I breathed in the cool air. Though the sun shone brightly, it was still brisk. November was not a pretty month, with bare trees and chill winds that whipped at scarves and tore at knee-high socks under long wool jackets like mine. My tote bag bounced off my thigh as I hurried home. My stomach rumbled: must be lunchtime.
In a small town where everybody gets their news at the diner over morning coffee rather than from a paper, it’s no wonder the quaint bookstore had been hard hit in the economic downturn. Vivian held out as long as she could, but when they closed the school and began to bus everyone the extra 20 miles to the big city’s suburb school rated number one in the county, and most all of the jobs moved to the city, the families packed up their two story cottages for two bedroom apartments while longing for a cookie-cutter cul-de-sac life. Maybe if Susie or Sally could get scholarships, they’d pass the wealth down to their aging parents and pull the family out of the mire of poor banking choices. It would look good on the college applications for them to rise up out of squalor and become somebody.
Those who remained pared down, stopped spending money on eating out, extra shoes, and books. The diner survived on coffee sales alone. Vivian was doomed. She tried baking cookies on the side, and they were good, but the geriatrics whose houses were already paid off were watching their sugar, and everyone else moved away or saved their pennies for milk and eggs over confections.
We owned our house, but only because my Father had sacrificed his hard earned money for Accidental Death insurance. His tragedy had saved us, but rather than view him as a sacrificial lamb, I only felt a hole. My Dad never got me, and though we didn’t get along most days, he was still my Dad, and I respected him for every girlie tea party I had made him suffer through when I was 4 and 5. He loved me as that princess, but never the angsty pre-teen who hated anything he did, even if he enticed me with my favorite thing in the world.
I missed him.
A wave of sadness, remorse, and regret washed over me for the second time, reminding me of the poetry and the vivid face I had seen. I hurried against the wind toward home. As my nose grew cold, I began to dream of mouth watering hot chocolate and determined to make myself some if my mother hadn’t.
My mother loved antique things, especially dusty books. That’s why I knew she’d let me go to the bookstore alone after Dad had died 3 years ago. Several times she had called Vivian at the store asking her to tell me to head home for dinner when I had lingered too long. She knew I was safe there, between the covers of a time-worn tome. It’s not that she wanted to ditch me to satisfy some vice, no. It was that she had a creative and old soul that liked to think in peace and quiet until it had settled on an opinion or finished a story. My mother was an artist. Sometimes she sculpted, sometimes she wrote, other times she painted or redecorated the house. Each new project was a story, an adventure, and she stuck with it until the end. At times, I wondered if she knew I was gone, but to my relief she always called me for dinner. Her sixth sense was knowing where I was at all times.
“I’m home!” I called, hanging up my coat, scarf, and resting my tote on the floor. Picking it back up, I found Mom in the kitchen. She smiled and served me a grilled sandwich and chicken noodle soup. She eyed my tote which I had hung on the back of my chair as I sat. “Find anything?” She often read whatever books I had finished with and loved.
“Nothing much. If they are any good, I’ll let you know.” I bit into my sandwich. Mom brought over two steaming mugs of cocoa. “How’d you know?”
“I was outside taking Mrs. Gibbons her mail and it was a hot cocoa kind of day.”
“She’s back from the hospital?”
“Mhm. Saw her son help her up the steps. She looks so tired and 20 years older.” Mom sighed. “I don’t want to do that to you, so I think I should start jogging.”
“Mom, you say that about 20 times a year and never do! You aren’t a runner, you don’t have motivation, you can’t afford one of those music thingys.” I ticked off her list of excuses from memory. “They are called ipods and they are really cheap, you know.”
“Well, why don’t you help me get a good one and we’ll start?”
“Sure, then after the one time go jogging, I’ll get to keep your new toy!”
She let my comment hang in the air as we ate. She was annoyed because I was right. It’s how I ended up with her laptop. She had a notion to write, but discovered she preferred pen and paper to typing. I went to my room afterwards.
