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“Right. Okay. Now what?”
She had that distant look in her eyes, like a heart spread out over, what is it… three, four continents, pulled to excess. The roaring of the fireplace was a distant but firm reminder of perseverance, and she often snatched the papers that flew from her desk, rescuing them from a fiery end. She squinted at the writing staining the table, so concentrated on her work that she jumped in surprise when she heard a response.
“You could try the beginning. That’s commonly accepted nowadays.” He laughed and walked into the room. Diana watched sullenly as his slacks rose up around his ankles, and then turned back to her work.
“Tom, that’s not helpful in the least. At least try for some compassion.”
“Hey, be realistic here. If you ask a man to try for compassion, all of a sudden he’s got to try for all sorts of things, and trying’s never exactly been my strong point.” He peered casually at the wooden bookshelf, squinting at the titles. “You ask too much of me, is all.”
She snorted; the noise was odd and unladylike and Tom turned away from the books and glanced up at her. Distracted, he flattened his hair back and shoved his hands into his pockets.
“Lemme see what this problem is.” Tom leaned over her, his ribcage pressing into her shoulder. “Kid, you’re writing a goddamn memoir. Don’t you know yourself? Just listen to what you wrote here. ‘His hairline receded to lend to the glare of such brilliance, and hard eyes with defined bags directly contradicted her. Her heart very cold, she sobbed then. Openly and expressively, and she pledged to never love again…’ Jesus! There’s your problem. You use words that are bigger than your feelings. Not everything’s so freaking complicated. You just write what you know.”
“That’s what I’m doing!” she scoffed. “You’re no help.”
“Like, I mean, did you write about our old house and all? Mom and her…her blue apron?” He hesitated, distracted, but then continued. “Y’know, all that sort of stupid stuff.”
“Of course I did. She wore the thing every day.”
Tom nodded slowly. “Then what’s the problem here? You just need to say what you remember.”
“Maybe you should try to write. Apparently your critiques are impeccable, have you heard?”
“Don’t get all smart with me,” he huffed. “I only came to talk to you.”
“Was the ambush just a pleasant extra? Because if so, please do visit more.”
“You know, there’s a reason I came, and it’s not just to dissect your work,” he said.
“Feelings, he says. Ascribing large words to smaller feelings as though we expect more to be felt than actually is. That’s ridiculous. So you’re trying to tell me that-,”
“I’m saying that you forgot how you’re actually supposed to feel. You’re just writing all the feelings the way people say they’re supposed to feel, not how they are. You don’t feel much anymore, do you?” He looked at her harshly.
“I- I don’t believe you. You’re trespassing, you know. I don’t need you here! And you know- You know, you’re one to talk about feelings!” Her hands fluttered with anger. “How about when Marcy Evanson came to town, and-,”
“Mom just passed away.”
Her hands dropped into her lap. “Tom,” she warned, her voice softer. “That’s not funny.”
“Di, I’m being serious.”
After a moment, Diana stood. She calmly gathered the papers on her desk into a neat pile, almost making a show of perfectly evening out the white edges. Then, she gathered the stack into her arms, and, hands trembling, threw them into the fireplace. She stepped back and watched, fascinated as the first leaves of paper began to hiss and crumble.
“Dammit, Di!” He rushed forward and quickly snatched the papers out of the fire, dropping them onto the floor before he accidentally burned his hands. “Christ!” He stomped on the pages to silence the threatening embers, pushing them deep into the thick red carpet. “Are you crazy? That’s months of work right there. Why would you ever do that?”
“I thought you said it was bad,” she mumbled.
“Mom wanted you to finish this, so I say finish it. Look, you have something more to write about now.”
“That’s a horrible thing to say.” She knelt on the floor and gathered the pages tenderly in her arms. “That’s horrible.” She slowly smoothed a crumpled paper on top of the stack. “So what…what happened?”
“To Mom? She was old. She just fell asleep and some higher power decided she’s too good for the likes of us.”
Gently placing the papers on the desk, Diana pulled her sweater tighter around herself. “She was better.”
“Yeah, but it was time. If it wasn’t, you know our dear old girl would have put up a fight.” Tom squeezed her shoulder, but she kept her back to him.
“Di, you feel something now?”
“Tom. That’s mean.”
“You’re not sobbing? Weeping openly? Di, this is how it usually goes. And that’s okay. You get that? You felt destructive, and you burned a couple of pages. You went a little crazy then you stepped back because we can’t do a damn thing about it. You didn’t even cry- you can cry, of course, I won’t mind, but you haven’t yet. It feels different when it’s real.”
“I get it, Tom. Quit it.”
“Okay, okay. Now, why don’t you take a ride with your big old brother here and I’ll guide you away from these musty pages? We won’t be long. A ride could do you good, you know. Fresh air works wonders on the mind.”
“Where exactly would my big old brother be taking me?” She wasn’t exactly smiling, but he could feel the relief radiating from the heat of her hands as he took them in his own.
“Hey now, you know what they say. ‘It is better to travel well than to arrive.’”
“Buddha? I’ve never seen you as one for religious learning.”
“Yup. Y’see, even the religious ones are inspirational when they want to be. Anybody is, really. Look kid, go out to the car. I’ll be with you in a second, just gotta find where I left my glasses.” He patted his empty pockets then smiled sheepishly.
As soon as he was sure that she was gone, he sat at the desk, pulling the manuscript forward. He thumbed through the pages hurriedly, stopping every few pages to check the date printed neatly on the entries.
“Tom?” Diana called.
Startled, he hastily grabbed a sheet of paper -1935- from the pile and rushed outside. He slammed the door shut, not even noticing as the remaining mountain of manuscripts crashed to the ground.