I hated smoking. Cigarettes possessed a fetid odor as they singed my throat and scorched my lungs, but I found the smoke so beautiful that I couldn’t resist placing the cancer-stick between my lips and breathing in the foul smoke just for the chance to feel the warmth of the vapor as it escaped my lips and floated through the atmosphere. I remember the quintessence of my childhood was the dream of becoming a ballerina; the bane of my childhood was the realization that I never would. Watching the smoke, feeling it float from my facial orifices to unite with the hostile air, was the closest I would ever come to possessing such grace, elegance, and dexterity. The resulting coughs and burns between my clumsy, awkward fingers were hardly evident compared to the ecstasy contained within the moments of lingering haze and reminisces. Smoking was also the only interest shared by both my mother and I, and my only form of contact with the pitiful human who neglected her maternal obligations and thus her frightened, lone daughter.
I finished my cigarette, sought refuge from the frigid winter air inside the walls of my home, and settled near the fireplace with a novel, enjoying the succor of its warmth and the escape it provided. Lolita was a beloved book of mine, as unnerving as it could be. No matter how much my quality of life dwindled, I could always take solace in Nabakov’s decadent chronicle of forbidden adolescent love and the fact that I and my pre-pubescence remained unsoiled and un-fondled by a filthy stepfather or any such lover of nymphets. Having recently misplaced my copy of the harrowing tale, I borrowed a rather modest and worn copy from the local library. The novel was missing a few pages throughout, and I immediately resolved to visit the bookstore to purchase two copies of the book as soon as I obtained the funds. One of the copies would replace this poor, frequently enjoyed novel at the local library, while the other was to remain in my constant care. Until then I continued to read of Mrs. Haze’s love for the indifferent Humbert Humbert, but as I turned to the page where Mrs. Haze informs Lolita’s devotee that if she discovered his denied heresy she would kill herself, my attention was drawn away by someone’s clandestine words scrawled across the borders of the page in urgent scratches of pencil lead.
“I can no longer bear to live. Plans have been devised to end my stay on this earth and in your presence.” The calm, collected composition of this resolution compared to the manic, frazzled, and hasty manner in which it was practically indecipherably scribbled into the margins both puzzled and intrigued me beyond coherent thought. Chastising myself for entertaining the possibility of the mad ramblings as more than just a jest by a bored teenager endeavoring to appear brooding, I read on. However, the possibility of some truth behind the expression continued to gnaw at my thoughts as I failed to focus my energy on Humbert’s corrupt obsession with Dolores. Finally, I managed to make it to the next page of the novel, where I found another small, mad dash of writing. This time, however, the writer must have attempted to make it somewhat inconspicuous; the tiny handwriting gave me a dreadful headache as I tried to decipher both the words and the meaning. After some grave squinting of eyes, I managed to make out the name of the English philosopher Francis Bacon. Even more puzzled than before, I searched through the remaining pages of the book for more illicit libretto, completely disregarding the plight of poor, lovesick Humbert. I spent thirty minutes thoroughly scanning every page, but to no avail. No more writing could be found anywhere in the book. I was left with only a glimpse into an obscure, desperate resolve and the name of an English philosopher.
I shut the book and placed it with frustration upon the coffee table. Why did I care about these morose, serene, frenzied, and likely false proclamations of impending, self-perpetuated demise? I no longer suspected that I could simply attribute them to the mind of a cynical teenager; for it was all far too clever for a teenager. He would merely have stated in the simplest of language and terminology that he planned to kill himself. Moreover, the general population of melancholy teenagers belonging to the current generation lacks the knowledge of philosophers such as Mr. Bacon. After proceeding to roll my eyes at the inadequacies of today’s youth, though scarcely an adult myself, I devoted more thought to Bacon’s involvement in the intriguing mystery. At which time, the palpable answer garishly divulged itself. I intended to make another trip to the library tomorrow in search of the works of Francis Bacon.
Upon arrival, I began to feel foolish for my childish escapades throughout the library. Of course the perplexing scrawls meant nothing. Who would confess their plans for bereavement in a novel belonging to a public library about the debasing of a child? But then I suppose the choice of the book itself could be a confession. With this realization, I continued my hunt despite whatever foolishness I felt. Whatever the outcome, I would leave with my curiosity satisfied. Either I would find further writing belonging to my mysterious figure, or I would find nothing and could conclude that it was no longer of further concern; a few hours was a meager cost compared to the worth of the knowledge that I craved.
