I work in a large city, and take a train many miles home. The sky is dark when I leave and return and although I share my travels with hundreds of others, I speak to none of them. At my home awaits my invalid father, whom I hate. His vision has been impaired for nearly a decade and so he asks me to be his eyes. I relate to him a false world, telling him of things that never existed or do but aren’t of any importance to him. I never want him to see what I see, so it is justified. Years ago, he cursed my mother with whispered words, made her believe in demons and magic, inducing a premature senility. There is power in his words. He tries to whisper to me, wanting me dead too. When he does I cover his mouth tight, yet somehow he breathes.
I keep the only picture of my mother in my breast pocket, close enough to my heart to ward off my father. Now he just rests in his chair and traces the large shadows of the trees, waiting for something.
Leaving the city, I ride the train on the highest level watching the land fall away from me, my back to my home. One evening, an old woman walked the side stairs. On each of her arms, tens of bracelets pinged and clattered. Stopping suddenly, she looked at the empty seat across from me and sat.
“I don’t like sitting alone,” she said immediately, “there’s no one to listen.” Around her neck, several aged necklaces hung low, lost in loose garments. She appeared homeless and smelled of something rotting, an arid foam churning beneath her skin. A man sitting in the seat behind her moved farther down the car to avoid her foetid stench.
“I’m going to Albania,” she said. I gave her a quick, careful gaze. “Not right now, of course. But soon. Someone is waiting for me.”
I looked out the window to avoid her words but she spoke in a loud, commanding voice. For a time she continued while I sat in silence. The train passed a large backyard where a child played on a rusted jungle gym. Years ago, my mother took me to the park at night. She’d sit on one of the swings, and I’d watch her mooned features move between the chains. When the sky was covered, the chains disappeared. Sometimes, I put my fingers on her hips, following her from afar, and pretended to touch her as she swung.
The woman had stopped. Solemnly, her cloud-calm eyes rested on my chest. I shifted in my seat and as her stare met mine, she straightened her back, arousing the air of a queen.
“Tell me where you’re from,” she ordered. Her voice had changed.
I spoke, “No.”
“Tell me,” she repeated louder.
“Where are you from?”
“Nowhere. I am an angel,” her gaze lay vacant and piercing. She seemed unaware of her madness, and inside a mane of thick, snaking hair, her sour mind disgusted me.
She continued, her voice marked with arrogance: “I am one of the five, lost and lonesome, who deter the eyes of men. Death is an angel. But I am different.”
“A ghost is what you are.” Her drunken breath gave me strength. “Gods do not ride trains.”
“You know nothing. See,” She searched through her worn-out bag and held up a small notebook, “I have the names of all people in this.” Its cover was tattered, folded, while its back was half missing. There was no title or distinction on the front.
“Look at it.”
I fingered through the yellow paper. Without any clear order, a name was printed at the top of each page. Below, a short paragraph of seemingly unrelated importance. As I scanned the names, languages changed, as did the handwriting. Thinking I passed a name I recognized, I turned back the pages but could not find it again. New entries constantly appeared. I held one sheet tight and flapped it many times – always revealing two more names. I knew this was not a trick.
“How many pages are there?” I asked.
“Many. I have not counted.”
“No. Nothing is. One for every person, no more no less.”
“And what is written below the name?” I asked her.
“An answer.” I waited for her to continue. “An answer they are not meant to know.”
I scanned one of the entries, reading the paragraph. It read, No need to move without direction, they haven’t found you yet, and then there will always be grief. The answer belonged to a man – of Irish descent I thought.
I conceded, “Show me my name,” handing the book back to her.
“For what price?”
She thought I was weak. She yearned to deter me from my prize, but I would not. “Name it.” She thought for a moment and I watched her greedy eyes.
“The picture,” pointing to my chest. I still don’t know if it was fear or that shadowed-craving that moved my hand, but the picture turned to flame against my breast, and burned to escape. This was not of my choice. I took it out and looked at my mother for the last time. I could not deny the woman this price. She slipped my mother into her bag and closed it tight.
Then, without lifting her eyes from me, she flipped through the notebook three or four times until she stopped, wedging her thumb deep into the pages. Bending it back, she presented the book to me again.
As promised, I saw my full name at the top. The ink was blue and fresh. As I read the short entry, the woman remained still. When finished, I raised my eyes to meet hers and saw they were pained, taxed by the train’s light as if she had spent too much time in it. I closed the notebook and handed it back to her without saying a word.
When we came to the next stop, the woman casually picked up her things and stood from her seat. She left the train, pressing the notebook against her side. As she passed the others seated in the car, they turned their heads, afraid, pretending to watch scenes occur beyond the window. I followed her, moving in an unknown direction, and as the train began thrumming on, she appeared to be walking backwards. I never saw her again.
That night I killed my father and buried him beyond the far edge of town. The notebook told me where to go, and I was pleased to find it secluded, lost like a dream in the low moonlight. The ground was wetted by a heavy rain, my back ached. No questions were ever asked of me. My home is silent now, void of each parent, and darkened by the large shadows of the trees. Sitting in my father’s old chair, I often think of my angel, and who she longed for in Albania.
– The Woman’s Notebook first appeared in untethered Magazine, Vol 1.1