Les Feuilles de Papier—Leaves of Paper

Friday Fictioneers—later than normal, see previous post and feel free to throw your fist in the air.

copyright roger bultot

         Oh god, she thought. Her heart fluttered–beating wings of a dying songbird. She cupped her hand over her neck, hiding its uneven pulse.
         The fallen tree demolished her little car, crushing it. The police were trying to clear the road, direct traffic around the debris from the storm.
She saw only the piece of paper, crumpled in the autumn leaves. She never kept papers in her car. Except one.
         I will pay you $2.5 thousand dollars to kill my husband.
         “Darling, your car!” Roger wrapped his arm around her.
         The letter drifted away in an errant gust of wind.

Reunion

The continuation of The Fall of the House of Hawkins, read the previous installments here.

         Charlotte knew he couldn’t hear her, buried beneath the verdant ground somewhere in the tangle of weeds and flowers. She knew the graveyard would be like this–abandoned, forgotten. Even before Mother’s mind began to wander, she never could face the loss of her husband. They would have lost the plantation without several kind neighbors. Charlotte remembered watching the Hawkins plantation crumble before her very eyes, along with the owners. Just thirteen when it all happened, she sprawled on the landing, peeking through the stairway railing as she listened to her parents discuss Mason Hawkins’ ruin. Her father died not long after, when the nagging cough he blamed on the dust became bloody.
         Charlotte turned from the overgrown tombstones, the decaying fence. Her father–his twinkling eyes rimmed with white webbing from the smile lines where sunlight never reached, his booming laugh–was gone. With some difficulty maneuvering her skirts into the phaeton after climbing up one of the large wheels, Charlotte left the whispering trees and the weed-blanketed graves behind.

