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The Lost Art and the Old Picture
When the sun goes down I live under walls of yellow. With my violet fringed lamp glowing I got from the thrift store down the street, my journal rested upon my pink comforter and my blue inked pen in my right hand, I journal.
A lost art. While others chose to share their inner feelings on Facebook or Instagram or some other stupid social media platform, I like to write everything down in a lined paper bound book, what some may view as a relic from the Mesozoic era.
Yes, a book.
Not just any book though, my journal. I’ve gone through many journals in my seventeen years. So many that I have created my own sort of dewy decimal system for them. My mother, a writer, knew it was not an anomaly when I could read and write perfectly at the age of five. She always said it was buried deep in my genes. My father, a doctor and a biology major always explained how DNA and amino acid combinations did not work like that, but she never listened. She believed that the reason I was the only kindergartner reading Harry Potter was that I got the writing gene like her.
When I was five and three quarters, a fact I never left out when I told people my age, she bought me my first journal. A gift her own mother gave her. She sat on my bed, as she always did before I went to sleep and told me all about her superpower. The ability to write made her the most powerful woman in the world.
“As the pen, drags across the paper, you can control its every move, every letter. The letters conjoin to become words and your words conjoin to become a story, your story. Any story you want” she told me.
That’s when I caught the bug and not the kind that could be treated with antibiotics. I would write and write and write until my eyes would not let me keep them open any longer. My mom would find me in the morning with drool dried onto my face and my journal flipped open lying flat on my pillow.
Every since then, journaling has been a part of my nightly routine. With a new one placed on my bedside table every few weeks.
I woke up in the morning to the sound of my alarm clock beeping and my journal with its last page filled out laid across my pink comforter. With drool plastered on the side of my lips, I rolled myself out of bed and placed my journal on my shelf next to all the other finished ones. I pulled on a pair of the jeans I stole from my grandma, snapped on my aunt’s emerald clip-on earrings (even though my ears are pierced), and buttoned up a floral flannel I bought last week at the thrift shop, in my opinion, the town’s most underrated establishment.
Cheda, a woman around 56 years old with a raspy voice from years of smoking and an avid appreciation for blue eyeshadow, expects me at the thrift store every few weeks. It's become a sort of a predictable cycle, one finished journal after the other. There’s something about the old moldy ones from the thrift store with the pages torn out and the imprints from the words of the past molded into the cover that make it more special.
“Right as I predicted” I heard Cheda's raspy voice calling out after my entrance to the shop triggered the ringing of the bell above the door.
“It’s always four weeks from your last visit,” her creased fingers and yellowed nails which were masked by the presence of blue nail polish pointed to the calendar behind the old wooden desk, “You know where they are” she continued.
I walked straight to the back of the store, navigating my way around piles and stacks of old clothes and books until I found the stack of old journals. The only stack of books that seemed to get dustier as time went by. I don’t really have a method when it comes to me picking out the next journal for my collection. I usually just chose the one right on top of the stack, secretly dreading the day I get to the bottom.
The next journal on top of the pile had a fabric floral cover that shifts with every touch and the faint smell of mold protruding from its water damaged pages.
“You know, you're the only one that ever buys those worn things” Cheda stated, a fact that she told me every time I came in for a new journal.
With my new journal in one hand, I grabbed two quarters out of my purple velvet change purse and handed them to Cheda.
“See you in four weeks” she called out, her hand reaching into her tattered faux leopard purse to grab a new pack of cigarettes.
I left the shop, signaling the bell once again, and made my way back home.
I walked through my door, trapping the brisk November air behind it, threw off my velvet loafers and ran up the stairs to my room.
I threw myself onto my bed, creating ripples across the just made comforter, and wrapped my fingers around the edge of the journal. It’s cloth so delicate and discolored it appeared to be over 50 years old. The opening of a new journal always feels like the opening of an ancient Egyptian tomb. I took a deep breath as if I was waiting for the treasure of an Egyptian God to reveal itself and flipped over the floral cover.
Although this moment is usually followed by the unveiling of an empty page, I opened the journal to find a picture of a young woman. The edges were torn but the hazel ink seemed to have little sun damage, the words Maisey, June 1961 were written on the back. My eyes took in and examined every inch of the photograph. The women appeared to be in her late thirties and wore a shapeless shift dress with a drop waist and contrasting white cuffs and collar. Her head turned to the left and her eyes glaring into space made her appear expressionless. I tucked the photo into the edge of the frame that I kept on my bedside table and felt an instant connection to her. With her journal in my hand, I felt as if I was continuing her story while recording mine.
When the sun disappeared and the light of day vanished, I grabbed my journal and proceeded to carry out my nightly routine:
I was thinking today about how there is something quite special about pen and paper. Two of the world’s most simple inventions, used since 3000 BC, yet so remarkable. Just as the Egyptians used reed brushes and hieroglyphic and hieratic writings on papyrus scrolls, I use my black ball-point pen and write anything I want down and tell you.
