The slamming door echoed in the house, and Natalia winced at the sound. She looked down at her plate and agonized. It wasn’t like him to be so demanding. The day has been an emotional one, she admitted to herself. He’s let loose some emotion we haven’t seen since even before the funeral.
She gathered their plates and took them into the kitchen. She could hear the distant echo of the shower, and she took a deep breath. She pinched the top of her nose and took a deep, shuddering breath. “Not like this, not after today,” she said aloud. “We’re not going to let this day end in anger.”
Then read, said the persistent voice in her mind, the one that so often sounded like her little boy when he was still asking to be picked up and held.
She walked into her bedroom and picked up the notebook. The edges were worn and creased. A huge wrinkle ran vertically in the center; this notebook had probably been discarded by Eric for a length of time. He was bad about forgetting things and then getting excited when he would find them out of the blue. It was one of his more cute habits that should have been annoying but never were.
“I miss you,” Natalia whispered, and she opened up the notebook.
Eric’s penmanship had never been one of his stronger suits; it would look neat and orderly for a span of words before drastically altering into haphazard whorls and loops that were nearly unintelligible. She glanced over the notes he’d left in the book, mostly fantasy and science fiction nonsense that she’d never quite understood. Their tastes in books and movies had always been stark contrasts. Yet even now, despite her lack of interest in his favored genres, she felt the genuine presence of her late husband in the pages, and she stroked them longingly.
She flipped through pages, reading about alien landscapes and characters both heroic and cowardly. Eric always tried to incorporate humor into his writing, and she noted some of the zaniness in his plans for the stories. “I never understood you, honey,” Natalia whispered as she scanned through the pages, her eyes soaking in each and every word from Eric’s hand. “I guess it doesn’t matter. Maybe I wasn’t meant to understand you. I will always love you anyway.”
She turned the page, and suddenly the script was altered. The letters were blockier, cruder. Evan. The spelling was wrong in some spots; Eric had always been a fantastic speller. Evan was working on extending some of his father’s ideas. They were bold changes, in some cases, even more nonsensical. He’s just a kid, Natalia chided. He’ll do better as he gets older.
She turned the page, and frowned at the torn edges along the side. Someone had ripped a stack of pages from the notebook. She fingered the torn edges skeptically; Eric would remove paper from his notebooks but was always very neat about it. In fact, his writing was one of the few areas of his life where he strived for order. She turned her head in the direction of the bathroom, still hearing the steady rush of the shower. “Why would you tear out pages?”
She closed the notebook and pondered. Evan might have just been trying to hide his writing, but that didn’t make much sense. She had been oblivious to the fact that he was even writing at all. Maybe it was ideas that he had tried and didn’t like? But this is his father’s notebook, and he’s borrowing his father’s ideas, a voice reminded her. No, this was something different, she was sure. Her son was hiding something, though what it could be, she couldn’t fathom.
Snoop around his room.
She chewed nervously on her lip. The idea of invading Evan’s privacy was something she’d taken lightly earlier. However, facing the problem now didn’t make it seem so amusing. It bothered her. Only this morning she would have thought their relationship was open, but now there was so much she didn’t know about her son, so much he had kept from her. And what if he had a good reason for hiding these pages? What if she wouldn’t like what she read?
The steady drone of water pulsed.
“I have to know.”
She walked across the house, nervously tiptoeing past the bathroom door, even though it was silly to think that Evan would be able to hear her footfalls. She edged into his bedroom, gently pushing the door to a crack, so that she would be able to clearly hear if he shut the water off. The hinges creaked, and she let out a shrill giggle.
Why so nervous? she thought wildly. It’s not as if he’s an adult yet. You aren’t breaking any laws.
“Age doesn’t matter,” she whispered, and her brief delirium sobered. “I love him, and I don’t want him to feel betrayed.”
She hadn’t noticed the wreck of the room earlier, when she had been so scared to confront him about the poetry. The mess in the bedroom was not quite catastrophic, but it would undoubtedly make things harder for her to try and seek. She began pulling the piles of sheets onto the bed, listening intently for the sound of crinkling paper. She picked up his shoes and tossed them toward the closet door. She rifled through the mass of debris that covered his bed. She dug amidst a pile of unorganized video games. Throughout the shower thankfully pressed on. Frustrated, she blew her hair out of her face and stared at the disarray of Evan’s room.
