The Inheritance, Part IV

by Karen Gsteiger

continued apologies to H.D.

Find the first installment here.

Find the second installment here.

Find the third installment here.

It was a Thursday night, about 9:30, and it was closing time at the library. Dan helped me chase away the last of the frazzled graduate students. "They always seem so angry," I observed. "Coming up to me every five minutes to get something off of reserve, hoarding 600 books at their carrels, getting all incensed when, God forbid, someone else wants to take a look at their books, snapping their fingers at me and ordering me to tend to the cranky copier..."

"Oh, give 'em a break," Dan gently chided. "When you're writing your dissertation one day, you'll understand."

I wasn't sure if I ever would. Although I wasn't particularly desirous to leave school and join the "real world," as Aunt Rosie constantly referred to the working world, nor was I keen on joining that stressed-out portion of the student body. What I liked best about undergrad was the ability to learn more and more--the freedom to take a random astronomy class or to pick up a new language, and it seemed to me that the purpose of graduate school was to narrow down one's field of study so precisely that one could be THE expert on a single grain of sand in a vast desert of knowledge. I explained all this to Dan, who replied with a smirk, "Spoken like someone who's never been there."

I rolled my eyes at him and packed up my own books and homework that I was completing during any free moments at the desk. "Hey," he said suddenly. "Are you hungry? Cause I'm hungry."

"Yeah, I could eat," I shrugged.

"You wanna go to Nick's and get a stromboli? I've been dying for one all day. Oh, wait," he said with a tone of disappointment, "you're not yet of age, are you?"

I smiled sheepishly. "Well, not quite...but that hasn't stopped me before." I dug into my purse and found my fake ID and showed it to him. It was a driver's license that had once belonged to a friend's older sister, who just happened to resemble me strongly. The sister now lived out of state, and I would occasionally and with great terror hand it to bouncers and liquor store clerks, and it apparently passed muster.

Dan clucked his tongue at me, "Well, well, Miss Meier, I am shocked--shocked!--that you would have a fake ID...that looks so convincing."

"I don't use it all the time..." I demurred.

"Uh huh," he replied skeptically.

About an hour later, I was picking at the remnants of my half-stromboli, and Dan was ordering beer #3. After the waitress left us again, he said, "So I've been kind of flipping through your mother's journals a little bit...just kind of skimming. And you're some journals, it's like she's writing a story, and then in others, it's like she's having a conversation with someone. Do you know who she's talking to yet?" he asked.

I shook my head no.

"You know," he began, "the whole thing just kind of depresses me. She's writing and writing and writing, but who is she writing for? Do you think she was writing for you to read it someday?"

I shrugged. "Maybe...but, you know, I really don't think so. The woman never gave me a moment's thought, really."

"I'm sorry."

"Nah, it's okay. I don't blame her. I don't think she was really all there to begin with. Clearly, she had her own little world, and a real-life kid was just too much for her. My aunt raised me and took really good care of me. She's more of a real mom to me than my mom was. Besides, I guess you could say that I never really gave her a moment's thought either."

"It's just that...I write creatively sometimes, you know..."

"I didn't know that."

"Yeah, I suck. Anyway, I write stuff, and whenever I'm writing anything like that, I'm thinking of the people who I want to read it. You know, like college students in their little English 101 classes reading an excerpt of my stuff out of their Norton Anthology or something--not that I've got delusions of grandeur or anything..." he smiled sheepishly.

"Of course not."

"And for your mom to just write stuff to no's so lonely. It reminds me of how when Shelly and I were getting married, I wrote up an entire journal full of love letters and poems and inside jokes and special lists of things that were important to us, and I gave that to her on our wedding night. And it always irked me that she never read it. I mean, sometimes I'd read parts of it to her, but she'd never just pick it up herself and look at it. And I mean, for what it's worth, I know that she did love me and know, in 'her way,' but it just..."

"I'm sure it feels like a rejection," I offered.

"Yeah, exactly. Now I think about it--and I still have the journal at home--and it's like, if she didn't want to be my audience, did I have an audience? Who did I write that for? It just seems like such an enormous waste of my time. It's not like I want some kind of disciple or something, but I really wish that I could find someone to engage with on that level. But Shelly...I'm boring the shit out of you, aren't I?"

"No, no, of course not!"

"Shelly is just not really the artsy type, and I know she had her own classes to go to and had to take care of the baby, which I probably didn't do enough of...and I'm sorry, I really shouldn't be dumping all this crap on you."

"No, seriously, it's okay. I'm sorry to hear that. But I'm sure you'll find someone who would be happy to read what you write. I mean, I...well, I mean, I'm not like your wife or anything...but if you ever wanted me to..."

"Thanks," he smiled in response to my nervous stammering, "that's really cool of you to offer. If I ever write something that doesn't suck, I'll let you know."

"I'm sure it doesn't suck. I'm sure it's...much better edited than my mother's stuff," I smiled.

"Well, I've never written anything that lengthy, that's for sure. She is extremely thorough, though. When she or her persona or character or whatever needs a bathroom break, you learn all about it."

