Leaving Kathryn

Leaving Kathryn

I let my friends stay too long at Kathryn’s. I seemed to have lost track of them. Or they had lost confidence in me. Or perhaps the truth of the matter was that I had become too comfortable in Kathryn’s kitchen. In Kathryn’s presence. Her spell, quiet songs and the fragrance of her garden which followed her from the screen door to the sink. I knew that I had begun to distance myself from Elizabeth’s urgent worry and Arthur’s longing, his dream of an imagined or real past. Billy’s studies and his correspondence with Bodil and Søren in Denmark. Hollister’s mission to save and secure and comfort. Rita, so distant. And the old woman.
I had let them all slip from the center of my thoughts, where they had ruled my every waking moment for months. Yes, I had become too comfortable in Kathryn’s kitchen. I sipped at my coffee in the morning. Kathryn and I murmured agreement about the day’s promise or the night’s communion. I caressed her warm hands and fingertips gently in mine. The days were dreams. I wrote vague poems in the night. And lost track of time.
I think my friends wearied of me. My absence from their lives and their questions. They began to make plans without sharing excitement or seeking advice, and quit their chatter when I chanced upon them in the living room. They sorted out comfortable traveling clothes and bought simple totes and backpacks and maps. Passports. Billy and Arthur had theirs, but Arthur and Elizabeth had applied for new ones, using Kathryn’s address. They did not ask whether my papers were up to date. They seemed confident that they could travel without me.
I am certain that Kathryn is the only person in my story whose reality complicates wishful fiction. She is a gentle dream, fancy crafted from a true past in which we simply did not know that we could have been comrades or conspirators in that company of strangers. We were hiding out, and in the process missed each other, too. But the rest of my characters and friends are simply shadows and reflections of an aching heart searching this evening for the perfect five hundred words of truth and possibility. My choice: I will have to leave the comfortable thoughts of Elizabeth’s friend Kathryn. Soon. If I trade my chosen and crafted friends for the dream of a kitchen and coffee and a song, I think I will certainly die. Death by regret and what could have been. For them.
I will gather my things and organize my thoughts. I will put my friends into motion toward an expected end, and see where it takes us. Or rather, where they take me. No Great American Novel, but the hopeful travels of a sometimes fortunate group of strangers and their guide. All sharing hopes for reinventing love. Perhaps they will find it along the way. In bits and pieces of precious touches. Perhaps Kathryn will accompany the band.
(500)

Art

Art Newcomb is the central figure. In the end. He is either pathetic or selfish. Or ruthless. I knew that he was in the darkened room, though the story will lean toward unclear dialogue and circumstance. Was it Arthur’s embrace, or my own? Did Elizabeth follow Arthur Newcomb to Europe? Did she lose him there? Or did he lose her, retracing steps through several other stories? Locating her, catching up late in life, as she headed west. To Kathryn. How many times did Arthur Newcomb and I leave the best hope behind, birthing regret and abortive attempts to re-capture? Can I revisit or re-create the entire span of his life? Is he the reflection? Can he reinvent love? Is it too late? When two lines in a distant obituary signal a life’s end? And whose life?

Please, no forlorn, self-absorbed memoir; rather a dying man on a raft, the audience on the riverbank, piecing together the dubious hero’s dilemma. His loss; his love. Kathryn and Elizabeth, fictional objects of fancy and long-lost desire. It’s Arthur’s turn, if I can learn to love him. The scene, again. It is Arthur’s one last chance. And mine:

Kathryn was quiet. She had seemed unusually tired all week. Said she might be coming down with something. But she continued to clear off the table, make coffee, feed and encourage us. But quietly. She shook out the woven placemats, crumbs in the wastebasket. I sensed she was holding thoughts back. Maybe a cold? Perhaps. An excuse, if she needed one.

Kathryn spoke, her back to us. Or she began to speak. As if. To no one. Or to all of us. Billy or Newcomb or Hollister. Or just Elizabeth. Or to me. I was still trying to craft Kathryn’s mind, its whereabouts. Kathryn. The woman. The source. Kathryn. My anchor, and refuge, the gentle warmth and open arms. Solid welcome. Without complaint or criticism. I needed her, but suddenly she was tired. Or just certain. Afraid I might not understand. Or listen.

