When I was in high school, I read a book. I’d been browsing the fiction section at my local library, walking a well-worn path of my own making, when I saw it. A smallish hardcover that drew the eye with a close up of the inside of a beehive. The clustered insects suggested something at once familiar, yet dangerous. Inside could be honey but, then again, discovering the truth might sting. Intrigued enough to pick it up, I added it to my stack, never guessing that the slim volume, half the length of the others, would change my life.
Inside, I found a series of short stories written by an old woman. I mention this because she stressed the point. She won me with that point; this was the book she’d been waiting for years to write. You see, these were the stories she’d collected all her life. Saved from oblivion and carried with her until she could unpack them, when everyone in the stories had died. After a lifetime of filling the silence around them with tales of her own, these were the stories she could finally tell.
This struck a chord with me because I too had a story, but not one I could tell at the time. Over the years, I’ve collected a few more, but this was the first. (If you have your own, write them. If you don’t, go find them).
My great uncle killed himself. Or, maybe he didn’t. My great uncle was murdered. Or, maybe he wasn’t. Nobody knows. The story exists, as all stories do, in the grips of that uncertainty. In between is the knowing.
At the time, if anyone had bothered to investigate, they could have found the truth. Except, the truth was, he was a bad guy. He inherited his father’s mean streak, drank too much, beat his family, and when he died, everyone decided it was probably for the best.
I had no idea about any of this until I overheard my uncle use the phrase, “skeletons in our closet.” Later, when I asked my dad what that meant, I learned way more than I’d bargained for—suicide, murder, the unthinkable burden of being asked to decide.
I picked up part of that weight and carried the story with me until everyone who knew the truth had died. Then, I set it down.
I’ve searched for that book. The little one covered in bees. The world got bigger, search engines got better, and I made accounts on all the lost book message boards, but I’ve never found it again. In a world where I can watch an orange juice commercial from the year I was born in less than twenty seconds, a whole book has disappeared. It doesn’t really matter. It’s just one book. And, I already carry it with me everywhere I go.
Except, I can’t stop thinking about the author. The woman who lugged those stories from house to house, dredged up by middle of the night wakings, and dropped into whispered confidences. Now that I know how heavy they are, I feel like I owe it to her to rescue her tales from their purgatory again.
If you hear, in your travels, the buzzing of bees or the whispering of long-dead ghosts— stop, listen until it scares you, and find the story. And, if anyone can locate the book of my memory, I’d be eternally grateful.
Mattea has a Master’s in English Literature from SUNY Binghamton and lives in upstate New York with her husband and three children. They’re all wonderful, nothing said subsequently implies otherwise. If she doesn’t write–she dreams. A lot. Usually about ninjas with sharp knives. To cut down on the blood and the body count, she writes–a lot.
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Featured Photo Credit: Is it a murder or a suicide? – © Victoria Ivanova