I stood before the bookcase. Marian’s daughter Anne was next in line. I looked at Marian’s journal on the desk debating whether I should continue reading in chronological order as I had done with Emile’s book or if I should just finish Marian’s book and then pick up Anne’s. The back and forth did slow down my reading.
I should catalogue the topics as I read, I thought. I had been making notes but realized they would not work as a formal catalogue. That meant going back through Emile’s journal and starting Marian’s over. Better to start now than to realize I should have been doing it all along later. I retrieved Emile’s book and set it on top of Marian’s. The library was quiet but the small room left little room to breath.
I carried the two journals and the notepad into the kitchen. The table was empty. “I don’t suppose you’d mind if I just sat in the corner to do some work. The light is better in here than in the library. I promise to stay out of your way.”
Rose looked at me. “We’re working on lunch now but the table should remain fairly unused.”
I sat on the aged wood bench against the wall. Recently, it had been sealed to prevent splinters. The surface of the table was equally worn and sealed. My hand slid across the glaze. Echoes of those who had been there before rang in my head. Nothing distinct, clatter of plates, laughter and murmurs of conversation. This wood had more to say than the desk in the library.
That corner, easily, became my favorite place to work. I catalogued Emile’s journal before I gave my attention to Marian’s. Her book covered nearly fifty years of life on the island. As she aged, her observations were more clinical. She was writing for posterity, to preserve. There were still so many gaps and unexplained moments. I wished she had opted to write more and fill two books than keep her story confined to the one volume. In two days’ time, I returned the sisters to the shelf and began Anna’s journal.
I have waited for this moment for thirteen years. Every evening my mother sits with her book. I, secretly, have read passages. My aunt has been gone for six years. I am beginning to forget her. I loved her. It is as if my family is fading away. Grandmother, even grandfather who still lives in the dungeon. Mother says his suffering is nearly over. No one will allow him to return upstairs even as he is dying. After Emile, the baby, was born, Uncle John refused to come inside. He did not want to hold his daughter. His wife was gone. He cried for so long, my own heart broke. They set her body aflame on the waves. He walked back to the house with everyone else but stopped before he reached the door. I watched him. I shouldn’t have because he took off all his clothes. I couldn’t stop watching. Not because he was naked. He became the beast they all fear. His skin greyed. Not the color of stone as I had imagined, just an uncommon pallor. His fingers extended into claws but the most impressive part was the wings. I stared until my mother pulled me inside. As the door closed, he flew into the trees. He stayed there for many years. Until Little Emile was playing outside by herself while I did my morning chores. She fell and John came down from the trees. He’s been human since. He hardly talks to anyone except his daughter. I envy them. My father is too busy to talk with me, conspire like they do. I won’t deny the beast, not like they do. I want to be the beast but mama says that girls don’t change. We are more important than they know. We are the anchor, the part that keeps the beast from being wild. Even with Uncle John’s time in the trees, he is not wild. He has no desire for the girls with the open doors. Not in six years has he been with anyone else. He once said that his wife’s death was his fault, he had gone upstairs instead of staying true to her. He will never do so again. Makes me wonder if the man I marry will love me even after I am gone.
“Anything interesting in all those musty books?”
I looked up and the youngest of the kitchen girls, Sophie, stood across the table from me. I nodded, “You’d probably find it interesting. All the books start when the girls turn 13. They write about their life on the island.”
“Think I’ll wait until the movie comes out,” she said with a wink and a smile. Rose turned to glare at her. Her smile stifled giggles. I watched her as she sat down, putting her head in her hands. “I bet you are very smart.” I didn’t respond but tried to puzzle out what brought her to that conclusion. “My teacher said you have to watch out for the quiet ones, they are far smarter than they look. She, also, said I was too smart for my own good but I’m not that quiet.”
I set aside my reading. “Are you going back to school in the fall?” I hadn’t much of an opportunity to look at this girl.
