Behind A Black CoverMature

Miss McCarthy was not a gossipmonger. Nor had she ever been so nosy in her life as the night she found herself, as usual, alone in the dark library. Her large, sagging, hawkish nose held her spectacles low as she spotted it on the table.

It was a writing journal. The kind her late husband had requested of his creative writing students to purchase, many a time, at the beginning of each semester. It wasn't thick. It wasn't heavy. It had a soft, black cover and an overwhelming myriad of empty, lined pages. Except at the front.

As a librarian who prided herself in acquainting herself with her regular patrons, she knew it probably belonged to Elisa, so she took it home with her instead of placing it in the library's lost and found. She intended to return it to Elisa personally.

She got home late that evening. There was a traffic jam, for some odd reason or another, on a simple city street. This seemed quite peculiar to old Miss Janet McCarthy, who had never had to deal with such things except when she went to visit her grown, adult children and their families, as that involved taking the freeways. Or, as her daughter called it up in Canada above the border, the highways.

Janet McCarthy arrived home at nearly a quarter to ten in the evening. It was past her regular bedtime of nine-thirty.

She got out a light snack, just a crumpet, and poured herself a cup of hot water.  Placing the mug of water and the buttered crumpet in the microwave, she went to undress herself and put on her nightgown. While doing this, she placed Elisa's writing book on her nightstand so she would be sure to see it, and remember it, in the morning.

"Hello?" came a familiar voice from down the hall. It was full of youth, and seemed to echo Janet's voice of forty years ago. "Is that you, grandma?"

"Yes, Mitchy-darling, it is I," said Miss McCarthy after slipping the nightgown over her head.

In the distance, the microwave beeped.

"I'm going to watch the news for a bit before I finish my homework. Would you like to join me?" asked the young woman who stood in the doorway of her grandmother's guest room.

"You know," said the older woman, "watching the news before bed is bad for your mood. There's always such tragedy covered. We simply don't report enough good news!" She paused thoughtfully. "I will join you, though."

Mitchy smiled, and then closed the door so that she could get into her pyjamas in privacy.

Janet spoke through the door to her granddaughter, "Would you like a snack? I have some rather moist, blueberry crumpets. I baked a fresh batch yesterday."

"Thank you, grandma. That will go well with the coffee I have here," answered Mitchy.

"You're much too young to start drinking coffee!" exclaimed Janet. "My, my..."

"I'm almost eighteen!" protested Mitchy as she opened the door and came out barefoot in a loose t-shirt and pair of flannel pants.

Janet walked into her den and turned on the television. It was already on an appropriate channel to catch a ten o'clock news broadcast, which was just starting. Then, she walked back into the kitchen and replaced the buttered crumpet in the microwave with a second one, then put the first one on a second plate. Finally, she put the contents of the microwave, being the second crumpet and her hot water, under heat for forty-five seconds. She wanted her water piping hot with steam!

She returned to the den with a warm  blueberry crumpet for Mitchy.

"It smells delicious, gran!" exclaimed Mitchy.

They had their eyes on the television set. It was old. The picture was a bit fuzzy. There had been a drunk driving accident, a hit-and-run. The car's description was all that could be given to the police, but they knew the driver was a young, male Caucasian.

The microwave beeped.

Janet rose to attend to her crumpet and mug of hot water.

Mitchy glanced away from the television, looking sullen despite the wonderful, fall-apart-in-her-mouth crumpet she was chewing.

Miss McCarthy carefully placed the mug on a coaster and sat down with her tiny crumpet plate in hand. On the side of the mug, was a sketchy rendition of a maid walking through a lively forest. It was an illustration that Janet's mother had made for a book, more than sixty-five years ago, while Janet was still in her womb.

"Well, that explains the traffic jam this evening," said Janet, staring at the television set without any expression on her face. She felt numb to the sad nature of it.

It had been a black SUV, sending both a pedestrian and passenger to hospital. The driver of the car that was hit, a small silver hybrid, had only sustained minor injuries.

"I hope that woman gets out of hospital soon," Mitchy commented. "I think she works at my high school. I think I remember seeing her face... or one like it. A custodian. Or maybe a receptionist."

Janet McCarthy shook her head, "My dear, what made you decide to come over tonight?"

"I guess I've had too much on my mind at home. I needed to be free of it for a night, to paint unburdened. And, of course, I missed you, gran," Mitchy admitted, before resting her head upon her grandmother's shoulder.

A smile spread across the old woman's face. And as the television began to report international news, they paid less and less attention to it and more and more toward both each other's company, and the warm, flakey texture of old Miss McCarthy's blueberry crumpets.

After wishing her granddaughter goodnight, Janet wandered back to her room and slipped under the covers without closing the door.

Her cat was already there, asleep, just beyond her feet.

Janet clapped her hands together. On cue, the lights in the hall went out.

Then she reached for the lamp on her side table, turned it on, and then grabbed the book that rested below it. However, it was not the book she had meant to grab. She had intended to reach for the one below it, for she had forgotten that she had placed Elisa's writing book atop her copy of The Stone Carvers by Jane Urquhart.

It won't hurt to take a peek, will it? I wonder how talented the girl is... perhaps as talented a writer as Mitchy is a painter! Hmm...

If she had known beforehand that the contents were so autobiographical, Miss McCarthy would not have read a single word without asking. She began to read, admiring both the young girl's nearly perfect spelling, and the immaculate font produced by her handwriting.

*                   *                   *

The following is what Janet read, that night, from Elisa's journal. It was titled with nothing more than the words,

THE PROLOGUE

I am a lone satellite moon, and he is the one planet that I orbit. Each star is a feeling, a positive feeling, held in our twilight twilit sky. The sun, though, is his sobriety. When it is lacking, he lies in shadow as a creature of the night, and casts that shadow upon me. He darkens what I am. And I wait for dawn.

Night and day. That is what I take from it. That is what he is like to me: two polar opposites.

I know the soft kisses and gentle promises. I know the hastily scrawled poems, and the fresh flowers sitting in water. These are sun-kissed things.

I know too the bruises and the scratches. The rush. The touch. The groping shadow that clings to me, never letting go though I cry out against it.

A dark smell lingers on his breath. Beer. Poison.

I know it well. Too well.

Black tendrils envelop me, tender no more. A sharp bite hugs into my neck. I cry. It leaves a mark. I cover it, dressing too warm for the summer air. I do not enjoy the night. The smoke and the poison that comes from his lips is not the love I knew.

Where is the escape from this dark, orbit?

Day. It comes and it goes. It saves me only long enough to keep me alive. Alive and in pain. And my eyes, like craters, stare wide and away.

I watch as a shooting star passes me by, its eccentric, loveable orbit never passing close enough to land. It smolders with affection, and steers clear with a shy wind in the black, airless void.

I wonder what would happen if a boy if a star so bright and large full were to hit me. Such a meteorit\e, such a warm and fiery rock, could  it knock me off this orbit I am trapped in?

I wish upon that star, that when it comes around again, or the time after again, it takes the moment to pass close enough. I want to be set on fire ablaze, and never find myself in shadow again for ever more.

*                   *                   *

That was not only when she finished the chapter, but when the cat stirred got up to begin its nightly patrol of the old house.

Realizing how far she had let herself read without permission, and how late it was and so very far past her usual bedtime, Miss McCarthy the librarian closed the book before she could begin the first chapter, and placed it back on her nightstand.

The End

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