Go Set A Bookmark

Prompt Day #72: Choose a mundane, ordinary object that you use so often you never think twice about it. Now turn it into a magical—or possessed—talisman of some kind. What power does it hold? Does the owner of the talisman realize it?

I’m torn on this one. It was a struggle coming up with a mundane item and then I wanted something original for its power. Once I had that figured out, I started writing it from a first person, single woman POV, then it didn’t feel right and I started telling Linda’s story. I’m not sure why Harper Lee’s two books wanted in on it and they wanted to have a say in the theme as well, because they just kept popping up. Maybe because the Republican debates are on my mind and maybe I am bothered by intolerance in this country, I have no idea. This story has A LOT to say and I could just as easily go back (Now that I think about it) and give Chelsea a different problem to deal with (an unwanted pregnancy perhaps?) that would fall in with what this story is trying to say. Stories have a life of their own, you know. Sometimes they go where they want and they scream when they need to get their point across. So, once I saw what it was up to, I realized it deserved more attention than the few hours I can devote per day. So, reader(s) beware: this story is incomplete. Perhaps one day, you’ll buy a collection of my short stories inspired by this self-induced program and you’ll find out all the truths that lie in books and what Linda decided to do with that knowledge. She has yet to tell me.

 Go Set a Bookmark

                The bookmark was an antique. Linda had bought it at an antique mall in the quaint little town she and her husband had spent a weekend in before the kids were born and life got too busy for romantic weekend getaways. She suspected it was real ivory, carved into a delicate filigree in the style of art nouveau.  She used it all the time. When her husband and the kids gave her a Kindle for Mother’s Day, she faked excitement, downloaded a couple books onto it, and put it in her nightstand for safe keeping. She preferred the feel of a book, the smell of the printed page, and the sound of progress as paper slid past paper. The bookmark reminded her of younger more carefree days and it was always stuck in a book somewhere. It certainly didn’t see as much action now that she was a working wife and mother, but it did its job.

“Hey, you want to go over to Freddie’s tonight?” Her husband asked after they’d waved goodbye to the kids who were off to their respective friends’ for the weekend. “A bunch of people from work will be there.”

“Oh, no thanks, I don’t know them very well, and I never have anything to talk about.” She said, imagining a quiet night with Harper Lee’s new book everyone had been talking about.

“Oh, come on! You never go. Take your book, if you get bored, I promise no one will care if you sneak away and read a bit.” He said, wrapping his arms around her and nuzzling her neck.

“Fine, I’ll go, but just promise me you won’t drink too much and when I am ready to go home, we’ll go.” She said throwing her book with the bookmark safely snugged under the front cover into her bag.

She tried to be social, and managed quite well until midnight, when everyone had reached the obnoxious stage of drinking. She’d stopped around 9pm figuring one of them needed to be responsible. Her husband, meanwhile was currently flirting with one of his office interns and the girl (Jesus, how old was she, 13?) was eating it up. Linda attempted to politely intervene and redirect his attention to the possibility of leaving, but she knew this level of drunkenness well; they weren’t going anywhere. The intern, Lacy (oh how cute, so many career options with a name like that), tried to compliment Linda’s newest hair color, but she wasn’t in the mood to play friends with the girl, so she took the bag containing her new book and headed into Freddie’s den.

At 2 am, she’d had enough. She put the book down on the coffee table and went back downstairs to the basement bar. There was Lacy and Todd, Linda’s husband of the last thirteen years, sitting in the corner practically on top of each other talking and gazing deep into the other’s eyes. Linda marched over and grabbed Todd.

“We’re leaving now.” She said. Todd nodded, the smile dropped from his face. He stole one last apologetic glance at Lacy and got up.

The remainder of the weekend was spent in a silent house, the air chilled with anger and mistrust. It would have been a good time to lock herself in her room with her book but in her haste to leave Freddie’s, she’d left it and had no intention of going over there to get it. Todd could pick it up sometime the following week. She fished the Kindle out of her drawer and read it instead.

