The book was old, it’s pages swollen the way pages do when they’ve been used and lived in. I opened it, meaning to briefly glance through it before moving on. Something happened though, as I saw the handwriting and paused on the first page.
This was someone’s life. What things had stood out enough for them to write it down?
The first entry was dated, her name written in the top corner like it was a homework assignment. Irene Tribbler. Every line was printed carefully.
I’m supposed to write in here at least every week, but I haven’t the slightest clue what to write about. I don’t do exciting things, I don’t go to curious places. I have school, and I sleep, and that’s about it.
So if anyone reads this, sorry. You’re not going to find any cool secrets.
If life had been so boring, what had she filled all of these pages with? I flipped to the next page, dated a week later. No ‘dear diary’ this time, just words that got messier and more scribbled out the farther she got.
The Night lasts forever,
For a mind like mine,
my its voices only still whisper,
memories words thoughts Brine
Whine Of everything that isn’t fine
That everything’s not fine
I sat down, lingering in the puzzle pieces of words she left scattered on the paper. I wondered if she ever wrote it somewhere else, if she ever shared it. If she’d ever written more verses.
The next page had little stars doodled around the edges, framing the blank middle as if she’d intended to fill it with a quote or a poem. The date in the corner was just the year, which left me wondering how much time sat between the sheets of paper.
The next one didn’t have a date at all. Just a coffee stain on the bottom corner and three words, printed in the middle.
I’m so tired.
The coffee stain made the next pages stick to each other. I carefully peeled them apart, drawn into a time long since over. Irene had taken a black marker to the lined paper, filling in every other line to make solid black stripes. The upper corner had a small scribble, like she’d found a pen and was testing it.
A pressed maple leaf slide out next, orange veins fading into red. I held it by the stem to look at it before putting it back. After that, finally, there was another page with words.
So much for that every week thing.
It’s just that
My mind is so full of a distant buzzing of thoughts
That the page stays blank
And my pen shakes.
I wish she were sitting next to me now. I don’t think there’s anything I could say to that, but I wish I could put an arm around her shoulders. Maybe she would feel a little less of whatever she was feeling then. I turn the page.
It is filled. Every inch is covered with one word over and over and over, some printed, some in cursive, and others written skinny or round or capitalized or boxy.
I look at each one, wondering what had happened, what had made her need to say it, write it, think it so hard that she didn’t stop until there was no more room. I hope she got it. I hope the rest of the pages aren’t empty.
I think my fingers shook a little as I flipped to the next page. It held pencil sketches of boxes and flowers and apples. On the bottom she’d written her name a couple times in cursive, the same way I do when I have the urge to use my pen but have nothing to write.
Next was a double facing page of tic-tac-toe games. Most of them ended in a draw. A few of them were scribbled over. Then came a grocery list. A page of math problems haphazardly scattered and solved. A reminder that she would babysit over the weekend, with a phone number in the bottom corner. The next set of pages were blank, save for bleed through from the other side.
Flipping past the blanks, my eyes were greeted with bright yellow colors. Yellows painted over both pages with broad strokes, and black lettering scrawled across it.
Sometimes, I fill my sight with the color yellow,
To get me through the days
That feel like
The pages were stiff and rippled from the saturation of color, like she had painted coat after coat until her static turned to glitter. I stared and stared, I’m not sure how long. I’m not sure where the words hit me, but there was something deep inside that reached out for Irene’s words like they were the first it had ever heard.
I don’t remember turning the page.
She’d glued some fortune cookie slips on the page then outlined their edges with a pink highlighter. The quotes on them were bizarre, and I wondered if she saved them because they were funny to her or because they were the weirdest ones she’d found.
‘Money will come soon, just not to you’
‘I’ve been freed’
‘You have powerful teeth’
‘I am only one cookie in a forest of sugar’
The rest of the page was filled with doodled question marks of different colors. After that came pages with another nearly identical grocery list, doodles, the rough stubble left from a page being torn out, a list of birthdays, and filled-in lines of different colors.
I realized with a jolt that I was nearing the end. The daylight had shifted, telling me I’d lingered on each page longer than I thought. I didn’t want to leave Irene, or the bits of herself she’d left between each sheet of paper. So few pages held her written thought, but each one shaped a bit more of her world for me to see.
The last page was edged in dots of different colors, clustering tightly at the very edges and then spacing out as they reach towards the middle. For the first time since her third page, a date sat in the top corner, dated nearly two years later than her first entry. In the very center, she’d written one last thought:
I think I’m ready to be