BOOKMARKS

You can learn so much from a person by what is tucked between the pages of their books. Some mark their spot with the standard bookmark found on racks at the front counter in every gift shop. Others use receipts, post-it notes, and forgotten to-do lists. But some make it more personal by using photos of loved ones, prayers, and postcards from favorite far-off places. Some don’t use anything at all.

In my work at a university library, I am always amazed by what is left in books that people deem unworthy for their own collections so they are donated to ours. The hardest, and most interesting, items come from the library of someone who has recently passed away. Their literary lives are frozen in time—half-finished books, forgotten letters, and grocery lists never shopped for. What forgotten memories do these items hold?

I have found political brochures from the 1950’s. A list of deceased family members to be prayed for. Postcards with no return address. Military coins. Dried flowers. Stamps. Divorce papers. Plane tickets to Paris. And of course, bookmarks.

I always wonder if their soul will ever find out how the story ends.

INCURABLE

The reports trickled in slowly. First, it was whispers between strangers on the bus. Then it was all friends could talk about over their evening cocktails. It was stealthy in the way it took over our lives until you couldn’t turn on a TV or log into Facebook without hearing the latest news. The disease swept our country until almost no one was unaffected.

It was a disease that had plagued humans for as long as we can remember. It has come and gone throughout history. It has killed billions. There is no cure. Life-long friends turn on each other. It has divided families.

“Mommy?”

“Yeah, sweetie?” I reply distractedly as yet another report comes on.

“I’m scared.”

DON’T GO HOME AGAIN

The first thing she notices as she drives up the road was the great oak tree her great-grandfather had planted was gone. Instead, there was a stump surrounded by a chaotic array of wildflowers and a broken glider swing. The driveway was overgrown and riddled with potholes. It has been more than ten years since anyone came this way.

The house sits on the edge of picturesque wheat fields with a pine forest stretching for acres behind it. She remembered when she first drove past it in the backseat of her parents Chevy station wagon. They saw the rolling golden oats and the blossoming trees. All she saw were the foreboding shadows and the isolation. She didn’t take a full breath until they turned the corner and the plot was out of sight. Over the years the shadows only got darker.

She parks in front of the sinking wrap-around porch. The paint has been peeling since it was first coated on the tin siding. It was always a battle against the wind and the rain. Most of the windows no longer had glass in them. Her mother would cry if she could see the state of her favorite stained glass window. She could see the back living room wall through the holes no one had bothered to fill in. She turns around in time to see the deputy park his car next to hers.

“What are you doin’ here Kate? It’s been a long time.”

It’s been nearly two decades since she’d last seen the deputy. Make that sheriff now. The memories are not kind. He’s a little thicker around the middle and his hair is more snow than sand. His eyes are still crystal blue and granite hard.

“Would you believe I was just passing through?”

He follows her as she walks around the side the of the house. The garden resembles a swamp more than anything vegetables would grow in. The marks of running footsteps have been overgrown with prairie grass. She kicks a rock that somehow seems to be the source of my frustration. It’s better than kicking the real one. She’s trying to keep the memories at bay.


The first bullet missed the window but the second went thru the lower pane. Glass shattered all over the front porch swing. She was too young to realize how dangerous those small popping sounds were. She knew that when the black noise maker came out, daddy was mad. Those nights were long and sleepless. Mamma usually went to bed downstairs with blue and purple rings around her eyes. She was only seven when she first grabbed a dirty dish rag to wipe away her mother’s tears.

By the time she was ten she had become a master liar. She spun tales better than spiders spun webs. Fragile, works of art and no one bothered it for fear the truth would fall out.


She looks over her shoulder as the sheriff trips over what’s left of the old wood pile. She can’t breathe. The shed is a pile of broken rubble. One wall still stands. All that’s left of the door are the silver hinges that are dingy and blackened. She unglues her feet from the path and starts walking. She steps around the broken handle of Daddy’s old ax and stops to peer at the stain inside the open doorway.

“The least you guys could have done was clean up the blood.”