Brenda shook her head, walked out of the kitchen, and stepped into the hallway. The hallway connected to the foyer where the front door was. There was always a draft there as the door didn’t fit snugly in the frame. This time, she welcomed the temperature difference. She closed her eyes and thought back, back to that one day when their father had told their mother that it was over.
He had told their mom that he had seen another for a while, and she was pressing for a commitment. And so he made a commitment to her breaking the one that he had with his wife and first two children.
Brenda had heard her parents argue. Something about her children being much younger and needing a father around while here he wasn’t needed anymore. Not one word about love, fidelity, loyalty, or friendship. Her mother had demanded to know: “Do you still love me?”
I do not think you ever answered that question. Did you, dad?
Brenda had watched her father pack and leave with the meager excuse that he was needed elsewhere. No hugs, not even a peck on the cheek. A cold good-bye as if there had been no family history. As if he had never rejoiced in their births, had never cuddled with them, never loved them.
Her brother had taken it hard. He immediately assumed the role of the man in the house, and to his credit, he helped and supported their mother through this hell. He also hardened. He now measured time against pleasure, advantage against effort, and return of investment against hopes and dreams.
When the divorce papers arrived, he read them first before showing them to their mother. He knew she’d be crushed as soon as he had read the second page. Their father had suggested that since both children never discussed college when he was still living at home that he should be forgiven child support and/or contributions to their college funds. In exchange, he would give their mother a quick and undisputed divorce out of court. He argued that he needed his money for his younger children from the other woman while claiming that the two older children could get jobs and scholarships to further their education themselves. And, if no agreement could be reached he would fight for it in court. He claimed he would win.
Brenda and her brother had spent hours wondering what would happen if indeed their father won in court. They knew that their mother would never relieve him of financial support. Money was tight. But that wasn’t what bothered them the most. The betrayal, his double life. That was worse.
Brenda’s thoughts were interrupted by her brother’s voice.
“Sis, you do understand that becoming an engineer means that you have to go to college, right? And you do realize that having enough to make ends meet every month now does not mean that we can afford two college educations later, right? You do get it that we need financial support, RIGHT?”
Brenda turned around and faced her younger brother who was still standing in the middle of the kitchen. In his left fist the divorce papers and in his right the journal that they had found a few days ago.
“If he dares to take mom to court, we tell him that we found the journal. And that we will sell online. I bet he thought nobody would ever find it.”
“But he didn’t take it with him when he packed, so it cannot have the value you claim it has.”
“Then explain why this was in the safe deposit box in an envelope marked
to be destroyed unopened in case of my death
and that envelope was tucked away underneath a pile of old tax forms. It is dad’s handwriting on the envelope, Bren.”
A few days ago, Brenda had gone to the bank with her brother. They had searched through the files in the deposit box for anything that could help their mother during the divorce procedures. They had not found anything of value except that marked envelope.
Recognizing his father’s handwriting, her brother had torn it open. A journal fell out. An old leather-bound journal with a cracked spine. The leather had several dry patches that were flaking. If you rubbed your finger over those spots small particles came loose.
Brenda had been the first to hold it. It was A5 size and it fitted well in her hand. The cover was soft and pliable. The front and the back were worn. Inside was a ruled journal made from heavy cream coloured paper that absorbed ink well.
The handwriting was cursive, very neat, and steady. She had fanned the pages hoping to smell or quickly spot something that could tell her what had been written on all those pages. And then they both saw it.
The neat and steady handwriting changed towards the end of the journal. It turned into a shaky, clumsy handwriting with words crossed out and too much pressure applied to the pen leaving markings all over the last few pages. The untidy handwriting then became almost childlike. No longer written on the lines and with capitals in awkward places, they saw that some pages contained just a few words written in big letters. Her brother had suggested that they start reading the journal backwards.
The last journal entry had read as part of an instruction manual. It listed items to bring with measurements and check marks. They had looked at the date at the top of the page: Neshoba County, Mississippi, 1964.
Her brother had paled instantly and she had felt a cold shudder through her heart. While her brother had tried hard not to throw up in the banks’ booth, she had flipped the journal to the front page. In the neat, steady handwriting she saw: “Property of James Callahan, Sr. Night Hawk.”
In complete silence, they had cleaned up all the files, placed everything back into the safe deposit box, had tucked the journal and envelope inside Brenda’s handbag, and had returned the box. They had said nothing to each other on the way back home. When they came in and their mother had asked them what was wrong, they had told her that they had eaten too much ice cream and felt sick. She had sent them to bed and had brought them both a heating pad.
After they had heard her footsteps going back down the stairs, Brenda had taken the journal and had sneaked into her brother’s room. She had found him on his stomach on his bed, crying. Without a word, she had held him until the crying stopped.
She remembered what he had answered when she said: “You know that this journal was Pop’s, right?”
He had looked up and said “I just know that now we have a bargaining position, Brenda. Who would want this to come out in court?”
Jan 2, 2015 by Alice de Sturler
Reminder: I write flash fiction posts usually within one to two hours after inspiration hits me. I do use the spell checker but then I post it on my blog so yes, you will always find grammar mistakes.
Perfection is not the goal here. This is about showing you where my imagination takes me when I read or see something.
This piece was inspired by the the line: “our romance is through” from the song “I’ll never smile again” by Tommy Dorsey with Frank Sinatra and The Pied Pipers on vocals, from February 1946.