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THE PICTURE BOOK • by Ev Bishop

Isla smoothed her hand over the worn leather cover — a 1st Edition of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Her thumb found and lingered on the faded imprints of the gold lettering on the spine.

If she’d known she’d have let him read it, of course she would’ve. He’d always wanted to, but she’d put him off. “You have this lovely new one,” she’d said repeatedly, maybe with an edge of irritation, finding the shiny-covered Costco-purchase wherever it lay. “It’s the same story.”

Now she wondered if that was true. Yes, she’d carefully made sure it was unabridged and that the language hadn’t been modernized — but that’s not all there is to something, not at all.

She placed the new publication by its shabbier yet somehow more intriguing relation on the small pile of to-keep items accumulating on the patchwork quilt. The books slid sideways and covered his embroidered name. She let them.

The antique picture book could fetch close to 200K USD. She considered all the things it wouldn’t pay for now. What a waste. She should’ve let him read it in the tub with a root beer float. She should’ve —

And the purpose of that would’ve been what? Would it have stopped his departure? Would it have made you feel better looking back?

She left the room, shut its door.

“Tomorrow is another day, right, Mom?” piped Charlie’s voice. She jumped and looked behind her.

“So it is,” she whispered in defeat to the empty air. “So it is.”

***

The room was quiet except for the incessant tick, tick, tick of the metronome that Doctor Caillson, for who knows what possessed reason, thought would be soothing to his clients.

“How are things this week?” he asked when she didn’t break the silence.

“Fine.”

“Oh? And what does ‘fine’ look like these days?”

At an earlier visit, the doctor had spoken about visualization, how it could be an effective tool in dealing with grief. “Picture yourself with Charlie,” he’d said. “Tell him all the things you feel you didn’t get a chance to say — ”

Back at home, desperate, she’d tried to take his advice. She was terrified that she was losing her memories of how Charlie looked exactly, the precise angles of his eyes, how many freckles he’d had and so on — certain that she’d try to see him, but would only conjure a fuzzy grey pseudo son..

To her shock, he appeared. Bright-faced and full of life, he grabbed her hand and started pulling her along.

“Where are we going?” she’d asked. A laugh of joy formed in her belly, but didn’t make it to her mouth.

Charlie had turned to answer, but as he did, his body and face disappeared. All that was left of him was his smile, suspended in air, a hand’s length out of reach.

Now she answered the doctor slowly. “Fine… Is that a riddle?”

“How about his room? Last time we talked, you suggested that maybe if you could bring yourself to finish cleaning up Charlie’s room, it would be some sort of closure, some form of good-bye.”

Her head tilted exaggeratedly to one side, and she wondered if she’d gone invisible too. If just her teeth were showing.

“Well,” Doctor Caillson said, “you can’t force things. Healing takes time.”

***

The door stayed shut. It was better that way. And she’d taken to sleeping in the living room, so she wouldn’t have to disturb the air in front of the door either. That was also better.

The windowsill above the kitchen sink contained a collection of bright coloured plastic bottles. As far as she knew none the contents made her shrink or grow. She wasn’t sure what they did. She was putting the lid back on one of the jars when she fumbled. Pills scattered. The lid rolled like a wheel over the linoleum then down the hall.

When it hit the wall, knocked itself over and stopped moving, she paused, too. She was in front of the door, but the door had changed. The knob was ornate and old-fashioned. It had a large keyhole.

Her first thought was of Doctor Caillson. Was this one of his remedies? But no, she was pretty sure he hadn’t come over. She might’ve offered him tea and there was only ever one mug in the sink. One.

Over the doorknob hung a loop of blue ribbon, stretched into an inverted teardrop by a heavy, iron key.

It still wasn’t time to clean Charlie’s room, but she couldn’t just let it be taken over either. The knob wouldn’t budge. Locked.

The key clicked. The door swung then bumped up against the trunk of a large, papery-barked tree.

She felt along the inside wall for a light switch. Yanked her fingers back when she felt moss.

Forgetting the lid, forsaking the pills, she entered Charlie’s bedroom, though “room” now seemed the wrong word. The birch marked the entrance to an old growth forest. As she tread deeper into the heart of the woods and disturbed their slumber, ancient smells of earth, water and decay rose up to greet her.

Her eyes got used to the dark, and here and there moonlight filtered through the heavy branches and further lit her way.

She was panting with exertion when she saw it beneath a canopy of pine: the bed, its small pile of treasures intact. The two books lay as she’d left them. She shoved them to rest where the pillow should be, so that Charlie’s name was once again revealed.

Crawling onto the soft mattress, she pulled the blankets back and slipped beneath them.

The scent of suntan lotion, dirt and light, and fresh sweat filled her senses.

She opened the older version of the story and laid her cheek down against its ancient pages. Her sigh was heavy with sorrow and acceptance as she let go.


