Note to Readers: It's been a few weeks since we've had a chapter of Lynn Biederstadt's wonderful love story, THE SPIRITKEEPER, which features a memorable character named David Emory, who collects souls! Lynn now has developed a website for the novel (and a video trailer, don't miss it!) where all previous chapters are available. Chapter 13 is called "The Consequence of Notebooks."
By Lynn Biederstadt
“…That big meadow was a forest 150 years ago. It’s all grass and wildflowers now, but think how it was back then. Think what it took to clear it with oxen, one stone, one stump at a time….
As they walked down the path, David once again held forth on meadows and frogs and hummingbirds—anything that was ahead, above, behind; a nonstop monologue meant to keep McGill’s in-the-woods willies at bay. He was good at reading people, she was discovering; better, she suspected, than she was. What she did through impetuous craft he did through the patience of his nature, informed (if she were to believe it) by everything he carried inside him. Whatever he was doing, it was working.
McGill’s cell phone warbled, a sound totally wrong for the space. "Got Crazy," it sang.
“Hi! Whatcha doing? You workin’?” Ty was too bright, too chipper; the way he’d so often sounded before rehab, when he was hitting the meth hard. He spoke as if nothing bad had happened between them; as if nothing in the world could possibly equal the pleasure of a phone call from him.
“So you’re talking to me again? Where are you?”
“Not in Tokyo. Where are you?”
She looked around. David had disappeared tactfully into the woods. “I’m having lunch with friends, Ty.”
“When did you get friends? Are these real friends, or the written-down ones?”
“What did you want?”
“Sounds like you’re outside.”
“I heard a man’s voice.”
“There are a lot of people here.” Why had she lied? Why had she done what guilty people do? “Was there something you wanted?”
He was instantly petulant. “Don’t get snotty with me. The whole Japan leg went away, so I’m free until the East Coast dates start. I’m home, at the loft. I thought maybe you’d want to be here too.”
Distance from him had made her bold. “Sure, Ty. Let’s be one big happy family again. We can adopt Manny, and you can give him your cellphone for keeps. Anything else?”
“Yeah. Why are you such a bitch?” The line went dead.
McGill caught up with David on the path and fell into step behind him, in sulking silence. Sensing that something had happened, he let his monologue lay where it had fallen, discreet enough not to probe her mood, smart enough to let it do the work of distracting her from her fear of where she was. They walked without conversation the rest of the way to the house. David had navigated them to just across the street from her front door.
She invited him in, dug two wine glasses out of a packing box and filled both of them. She didn’t ask what he wanted. She was drinking, he was joining her, that was all.
He accepted the unasked-for wine gracefully, and looked admiringly around her chaotic, half-furnished living room. “This is nice. Minimalist. I like it.”
“Like a warehouse, you mean. I’m living out of boxes.”
“No, I meant it looks right for doing what you do. Focused. Not a lot of unnecessary distractions. Like your book.”
“I thought you hadn’t read my book.”
She dumped a stack of magazines off the couch to give him a place to sit. The room might be half-naked, but at least the furniture was comfortable. The afternoon light touched the cut-crystal teardrop she’d hung in the window, and suddenly the room was filled with waltzing rainbows. Enchanted, he let the light play over his fingers. He might not see color, but he knew what happened when light met prism. “Funny, I wouldn’t have taken you for a rainbow person.”
“Yeah, rainbows, unicorns, little fuzzy kittens: You’ve discovered the secret me. Now where were we? We were talking about your gift.”
The hesitation. But a more amiable one, this time. “We were talking about a lot of things.”
The wine was talking. The wine was making it easy. “I want to ask you a question.”
She was tipsy and it amused him. “I don’t think I could I stop you.”
“David, could you take a living soul? Have you ever tried?”
His shoulders spoke: David’s tell—but what was he telling? He turned the question away. The deflection was chilling. “For somebody who doesn’t believe the answers, you ask an awful lot of questions.”