Kathryn placed her hands on the edge of the sink and stared into the gray water, fingers tight on the porcelain and tile. She began, then stopped, shaking her head. Soap and spoons and forks. Orchestration of cleanliness and pleasant freshness from the smudges and flecks and smears of another meal. Easy to fix. Stainless steel. She breathed in a sob, and the past welled up in me. The years. The memories. Friends. Dreams. The past. She spoke. Clearly. Squeezing each word.

“You remember. Every bit of it. Don’t you?” We looked up from our thoughts. Then at each other. Kathryn was speaking to the dish pan. Or to the cabinets. Or the ceiling. “You recall every bit. Your story. Each day, fleeting thoughts woven fifty or sixty years ago. How things might have happened. Or did happen.” She shifted her weight from one foot to the other. “Your story.”

Elizabeth cleared her throat. A piece of a word escaped.

“No, Elizabeth,” Kathryn said, and turned, looking at me this time. Anger? Fear? “Your story. Your book.” She stepped away from the sink. Eyes glistening wet. Swollen lids. “Your story. It’s ninety-nine point nine percent true, but you wanted the one tiny piece which you lost. And then another. And too many more. Fiction. Because they didn’t happen. Things about which you know nothing.” She stared at me. “You can’t find it in the past. The shadows. Or this woman. Or that. The joy you might have had.” She shook her head and closed her eyes. “For a moment, or forever, if you could have caught her! Or kept her.” I had never seen Kathryn’s tears. Never. No tears. Ever.

“But it was all that I knew. What I remembered,” I said. “I enlisted Elizabeth.” I felt my own tears. “And you. I was trying to make sense. I wanted to know.” I closed my eyes. “I wanted to know. Who I was. In the end.”

Arthur’s Proposal

Here’s a brief post, as I struggle along, my own journey fading into my characters’ lives, like laundry-time colors and crumpled whites in the hot wash. And while I thought about it, surveying the coffee cups, Arthur interrupted us with an idea. And evidence of his own hesitant pen on paper. As usual, five hundred words framing his own five hundred word stab. You will hear my attempts to disentangle thoughts and fears. I share much with my characters in these dim yet hopeful days.

 

Another voice. From the living room.

“Let’s write it as we go. Even if we’re not sure. Even if we’re not well.” Newcomb shuffled toward the table from the living room, where he had gone to sit, alone. “To rest up,” he had said. His ashen cheeks had regained some color, but he held his left arm close to his body and limped slightly, one eye nearly closed. A darkness above the eye. Newcomb had tripped and fallen in the garden the day before, bruising his right arm and somehow hitting his forehead on a fence slat as he fell to the ground, minor scratches. His accident. He had referred to it several times since, how he could have easily broken his arm. Or had a concussion. “Things happen so quickly. And suddenly, there we are. A concussion requires rest.”

“OK. But. What do you mean, write it as we go?” Two or three voices.

“Well, we can’t go back. And we don’t know what to do. Why not make it up?” Newcomb’s face brightened, his good eyebrow lifting. “Fiction. To make it better. And we have two people we could ask, hear their side of the story.”

“What story?” Elizabeth shook her head. “And who? Who do you mean?”

“Your story. And Billy told us. Your mother. Old, but still alive, at least she was, last we heard.” He waited. Silence around the table. “And Rita,” he said.

“What story, Arthur?” Elizabeth asked, incredulous wide eyes. “What damned story?”

“Well, it’s still your story. But we left it. Incomplete. Questions,” he said.

“We? What questions?”

“Well, like anybody’s story. There are lots of questions in anyone’s story.” He shrugged and then grimaced. “Don’t take this wrong, Elizabeth, but why would a person leave? I mean, well, leave another person? A lover or a family?” Newcomb could see Elizabeth’s eyes widen.

“Or a child? Maybe you mean that, a child?” Elizabeth pushed her chair back from the table, then closed her eyes and shook her head.

“No, Elizabeth, no, that’s not what I am getting at. What I am trying to say is that we might have chances to re-write our stories. If we are careful, and kind. Loving. And creative. We could rewrite our stories.” He hesitated. “I’ve been writing. I mean, I wrote something last night. My arm was hurting and I had a headache. And I wanted to say something and I didn’t know what.” He slid two folded sheets of lined notebook paper onto the table. Scrawled ink, longhand. “Here.” He stood back.