         Joshua trudged through the tall, unkempt grasses. He glanced back once at the mansion, grown small in the distance. Sweat trickled down his spine under his shirt and soaked his collar. He was glad he thought to wrap the bundle of clean clothes in his driving coat. He shaded his eyes against the sun, hoping he was going in the right direction. The land seemed brown and listless, nothing like the rolling green fields filled with churning machines and the singing of the field slaves. He tried humming to himself, but the dust fogging the air seemed to choke the song, so he continued in silence. At last, he spotted a few stunted trees, remnants of the proud thicket he remembered. He picked up his pace until he reached them. The swimming hole was still there. Almost miraculously, it shone out of the dust, like an emerald laying forgotten on a jeweler’s shelf. He stuffed his bundle of clothes in the crook of a tree and stripped off his dust and sweat stained shirt and trousers.
         Not bothering to test the water, he made sure no fallen tree branches stood in his way and dove in. The warm green water closed over his head, embracing him with weightless arms. His eyes penetrated the sun-filled depths before his head broke the surface again, water streaming down his face. His cogwork leg pulled at him as he tried a few exploratory strokes, but it was light enough not to drag him under. He floated, lopsided, letting the sun kiss his bare body as he stared up at the clear sky. He ducked under the water again to run his fingers briskly through his hair, his cogwork leg was tinted green under the water. When he came up for air, he heard the unmistakable rumble of wheels and looked up.
         “Why Mr. Hawkins, what an odd time to go for a swim,” Charlotte had pulled the horses to a halt when she saw a ripple of water in the old swimming hole that stood just over the fence marking the boundary of Polk plantation.
         “I’m so sorry Miss…Charlotte?” Joshua squinted in the sunlight, pushing his wet hair away from his face.
         Surely it wasn’t Charlotte Polk.
         She laughed, throwing back her blonde hair with abandon. He could see it now, the resemblance to the scrawny sixteen year old he remembered. He suddenly wished for the water to be a good deal murkier. Hopefully she was far enough away. He swam towards the meager shadows just to be sure.
         “Did you fall in or was this on purpose?” she asked, shading her eyes with one gloved hand.
         “There’s no water at the plantation and I rather wanted a wash,” he said, still trying to fit the gangly tomboy he remembered into the young woman he saw now.
         “You look as if you need it. You always were grubbing about, weren’t you? I’d have thought you’d grown up by now, Mr. Hawkins,” she tsked at him and then laughed again. “What would dear Isabella say if she saw you now?”
         “I imagine she would ride on by and pretend not to see me in such a state,” he called back, wishing his clothes were nearer to hand.
         “How did you get all the way out here?” Charlotte scanned the field behind him. There was no gleam of his autocar in the tall grasses and no horse in sight. “You didn’t walk all this way?”
         “Did your sister tell you about the leg then?” Joshua felt the angry flush darken his neck and ears.
         “The leg?” Charlotte looked confused. “Oh, that,” she waved a hand dismissively. “I only meant it’s rather a rough walk since the fields have gone wild and it’s quite hot.”
         Joshua gaped at her for a moment, trying to find words.
         “If you’d like I can drop you at home, it’s on the way,” Charlotte inched closer in the buggy and Joshua sank down deeper in the green water.
         “It’s really no trouble, I wouldn’t mind the walk,” his voice grew almost frantic.
         “Mr. Hawkins, I’ll turn around and you can get to your horse blanket or whatever it is you’ve got hanging in that tree over there and then I’ll take you home.” True to her words, she promptly turned her back to him, her words brooking no more argument.
         Joshua scrambled up the bank, feeling his cogwork leg slip in the mud before he reached dry land. He scrubbed himself dry and dressed quickly, pulling on his boots and running a hand through his wet hair. He suddenly realized how shaggy it was now that it dripped into his eyes.
         “Are you decent, Mr. Hawkins?” Charlotte’s voice was thick with suppressed laughter.
         “Yes,” Joshua had walked quickly through the field and was at the edge of the phaeton.
         Charlotte started, turning at the sound of his voice so close. She grinned down at him and he was forcibly reminded of a much younger girl staring down triumphantly from a magnolia tree with her skinny legs wrapped around a branch higher than he or any of the other boys could reach.
         “Well, I declare, if it isn’t Joshua Hawkins,” her imitation of Isabella was scathing as she stretched out her hand limply as though expecting him to bow over it. He hopped up into the phaeton beside her, unable to resist returning her smile.
         “Well, Miss Charlotte, I sure am glad to see you,” he said in the same exaggerated drawl.
         “I never thought I’d hear you call me ‘Miss Charlotte,'” she broke off the charade with a shake of her blonde curls.
         He noticed that there was dirt on her face and that her long hair was loose and tangled. The corner of his mouth turned up in a smile. The tree-climbing, frog-catching girl he remembered was still in there. She saw the smile and raised one eyebrow at him in the perfect expression of a well-bred, southern lady. He stilled his face with an apologetic look and sat back as she snapped the reins and clucked to the horses.
         “Well, I can’t very well call you Lottie anymore, can I?” he returned back to their earlier tack, admiring the way she handled the spirited animals and enjoying the feel of the hot wind as it dried his hair.
         “I’ll shove you out of the phaeton here and now if you do,” she spared him a wicked glance.
         “You’d do that to a cripple?” the words were out of his mouth before he could pull them back and he looked away over the fields to avoid meeting her          She snorted.
         “Some cripple, swimming around in that over-sized puddle after walking all this way. And I had to practically heave you into the carriage myself,” her voice was dry. “Don’t think I’ll feel sorry for you Joshua Hawkins, not after all the times you teased me and dumped me in that same pond.”
         “You haven’t changed a bit, have you?” he turned back to appraise her.
         “What a thing to say! Last time you saw me I still wore my hair in tails and ribbons to match my pinafores.”
         “Ribbons? You?” it was his turn to scoff. “The only thing that ever matched between your hair and your frock was dirt.”
         She pulled a face at the back of the trotting horses that was meant for him and he laughed. Then, he realized suddenly how insulting that must have sounded.
         “That is…you weren’t…” he floundered for an apology that wouldn’t sound insincere.
         “Ah, there’s the tongue-tied Joshua I remember so well,” she said. “You sound like you did when you used to come and call on ‘Bella. Don’t let her hear you stammer like that around me. She might think I’ve finally gone and stolen her beau at last.”
         She turned back to the horses, completely missing the expression on his face. It–and not his stammer—would have given Isabella a twinge of unease.

On Boston

Anyone who has been following this blog probably knows that I am a recent graduate and that in December I was concluding the nerve wracking process of applying to graduate school for a Master’s of Fine Arts in Creative Writing. After months of waiting and harassing admissions officials, letters started coming in–rejection, rejection, rejection. When I had one school left to hear from I sat at my computer and constantly refreshed the application portal, waiting for my decision to magically appear. Instead, I got a phone call. I couldn’t answer it because I was at the office but when I saw there was a voice-mail I I couldn’t listen to it quickly enough. The first words were (finally) “Congratulations on your acceptance.”  This program happened to be my top choice, not only because of the program itself and its many unique aspects, but also because of the location. Emerson College in Boston, Massachusetts. I had been waiting to announce this news until after I visited Boston and was 300% sure that it was where I wanted to be. I knew I would blog about it and my trip to Boston, but I kept putting it off, not sure exactly how to frame my thoughts.