He took back the moment; his was a perpetual need to erase awkwardness and set a conversation back on level ground. “Tell me about being a writer.”
She didn’t answer right away.
“No. It’s just that nobody ever asked me that before.” She thought about it. “It’s hard work.”
“Well sure. You could get a blister.” He laughed apologetically. “I’m sorry. Go on.”
“What’s it like...? Half the people you meet hope you’ll write about them. The other half are worried that you will. It’s solitary. Afterwards, it’s lonely.”
“But not during.”
“During, it’s wonderful. It’s as if the ideas are hanging in the air. You pick them like fruit. The people you’re writing about become more real than what’s around you: You re-create them and you are them… the work isolates you, but it also fills you up… and it’s all so delicate that a breath could blow it away.” She halted her rambling, self-revealing flight. She looked to David, dreading the frozen, overly-polite look of pseudo interest she knew she’d find there. But David was smiling.
“Remember those words,” he said; “the next time you’re tempted to ask what my life is like.”
Got Crazy sang over the cellphone again. She switched the phone off and tossed it onto the table behind her.
“Your husband really wants to talk to you,” he said. “I should go.”
“My husband will wait. How did you know that was him?”
“The ringtone. You don’t strike me as a headbanger.”
“You got husband from a ringtone.”
“Yep….” he smiled mischief again “…and the part of your dustjacket that says ‘Ms. Forester is married to rock icon Ty Florey.’ How long have you been married?”
“One complete decade. That’s about 70 in rock-icon years. You?”
“And she died, you said….”
“Fifteen years ago. Tomorrow.” She would have bet that he could also have quoted the hours and minutes. Fifteen years was a surprise. From everything she’d heard, she’d been sure that the wound was a fresh one.
“You never married again.”
A bleak grin. “Yeah, well. I can tell you from personal experience that being a mental patient is a real chick magnet.”
“After her suicide…”
“Ellen. Ellen was her name.”
“After Ellen died, was that when you got to know Dr. Arledge? The first time?”
He nodded. “I had a tough time. After.”
“So he put you in St. Amelia’s after she killed herself.”
“No, after I did.”
“You tried to…”
His voice was eerily casual. “Oh no, I succeeded.”
She flat-out had nothing to say to that. Nothing except, “I’m so sorry.”
“It’s all right. How could you know? I got to Ellen too late to do anything for her, and Eli got to me in time. And then there was the institution, and Jon Arledge. The rest you’ve heard. It was a very long time ago.”
“David, tell me about the execution.”
A veil dropped over his expression. His amiable sincerity faltered, and a dark refusal took its place. “That’s the one question I won’t answer. And please, don’t ever ask me that again.”
For the second time in her experience of him, McGill had no idea what to say next. Every time she thought she’d gotten closer to understanding who he was, he skated off in another direction. In the uncomfortable silence, she fumbled for the wine bottle. Her purse and everything near it went skittering off the table behind her.
David knelt to collect what had fallen. His back was to her, his head was bowed. He stayed like that, motionless, for a curiously long time.
His voice had an unfamiliar cast, icy and out of character. “So would you say you’ve got enough now?”
She didn’t understand. “Enough?”
She came around him. God.
Her notebook was open in his hand. Open, as he’d picked it up. As he’d read it. He handed it up to her. He looked stunned, as if someone had sucker-punched him.
In her alarm, the lies were quick to come. “It’s a sketch, David. They’re notes. They’re fiction. They don’t mean anything.”
His voice was small, buried under swallowed anger. “Is that what all this has been about? Material?”
She’d learned long ago that the answer to that question was always no, I’m not writing about you—even when you were. “David, I’m not writing…”
“If all you wanted was an interview, you could have asked. And I could have said no.” He stood. He laid the book on the table. He didn’t say anything else. He walked to the door and shut it behind him.
She ran after him. “David, stop….”
He hadn’t gone far. He was standing across the street, at the edge of the path through the woods that had brought them there. Something lay in the road beside him, a shapeless bulk in the fading of the day.