Elizabeth picked up the papers and read silently. When she reached the bottom of the first page she glanced back up the page, and then up at Newcomb. Her face had softened as she mouthed words, silently. She handed the first sheet to Billy, and scanned the second one, whispering a word or two, barely audible, “shadows of aging,” and even more softly, “Forever etched within the arc,” and then “echoes in the hallway.”

 

Here is the text of Arthur’s writing, unedited and barely revised:

My accident has left me seeking comfort and quiet. Reports and consultations. They say that the broken bone in my left forearm is not “knitting” as it should, and longer sentences still seem to end in stammering confusion as I speak. Especially when I am excited or angry. Thoughts so smoothly imagined flowing over the tongue and jaw, words clashing forth in disarray. I wonder how much of my recovery will be masked by other shadows of aging. And worry. At odd moments, the singular tone ringing in my ears transforms into the squeal of water in a steel pipe in the basement ceiling, rushing toward a half-open valve at the front of the house. Watering the garden. Perhaps I am similarly bound, perhaps into gentler arms of old age. The future. I have wasted too many days trying to capture the past. Memoir. Memoir has become too painful. And final. The fading reference points, less pronounced. Fleeting. Missing.

 

I scanned the obituaries in a school bulletin. A name. A place. A date. Two lines, no mention of family or profession or final chapter. The briefest obituary of a once upon a time lover. The news arriving five years cold. Anonymous contributor. To remind me that I had been wondering too long about this love. Wondering and imagining possibility. In vain. The message of horizon-ending news contained no mention of the ring, Forever etched within its arc. Yet we slipped away, quiet padding footsteps, without goodbyes. Just thoughts about what might be regained. Growing, then fading, and gone. Echoes in the hallway. Scarcely one or two of us remaining in the waiting room. No one left to notice. And finally. No witnesses.

 

Or perhaps I will take one last journey, while there is still time. And there is still time, until the final moment. One last journey. Or make it a pilgrimage, for meaning. Or a search, for anticipation. Or a blessing, for peace. Or start with a story. Possibility, as the actual journey’s travel will be too cruel. At least at first. And more terrifying, the arrivals along the way, the unknown, or the changes. So I will make it a story. I will make it a mostly true story. Only the fewest pages from the past, whether real or simply possible. And chapters growing, concocted out of dust and dreams. Invented. Recreated. Reinvented, the poet said to me. About love. Intentional nourishment of the heart. And soul.

 

I will make a plan. In secret. Nonchalant gestures and preparations. No one will take notice as I prepare. Inconsequential stockpiles of necessities. The caricature bandana tied to the end of a stick. Barest nuts and berries to nibble, a tiny fire beside railroad tracks. Words and sentiments mixed with time and possibility. My plan. If asked, I will simply say that I do not know. Brief smiles and finally. Just a whisper and I will be gone. I will be gone. It will be fiction. But it will be me.

Arthur Newcomb, Carmer Hill, CA  2017

 

 

Reinventing love

“The wedding of history with the coffee we drink in our ever shrinking days awakes our need to reinvent love.” Etel Adnan, Night (2016)

Here is a rough draft, below. Five hundred words, on the subject. Elizabeth may embark on the final journey. If she dares. Return, recapture, reinvent. An idea.

Kathryn was quiet. She had seemed unusually tired all week. Said she might be coming down with something. But she continued to clear off the table, make coffee, feed and encourage her friends. But quietly. She shook out the woven placemats, crumbs in the wastebasket. They sensed she was holding thoughts back. Maybe a cold? Perhaps. An excuse, if she needed one.

Kathryn spoke, her back to them. Or she began to speak. As if. To no one. Or to them all. Billy or Newcomb or Hollister. Or just Elizabeth. Or to an author, trying to craft Kathryn’s mind, its whereabouts. Kathryn. The woman. The source. Anchor, and refuge, the gentle warmth and open arms. Solid welcome. Without complaint or criticism. Suddenly tired. Or certain. Afraid they might not understand. Or listen.

Kathryn placed her hands on the edge of the sink and stared into the gray water and began, then stopped, shaking her head. Soap and spoons and forks. Orchestration of cleanliness and pleasant freshness from smudges and flecks and smears. Easy to fix. Stainless steel. The past welled up in her. The years. The memories. Her friends. Her own children. The dreams. The past.

