Holiday Digest: A New Year with a Royal


By Miranda McPhee

“I need your New Year’s story no later than Dec. 30,” said my editor for the umpteenth time. “Then we’ll talk about renewing your contract.” I grimaced down the phone. It was Dec. 20 and I was coming up empty. As a New York transplant with decades of cold and snow to proclaim winter, I had much to learn about celebrating Christmas in the California sunshine, let alone writing about it.

“Just tuck yourself away and get on with it,” she said.

I needed to get away from my busy household, so I threw caution and money to the wind and booked a night on Airbnb that was nearby and cheap, perhaps too cheap.

I retrieved the keys from the lockbox on the front porch, and as I stepped over the threshold into a small boarding house, it was as though someone had switched off the sun. It felt a thousand miles from Laguna Beach. Up a creaky flight of stairs, I found the reason for the rack rate. My room was tucked away at the back, facing into a narrow alley. The decor was positively Dickensian. The walls were dark blue, and the carpet and apologetically polished furniture had seen better days. In the corner stood a 1930s vintage Royal typewriter on a marble-topped round table. I eyed it suspiciously; would it help me or mock me? I felt underdressed and chilled in my T-shirt and flip-flops.

Three hours later, I slammed shut my laptop and fought the urge to escape into the sunlight. How about a walk on Main Beach? No, I had to work. The more I tried, the less came out. The idea of leaving home to help my writing juices flow was starting to feel ridiculous.

On a whim, I tore a piece of paper out of my notepad and tucked it into the Royal. I smiled as the clack of typewriter keys took me back 40 years to the age before computers, the Internet, and even Wite-Out. To a time when I crafted in my head what I wanted to say and carefully typed it with the knowledge that errors meant retyping a whole page. These days, I snatched at a fleeting thought and flung it into a Word document, expecting a whole train of thought to follow unbidden.

The typewriter was obviously used, as the keys were responsive and the carriage returned with an easy ka-ching. I typed “the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog” 18 times, left the page in the typewriter, and went to bed.

That night I dreamed of writing on the Royal, hearing the soft clack, clack like a comforting metronome. I woke reasonably refreshed, made coffee and extracted my page of typing from the Royal. I opened my laptop, determined but nervous—Dec. 20, and I still had nothing to show. I had to check out by 11 a.m.

I was deep into a number of false starts when my phone rang. Oh no.

“Love it! I love it!” my editor enthused. “It’s the best thing you’ve written. It’s a great way to start the new year.”

“What?” I asked, confused.
She paused. “The story you sent an hour ago.” I clicked on my Sent email box. There was indeed an email from me to her.

“So, you like it?” I stalled for time.

“It’s perfect. Original, heartwarming, relatable. Good job, Susie. We’ll talk next week about renewing your contract, OK?”

“Sure…great! Thank you,” I replied. “Happy New Year.”

Alone again, I opened the email and downloaded the story, “A New Year with a Royal,” and began to read.

Miranda is a writer, pickleball player, granny and active retiree who is spending her 60s exploring new places and going on adventures.

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