It was an owl. A beautiful owl. Bloodied. Shot. By the kids who’d been firing rifles earlier in the day, probably. It was alive, but it wouldn’t be for long. Its round, alien eyes blinked up at them in terror.
David, intent on the creature at his feet, didn’t seem to know she was there. He lowered himself slowly, until he was sitting on his heels beside it. His face was compassion and curiosity and purpose. He knew exactly what he was doing.
He touched his fingers to the creature’s feathers, tenderly; love, in him, it seemed. He drew a long breath, like opening a door….
She wanted to know. Had to know. Her questions came out in a rush, one after another: What are you going to do, what does it feel like, what do you see? But something was wrong. What she’d observed in David the first time—the smooth, meditative shift from the outside in—was thrown off-kilter. He was half with her, half with the terrified creature, pulled in two directions at once and fully in neither one.
She kept up the assault of questions, tracking the expressions that fast-forwarded through his face. His focus swung wildly, as if he wasn’t sure where to be. Vertigo stole his balance and toppled him onto his hands. The divided attention was devastating; she hadn’t realized how bad it would be. By the time she pulled herself back, the damage was done.
“David, I’m sor….”
He silenced her with a gesture; turned away from her and instantly forgot her. He pulled his legs back under him, collected himself and refocused. Suddenly, he was utterly at peace. He bent forward at the waist as if he were listening. His body went very still. He locked his eyes on the owl…and the owl looked back. The alien expression knew him. And its fear smoothed away.
David drew the long breath and began again.
His face changed, consumed by a fathomless, aimless loss. Confusion took its place there—as if he were trying to watch one thing among a million things, with an awareness of every one of them. He had become a Self suspended and directionless; irrelevant.
As the creature took its last breath, she saw it happen…the moment that bloomed in David. In his face was the transit from the grief and bewilderment of loss to something other… when he was, just for a moment, what he’d taken in; when he breathed, felt, soared as it did. He was alive to the night, seeing things in the unyielding blackness that her earthly eyes could not, a vision that broke from him in an exultant smile.
Not crazy. Not crazy. This was real. This was exactly what he had said it was.
Suddenly, his hand grabbed hers. He pulled her down beside him. She was falling. Falling. The bungee jump into the dark…a choking vertigo….
Light erased the night.
She could see wide and far and deep,
in colors unknown to human eyes.
Tiny things moved through distant woods;
her hearing picked them out among the leaves, as sure as vision.
She was no longer skin and hair and shrouded senses.
The breeze ruffled feathers. Her heart beat differently.
Her breath filled different lungs.
She was lifted into the air on silent wings.
Darkness no longer frightened her. Darkness was home.
In this moment, in this new thing that she had become,
she saw David at the periphery, at the center, everywhere.
A welcome, a beacon. Relief and refuge was in him.
This was the place she must go.
And beyond him, a hint of something infinitely more.
The all of it. The all of them.
The place you wouldn’t want to come back from….
The moment passed. It had lasted only a few seconds. But when it was over, she sat in the dirt, speechless, stunned, unable to move, barely able to breathe. She was filled with something that effervesced in her eyes and shimmered behind her heart.
Beside her, David breathed a long exhale, the companion breath to the one that had begun his journey. As he came back to himself, the knowledge of what McGill had done came back with him.
He pushed himself slowly to his feet but, uncharacteristically, he didn’t offer her his hand. His expression was defiant. It said, Do you think for a second that you could even begin to write about this? This, the look said, was only a fraction, a shadow, of what he went through. The look said that this was something he would never share again. And worst, worst, the look spoke his bottomless disappointment. In breaking faith with him, McGill had tested his good nature to its limit; had stolen from him something of indescribable value.
She struggled to stand. “David…”
He pressed his fingertips against his eyes. “Go. Go.” She didn’t move. “All right, then I will.” He stumbled away, down the path. She watched him until the darkness swallowed him.
Birds. Lost pets. Wild things. And people. There was no difference. There were no small souls. And now that it was true to her, she wanted to know more.