When the book came back to her three days later, the bookmark, which must have fallen out, was placed haphazardly in the middle of it. She opened the book to that page to pull it out but noticed the name Todd written there. She scanned the paragraph and saw the name Lacy as well. She skipped back to the top of the page and began to read an account of Saturday night, only this part of the book was describing what had gone on in the basement while she was upstairs. She read with fascination a narrative that began with minor flirting and ended with a more sober and serious discussion of his boredom in the marriage. Linda was shocked. The chapter ended and the next one was a continuation of Ms. Lee’s story, the one Linda had been reading innocently as her husband had a midlife crisis in the arms of a twenty-something college girl.

That night, she lay awake thinking about the scene described in the chapter about Freddie’s get together. She decided to send the book with Todd to work, just to see if perhaps another chapter showed up in it. She got up and tiptoed downstairs where she secreted the book into his briefcase. Linda knew he carried the damn thing to work with him every day but never opened it. He wouldn’t notice. She kept the bookmark though, she didn’t want to inadvertently lose it. Besides, she might be losing her mind as it was. She managed to fall asleep around three and slept through Todd’s getting up and leaving for work. They’d barely spoken since Saturday night and until she got a little more info, she wasn’t going to break the silence.

The results of her little experiment only served to bolster her theory that it was in fact she who was having a mid-life crisis. Perhaps, her memory of that night was skewed as well. Perhaps, but that didn’t make it hurt any less. The chapter she’d read the night before was gone. There was no break in the story of grown up Scout and her father Atticus who was not exactly the hero she’d thought he was. She decided she would call her doctor the following day, maybe she needed an antidepressant or something. Sitting down in her favorite reading chair she immersed herself in a world full of prejudice and segregation. She soon found it to be too similar to the reality of her own world, realizing how little things change really even a half century later. Grabbing for her bookmark which she typically kept in the back while reading, she realized with a panic that it was missing. Searching the house for it, she saw it sticking out of one of her daughter’s books from school. The sixteen year old had loved that bookmark when she was little. Linda remembered how Chelsea would run her fingers along the swirled edges. Linda planned to give it to the girl on her wedding day. It would be her “something old”. Apparently Chelsea had decided to take it sooner. Linda picked up the book. Coincidently it turned out to be To Kill a Mockingbird, obviously an assigned text for school. She smiled and picked it up, opening it to the bookmarked page she began to read.

When she finished the chapter, she realized she was still standing there in the middle of the room. The chapter described Chelsea’s struggle with bulimia. Midnight binges, snacks secreted away in her closet, laxatives hidden under her bed and in her locker at school. How had she missed this, Linda wondered and again, chided herself for being so consumed with her own self-esteem issues, that she hadn’t seen her daughter’s struggles.

“Hey Mom!” Chelsea said, walking in the room. “Oh, yeah, I found your bookmark laying on the floor by your bedroom door. I was worried someone would step on it, so I stuck it in my book. Glad you found it. I forgot all about it.” She smiled at her mother. Linda stared at Chelsea, looking for signs that the girl had been living the life described in the book. Maybe she had lost some weight, it was hard to see under the baggy clothes the girl had started wearing this school year.

“No worries, Honey. Thanks though, I was just looking for it when I found it in this book” She held up the Harper Lee classic. “One of my favs, you know? I’m reading her new one, not so sure I like it as much.” She said trying to sound nonchalant.

“Yeah, I’ve heard mixed reviews. Well, I’m off. Going over to Sydney’s to study if that’s ok?” Chelsea said, already grabbing her keys.

“Sure Hon, that’s fine. Just be home by 9.” Linda said, thinking this would be the perfect opportunity to search the girl’s room.

Chelsea’s closet was full of all sorts of snacks. Pringles, Ho-Ho’s, Goldfish crackers, and Combos. If I hadn’t read that chapter, I’d think she was smoking pot Linda thought with a grunty laugh. The laxatives were under the bed and in her night stand. It was horrifying. Her whole life was falling apart. But one thing she now knew for sure, she was not losing her mind. The things she’d read in the books, were true. Just like the hate and intolerance described in Ms. Lee’s books was true today too. And she knew one other thing as well; it wasn’t the book it was the bookmark that seemed to make the difference. She put in randomly in her own book and placed the set back into her husband’s briefcase. Tomorrow night, she would have more answers and then she would know exactly what to do and how to fix it.

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