“You remember every bit of it, don’t you?” They looked up from their thoughts. Then at each other. Kathryn was speaking to the dish pan. Or to the cabinets. Or the ceiling. “You recall every bit. Your story. Each day, fleeting thoughts woven fifty or sixty years ago. How things might have happened. Or did happen.” She shifted her weight from one foot to the other. “Your story.” Elizabeth cleared her throat. A piece of a word escaped.

“No, Elizabeth,” Kathryn said. “Your story. Your book.” She turned from the sink. Eyes glistening wet. Swollen lids. “Your story. Almost gone. It’s ninety-nine point nine percent true, but you want the one tiny piece which you lost. Or about which you know nothing.” She stared at Elizabeth. “You can’t find it in the past. That man in the shadows. Or that woman. The joy you might have had. Maybe a moment.” She shook her head and closed her eyes. “Or forever, if you could have caught him! Or her.” Elizabeth had never seen Kathryn’s tears. Never, she thought. No tears. Ever.

“But it was what I knew. What I remembered,” Elizabeth said. She felt her own tears. “I was trying to make sense. I wanted to know.”

“But honey,” Kathryn said, “you can’t find it there.” She drew in a long breath. “Not in the past. You have to make it. You have to rewrite it. In daylight and touches and embraces.” She smiled sadly at Elizabeth. “You have to create the life, honey.” Elizabeth slumped in her chair. “You have to rewrite it,” Kathryn said.

“But where would I start? It’s too much. The story was fifteen years. Or fifty. To write it.” They sat in silence.

“Maybe Rita knows,” Billy said.

“The letter,” Hollister whispered.

“Or your mother, Elizabeth.” They stared at Billy.

Meeting for Worship

Kathryn and I had shared about hiding out during meeting for worship, she in her dormitory closet, me in the audio booth behind the balcony seats in the auditorium. Leaning into the silence, or the muffled tension in the room below. Avoiding the light. Minding the spirit instead. The silence. Wondering if anyone would speak.

The kitchen table. Kathryn and visitors and companions in the story. Authors. Elizabeth’s anxious questions. Billy. Hollister and Newcomb. A note from Rita. An idea. A stranger, somewhere in the shadows.

“I think he was in the car with us,” Billy said, nodding at Elizabeth. “In the cab, when we first drove up here. You were leaning forward in the seat. Anxious. Young. Straining to see the road.” He waited. “Excited. Full of anticipation. Life. Leaning forward. I think I fell in love with you. Something in you.”

“I remember. I remember what you said. Or what I heard. Or imagined.” She looked down. “Later, you tried to explain. Something about thoughts tumbling in your heart.” She laughed. “Maybe he was in the back seat. Maybe it was him.”

“Or maybe it was you. Maybe you said the very words I was thinking. Praying. I remember that I needed an answer to my prayers. My prayer.”

“What do you want to do, Billy?” Elizabeth raised her cup and tilted it slightly toward him, a salute and a question. “What do you want to do?” she asked again.

A Twist in the Road

A sharp curve on the road sent ten tons of the biggest straw bales onto our car, a broken arm and concussion and unable to write, wondering suddenly how little time we might have. To finish the story. I’ve been holding back the twist in Elizabeth’s road, as meeting the future on the bends and switch-backs is all about surprise. The unexpected. Here’s the gateway to another chapter, another story, another day. The professor’s assignment a month ago. Maybe I can write some more.

Our Story (2017)

“I want to go, too.” A thin voice from the living room. The two women stared at each other. Sudden silence. They had been talking, as Kathryn cleared dishes away from the table. Exchanging thoughts and memories. Elizabeth’s ideas. Kathryn’s advice. Nothing specific, just ideas. No plans on how to unlock the nagging story.

“I want to go with you,” he said again. Arthur Newcomb had been napping in Kathryn’s recliner. He had slept in the chair the two nights since he and Hollister returned from Pennsylvania. “Please let me go with you.” Elizabeth closed her eyes and shook her head. Imperceptible. No. Please no.

Kathryn’s sad smile. “Arthur. Come on out and get a cup of coffee. I’ve made a fresh pot. You need something to eat, too.”

“I’m tired,” he said, shuffling through the wide arch separating kitchen and living room. “I’m not hungry.”

“No, you’re not tired. Just worn out. And right, you’re not hungry. You’re just starved.” Kathryn placed a heavy ceramic mug on the table. She poured coffee. “Come on now. Let’s talk.”