I found the photo of Masiey, the initial owner of this book wedged into the binding. I wonder what stories and memories Maisey told you. A fact that I will never know but can only fascinate on. I can see the remnants of the pages ripped out, the scratchings of her pen tattooed on the cover and small coffee stain on the bottom left-hand corner. These are all reminders of the story she once told, her memories lost and possibly forgotten.
I guess now it's my turn to finish up the last 50 pages that remain.
I closed the journal’s floral cover making the journal binding make a crinkly noise, shut off my light and went to sleep allowing the world of imagination to take over.
Just as my nightly routine, my weekly morning routine is quite predictable. A succession that in many ways is just as cyclical as life itself. I wake up, grab the next pair of jeans from my drawer, a shirt I bought from Cheda at the thrift store, brush my teeth, slump my blue backpack over my shoulder and run out the door as I race against the clock.
For some reason today, I couldn’t get the picture of Maisey out of my head. I kept wondering and thinking about what her story may have been.
When night struck again, I grabbed my journal, my fingers moving the malleable fabric and flipped over its cover, something I have done since before I can remember. Expect this time, there was something different. There was handwriting on the next page, but not mine. My mind flooded with thoughts, ideas, and theories as I tried to find every scenario of how this is possible.
Did I not realize there was a page written on? Did someone take my journal and write in it?
With the rhythmic pounding of my internal drum beating, I ran my fingers over the ink and began to read:
You are right, there is something quite amazing about pen and paper. This is something I realized very early on just like you.
I have been waiting years for someone to find my journal. This book once filled with my memories and thoughts was ripped apart with the pages left to burn upon the flame of a fire. It is actually quite miraculous that it ended up in a store, awaiting a new owner considering it's odious condition. I know this may seem strange and even uncannily surprising but I ask you to trust me and to continue reading.
When I was thirty-five years old, I was just a secretary that lived at home with her husband, the basic stereotype of the 1960s woman. However, my life did not go as I planned. To keep things concise, I was murdered but no one knows. People, of course, speculated that could have been the case but most thought that I just left. I guess it was easier that way since no one found any evidence against it. It also did not help that my husband and I got into a fight that very dreadful night.
I decided to drive to Mick’s, our favorite diner, and talk to my friend Sheliah about my fight with my husband. When I got out of the car, I noticed a pin on the ground. The same pin my husband gave me when he said we were going steady. It had two gold hearts, his name engraved on one and mine in the other, and the words amor omnia vincit, love conquers all, etched into the clip. You see, we met in Latin class and he used to say that to me every day. It became sort of our own secret phrase. In that very moment, when I saw the pin, I knew that I had been wrong the entire time and I needed to go back home. Before I could grasp my fingers around the pin, I felt something hit me in the back of my head. Everything after that is gone.
He was my high school sweetheart. We met at fourteen, first day of high school, and I have loved him ever since. He was my reason of living and I lost that the day I walked out of my house. To this day he must think that I left and just never returned. And that's the very reason I am writing to you today.
I need your help.
I need you to tell my husband that I did not just leave him and that I love him. He has spent the past 50 years hating me, thinking that I abandoned him.
My hands shaking, my heart beating and my palms sweaty. It seemed like the world's cruelest prank but for some reason, it felt so real. I grabbed the picture of Maisey, still wedged into my bedside table frame, and examined it once it again. Her eyes, which once looked expressionless, now appeared to hold a deeper meaning.
I grabbed the ball-point pen that was laying on top my pillowcase and wrote back.
As you may understand, if you are even reading this, that I feel very strange writing to back to you. However, for some reason, I am doing it anyway. If I am not getting some type of weird schizophrenia, then I think that the mere fate that I grabbed your journal out of all the others in the thrift store means that I have to help you.
Please tell me what I need to do next,
I couldn't understand why I even wrote back. Why would I play along with what is so obviously a prank? I closed the journal, slipped it into my journal shelf and ran back to sit on my bed.
I just stared.
My eyes locked onto its spine. There is no way, no way I kept repeating. I moved closer and closer towards the shelf. With each step, a new wave of regret passed over me. I reached my hand out and grabbed the journal. For what was probably only a millisecond felt like an hour. I held the journal against my chest with my arms crossed contemplating if I should open it again or not, afraid of what I might find. Without thinking, I ran back onto my bed, the journal still rested against my chest. I took a deep breath and with one big swoop opened it again. There it was, the thing I was afraid to find, the reply.
I believe it is fate as well and I understand how this would seem very strange. I am very grateful that you have decided to help me but please understand that I need to you follow my instructions religiously. If you do not, my husband will surely not believe you.
First, you must find the heart necklace that I wore every day. It has a ruby center and diamonds encrusted around the edges to form the shape of a heart. Its location is a place that you are very familiar with, the thrift shop. I would ask you to find the pin, but after my death I have no idea of it's whereabouts. You must find a way to get the necklace out of the glass covered case. Then, take the necklace to the old ranch house behind railroad tracks. There you will find Joesph, my husband. Hand him the necklace. Please tell him that the truth about me and hand him this journal.