Ev Bishop‘s non-fiction appears in a variety of regional and international publications. Her fiction has been published in 100 Stories for Queensland, Every Day Fiction Magazine, Cleavage (a Sumach Press anthology), AlienSkin Magazine, and is available through Ether Books.


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THE PICTURE BOOK • by Ev Bishop, 4.0 out of 5 based on 48 ratings
Posted on November 17, 2012 in Stories, Surreal
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  • http://madebythepotter.blogspot.co.u.k Chloe Banks

    What a beautiful entwining of a modern tragedy and well-loved tale. So well-written too – just gorgeous. I don’t give many stories 5 stars, but here it is! This sounds a bit weird but it was the perfect amount of story as well, if that makes any sense? I was captivated from the start – thanks for a great read.

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  • BUD CLAYMAN

    This is a really good story, Ev. Full of pathos and exquisite detail. I gave it 4 stars!

  • Joanne

    Agree with Bud!

  • Laura Evans

    It was delicious. As always when I read your writing, I re-read and savored and re-read again. However, because I am apparently feeble with my computer mouse, the 5 star that I was sure I had clicked somehow saved as a 4.

  • http://www.copyeditproof.com Camille Gooderham Campbell

    Laura, you clicked correctly. The stars display the average of all votes made, so while your 5-star vote was recorded, one vote alone is not going to visibly raise or lower the average after the first ten or so votes.

    Lovely story, Ev — so pleased to have this one for EDF!

  • Carol Folsom

    Beautiful, loved it.

  • http://astheheroflies.wordpress.com/ Gretchen Bassier

    So creative and beautiful. I was immersed in the story and the writing. Well done.

  • http://www.paulfreeman.weebly.com Paul A. Freeman

    One of the few stories I’ve re-read. Full of emotion; great story-telling.

  • http://silencingthebell.blogspot.com Martine Frampton

    that was just lovely, captured the emotion without becoming mawkish, the allusions to Alice were perfectly pitched.
    thanks for sharing

  • Elaine

    I didn’t think about any other books when reading it – I just enjoyed it for what I feel it was, a very poignant tale of how one mother copes with losing a child. It drew me right in, nicely done.

  • SarahT

    Guess I’m in the minority, but I found this story very hard to read. The repeated use of apostrophe D… as in “she’d”…was distracting. There was awkward phrasing throughout.

    It took forever for me to learn it was a son that died. I thought it was a husband or boyfriend that left her. The ending wasn’t clear…was she actually in the fantasy setting, or did she just imagine it? Why did she not know what the bottles were about? Did her son overdose on these drugs? So many questions…

    I did enjoy the counselor’s remarks, they seemed genuine.

    Overall I liked the concept, but it requires a heavy edit.

  • Barb

    Part of why I enjoyed this story was because things were left unsaid and left to the imagination. Grief is so different for different people and this was a lovely exploration of what it can be while still leaving me with a good feeling at the end. It wasn’t soppy but it moved me emotionally. Thanks.

  • http://lauramchaleholland.com Laura McHale Holland

    I think this story is imaginative, intriguing and powerful.

  • JenM

    Wow. Wonderful story!

  • teresa davis

    Exquisite is the right description. Took me into the heart of grief;the numbness and chaotic thoughts of those left to deal with it.

  • Mariev Finnegan

    I know! I knew from the beginning this story was about the loss of a child, because I lost my child. And people who criticize about she’d should be she said and enjoyed the counselor’s remarks missed the heartbreak. I know.
    5 stars and thank you.

  • TC

    Beautifully written story. The whiff of faulty cause and effect, of the surreal (even before the door is opened) oddly lends a reality to the main character’s grief. Her own house and her own life seem strange and alien to her. The book is an apostrophe that marks the place where her child should be. It sits on his bed with its shinier mirror image, and, like Alice’s looking glass, it becomes a conduit. It is both a symbol of her loss and a mode of escape from the need to make sense of it, a peaceful embracing of absurdity.
    There is so much depth behind the apparent simplicity of this story. And it is such and enjoyable read.
    Well done!

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  • SarahT

    I guess I came across abruptly, so I wanted to apologise. My first read was aloud (I frequently do this), and it uncovered the rough edges. Since then I’ve reread a few times and the edges smooth down with familiarity. Some of the comments have helped me understand the story a bit more.

    The loss of a child would be heartbreaking. I’m glad the mother found some closure at the end.

  • Jacques P

    Well done.

  • http://www.thewallahofwhimsy.wordpress.com john malone

    yes. I too enjoyed it

  • Spike Taterman

    Wow. This is powerful stuff, and like any great art delivers its emotional message with clarity. The use of the books, old and new, the nurturing, welcoming aspect of the forest–its brilliant. I’m generally a harsh critic, and don’t say that often. This story, I know, will resonate with me for a long time. You have a great talent.

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