Newcomb sat and Kathryn pushed a plate of cookies nearer to his reach. He exhaled through pursed lips, shaking his head. He looked at the two women and laughed. “I must look like hell.”

Elizabeth leaned forward, smiling. “You do, Arthur, but one thing. I see you’ve fixed up your fingernails.” She laughed. “Almost as slick as when we first met. On the train. I remember how unusual it seemed. For a guy.” She beamed. “Shiny nails, Arthur.”

“Well,” he began.

Elizabeth interrupted him. “No. It’s a good sign. When you showed up here with Hollister the first time, middle of the night, what a mess. Clothing, hair. Wild eyes. But the worst was your hands. Your fingernails. And when you two came back the other night. From the trip. Even worse. Nasty.”

Newcomb looked at his nails. “Well. I had to do something. So this morning, early, everyone was sleeping. Except Kathryn out in the garden. With the cat. I got out my clippers and found an old toothbrush in the tool drawer.” He shrugged. “Cleaned them up. Then I went back to sleep. But if you’re planning something, I could help. Really. Help find out.”

“We were just talking, Arthur.” Elizabeth softened. “There are some loose ends. I need to tie them up. While I can.” She swallowed. “My mother.”

Newcomb cupped the coffee mug, as if warming tired hands. “Elizabeth. It’s my story too. I’ve seen what Billy’s writing. The changes. The surprises. It’s my story, too. I was there. You know that. I was there.” He hesitated. “It was me.”

Elizabeth studied the man’s hands. “You once said I could maybe call you Art. Remember? On the train? So. If it ever felt right calling you that. Art.” She hesitated. “Instead of Newcomb. Or Arthur. Then maybe. Maybe we could.”

Newcomb nodded. “If it feels right. Then OK.”

“OK, Art.” Elizabeth reached across the table and took his hands in hers. “If it’s our story. Then OK.”

 

The Search

So Hollister and Newcomb went on their road-trip. Toward Bethlehem. Hollister repeated several times too often, “slouching toward Bethlehem.” Newcomb told Hollister to shut up, but both he and Hollister consistently leaned forward in the seat, as if drawn by something just around a bend in the road. Expectancy. Hope. Three thousand miles. Newcomb admitted blankly from time to time that he may have forgotten what they hoped to find. Aaah. I am reminded that I am also suddenly forgetful. Who the dark visitor might have been. My own place in the midnight room. Elizabeth’s stories recede in dull anguish, along with mine. It’s a painful and hazy and strained chapter just now. But even so, dear solitary reader, here you go:

Bethlehem (2017)

Hollister leaned forward and surveyed the hazy line between gray sunrise and road. Concrete sections of highway, patches of asphalt repairs. Hollister glanced over at Newcomb, stirring from another unsettled and noisy nap. “Newcomb, we look like a couple all-night drunks or gamblers. Trying to win back our losses. Something like that.” They crossed the Susquehanna River, Pennsylvania’s dividing line. “These concrete highways have really held up over the years. World War II idea. Smooth, except for the expansion joints every thirty-forty yards. Bet you couldn’t really sleep, Newcomb. Hey, not very comfortable, right?”

“It’s OK, Hollister. Where are we, anyway?”

“Well, it’s only another hundred miles or so. Maybe not that far.” Hollister looked at Newcomb and decided again that the trip was worth it. At least for Newcomb’s sake. “Not bad after a few thousand miles,” He shouted. “In a cab!” Hollister laughed. “Lucky I own it.” He cleared his throat. “Newcomb. What you think we’re going to find out? In Bethlehem. I mean, will anyone remember anything?”

“Well, it was your idea,” Newcomb said. “No way to find out by email or letters or phone calls. Especially if they knew something. They’d clam up. We have to find someone who was there, maybe. Elizabeth was there, but she doesn’t remember. Or won’t tell. Hell, stranger things have happened in this story.” He laughed.

“Yeah. It’s a story, all right. A story. To find a stranger’s cold trail. Almost forty years. And he’s dead. Or someone said he was. Talk about cold. We don’t even have a name yet.” Hollister glanced at Newcomb, once again sorry for the man’s anxious obsession. A dark room at the end of a tunnel. Hollow echoes. Hollister could feel Newcomb’s unraveled life. Stained tailored clothes, nervous turn of his mouth. A sour odor. Fear? “Hey, Newcomb. Let’s pull over the next time we see a truck stop. I gotta pee and take a break. You can drive if you like, and maybe we can talk this through again, pick up a clue. Hidden in too many words. Maybe you’ll remember something, or open up, just talking it through.”

