does he smile before he rips out my throat and lungs? Does he know that I’m most likely going to fail? Does he know that I haven’t been working here for very long? Has he even seen my writing? Is this some kind of test? You have to write a breaking news article to keep your job here, or what? In that case, I’m going to fail. I’m going to get fired. I’m going to lose my job, my studio apartment, my Jeep, and so much more.
                “Well, Lindsey isn’t here today, so you get to do it. Congrats,” he speaks in a monotone voice. He gazes over at the other journalists. “Meeting adjourned. Get to work. I want each section in tomorrow’s paper to feature something about this shooting. So, get to work.”
                Everyone begins standing up from the conference table. I stare down at my notepad, my hand frozen in place. I glance up toward Wilson.
                I quickly stand up and rush toward him. This is a mistake. I can’t do this. “Wilson, we need to talk.”
                “You’re wasting precious time, Cooper. Get to work on that article,” he interrupts.
                “I know, but—”
                “Seriously, Cooper, do I need to hold your hand through this or what?”
                So he does know that I’m a rookie. Then, why is he doing this to me?
                “But I’m not a news journalist. I’m just an entertainment writer. It’s completely different. I’m used to writing promotional articles for plays, not breaking news articles about shootings. Give it to Chris,” I plead.
                “Oh yes, Chris would be great with this. But I don’t want just an ordinary news story. I want it to focus on Disney. Don’t you see that Disney is an entertaining place? This isn’t just an attack on the common people. It’s an attack on Disney itself. That worker wasn’t slashing out at the public. He’s slashing out against the company he works for. He’s saying that Disney isn’t the happiest place on the planet. So you, Cooper, who you claim to be ‘just an entertainment writer’ will write this article.”
                “But I don’t think I can. This is too big for me.”
                He turns and grabs his notebook. “I don’t have time to deal with you and your whining. Listen, this is a newspaper. Whether we like it or not, this is news. It may be awful, but it’s happening and we’re going to cover it. If you want to be a journalist, then this is your test. Every journalist in the country can write a news article, so you can do this. Write the damn article and give it to me by five.”
                He quickly walks away from me and out of the room. I turn on my heels and see Kelley staring at me. She holds up my notepad.
                “Where do you begin?” she asks.
                I shrug my shoulders and quickly grab my belongings from her. “I don’t know, but I have to do something.”
                I march out of the room and walk towards my cubicle. I sit down in front of my desk and pull up a new Word document on my computer. I stare at the blank page, wondering which angle I should approach this article. I’m used to writing entertainment articles. I make them fun and creative. There is no way I can make this article fun. People died.
                “Are you going to interview people?” Kelley asks me as she stands behind her cubicle.
                “I’ll start with the executives at Disney and work my way down.”
                “What about the families?”
                I glance up at her and shake my head. “No, not the families. It’s too soon. I don’t want to pry into their lives. They need space.”
                She nods her head and looks down at her computer. “Well, good luck. Let me know if I can help.”
                I stare at the blank page in front of me, the blank page that mocks me. It tells me to write. It tells me to call people. It tells me to get my ass out of my chair and drive over to Disney. It tells me so many things, but I still sit here, motionless. I’m confined to this one little cubicle. I look down at my phone and search for the executive president of Disney. I have to start somewhere, so I might as well start with him.
                As the phone rings, I doodle on my notepad. When I walked into Starbucks this morning, I thought my day would be completely normal. I would write my review of the I Love Lucy: Live on Stage musical I saw this weekend at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts. It was the one task I had to complete today. Why could I have not just done that assignment, sent it to the copy writer, and then call it a day? Why does life always end up completely different than you expect?
                “Hello, Jim Garson’s office. How may I help you?” a secretary speaks into the phone, her voice heavy and flustered, probably because her phone is ringing off the hook.
                “Um, yes. This is Carolyn Cooper of the Orlando Times. May I speak to Mr. Garson?” I ask her.
                “He’s very busy right now. Can I take your name and number? He’ll get back to you soon.”
                Right. He’s busy. Of course he’s busy. What was I thinking?
                I stare at the blank page in front of me and then sigh with nervous anticipation. Okay, what do I do now? I need to shrug off my entertainment writer’s jacket and grab the press badge. I can’t be Carolyn Cooper, the journalist who interviews actors and musicians. I need to be Carolyn Cooper, a news journalist who gets in there and finds out the juicy stuff.
                But, where do I even begin?

Kasy Long is a senior creative writing major at Ohio Northern University in Ada, Ohio, whose work has begun to appear in a number of journals.
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