With my strengthened resolve, I made my way to the history section in search of a collection of Bacon’s works. There were only two that promised any sort of outcome, but as I set my fingers upon the first to remove it from the shelf, I froze. Within me arose this great hesitation and fear of what desperate, frantic musings I might find sprawled across the pages of the book; a sense of imminent desolation came upon me accompanied by an overwhelming sense of curiosity and a puzzling semblance of emptiness. My fingers lingered awhile longer, caressing the spine of the book as I contemplated why it was that I was so drawn to this cause. Though I had preferred to, I couldn’t deny that the writing contained a foreboding sense of familiarity, as though I had seen it before or as if the fraught words carried within the voice of their author. My fingers had fallen from the book, but I couldn’t compel my gaze to falter. There was a resilient magnetic draw that kept my eyes from wandering, and not even the abrupt, incomprehensible fear could destroy the fascination; the burning curiosity that overwhelmed all other senses. Without sanction, my trembling fingers sought for the spine of the book, removed it from the shelf, and carefully leafed through the pages for another glimpse into the mind of the stranger.
After forty-five minutes of vigilant scrutinizing, I found no trace of the suspicious script within the delicate pages of the first book. Placing the philosopher back in his proper place, I again speculated whether or not I had let my mind wander too far into the realms of imagination. Would this second book prove that I was far too apt to believe whatever marvels my mind was privy to? I blushed at the thought of my gullibility, but still couldn’t stop my hand as it grasped for the second book; this time, however, I reaped the fruit of my endeavors.
No writing inhabited any of the pages, but just as I prepared to indignantly return the book to its position and stomp out of the library while cursing my naïveté, a piece of paper fell from the inside cover of the book and landed on the floor. I shoved the book back into its position after checking inside the cover for more scraps of paper, and then eagerly bent to redeem my prized discovery. The paper contained very little, practically illegible writing, revealing only that she was her stepfathers favorite little dancer, but had to give up dancing when she had birthed a daughter. Incredulously, I examined the letters closer. At first, it seemed strange that many of the words were spelt improperly, but upon closer inspection I noticed that their misspellings were cause by extra letters thrown into the words, all of which were lightly underscored. Grabbing a pen from my purse, I shakily jotted down the misplaced letters from the note, and swiftly made sense of the hidden characters. My next objective was to locate the poems of John Keats.
Thankfully, there was but one collection of poems to explore for the vague messages of the unknown. I inspected each of Keats’s mystifying, celestial poems before coming across Ode to a Grecian Urn and the same familiar, furious handwriting. “I wish forever to be an ethereal piece of undying art. Instead, I must wither, decay, and forever fade away.” Where had I heard these words come from? The moment I heard them it was as if I had never been without them; as if they were intertwined with my soul and could never again depart from me. Who was this? I would never again, could never again, rest until they were brought to light, and begged for every sundry detail of their imperative existence. But how long have these admissions inhabited these pages? I switched my focus back to the current clue left by the curious stranger I was so peculiarly fond of to avoid becoming overwhelmed by my ardent confusion and fervent inquisitiveness.
My stranger had circled letters within her message which, when deciphered, spelt “inside.” Immediately I opened the book until the covers touched, held it upright, and caught the paper that slipped out from between the binding of the pages and the hard cover of the book. The notion had come to me as naturally as breathing. My mind wasn’t responsible for the action; my body worked entirely independent of all thought. It knew what to do before my mind could ever comprehend what the message meant. Baffled, I distracted my incredulity by indulging in the letter, concentrating all energy and sensation into absorbing every word. This letter was not the sum of a few measly sentences; this was a memoir, and my eyes alone were allowed to appreciate every curve of each character and every beautiful emotion that unveiled itself within the vulnerable words. The writing, however, was so frantic this time, and the ink smudged by the tears of its author, that I could not appreciate the bursting splendor and desolation contained within. Still I endeavored to extract as much knowledge as possible and dwelled on every word as the truth unveiled itself, leaving me incredulous and hysterical.
