"From The Afterlife" Excerpt

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From The Afterlife
copyright 2013, Brandi Kennedy


I’d known that I would struggle.
I’d known that the diaries would be too much. But still …

I had to open them, to flip through the pages. I had to read them. He’d been keeping them for as long as I had known him, and I’d never once glanced between the covers of any of them, even when they came in the mail while he was out of town and he’d tell me to open the package and put the new book away.

For as long as I could remember, he’d kept his diary on the computer, putting line after line of his thoughts into the computer program he’d used all his life. Every year, he’d order the files printed, and he’d store the book away, saying that someday they might be needed. For what, I could never guess, but there I was reading them.

It had been months since his death, months since he’d been murdered in a cold convenience store robbery. Months since I’d lost him for the price of a six pack of Budweiser.

Months since I’d been instructed through his will to open these old dusty volumes and read them. This was the first time I had tried.

Nineteen ninety-eight. The scripted letters tumbled over the front cover of the book, and I smiled to myself. He’d never used just simple numbers on the covers, always preferring to spell everything out. Nineteen ninety-eight was the year we met, the year I lost my heart to him. Running my fingertip through the thick dust coating the book, I lifted the cover and flipped through the pages.

“She’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen,” he’d written. “I don’t even know how to tell her I like her yet. How do you walk up to a goddess and say that you’ve fallen in love with the way she drinks her coffee, that her painted toenails drive you mad, peeking out from those blasted impractical sandals she’s always wearing?”

My eyes flooded, but laughter bubbled up from somewhere inside me, spilling out, the sound alien to me in the silence of our big house. He’d always hated my sandals, telling me that I was better off barefoot than in "that flimsy waste of good materials.” And maybe now I know why he wanted me to read these - maybe he wanted to be sure I would remember in the face of his death what we meant to each other during his life.

Skipping a few pages, I read some more.

“She’s angry with me. I don’t know what to do to fix it; but it’s killing me. I hate it when she’s angry with me, when I can’t walk up and touch her face without her eyes glaring. It’s like my fingers are dying, needing to touch her, to hold her and pull her to me.”

The sad thing now is that he didn’t mention what it was that I’d been angry about. I’d bet that if he were here he could tell me - but he isn’t and now I’m thinking of all the times I held a grudge, not realizing the depth of his fragility. It only took a knife, a simple kitchen knife shoved without mercy or consideration through the softness of his organs, and then he was gone. And now I would never have the chance to be angry with him again. Swiping away the tears on my face before they could fall into the pages of the book, I moved on.

Two thousand one. The year we had finally gotten married. Opening the cover, I flipped the pages until I found our wedding day, surprised to see that he’d added a wedding photo here, printed right into the book beside his entry.

“I’m finally doing it. I am marrying the woman of my dreams. We have these days where I feel that I don’t know her, or that she doesn’t know me, but then there are the good times, the days when I’m perfect and she’s perfect and everything is perfect because we’re together. Today is one of those days. In a few hours, I’ll watch her come to me, dressed in her finery like the fairy tale princess I’ve always believed her to be. And she’ll speak her vows, and I will speak mine. And we shall belong to each other always, after that.”

What a romantic he was! Such beautiful imagery. And yet, there I was, sitting on the floor with a tear-streaked face, dust covering the legs of my sweatpants, and a gaping hole in the stomach of my t-shirt. His t-shirt - the one I’d been wearing every night to sleep in since he died. A fairy tale princess? I thought not. But I smiled anyway, knowing that he saw that in me, that he looked into my average eyes and my average face and still saw royal beauty and undeniable worth.

Turning the pages, I settled into another entry. “She’s miscarried again,” he wrote, “and I’m helpless. I don’t know what to do. I can’t stop her tears, and no promise of ‘trying again’ eases her pain. She’s lost in her own grief now, and I don’t know how to get her back. Am I an animal then, to look into her eyes, sparkling with tears, and want to hold her close to me and take away her pain with the touch of my hands? Am I a horrible creature to see her flat beautiful stomach, and want to try again to swell it up with the seed of myself? She looks so lonely these days, so broken. And I’m just barely within my power not to touch her, because if I do I’m wrecking the doctor’s order to wait. But I'm weak and she's irresistible, always has been.”

Irresistible. He’d always told me that he found me irresistible, that he couldn’t keep his hands away from me. There were three more years of books to flip through after the one in my hands - three more years of my husband's thoughts and his inner life for me to look into. I won’t read them all word for word - he's gone and he left them to me, but reading his thoughts still feels like prying, like betrayal. Maybe someday ... but today is not the day.

The baby is due in a month, and I’m due to the doctor.

Setting the books aside, I brush at the legs of my pants, coughing in the dust as I awkwardly unfold my swollen body from the floor. He may be gone now, but his son will live on - and I have his diaries, love letters from the afterlife.