“Wherever they are, you’ve hidden them well,” she muttered.
The shower turned off.
She sighed and began leaving the room. She doubted that Evan would notice that anyone had been picking through his mess. I’ve really got to get him into the habit of cleaning up after himself, she thought sourly, and her eyes fell upon them.
Jammed in the top drawer of his dresser, where Eric had long ago taught him to put his socks and underwear. Too high up, piled upon other things and unable to hide totally within the drawer, sticking out uselessly like needless detritus.
Corners of notebook paper.
She threw upon the drawer, and balled socks burst forth from unseen pressure, bouncing around her feet. She snatched the papers, shut the drawer carefully, and hustled down the hallway. As she passed the bathroom she felt a pang of guilt and hoped that if Evan discovered her intrusion, that he would be like his father, and forgive easily.
She closed her bedroom door carefully, considered locking it, and decided against it. Locking it would be an admission that she was doing something dreadfully wrong, and she wasn’t ready to totally admit to herself that she was doing something so bad. It was possible that whatever she would read would be proof that such an action was necessary. It was possible.
Please let it be so.
Natalia gripped the pages and read. The first page was a rough draft of the poem she’d read earlier. She licked her lips and looked away from the words, not wanting to feel that sting all over again. The following few pages were scribbles of the same nature, rough drafts and doodles that her soisn felt ashamed of even writing.
These are his cast-offs, she thought bitterly. I went through his room to find the stuff he didn’t even like, his failures. I betrayed him for this.
She flipped to the next page, and her face tightened. She noticed that her husband’s handwriting was present beneath Evan’s. She read carefully.
Evan’s writing read:
“I’m doing as well as I can. I know I’m just a kid, but I’m gonna get there, Dad. I practice every day.”
“I know, boss. Just keep on keeping on. I started writing at twice your age. You’re going to be twice the writer I have ever been.”
Her lower lip trembled. “What is this?” she whispered.
The next page came, and it was more conversation between father and son.
Evan: “How long have you had this idea? I really like it. I’m going to see if I can make an ending that you would have liked.”
Eric: “No worries, boss. I’m sure you’ve got this. I wouldn’t trust it in the hands of anyone else.”
She covered her mouth with her hand. Tears streamed down her cheeks. She flipped through the pages, swallowing hard. It’s not possible, she thought, yet there it was before her, a written correspondence from Evan to Eric. “This had to have been from before,” she breathed, but in her heart she knew it wasn’t so. Evan’s teacher hadn’t noticed an interest in writing earlier. She’d never seen them working together in books. Eric would have told her, she knew he would have. He was so proud of Evan when he learned to catch a football, there was no doubt that Eric would have raved if his son had picked up the writing bug from him.
Page after page, discussion about stories left incomplete and passed on to Evan, like a sort of literary inheritance. The words were blurry through her tear-muddled vision. So much of it was foreign to her. He’s just like his father, she thought again, and suddenly knew that even though she would love her son as fiercely as she could possibly manage, she would never fully understand him, the way she had never fully comprehended her husband. There was a twinge of jealousy at that knowledge, but there was also that same, sweet longing.
She came to one of the last pages, and a sob wrenched from her as she read.
Evan: “Dad, what happens if I get another notebook? Will you still be able to write to me? I don’t ever want to run out of pages. I don’t want to stop talking to you. I miss you so much. Please never stop writing.”
Eric: “Boss, we’ll cross that bridge when we get there. If I can still write you, I will still write you. If I can’t, never forget that I’m always in your heart, and I always will be. And above all else, I don’t want you to ever stop writing, either. It’s one of the only pieces of me that I can truly give you, and know that it is something you got from me.” And a few spaces down. “I will always love you, son. Even if the words stop. I will always love you.” There were faded dots in the margin, where the pink lines were a deeper reddish shade. Evan’s tears. And now mine.
She flipped to the last page, and she nearly choked. It was only Eric’s handwriting, huge and blocky, like he was yelling, or smiling.
YOU’VE GOT YOUR OWN NOTEBOOK, HONEY. QUIT MESSING WITH OUR SON’S STUFF.