The mystifying author of the entrancing words was my mother. Her letter spoke of her childhood relations with her father’s friend, their subsequent, fleeting marriage, and my birth. I was the source of her quandary and misery. I was the reason she was forced to give up dancing to mother a daughter born to her abuser; the reason she planned to kill herself. She resented me for demanding life, and even more for spoiling the only love she was permitted. At first, she loved me as much as any mother loves her beautiful baby. She cared for me and spoilt me with more love than I could imagine. But children grow older, they need more, and they obey less. She no longer had her refuge; her shining moment of beauty beyond measure as she floated across the stage, and for stealing her only true joy she would always resent me. For days she couldn’t bear the sight of her wretched daughter playing in the corner. The being made her tremble with uncontrollable rage; until one day when she stood in front of the mirror, and could no longer stand the sight of herself. Her face was etched and blemished with years of abhorrence and cruelty; she had become an undeserving monster no better than the one who had stolen her childhood. She had forgiven me and recognized my innocence, but could never, she wrote, forgive herself.
I searched the letter over and over for some clue to another epistle, some trace of her still lingering in the letter, and some hint as to whether or not she was still alive. Through tear-brimmed eyes, I scarcely managed to catch a glimpse of a date at the bottom before a tear fell upon it and smeared the ink into an illegible blur. The date was that of today’s, but no year was indicated. Frantically wiping the tears from my eyes and scouring the letter one last time to obtain some indication as to her location, I caught her very last sentence, “if I had one last wish, It would be to see my daughter one last time.” The book slipped from my hands as I tightened my grip on the letter and raced hysterically out of the library. Welcoming the biting, bitter air on my drenched, burning cheeks, I raced home to embrace my stranger.
With tremulous hands I fumbled for the house key, but lost my hold on it and watched it fall through a crack in the porch. I spit a curse into the menacing wind while throwing myself into the door; slamming against it while shouting pleas of mercy and frenetically twisting the door knob. The world went black for a moment, and as I regained my senses I realized that the door had fallen open and I with it, bashing my head into the wall of the front hallway. But she doesn’t have a key. Ignoring the searing, throbbing pain in my head, I searched every sinister, miserable crevice of the house for any trace of my mother. But there was none. She wasn’t there. I went back to the front door. How had it opened if I locked it? I walked into the living and saw on the coffee table torn pieces of paper scattered among pens and pencils. Flashes of memories- were they memories? How could they be mine when I had no recollection of ever performing such tasks?- were overwhelming my senses, drowning out all other rational thoughts. I turned my attention to the table, upon which sat an empty bottle of pills next to twenty or thirty scattered large blue pills, and a glass of water. More flashes were overpowering me, I could see nothing but the memories. I had the library’s copy of Lolita in my lap and a pencil in my hand. I gazed into the fire where my copy of the novel was being devoured by flames. I floated to the fireplace. The world around me was nothing but a blur of colors, like an artist’s palate of paint after a particularly inspired creation. I stared inside. In the far-left corner of the hearth dwelled a small remnant of the cover of the story, which I now held between my fingers examining incredulously. A book containing various philosophers, including Francis Bacon, lay on the table along with a collection of John Keats’s poems and a tearstained letter written in my mother’s hand exactly three years ago on the day, just before she committed suicide. I smoothed out the crumpled letter and read it again; and then again. I felt my chest beginning to perforate. The pressure building up within my torso was growing too great to be contained. If she ended her life three years ago, why would I not remember?
I buried my face in my hands; my head was too heavy for my neck to support. I shoved my mother’s suicide note into the binding of the book of poems. Why? Why had I done this? What was happening to me? I crawled to the table- my chest was too tight to walk upright- and lifted myself up using one of the chairs. I studied the bottle of anti-psychotics. When had I done this? Is this my heart telling me to end this pathetic existence? My chest was growing tighter with every breath, my veins burning with the blood that boiled within. I channeled every emotion in me into my fingers; every ounce of energy I could muster pumped directly to their burned tips. I grabbed a blue pill, placed it on my desiccated tongue, and swallowed with the aid of water. I continued to consume the delicious blue candy until there wasn’t a single one left. My hand dropped to my side and my limp body slipped from the chair and onto the ground with a thud. I didn’t feel it; I could no longer feel a thing, but I heard it. I heard the tile crack beneath my head, I heard my skull bounce off of the tile before landing again, I heard my eyelids flutter to a close, I heard my blood slow its rush, and I heard my heart cease to beat as I prepared to reunite with my mother.
Thanks again if you made it through the whole thing. The story and everything as a whole is pretty lousy, but writing style/voice was my biggest concern. Though, that needs a great deal of work, as well. :P Thanks again!