Newcomb shook his head and shrugged. Pursed lips. “Okay, Hollister. Let’s stop. Coffee. Gather our wits.” The two men leaned forward, weary, yet hopeful for some inconceivable miracle. A puzzle lacking substance. Nothing to gain. Newcomb’s quest. Hollister’s rescue. Hollister angled the car onto an exit, the tall beacon of gas and food and rest on a gentle rise. Brief reprieve from the hopeless sentence. Bethlehem.

Once in a parking space, Hollister turned to Newcomb. “Tell me again. What is it? There must be. Well, something. What happened, Newcomb?”

Newcomb sighed. “What haunts me was the sound. Or the sounds. Muffled, but loud. For in the dark. Fear. And something else. Release, maybe. All in one. Or two, I should say.”

“Right. Elizabeth and this guy, right?”

“Yes. Both of them. And if it was. A guy. Hollister, I don’t know if it was. I guess that’s part of my question.”

The Deadline

The Good Professor didn’t scold. Nor did he dismiss my silence. He suggested we have lunch. Woodstock. The less famous one. Our communication had been by email only for a number of weeks. Like me, he had been preoccupied with other things, crises finally scaling back to routines. It would have been a refreshing opportunity for a really nice small meal and catching up, if it hadn’t been for the guilt.

I told him I had not been writing at all, not even in my journal, my faithful daily source of truth for nine or ten semesters. Truth. And clues. It had been weeks since an honest entry, and I had even tired of the bad feelings and I had finally set them aside too. He reminded me of my promises to post the chapter ideas here, the pieces I had written in the closing weeks of spring semester, the eight five-hundred word essays. This evening I will post number seven (and I hope you’ve read the book, or the confusion will get out of hand).

The solution was simple, he said. He reminded me I’d be posting essay #7 in fourteen days, that being this evening. Within those two weeks, I was to write a new chapter essay, number nine in the collection. I left the enjoyable luncheon with a dubious assignment, given the chores and weights and fatigue at home. Our next class would begin in a little over a month. The assignment was a true burden, but I knew it was a solution, once tackled. So I put it off for a week.

It may have been in thin morning hours, or while driving. The obvious truth of the matter. Elizabeth’s redemption. Neither trip nor adventure. Not an assignment like mine, but a clear path for a struggling seventy-year old woman. Not ill, just dying. Not hungry or tired. Just starving and worn out. Not alone. Just lonely. I finished a worthy third or fourth revision of the essay yesterday. I emailed a copy to the Professor, proof in every sense of the word, and will post that one in a month from tonight.

But today, part seven of the unfolding view. The essay. Clear intimation of Elizabeth’s Redemption Journey.

The Kiss (1976)

They sat in silence around the table. Kathryn, Billy, and Hollister. Elizabeth stood between the bedroom door and the table. The cooling kettle ticked. Hollister scribbled in a small spiral flip pad, touching his pencil to his tongue from time to time, watching Elizabeth, a curious look. Elizabeth glanced toward the living room, where Newcomb slept, and repeated her story. Her brush with Chekov’s classic tale. An echo of the darkened room, the stranger, an embrace. In Elizabeth’s version, a witness half-asleep in a chair. Newcomb. An arm’s length from a mystery. A moment in time. A moment among decades.

“Dad and I stopped at the college where that stranger had taught, in the Seventies. But he had died, they said. Years ago. The lady in the office said the inscription on the plaque was something he often said. I asked her what it meant, the inscription, When My Heart Died. She said she didn’t know, but it was something he said all the time. A turning point.”

“Yes,” Billy said. “The inscription in Rita’s book. It was in Danish, inside the front cover. Bodil translated it for me, not exactly what you just said, but that’s it, something like ‘the time my heart died.’ The words were for Rita. Your daughter. Right?”