     Emerson is actually located on Boylston Street in downtown Boston, a street name which is now frighteningly recognizable to people who have never been to Boston and know next to nothing about it. It was on Boylston Street that yesterday, the celebrations at the finish line of the Boston Marathon were turned into a scene of chaos and casualty. I didn’t know anything about the bombing, initially, until a friend who knew I had committed to Emerson College texted me.

     “Did you hear about Boston??”

     Of course I turned to the internet and there at the top were fresh news sources of the blast–some less than 30 minutes old. I watched the live footage of the newscast with the sound off. I read the live blogging of the investigation. Names of places jumped out at me: Copley Square, the Prudential Center, Boylston Street. All these were places I walked around ten days ago. If you’ve ever seen a movie and been able to point out “I’ve been there, I’ve been there,” it is usually with a sense of satisfaction and nostalgia. When I was walking around Boston, I know I saw many places featured in movies and felt that same jolt. As I watched the news, it was with an entirely different feeling of “Oh my gosh, I was just there.”

     My trip to Boston was the deciding factor in whether or not I would actually move over 1,800 miles to spend three years in school in a city where there are actually seasons and winter is the real thing. I fell in love. I had heard it described as a “the most European city in America,” and it was true. Old buildings stood cheek by jowl with shining glass and metal structures, around every corner was an old Gothic looking church and the cobblestone streets were picturesque to the extreme, even when I was tripping over them. On our last day, we saw a Greek festival, went to church in one of the older churches in the city and I enjoyed my last bowl of New England clam chowder. My tour of the school and discussion with the students and advisers had confirmed my decision in the MFA Program and my whirlwind trek across the city–looking at apartments, navigating the T, searching for restaurants–showed me that Boston was where I wanted to be, without the shadow of a doubt. I knew I would be cold and would probably get lost. That living in a city like this where I know no one and don’t have a car would be scary and challenging, but as Boston dropped away below the airplane, I already felt homesick. Not for my home in Texas, but for my new and future home in Boston.

     As I watched the news throughout the day with horror and with grief, I wondered if anyone I had met, however briefly on my weekend in Boston, was running the Marathon. I wondered if one of the buildings I saw in the background was my future school. Anyone who knows me will tell you that I hate running. I’ll do it, but I’ve never felt the runner’s high and the farthest I have ever run is a minuscule number of miles. While I was in Boston, advertisements for the Marathon were plastered on the walls of the T stations, the sides of buildings, the sides of buses. Our guide on the tour we took on our last day talked about it and I began to think that it would be pretty amazing if at some point during my residency in Boston, I could be a part of it. A crazy part considered running in it, although most of my brain knew that wasn’t likely to happen. I had heard of the Boston Marathon, but I never realized what a big thing it was, that it is a holiday for the city. A holiday that will never be looked upon in the same way.

     When things like this happen, I think for many people the first reaction is fear. I’m not saying I’m brave, or that I don’t worry about things, but yesterday’s events did not make me afraid to move to Boston. I spoke in my last post about grief, and it is unfortunate that the theme of sorrow is so appropriate yet again. We should grieve for the lost and the injured in Boston, even if we don’t know anyone there, even if we have never been to Boston. This is a time to come together, and not just because we are Americans, but because we are human beings. So Boston and all it’s residents–not just those directly affected by yesterday’s attack–will be in my thoughts and prayers not only because I will soon call it home, but because it was a horrific and tragic event. It is our duty to those injured and deceased to live our daily lives, but it should be with them constantly in our thoughts. So many people on the news and on social media have mentioned the hope in this seemingly hopeless situation–from the stories of citizens running back towards the blast to help to the story of the marathon runners who, though finished with the race, continued to run to the hospital to donate blood. While it is tempting to see only the evil that prompted this attack, to see only the destruction and the death that is present in this fallen world, it is important to remember that there is light in the darkness, there is hope even in the blackness.

     As Dumbledore once said:

 “Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times, when one only remembers to turn on the light.”

     May not only those in Boston but all of us remember that the darkness is not complete, the blackness is not impenetrable, and the night does not last forever.

Our tragedy tod…

Our tragedy today is a general and universal physical fear so long sustained by now that we can even bear it. There are no longer problems of the spirit. There is only the question: When will I be blown up? Because of this, the young man or woman writing today has forgotten the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself which alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat.

He must learn them again. He must teach himself that the basest of all things is to be afraid; and, teaching himself that, forget it forever, leaving no room in his workshop for anything but the old verities and truths of the heart, the old universal truths lacking which any story is ephemeral and doomed – love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice. Until he does so, he labors under a curse. He writes not of love but of lust, of defeats in which nobody loses anything of value, of victories without hope and, worst of all, without pity or compassion. His griefs grieve on no universal bones, leaving no scars. He writes not of the heart but of the glands.

William Faulkner, Nobel Prize acceptance speech