Harry pulled out the pad of paper and the pencil, which was worn down to the last two inches. He’d have to find a new pencil for the next chapter. Each pencil seemed to only last three chapters apiece.
Maybe there were some stored in the attic, or perhaps in a drawer in the kitchen. For all those shopping lists he makes but never remembers to bring to the store. Mary would’ve yelled at him for that.
He diverted his attention from Mary to the page. In truth, this chapter was hers completely, but the real Mary, not the imaginary person who wasn’t around to argue with Harry anymore. He fought too many of those fights in his head, it was time to get back to the truth.
Chapter 46 of his epic book, that was the focus today. It was to be the most important chapter in his memoir about his journey across America. When he was in love with Mary.
He set pencil to paper and wrote “The day I left Mary was the worst day of my life, but I hesitate to regret-” and then the tip of his pencil broke. Harry sighed, throwing the pencil across the room. It bounced out of the corner and rolled under the wine cabinet.
The cabinet was large and cumbersome, and he’d never bothered to clean underneath it in all of his years living in this house. The bottles inside weres too fragile to try and move.
There were probably a hundred pencils that had found their way underneath that cabinet over the years. Maybe more. Harry smiled at the idea of countless insects, spiders, and other critters that were now writing their own memoirs about building webs and avoiding daylight and watching cousins and ancestors get killed by spray and tissues over the years.
The image of a spider holding a pencil in a few of its arms suddenly entered his mind. It was an absurd thought. Mary would’ve told him it was absurd. To laugh at something so ridiculous was a sign of immaturity, according to Mary. And she would have been right, as she so often was.
Still, under the wine cabinet there were so many stories, all in that tiny space. There were as many stories under it as inside it.
Harry walked to the cabinet, kicked at the dust bunnies, then opened the doors. Inside were dozens of empty wine bottles. The one in the bottom right slot still had the cork in the mouth, despite the wine having been drunk ages ago. The rest had unblocked mouths. All of them held a date written in thin, expert calligraphy with a date on it.
11/22/86 was the day he’d met Mary, in the top row to the left. The last bottle, on the bottom right, was 7/6/99. The day he’d left Mary. He’d never intended to re-open any of these bottles.
But then there was Monday, a month ago, when he changed his mind. Well, Mary changed it for him, of course. She always like to change things, up until the day he’d left.
A fire had burned through most of his yard a month ago, and the east wing of his home was left to ash and burn away in the afternoon. If he’d been home, Harry would have burned with it. But he was out and running errands, with the bulk of his day spent at the post office shipping books to Mary. Years it’d been since they’d spoken, and suddenly she had sent him a note about her health. She’d likely be dead within the year, if not sooner.
Despite this time apart, she still remembered the notebooks they’d filled together during their travels. Journals, diaries, bits of information about various road-stops in America. Their relationship was a traveling one, a different mood for different towns. And now she finally wanted those books. Which was fine for Harry, since he never looked at them and was even surprised they were still in his home.
Her letter said she just wanted to relive the memories one last time. Harry understood. But still, that trip to the post office took the wind from his sails, and the scattered memories from Mary’s letter had driven Harry to a tavern. He ordered a drink and watched it on the bar for an hour. He paid, and left without drinking.
Back home, he watched as the firefighters washed away the flames, then poured himself a water. The boxes of notebooks were in the east wing, and would also have burned and crisped and been lost forever, had Mary not asked for them. Again, he understood that something larger was in the works when she’d asked for them. She seemed to have had a sense that time was pressing.
What Harry didn’t quite grasp was her desire to read about their last day. After he’d shipped her the notebooks, about three weeks later, she wrote him another note asking where the last notebook was. But she didn’t seem to realize that the never wrote the last book. Because that was the day he left her, so their journey on paper remained unwritten. The tail end of their time together were their worst days, when he was pushing her away, choosing to fill his time with spirits and wine and highs the likes of which no human should pursue to experience.
But, a woman’s dying wish — especially an ex-lover — was important. So he sat, that night, in the den and opened the cabinet. He had pulled out the first bottle, on the top left, and opened it. Breathing that bottled air, the memories flooded back at once, and from those memories he wrote 10,000 words in one painful sitting. In order to write that last chapter, he’d have to relive them all, one by one, despite his reservations.
Now, a month later, he’d reached that last bottle. From the day he’d left her in that field in Texas in order to enlist. And his pencil was broken.
He realized the bottle was still corked, and that perhaps the universe was telling him to not just recall the events from that day, but to breathe that air and relive it all again. So he pulled down the bottle, and ran his finger over the cork.
Walking into the kitchen, he dug around in a drawer and found a pencil, dull at the tip but manageable. Struggling with shaking hands, Harry managed to pull the cork from that first bottle. He took a deep breath.