I read the note over and over again. All I could concentrate on was the fluttering of my heart and finding any logical explanation to how any of this is even happening. My eyes shifted and focused their attention on the picture of Maisey still tucked into my frame. As I looked at her face and thought about the words I had just read on the page, she started to become more real. It was if I had some emotional connection to her. It was like she no longer was a woman in a picture but the portrait of a woman who once lived, who had a real life and feelings and emotions and relationships.
I ran down my stairs, slipped on my velvet loafers and drove back to the thrift shop.
"Back so soon, I was expecting at least another four weeks" Cheda called out, her statement followed by a cough.
"Do you have a heart necklace with a ruby center and diamonds around the edges?" I asked with sudden hesitation in my voice.
"Oh yeah, this right here. Real nice thing, it’s been here for awhile. We don't usually get folks lookin' for expensive jewelry," Cheda pointed to the necklace behind the glass "I've been thinkin' up taking it home myself, it’s been here long enough. How'd ya know about it?" she continued, the smell of cigarettes coming from her mouth.
"How much?" I asked as I could felt the weight of the quarters in my pocket.
"That's gonna be 50 dollars," Cheda said, you could tell that she had figured out the cost in those very moments.
With only six quarters and 20 dollars in my pocket, I needed to find another way to get the necklace.
"Oh okay, thanks anyway. I think I'll stick to another journal" I said trying to mask my lying and made my way to the back of the shop past all the books and clothes I walked through just a day ago. Before I could reach the back, I heard the ringing of the bell above the door. Just as my routines, Cheda is very predictable. Her habit of smoking had become more than just an addiction, it is something that she felt compelled to do every few minutes.
I ran past the piles of old books and clothes and made my way over to the counter where the heart necklace was laid out. It's ruby center dull from lack of cleaning and its chain rusted from water damage. I clasped my fingers around the chain and slipped it into my change purse.
I walked out of the store, passed Cheda who did not even notice I left and swiftly made my way over to the train tracks.
The woods behind the train tracks, a place my mother always warned me not to go. As I walked closer to the tracks, I could hear her voice telling me that it was too dangerous. Although, I have never dared to go back there, I knew the house that Maisey described very well. It was the house the kids on Halloween dared others to trick-or-treat at. There were many legends about the old ranch house in the woods. Some said an old man who ate children lived there, another that vampire who was a slave to the sun hid there during the day and the list goes on.
The overcast weather and the silent emptiness of the woods made my walk to the house seem eerily similar to a climax of a horror film. I reached my hand into my pocket and felt the necklace intertwined within my fingers. As I got closer to the house, it got bigger and bigger and so did the reality of what I was doing and where I was going.
As my feet crunched from the leaves below and each step brought me closer to the house, I got the same feeling of hesitation that I did when I went to grab the journal from my shelf just hours before. It was just moments until I would meet the front.
The red chipping paint on the door appeared to not have been replaced for over fifty years. I raised my hand parallel to the oak frame and knocked. With each knock, my heart beat got faster. All of sudden, the door swung open.
My body felt paralyzed. My eyes were locked on his. I tried to find the words to say but my lips would not let them out. I watched as his eyes drifted to the necklace still wedged into my hand, the pendant dangling outside my fingers.
“Where did you get that,” he said with a tone of aggression and confusion, grease stains were noticeable on his white tank top and the smell of sweat overpowered that of the November air.
My once frozen body started to melt and I uttered the words “the thrift shop.”
His fingers, creased with veins that protruded and created a maze around his hands, snatched the necklace from my grip.
He moved his hand from mine to the door and proceeded to try to close it.
“Wait!,” I yelled, “Amor omnia vincit.”
“What did you just say?” his face and words fraught with confusion.
I grabbed the journal out of my pocket and handed it to him. He reached out his hand, with hesitation, his body was shaking.
Just seconds away from grabbing the journal, he must have remembered, he screamed: “Get out!”
“You must understand, Masiey sent me. She wants me to--” As he cut me off I could see the missing golden heart pin laying on the table in his hallway. I started to make the connection and my breathing increased.
He turned around and made eye contact with the pin.
“So I’m guessing you figured it out,” he said, a smirk was plastered on his face as he slowly nodded his head.
My face turned white, my temporary paralysis returned and my heart beating reminded me of the necklace still dangling from his fingertips.
“If ya ever come back her’ again I'm gonna make sure you and Masiey end up in the same place” he grabbed a shotgun from the side of his door and pointed it right at me.
I grabbed the journal and ran as fast as I could back to my house. I sat on my bed, once again, trying to process what had just happened. My conflicting emotions made my body shake. I ran the situation over and over again as if it was a scratched disc skipping and restarting.
I was taunted by Maisie’s journal and the steps I knew I had to take next.
Some stories are just not meant to be told.
I met your husband today. He said that he never stopped loving you. He wants you to be happy and to finally find peace.
I closed the journal, slipped it back into my shelf and touched her photo still wedged into my frame.