"God, I know. What's worse is, at the beginning, she gets into those kinds of details about me, and ugh."

"You know, I don't think I've run across you as a character in any of the journals I've looked at. I mean, I haven't read them that closely either..."

I shrugged again, "Eh, out of sight, out of mind, probably."

"Hey," he began, "you haven't come across anything about 'the Mudmen,' have you?"


"The Mudmen. In your mom's story or whatever. Every now and then, there's some mention of them. Do you know what that means?"

"No, not yet. Sounds like a good name for a band, though."

"Speaking of bands..." Dan began, and then we launched into a discussion about an underappreciated musician who was coming into town, which led to two more beers for each of us, which led to a certain euphoric feeling, which led to somewhat coy retellings of comic anecdotes from our youth--Most Embarrassing Grade School Moment, Worst Date, Family Idiosyncrasies, etc.--which led to one last drink, which led to a comfortable silence and the realization that it was actually quite late.

"Geez, and it's a school night and everything," I said with a smile.

"I'll walk you home," Dan offered with a slight burp.

"If you can walk," I teased.

He waved dismissively at me, "I'm fine," he replied.

It was a short walk to my dorm, but we lingered outside the front door, our conversation having drifted to the banal--TV shows and movies, as I recall. We were slowly preparing for a friendly goodbye, when Dan suddenly said, "Oh wait! Now I remember! I wanted to give you this."

He handed me a silver key with a broken basketball keychain.

"What's this?" I asked.

"It's uh...the key to my house. The front door. You know, in case you need to get at your mom's books when I'm gone or something. You don't seem like the type to rip off my TV or stereo system..."

"Well, I wouldn't be too sure about that, if I were you."

"Eh, they're crap anyway."

"Dan...are you sure? I mean, you really don't have to..."

He shrugged. "No, I want you to be able to get your books when you want them. They're yours. And...that was Shelly's key. I can't just get rid of the goddamn thing, but I don't need to be looking at it either."

"Well, thanks," I replied. "I'll take good care of it...meaning I'm pretty sure I won't make copies and distribute them to every frat house in town."

"That's considerate of you, Meier. Now the sorority houses, on the other hand..." his voice trailed off and then he declared anew his intention to finally head home. There was a brief and awkward pause that would normally be filled with a goodnight kiss, a friendly hug, a handshake, but all of these options seemed wrong. So with a "See you tomorrow, then," he turned around and started walking away.

"Bye," I called out to him, staring at his back for a moment or two before turning around myself and walking into the lobby.

When I got upstairs, I flipped open my mother's journal where I had left off. She had spent at least 20 pages roaming a ruined landscape in search of blankets and new clothes for the approaching winter.

I carryed the baby til I thought my arms were going to fall off but I didnt have a choice because she couldnt walk. I guessed that I had walked about 15 miles and I stopped at certain places to look thru the rubble for some kind of clothes for May and me. I was originally walking to Harveys because they used to sell childrens clothes but when I got there there was too much dust and bricks to sort thru. I was getting so frustrated I started to cry and then May started to cry and after a while I just had to tell her to hush up in an angry voice and I felt bad about that because she was just a baby but it was terrible to here her cry when there was so much silence everywhere else and she screamed and screamed and I knew there was nothing I could do to make her feel better and nothing could make me feel better too. And I talked to God sometimes because there wasnt no one else to talk to and I yelled out Why did you leave us here? Why didnt you kill us to? Why did you leave us all alone? What did we ever do that was so sinful that Jesus wouldnt carry us up with everyone else? Just me and a baby that was all that was left and it didnt make no sense to me. I thought the world had ended and we were forgoten about. I yelled out to the gray sky, the sky had been gray ever since the big storm ended, I yelled out Tell me why! Show me something! And then I saw something glowing in the sky. It fluttered here and there and I couldnt tell what it was but it was green and glowing bright. It got closer and I realized...

that it looked like a big dragonfly. I know because I saw it now too. It rose up from the pages of my mother's book and hovered before my eyes. It was the largest insect I had ever seen, about the size of a crow. It was incandescent and a very light yellowish green. It almost hurt to look directly at it. It hovered in the air, its six sets of wings flapping silently and so quickly that you could barely see the movement. There was the sound of faint humming in the air, and I stared at it untroubled and unblinking, almost as though I had expected to see it. I held up a trembling hand to touch it. It drew closer to my fingertips, then just when I was about to make contact, it darted away. It fluttered in front of the mirror on my closet door and hovered in front of that for a moment, seemingly entranced by its own reflection. Then it touched the surface of the mirror and passed through it, as though it were flying through a curtain of water. I saw the insect on the other side of the mirror for a moment, and then its light slowly dimmed and disappeared. I got up, walked to the mirror and touched the glass. Everything was as it should be. I lay back on my bed and closed my eyes. When I woke again, it was 10:30 a.m. I had fallen asleep in my clothes with my mother's book lying across my chest.