Works in Progress

Here is the start of something great. Or mediocre. Time will tell…

Margaret Wilkes was a tornado as she tore through the attic. She knocked over box after box of Matthew’s artifacts, each meticulously labeled with date, location, and a brief description of the objects it contained. Athens. Tegucigalpa. Lamu.

Here was Istanbul, Turkey. They had gone there on their honeymoon, and Margaret was thrilled to be touring a place so exotic to her with an expert on the region. She recalled his voice, professorial yet enthusiastic, describing the history of the city as they walked through Beyazit Square. Of course, they had few pictures to show from their time there—he did not want to look like a tourist, and “only tourists pose in front of rug shops.”

Matthew would hate her touching his things, disturbing their order, and the idea of him squirming and grimacing almost made her smile. After all, the minute he left her for a three-month excavation in Gambia (and the young, female student assisting on the project), he absconded any claim on those boxes or their contents.

When she came up to the attic two hours earlier, she’d had a plan: start in the northwest corner and look, box by box, for her own treasure. But after seeing more and more of Matthew’s things, it had become clear she wasn’t going to find a box labeled, “Margaret / Cincinnati / Things that are Special.” That was when she decided on the new approach. She hoped that in the chaos of the mess she was making—crates shifted, shelves overturned, the floor a mineshaft—she would discover the object that had recently become most precious to her.

It had been almost a month since Matthew left, and Margaret had been defiant—almost gleeful— telling him not to bother coming back. But once she was alone in that big house, the only person she wanted to talk to was Kim. Kim would understand her conflicting emotions like no one else; she would comfort and not judge.

She and Matthew had loved this house, the large rooms and hallways accentuated with crown molding and hardwood floors and bold colors they’d picked out together. But now each room seemed cavernous, echoing with her husband’s absence. At this moment, she hated her house. Margaret imagined a larger tornado ripping across Southwest Ohio, carving out a path of destruction that hit her three-story nineteenth century home she once loved. There would be debris on the street of course, maybe a few shingles knocked off the neighbors’ roofs, but—tornadoes were random like this—only her house would be destroyed.

Here was Kohika, New Zealand. Matthew had traveled there in 2005 as a visiting professor with the University of Auckland. Margaret wanted to go with him—New Zealand had always been her dream destination—but he said it wouldn’t be a good idea. At the time, his reasons made sense.

Finally, in the southeast corner, in a box labeled “miscellaneous,” she found it—a journal with a Mary Cassatt image of two children playing in a sandbox. This small artifact was hers and Kim’s—it went between them, like two junior high kids passing notes during algebra, first when they were roommates, sophomores in college, and later, after each had married. Kim to Paul Johnson and Margaret to Matthew Wilkes.

Did you see the looks between Professor B and Debbie? Margaret had written. Now I know why she got an A on the Piaget essay.

He must have reverted back to preoperational. Classic egocentrism, Kim had later responded. Happy for Margarita Monday!

The journal was full of quick notes to each other as well as longer exchanges. Margaret wrote of her sadness after a breakup while Kim confessed her excitement over a new relationship. The book had remained a sacred text for as long as their friendship was intact.

But now, like so much else in her life, it was a relic. Ignoring the mess around her, she came down two creaky flights of stairs.

Margaret sat down at her kitchen table and opened the journal to the first blank page. She wrote in a shaky script:

Even before your name is flashed—yellow, all caps, sans serif—I know it’s you. The bimbo with the impossibly white teeth and hair that could withstand a windstorm can barely contain her excitement: “Our top story tonight is the shooting death of Kim Johnson, wife of prominent…” And after I shudder and cry, I mutter, “I told you so.”

 

 

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