“No. Not really.” Elizabeth looked toward the living room. Newcomb hadn’t stirred. Only an occasional edge of a snore from under the towel covering his face. “Yes, the words were there, in the book you gave my daughter. Rita. But the words weren’t for her.” She stood, frozen. “They were for me.” Elizabeth pulled a chair out from the table. She sat, brushing hair away from her face. She breathed in and straightened. A smile of satisfaction. A cherished conversation among friends. “The words were for me. They were his words for me. They were my treasure.” Billy stared at her.

Kathryn’s smile broadened and she let out a gasp. Almost laughter. “Elizabeth. It was his party. He was leaving. For Europe. Some sort of study.” She leaned back. “Or was he sick or something? Was he dying already? What are you saying?” She shook her head in disbelief and wonder, her eyes widening. “Your travels, Elizabeth. Your story.” She waited. “Where were you going?” She leaned forward and wrapped Elizabeth’s hands in hers. “Tell us, honey. If you want to. This is home. You’re home.”

Elizabeth straightened again, her smile fading from warm comfort to something colder. Pride. She looked at Kathryn. “All my life. You know. I needed to know that I was not alone. Not slipping away. You know. All it takes is a simple touch. A reminder of another human being. Someone surprisingly similar, one chance in a million. Or a trillion. Forever. A touch.”

“Fingertips at a light switch, even,” Kathryn said, almost soundless. Hollister penciled a note.

“Yes,” Elizabeth said. “And one knows not to let go. Even if one doesn’t understand. I can’t tell you about that man. But I went looking for him. In Europe.”

(note: I had forgotten. In my lazy fatigue and hiatus from writing. I had forgotten. It’s all connected, and it has come full circle. Essay #8 in two weeks. The Professor’s essay #9 “assignment” in four weeks. The seeds of the answer.)

 

Elizabeth’s Story – the novel

We finished writing and revising Elizabeth’s Story in February and March, publication in April (well after April 1st). We set up this site as a celebration of the story, but the characters have turned it into a continuation of the journey, trying to find the pathway into a new garden of pleasures and questions. Saving their lives, I think. And they do seem to have boundless energy. And nerve.

A friend asked what these new chapter ideas were all about. And who Elizabeth was. And Kathryn. And Newcomb. I didn’t realize that Elizabeth’s Story somehow has been hidden from view. It is the source of these postings, and the bi-weekly presentation of the unfolding future really is illuminated better if one has read the book. At an absolute minimum, simply check out Bodil’s complaint to Billy (p. 222), demanding her story. I think that’s what this is about. We want our own story to have the good fortune of a well crafted novel. And we want it to continue.

Here is the fortnight’s thought, before I post another chapter idea. I started with eight completed pieces. I have written only one more during the past three months. So, nine. And today I was challenged to brush aside the fear of silence and growing lethargy, and get back on track, begin writing the tenth. Now. Rusty tracks bending out of sight beneath a canopy of trees.

When My Heart Died (1986)

They sat at the table. They could hear Elizabeth moving about in the bedroom, preparing to come out. Kathryn re-filled the kettle and put it on the stove. Billy had knocked lightly on Elizabeth’s door. He went in, shared some of Hollister’s midnight visit to the shed, and returned to the kitchen. Kathryn and Hollister reminisced quietly about the day they met at the alternative center.
Newcomb was stretched out on Kathryn’s recliner in the dim living room, a dish towel covering his head. “To shade my eyes,” he had said. His even breathing told a tale of exhaustion. Or relief. For the moment, at least. Hollister had assured Newcomb that they would learn some more in the morning light, about where their investigation might lead. Perhaps even to Bethlehem.
Billy sat with eyes closed, hands flat on the table, a slight smile, as if he were hiding cards, preparing to show the one he had shuffled back into the deck. “Elizabeth said she would tell us. The whole story. The truth.”
“All of it was the truth, William!” Elizabeth stood in the bedroom doorway. Slender and athletic, ash blond ponytail. Fingers on the door frame. Reflection of a girl. “Yes. It was all true, William. Just certain truths attached to different people. Re-assigned. Along the way. Maybe you will re-write it, William.” She looked around. “And where is Arthur Newcomb?”
Kathryn stepped around the table’s edge. “He is napping in the living room.” She held out her arms to Elizabeth. They embraced and rocked each other gently. “Come on and sit down. You remember Hollister, don’t you? He brought Newcomb. And a bag full of questions.”
Elizabeth held up her hand. “William told me. The Bethlehem story. The party. Chekov. And The Kiss. The coincidence that Newcomb and I were both there. But I never revealed to Arthur that I knew that night he was in the room. Much like today. He is asleep in the recliner and will miss the real story. Once again. Okay. Here is the truth of the matter. In one sentence, like we did in the taxi, William. You remember?”
“Yes,” but Elizabeth cut him off.
“It’ll only take a minute. To tell you,” Elizabeth said, glancing toward the living room. “It’s the same story. Chekov. The mysterious person in the dark. A gentle touch, a moment’s brush of paradise, relief from all fear and doubt. A moment. In all eternity.” She pointed to Kathryn. “We knew.” Elizabeth turned to Billy. “But driving to Virginia. From Maplewood. Dad and I stopped two places. The school, just like we wrote. The tracks. The chain link fence. Right? But before that, we had driven to Bethlehem, or nearby. I knew where to ask.”
The kettle began its whistle, low. Kathryn turned off the burner.
“They told me. At the college office. He was dead. Seven years. Unexpected. Something with the heart. They had a picture. And plaque. ‘When My Heart Died.’ Remember? The inscription, Billy? In Rita’s book?”