Sitting on my bed, I pulled the books out of my tote. When I touched the journal, there he was again. But this time, he didn’t stay. He walked away from me. “O’Neale,” I whispered, trying his name on my lips like a secret indulgence. The vision faded and I opened the book. The next page was written a week later ‘Apr 15 1878. Storms.’
If our love was a song,
It would have everything
All blending together
In a song most pure and real.
The lyrics of pure poetry,
Words of sweet harmony
With the deepest meaning.
It speaks a language only we understand,
For only we know
Why we love each other as strong as we do…
I wondered if he still loved the same woman here, of if he had fallen for another. Had she forgiven him for his previous lie? I closed my eyes, trying to remember his face, trying to imagine him telling me what had happened, with loving eyes. I placed my palm over the words. A sensation washed over me, like warmth that filled me from the inside out. I sucked in a breath and my eyes snapped open. He was in my room! I studied his image, his face calm, his body just standing at ease. His smooth skin, slightly lengthy hair, and cool eyes drew me in. I wanted to move closer.
As my hand slipped off the page, he faded. If this were a sci-fi movie, he’d have been a hologram that lost power. “No!” I nearly cried out, but I didn’t want my mother to hear me and come running. Instead I ran to stand in the spot where he had been, trying to feel his presence again. He was easily a head taller than me. Could he have seen me? My heart fluttered and my eyes locked on the bed where I had been when he stood here. The book lay open on my comforter.
I approached it and tentatively reached out. Picking it up, I placed my palm again upon the page. But he did not return, just like his face had not returned when I touched the spine again. I held the open book to my chest. Each page gave me one shot, one image to conjure. I’d have to use them carefully.
I spied my laptop on my desk. I could google him. I have his family name, maybe I could ask Vivian where the book came from. I could find his family, maybe learn his first name. He looked to be about 16 or 17, so he’d have been born about 1862 or 1861.
I searched and followed many leads until my head ached from staring at the screen, only pausing for dinner. I dreamed that night of a prairie and running up a road after a man who kept his back to me. I ran and ran and dodged snakes, tornados, fires, and still kept running.
When I awoke I had new questions. Why would he only show up once per page? All through breakfast I pondered this as my brain woke up to the tune of toast and scrambled eggs.
“I’m going to the office this morning, sweetie. Think you can occupy yourself without me?”
“Sure, Mom. My phone is charged, so if I’m not home, just call.”
“Okay.” She kissed the top of my head and went to her room to get ready. Mom was a consultant and interior designer and often picked up extra jobs decorating for weddings. Her ancient computer stayed at her office so she never brought work home. I’m sure she had a million messages. She’d probably have to go to the city to meet with a client and wouldn’t be back until late. That meant I had the day to myself.
When I was younger, she’d drop me at the neighbor’s house. Mrs. Gibbons was the only lady in town who approved of homeschooling. Luckily she lived next door. I learned to play her piano, to identify all the birds that came to her feeder, and to bake her famous pies. Since she had gotten sick, and I was old enough to care for myself, I had been on my own.
Now I appreciated these days. It’s also how I met Vivian. Mom approves of my meeting these older ladies. She says they are inspiring, colorful, and wise people. They can teach me so much, if I’ll just listen patiently and ask the right questions.
But I don’t think either of them could tell me why the images only come out the first time I touch the pages.
I sighed. This meant another few hours on google.
Psychometry, it said, was the ability to read the memory of an object of unknown history by making physical contact with that object. Object memory. This journal must have had a strong one, or at least one that called to me.
Perhaps Mr. O’Neale and I shared a life story. Had he lost his father when he was 13? He certainly had desired a woman, and for that I am grateful, because it is very flattering to read his poems. How I want to be that woman!
Maybe I am drawn to the universal desire to be loved that overwhelms every teenager when they go through puberty. But I don’t have visions with every love story I pick up. Those are fakes though, penned by some author who has a way with words and an idea of what she wishes her love life was. This journal was real, really held by the mystery man and really written from his heart. It has been imbibed with his memories.
And I can see them.
I closed my laptop. I was not going to find any answers here right now.