Illustrations by  Jessica Poundstone

Illustrations by Jessica Poundstone


Alice rearranged her position on the chair. For the millionth time during the last five minutes, she pulled her left leg up to sit cross-legged on the old armchair that had once belonged to her grandmother. She wasn’t feeling comfortable in any position today; something was itching her legs at every turn. She put her leg back down on the floor, where her foot complained: the wooden tiles were too cold to let her bare feet rest down there. Sighing, she decided to ignore the voice telling her she was going to be sick tomorrow if she didn't put on any socks anytime soon, and grabbed the pencil she had been turning over and over between her fingers for the last hour. It wasn't helping. The blank sheet of paper was still staring back at her as if it wanted to mock her for her lack of imagination–or maybe for her fear.

In the beginning, writing this letter had seemed so easy: jot down a couple of eloquent words to lull its addressee into giving her what she wanted, a little bit of praising their achievements, a little bit of polishing hers and voilà–she'd have what she had always wanted and a better start to her career than she could have ever imagined.

But that had been before the doubts had started sneaking in. Doubts were the most venomous thread in every single one of her projects, somehow always finding their way into her indecisive mind with their little tongues of mistrust. Once they started whispering into her ear, she couldn't stop listening to them–and this time, she had ended up doubting whether she even wanted the position she had worked towards for the last six months. It was nuts, and she knew it– yet she couldn't do anything against her own stupid mind and its doubts.

She always liked to picture them like snakes. Tiny little snakes sneaking their way through her brain, the sizzle of their tongues tuning out every voice of reason she had left. Their snarky little comments followed her everywhere, whispering into her ears until the very moment she cracked. And what if you aren't ready? What if you aren't going to succeed? What will everyone else think? are you really capable of leaving the city, all the people you love having around you so much?

All these questions were the reason why she had hesitated for so long to finally write her letter, and now it might even be too late if she didn't manage to string together a few coherent phrases within the next hours. Tomorrow, the letter was going on its journey across the country, Alice reminded herself, teeth clenched. After all, it was just a letter, no final decision. So why all the fuss? Frustrated, she put down the pencil, but it snapped out of her control, marking a thick black line on her sheet of paper. Great. Not that it mattered much since she was going to type her letter anyway, but it was a perfect description of her state of mind: thick black lines tangled up in a knot so that she had no idea how to overcome her wall of doubts.

Ten minutes later, she still hadn't written a single word. Annoyed, she pushed back her chair with a loud scratching noise, getting up to grab herself something to eat in the kitchen. She knew there were a thousand little aphorisms for situations like hers. When in doubt, go take a walk. When in doubt, ask someone who has more experience than you do. When in doubt, go to the library. When in doubt, eat a lemon.


That last piece of advice had been her grandmother's favorite. She never missed an opportunity to tell you to go and eat a lemon, whatever the purpose. Maybe it was weird advice, but it went in line perfectly with the other, more common ones: empty phrases with a nice ring to them, but useless in the end. It was always going to be her decision, nothing was going to change that, especially not taking a walk in the woods to listen to the birds. That was called procrastination.

Alice, however, was desperate. She went to get herself a lemon from the fruit bowl, cutting it into four equal parts. Taking the first bite, she grimaced. She knew lemons were sour but that didn't make it less of a challenge to eat a whole one of them. Briefly, she wondered whether snakes liked lemons. Maybe the reptiles in her head didn't. The image of a sneaky little snake trying to swallow the yellow fruit made her laugh.

When she got back to her table, the acid still on her tongue, she thought that maybe, maybe she had understood something. The lemon wasn't going to make any of her decisions. It wasn't going to chase the snakes either. That was her job. But maybe the snakes weren't really that dangerous. Their venom only became a thread when she let them. She was in control. But she had let the snakes and her doubts take it from her. It was time to take it back. With new inspiration, she got back to her sheet of paper that was no longer going to stay blank and white. And if those snakes were coming back, she was going to sizzle right back at them.  

jana hemmersmeier-crop.jpg

Jana (18) is inspired by the many places she gets to seeñshe is from Germany and currently living Franceñ and the people she meets.  Jana writes, "I am always so much more creative sitting in the middle of a crowded place than sitting alone in my room."

Jana Hemmersmeier