“Sort of, Mr. Glass is sending us to university. I was accepted early. My teacher said it was better than having me back at the boarding school. I was an honor student but they said I was obstinate.”
“Oh, what a wonderful opportunity. And all with your sisters.”
She shrugged. “I doubt we’ll see much of each other.”
“What do you want to study?”
The smile split her face in two. “Aeronautical engineering. But it may be more practical to study marine engineering so I can come home and work on the boat. I’d much rather spend the day out at sea than stuck here in the kitchen.”
Rose set a bowl of potatoes on the table and handed Sophie a knife. She rolled her eyes but accepted the task without a word. “I’m thinking I could design an engine that would cut our travel time from the island to the mainland in half. Dad lets me tinker and last year I was able to ramp it up and shave an entire thirty minutes from the trip. With fuel costs, I want to make it biodiesel. Imagine we could compost our own fuel. I’ve read a few articles on it but without computer access on the island, I’m already behind on the latest research. Dad picked me up a few mags his last trip in but there’s so much more to know.” She peeled potatoes as she spoke.
As more days passed, I listened to the research she found fascinating. This nearly invisible girl was suddenly animated and excited. Her eyes shone in the fading light. I remembered a young girl who had that same passion, about a number of things. She reminded me of the young girls who documented life on the island. The long passages were always on the same topics, the thing that sparked life into them.
‘Dearest Rael, I wish you could see her,’ I wrote, ‘she’s so smart and passionate. I know she’s human but I feel like I should help her. I know she would be an asset. Today, she shared how she helped install the generator for the manor. I wonder if she’d be able to help solve long term problems here. On the other hand, I feel like she should be allowed to have a life out there in the world. She shouldn’t be kept away. She reminds me of you. I understand her passion but only a small percentage of her actual dialogue. I could watch her talk all day. An engineer and she’s so young. I don’t suppose you’d be able to send something to help her survive the summer? I think a good journal to write down ideas and to sketch them. So, pencils and the like. You always know exactly what to get. Perhaps some of the latest research. I know I should figure out more so you could find the right research.
‘I finished the journals started in the 1600’s. An entire shelf read and catalogued. I find myself going back to Anna’s first entry. It’s the only mention of John and his living in the trees. Makes me wonder why Marian overlooked it. Perhaps in her own grief she couldn’t bring herself to talk about his. Funny what we find important. I think of my own journal and wonder if I skip things that would be more interesting to those reading it in the future. Maybe we hide those things we don’t wish to examine.
‘I envy him. I envy you. I don’t think I will ever be that free. I do find that I think of my father often. He is so different from the men in these journals. Makes me wonder what Beatrice knew. I want to skip to her journal. I’ve held it in my hand. But it’s on the third shelf and I don’t want my notes to get out of order. With Love, Lanie.’
Grey greeted me as I arose. The overcast sky was not heavy enough to bring true rain. I opened the window. The humidity was oppressive, the air stagnant and hot. I shivered in response. I hated to close up the room. I prayed the evening wind would blow away the clouds and I could open the windows before I went to bed. I turned my attention to the computer. What I needed waited for me there. ‘Dearest Lanie, I will be more than happy to help a fellow nerd. What words get her most excited? That will help me find the research that she’ll like best. I know exactly which book to get her for ideas – the same one you bought me all those years ago. Think I’ll send you extra, just in case.
‘Did I tell you that I actually finished that project with the sat link? I know the details put you to sleep so I won’t bore you with them;) The part that will interest you is if it proves successful, you should have more reliable phone and internet where you are. I miss talking to you. I know you are good about sending emails but it’s not the same. I didn’t think it would bother me. I feel like, I don’t know, I just miss you. Have you uncovered any great secrets? I know you will. You will walk away knowing more about that island than anyone. Don’t forget to take some time for yourself and to rest. Especially right now. I won’t survive if anything happens to you. Love Rael.’
I fought against the tears. If I started, I’d never stop. I knew the sun would return and I would be shifting into the pleasure cycle soon. I just had to survive until then.