The Lost Girls - Heather Young
I found this notebook in the desk yesterday. I didn’t know I had any of them left, those books I bought at Framer’s with their black-and-white marbled covers and their empty, lined pages waiting to be filled. When I opened it, the binding crackled in my hands and I had to sit down.
The edges of the book’s pages were yellow and curled, but their centers were white, and they shouted in the quiet of the parlor. Long ago, I filled these books with stories, simple things the children enjoyed, but this one demanded something else. It was as though it had lain in wait beneath stacks of old Christmas cards and faded stationery until now, when my life has begun to wane with the millennium and my thoughts have turned more and more to the past.
It’s been sixty-four years. That doesn’t feel so long, strange though it may seem to you, but Mother is dead, and Father, and Lilith; I am the last. When I am gone, it will be as though that summer never happened. I’ve thought about this as I sit in my chair on the porch, as I take my evening walk up to the bridge, and as I lie awake listening to the water shifting in the dark. I’ve even taken to sleeping in Lilith’s and my old room, in the small bed that used to be mine. Last night I watched the moonlight on the ceiling and thought of the many nights I have lain there: as a child, as a young girl, and now as an old woman. I thought about how easy it would be to let all of it pass from the earth.
When morning came, I made my buttered toast and set it on its flowered plate, but I didn’t eat it. Instead I sat at the kitchen table with this book open before me, listening to the wind in the trees and feeling the house breathe. I traced my finger along the scratches and gouges in the elm table my great-grandfather made for his new wife in the century before I was born. It was the heart of the cabin he built on their homestead, and of the home their son built in the town that came after, but their grandson thought it crude, fit only for this, his summer house. Its scars are worn now; the years have smoothed them to dark ripples in the golden wood.
As I said, I am the last. Since Lilith’s passing three years ago, the story of that summer has been mine alone, to keep or to share. It’s a power I’ve had just once before, and I find I am far less certain what to do with it now than I was then. I hold secrets that don’t belong to me; secrets that would blacken the names of the defenseless dead. People I once loved. Better to let it be, I tell myself.
But this notebook reminds me it’s not so simple as that. I owe other debts. I made other promises. And not all the defenseless dead, loved or not, are virtuous. Still, I have no doubt that I would have remained silent, waiting for my own death to decide the matter, had I not found it. Its empty pages offer me a compromise, one that I, who have rarely had the fortitude to make irrevocable choices, have decided to accept.
So I will write my family’s story, here in this book that bided its time so well. I will tell it as fully as I can, even the parts that grieve me. When I am