Her Own Words
By Judith Cullen(c) 2013
To Be Continued . . .
If Elaine had been correct, and it had been a practical joke, that should have been the end of it. Middle aged woman annoyed – mission accomplished. End of story. But that was not the end of it.
Two days later she walked into her workroom, put her bag down next to her desk, and dropped the mail on top of it. She had avoided the room since the night of the storm, but there was work she needed to do from home tonight. She had totally forgotten about the note. She glanced across the desk as she began sorting the mail, separating the important things from those that would go straight to the recycling bin at her feet.
Except it wasn’t there, the note from the other night. There was a note there, but it was not the same note. Or was it? It was the same envelope, same old-fashioned looking paper, and the same familiar curvy handwriting “Elaine Harrison.” This envelope, however, was sealed. As it sat there on the desk, it was almost shouting at her already. Elaine didn’t want to know what it said. She pushed it to one side and went back to her mail.
Wait a minute! If it was sealed and a new note, how the hell did it get there? Could it have simply been the same note as before, and she just didn’t remember putting the note back in the envelope? It looked awfully neat and untouched teetering there on the edge of the desk. There was only one way to find out if it was the same note. She reached for it, tore open the flap, and ripped the note from inside.
She dropped the open note immediately and stared at it, a chill starting at her scalp and running all through her body. The curly, familiar script again, “Friends Forever!” with a heart at the bottom of the exclamation point. There, gushing across the corner of the page in red, the word “Liar!”
Elaine threw the envelope and note in the direction of the recycling bin and put her face in her hands. Who would do this? How had they gotten in her house? She was shaking as she got up and ran downstairs to use the kitchen phone. For reasons she could not even explain to herself, she didn’t want to call the police from the same room where the note was.
She felt foolish once the police left. She could just imagine what they were saying to each other as the patrol car pulled away from the curb: just another hormonal woman “of a certain age.” She hated that. She was an intelligent, accomplished woman who had worked hard all her life. She had not lost all her reason just because she had said “hello” and “goodbye” to the age of 50. The cops seemed to have neglected the importance of someone breaking into her house in order to place the second note.
“Yes ma’am, we understand your concern.”
“No ma’am, we can find no evidence of forced entry.”
“Ma’am, unless you have some reasonable idea as to who would do this, and what they want from you, there is not much we can do.”
“We’ll file a report ma’am, please sign here.”
“Good night ma’am. Don’t forget to lock the door behind us.”
“I’m menopausal you idiot, not demented!” She didn’t say it, but she thought it. They had managed to make her concerns seem trivial, placating her into irrelevance.
She checked the all the doors and windows twice, before going upstairs with a large glass of wine and the full intention to take her time in a hot bathtub full of bubbles. Work could wait.
When she went back into the workroom hours later she felt better, but the word “Liar!” jumped out at her the minute she walked in the door. The policeman had left the note sitting on the desk. She picked the note and envelope up with two fingers, as if it were infected, and tossed them in the direction of the recycling bin again. She was so determined to put the whole incident out of her mind that she didn’t see them miss the bin and float into her open bag, nestling down among the papers and files.
The next day Elaine came sailing into her office at an upscale local design firm. She flung her bag on her drafting table and plopped down at her desk to check email and phone messages.
Elaine’s specialty was rehabilitating derelict buildings into fresh new spaces for retail and business. She loved her work. She enjoyed learning about the long histories of the buildings she worked on, doing extensive research, and finding ways to meld the building’s past with the present in her designs. She liked to think that she celebrated what the building once was, with what the building could be. It was very satisfying work, bringing something to life that was seemingly dead.
She was just finishing checking her computer and the phone, taking a big gulp of her now warm morning coffee when she noticed a familiar bit of antique paper lurking in her bag across the room.
“I thought I tossed that out.”
She got up slowly, walking to the bag. There it was: a small, crisp, sealed envelope addressed to her in her own hand. Elaine took it and felt the dread run through her, even though she hadn’t opened it. She walked back to her desk, feeling unsettled and sat down. She broke the seal, pulled the paper out, cringing as she opened it and sucked in a sharp breath. The ballpoint ink scrolled the words “You are the sister I never had.” This time the red words screamed across the middle of the block of cool blue ink: “Phony!”
There was tap at her office door, and Elaine jumped, stuffing the envelope and note into her jacket pocket. She pasted a nervous smile on her face, “Yes?”
“Is everything all right, Elaine?”
“Yes, yes I am fine. What can I do for you?”
