But when I went to close it up again, one of the drawers wouldn't slide back in; I could tell there was something behind it. I slid the drawer out and reached in and felt a book and when I pulled it out, I thought it was a missal, bound in black leather with a metal trim. I opened it and saw the date in pencil on the first page and then I knew straightaway what it was: the diary the mistress had kept in prison. Her writing was very neat always, small and careful, but here and there, there'd be a stumble forward to the loop of an "l" or an "f," like the pencil was trying to get away from her and start some jig of its own.
I read three lines, and I closed it up again and put it back. You might find that hard to believe, Anna, but it wasn't meant for me. Maybe she put it there that first visit back to the house. Maybe she meant to come back. Maybe she intended to destroy it. Maybe it was for your mother. Who's to say? But, I think, it was her chance to speak, and she must have wanted someone to listen and she wouldn't have wanted it to be me.
After Peig died, the cabinet and the diary passed into my hands. I decided I'd give them both to Florence someday, when you'd grown up a bit, when she'd proved to herself that there was no curse, that she was deserving of the name of "mother." But I waited too long. And now I'm giving them to you. You are the true heir to the story. You can decide for yourself whether to read it or not, but you're its rightful keeper. Who better than you?
I'm tired, daughter. You'll come back? I could tell you more, maybe, another day. There's more to tell. But the story runs away from me, the like of a woolen sleeve caught on a barbed wire fence. It unravels before my eyes. I am trying with my words to gather it up but it's a useless shape at times and doesn't resemble at all the thing that it was. It's hard to do, to tell one story, when there are so many stories to tell.
Excerpted from The Butterfly Cabinet by Bernie McGill. Copyright © 2011 by Bernie McGill. Excerpted by permission of Free Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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