We are working on various paths which lead from Elizabeth’s Story. Some are hopeful; some are desolate and thankless. Some may turn into unexpected blessings. The distress seemed to begin when Billy returned from Denmark, yet yearnings and suppositions and fears accompanied each of my friends throughout the chapters of Elizabeth’s book. Now these souls want to know which way to turn. They meet at Kathryn’s table, nearly midnight.
They sat in silence. The clock notched eternity, soft-edged clicks. Elizabeth’s shallow breathing. Kathryn asked if anyone wanted coffee. Elizabeth shook her head and leaned toward Billy.
“William. You delivered the books. Right?”
“Yes. Two. Safe and sound. Well, three. I took an extra copy.” He straightened in the chair, drew a long breath, and nodded. “Yes. It was quite a trip. Your mother.” He paused and nodded. “And Rita. I wondered what I would find. If anything. Either place.”
Kathryn stood up slowly, as if gripped by dull aches. Or weariness. She filled the kettle with water and put it on the stove. Elizabeth leaned toward Billy.
“William, it sounds like the story grew. The way you told us at supper. Rita. And my mother. It sounds like they’re in my story now. In Pennsylvania and Denmark, today, as if they were in the books you were delivering. And you too!” She laughed. “In the book. How can that be?” The story ended here, didn’t it? More than a year ago. But it sounds like the stewardess you met is involved. And Newcomb, the RV engineer from the train. Pushing their worries and dreams into the book. How is that possible?” She waited. Billy scratched his head with his right hand and then rubbed his thumb over the fingertips, studying.
“Well, yes,” Billy said. “Stories grow as we tell them. You know that. How about Newcomb? Mixing up your manuscript with his magazines. Hollister seems to think otherwise, but won’t tell. Anyway, Elizabeth’s Story is not just about your life from high school to here, is it? There’s so much more.” The grumbling kettle smoothed to a whistle. Kathryn busied herself putting out cups. She poured boiling water into the cloth filter on the blue enamel coffee pot.
“So whose story is it, then, William?” Elizabeth asked. “Once everyone has had a go at it. Whose is it?” Billy studied his cup.
“Well. It’s a story. But then there’s the audience. Every reader, or anyone hearing it, has a story too. Yes, I shared it with strangers. And you read parts of it to Newcomb. On the train. He even tried to steal it. Souls want a story, maybe to save their own. To give their own stories new life. Your chapters in theirs. Overlapping. Parent and child.” He laughed at the irony. “Or grandparent. I stayed with Rita almost two months.” Kathryn poured coffee into his cup.
“Rita,” Elizabeth said.
“I read her the book,” Billy said. “Aloud. Cover to cover. Twice. Some chapters I read several times. She was particularly interested in the chapters about people who are imprisoned. The women. ‘In chains,’ Rita said.”
“Rita.” Elizabeth smiled up at Kathryn and put her hand over her cup.
“Let’s work on the book,” Billy said. “Maybe tomorrow.”
“Yes. Maybe,” Elizabeth said, pushing her chair back. Kathryn nodded at Billy.
“Back bathroom, William. You know where. And you have a fresh bed.” She smiled. “Key on the hook.
We’ll supply some more thoughts toward the future in fourteen days. Do you have any ideas? Any advice for these souls?