She pushed the dread and fear forcibly out of her mind, willing her attention on work, for the moment forgetting the note still pulsing in her pocket.
When Elaine got home that night she felt exhausted. It had taken a lot of energy to stay focused during the day, and not let her thoughts stray to the note. It was almost a perceptible weight in her pocket. She hadn’t had time to deal with it. She didn’t let herself have the time.
She collapsed into a chair in the living room and heard the paper crackle. She wanted to ignore it, but she knew she couldn’t. She pulled the envelope out, half hoping that it and the note would be exactly as they were when she’d stuffed them in there hours ago. She knew better, though. Sure enough, the envelope was crisp and sealed, despite her hearing it crinkle in her pocket. It should have been at least a little rumpled. It was not. She drew in a breath and broke the seal again.
“I will always be there for you,” declared the ballpoint ink. This time, there were three red words hemorrhaging across the page: “Where? Where? Where?” The question marks looked like they had been carved with a knife and each word was underlined, the final one three times.
Elaine did not drop the note, but held it tight in her shaking hand. The note wanted to know. Elaine wanted to know. What did these all have in common, these messages? Of course, the paper and envelope were the same. In fact they seemed to stay the same, regenerating with each new message. It seemed that once she had let the note into the house it stayed with her where ever she went. It was trying to tell her something. What?
She drummed her fingers on the arm of the chair while the note still shook in her hand. She got up and went into the kitchen for a scrap of paper and a pen, and wrote down the words from the notes in two columns. Somehow the red words seemed to scream less on the copied page, but were still unsettling. She focused on the ballpoint words instead:
“Stay cute and sweet”
“You are the sister I never had.”
“I will always be there for you.”
Then the thought came to her. These were yearbook words! It was the sort of thing you scribbled in the margins and on the tops of photographs in the frenzy of the end of the year dedications. She put the papers on the coffee table and walked over to the shelves that surrounded her modest entertainment center. She always unpacked them, where had she put them? Ah! There they were peeking out from behind the end of the sofa on the bottom shelf. She pushed the sofa enough to pull out the yearbook from her senior year in High School. “Might as well start somewhere,” she thought. She poured herself a big mug of soothing green tea in the kitchen, and came back resolutely to the coffee table and made herself comfortable on the couch.
She stuffed the note back in its envelope hoping that would quiet the red words while she searched through the book. She folded the scratch paper list in half so she could see just the ballpoint ink words, and placed it where she could easily reference them. She began flipping through the pages of thirty year old photographs and memories, methodically reading each inscription looking for the words that matched.
After a half an hour she found them. Of course! Why hadn’t she remembered? Rebecca Jonas had been her best friend all through High School. They had spent practically every weekday of the summer before their senior year together while their parents were at work, and most of the weekends. They were so close that, when yearbook time came, they had written exactly the same dedications in each others yearbooks. Elaine smiled remembering how they had laughed at their own private little joke.
She put the yearbook down and raced upstairs to her workroom, booting up her computer and beginning her search. Rebecca was the key to all this. She looked through periodicals, listings on professional sites. Good gracious, there were a whole lot of women named Rebecca Jonas in the world! The two of them had pledged to stay in touch and had done so through college, though they had gone to schools on opposite sides of the country. They had even gone out together a few times after college. Slowly, unintentionally they had grown apart. It had been years, well over a decade since Elaine had heard anything about her once best friend. She had no idea what had become of Rebecca.
She narrowed her search, trying to find local listings of someone about her age. Then she found what she was looking for. Rebecca was dead. She had died six years ago that very month. Elaine sat back in her chair and brought a fist to her mouth, her vision misting over with tears. She’d had no idea. She hadn’t known. “Oh my God.”
She walked soberly back downstairs and opened a closet door, pulling out boxes and searching for some other piece of her past. In a box with some old college text books she found the scrapbook that she and Rebecca had made that incredible summer when they had been inseparable. She brought it back to the coffee table and began looking through it, and the yearbook, with a whole new set of eyes. Rebecca’s sunny face was everywhere, laughing, sharing secret looks, being ridiculously goofy. They had gone swimming, read Jane Austen novels together, sorted college catalogs, watched daytime television, eaten tons of junk food, and prophesied about who they would be with at dances during their all-important senior year. Elaine relived every moment of that summer, and every important event of their senior year. The ache in her heart grew with each memory, knowing that there was no way Rebecca could share these sweet reminiscences with her ever again.
To Be Continued . . .