 

Da Mit Hjerte Døde* (2017)

Newcomb is at my door, too. I almost forgot, until he knocked. Impatient, once remembered, looking for redemption, or at least an answer. Or to find a part for himself in a new story.

Or perhaps it is simply me. Perhaps I am at my own door, middle of the night. Hoping I might come in to the comfortable space which once was clearly mine. Echoes. Words of love and of loss. And more. “When my heart died.” Or more accurately, when I discovered that my heart had died. And just behind the despair. Hidden. My hope.

They are at the door.

 

Billy opened the door. Hollister. And Newcomb. The man Billy had last seen in front of the train station. Sacramento. A year ago, hugging Elizabeth good-bye. The well-dressed businessman who had taken the manuscript. Newcomb. A midnight surprise. The man’s shaggy hair, stained jacket. A disheveled bum. Frightened. Or possessed, Billy thought, as he bid them in and slid out two chairs at the desk. “What in the world, Hollister?”

“We gotta talk.” Hollister’s wry grin. Intense, excited eyes. “We gotta find out some things. From Elizabeth.”

Newcomb sat, and then waved his hands, as if trying to sweep thoughts away. “No, it’s not like that. I mean,” and he coughed twice, wheezing, “I have to speak with Elizabeth about something she told me. On the train. And a long time ago, too. In Pennsylvania. About a party.” He slumped down in his chair and shook his head. “I have to put this to rest. I mean, once and for all. To rest.” He leaned forward and touched his forehead gently on the desk. “Tell them, Hollister. To hell and back.”

Hollister closed the door, after a furtive last look out into the darkness, as if they might have been followed. He took a step to the bed and sat, pointing Billy to the other chair at the desk. “Okay,” he said. “Here it is. In a nutshell.” He grinned, nodding at Newcomb. Or a nutcase. Newcomb and I have been talking about this book, Elizabeth’s book. Emails and by phone. For the last year or so. How some of the details scrape a raw nerve in Newcomb. So he came out here, thought we might track down someone in the story. The real story, you know? Maybe what she left out.” Hollister looked at Billy. “In the cab from the airport today. You told me you were going to add a bunch of stuff to the story. And revisions. Things you had learned along the way. Right?”

“Just some ideas,” Billy said. “Mostly things that happened in Denmark, some people…”

Hollister interrupted him. “No. There are some other things. Things that Newcomb knows about. Or thinks he knows. He told me a little bit last year. When I snagged Elizabeth’s papers. At the time, it didn’t seem right to share. Hey, confidential, my investigation and his personal business, why he borrowed the papers.” Hollister cleared his throat. “And if you’re going to add more to the story, you have to maybe check out what Newcomb knows and get Elizabeth to tell what she knows. It might be important to the story. To the truth of the story. The real story.”

“There’s no real story!” Newcomb’s sudden shouted whisper, a hiss. “There’s no story! I just need to know!” He touched his clenched fist lightly on the desktop, in time to his words. “I just! Need! To know!” Wide eyes. Panic. “About her fear. Something about wonder. And release! From a prison! And who was there? In Bethlehem!”

 

There is another story. Hidden from view. But it’s there. In the heart.

*loosely translated: “when my heart died