Excerpt from Chapter 23 of Chasing Victoria
I wonder how long the note lay on the counter. Did Aiden write it during his last visit, perhaps months or even a year ago? No matter how long, he knew I’d find my way back home. With a sudden urge for tea, I fill the kettle and search the cabinets. A carousel replete with international teas spins to a squeaky halt. The spicy aroma of assorted leaves stroke my nostrils with cloves, cardamom, peppercorn, and ginger, evoking memories of the ever-present cup in my mother’s hand. Finding my favorite navy mug etched with a white anchor and Judith’s favorite chai tea, I wait for the water to boil while dissonance storm noise serenade my linger. An ensemble of crashing waves, whirling gale, creaking wood beams, and then a piercing whistle joins the orchestra.
In the gallery, I pause under the skylight with my eyes shut and listen to the familiar pitter-patter of rain on the roof and windows—a sound I loved as a child. Then a loud groan, splintering crackle, and thump in the front yard interrupt serenity. Afraid of the hazard outside, I’m hesitant to open the door. The lock releases, a whoosh of wind knocks the doorknob from my hand; swinging the door backward with a bang. Jostled by the storm’s strength, a gusty struggle ensues as I close the door. But before I do, a split tree entangled in a sparkling power line sends a flicker through the house, darkening the space with minuscule firelight. Fearing the darkness, I search for the emergency kit in the bottom kitchen cabinet. A box filled with items for a stormy night—flashlights, batteries, candles, matches, an old battery-powered radio, and a bottle of Aiden’s favorite scotch.
Placing the candles in four hurricanes, I position them throughout the room and head to the telephone. Dead; no dial tone . . . What now Vicky? A ghostly image of Judith running about the candlelit room like a child emerges—thrilled by the dangerous storm and the darkness inside. “Vic, this will be fun. We can toast marshmallows by fire. How about s’mores?” I smile. Only Judith could find delight in danger. I wonder if her private stash still lays hidden in the pantry. With the flashlight, I find marshmallows, Graham crackers, and her favorite dark chocolate—which have probably grown stale over the last year.
With a cup of chai, I wander to the French doors overlooking the back patio and watch Edgartown lighthouse cast glaring beams of light into the stormy night. Okay, Vicky what now? Dreading sleep and dreams of Kayla’s murder, I decide to make it a night by the fire. Placing my cell phone in view on the coffee table, I continue to drag three large floor pillows in front of the sofa. The box filled with Judith’s diaries catches my attention. Anger swells again. Abruptly, I drag her treasured box beside the pillows. With my back propped against the sofa, legs sprawled toward the fire; I contemplate Judith’s life on paper.
In the bottom of my handbag, lays the tiny gold key Aiden placed in my palm the night he relinquished the diaries. The top pops open with a click of the lock, releasing a faint scent of vanilla and acidic muskiness—the smell of old books—mixed with a distinct floral essence. Rows of matching diaries containing baroque paintings span from 1966 to the year of her death, seventeen months ago. I run my hand across stiff binders, choose the first journal, and brush my finger across pages aged a sepia-brown. I imagine the pages years ago, white and crisp, and Judith’s pen unveiling dark, inky words across blank, white sheets—words of yet another day.
I’m amazed to find her first diary began at the age of sixteen. I search with random effort through years of writing, bypassing her earlier diaries filled with notes on developing her talent, tutelage under various teachers, and mastering three languages. My heart stops. On February 13, 1972, at the age of twenty-two, in Venice, Italy my mother meets the love of her life . . . my boss. A man recently disclosed as my biological father . . . Bruce Wheaton.
Copyright 2015 by E. Denise Billups
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