Don't Read This Book, Chapter 20 (of 20)

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"But we will continue to struggle, to write, to resist, to confront, to march and to dissent, even if it is done in the darkness. The struggles of our forebears demand nothing less."

- Karen Attiah

"I no longer have hope in white America"

Chapter 20

She'd told the waiter to keep the strawberry margaritas coming, but by the time Jorge brought the third, she was barely paying attention, and it sat on the small table next to the lounge chair, sweating in the Costa Rican sun. Now it was like Lena herself: melted, full, and warm. Occasionally she shifted slightly, bending the other knee and leaning the black binder on the bare skin of that leg so she could stretch the other without interrupting her reading. She turned the pages. Though her hearing had mostly recovered from the gunshots in the tunnel in Paris after a few days, while she read, she could barely hear the sounds of the waves and the shouting of the children in the resort's pool. Her body reclined on the lounge chair in a blue one-piece, her sunglasses sliding down her sweaty nose, her mind far away. She wasn't in a cathedral basement in Ireland as she had been in some recent nightmares. She wasn't in a street in Llangollen staring at her true self. Or running from a windswept Scottish castle, or buried in bones under the streets of Paris. Even her worst memories were muted Pacific waves crashing against stones a safe distance away.

But Lena wasn't safe. She was inside the novel, and it was trying to kill her.

They had taken three ships to get to Costa Rica's Atlantic coast, Josef riding in a steamer trunk Lena purchased and checked into each ship's hold for the duration of each voyage. She bought the most expensive one she could out of guilt, deceiving herself into believing it would be more comfortable for Josef. Josef didn't mind this conveyance; it preferred it to walking along the ocean floor. Lena employed three passports and wore three names on the journey, and by the time they boarded their second ship, she had moved the money to different numbered accounts twice, hoping this would hide it effectively even from the Archduke. She'd been reluctant to purchase a new computer, fearing the IP address would be even easier to track than her new credit cards. But she discovered she enjoyed creating an all new identity for herself. It employed her writing skills and felt empowering. Yet she never forgot the nature of her mission, so she chose Persephone as her alias. She was leaving summer and entering the underworld where she would take a bite of the pomegranate, and she knew she might never return. It wouldn't have been a name the old Lena would have chosen for herself. What would friends call her? Purse? Phony? Neither sounded good. But she was friendless and rich, so the few people she spoke with used her full name if they dared use a first name at all. To most customer service employees, bankers, and her new lawyers, she was Miss Arbogast, an heiress who had been given her money by dead parents she didn't want to identify. The fact that the name meant "Inheritance Stranger" amused her, and if any of them were curious enough to look it up, they weren't so suspicious as to risk losing her business by mentioning it.

When she'd travelled overland from Limón and arrived at the resort in Liberia, on the Pacific side of Costa Rica, Persephone Arbogast allowed herself some days of frivolous fun. [Author's Note: Additional description will be added here after the author visits Costa Rica in November. Presume the prose will be stunningly beautiful, and blurb accordingly.] She'd taken an excursion to zipline through the jungle's canopy, an activity that might have been too frightening before and now seemed tame to her, though very beautiful. She spent a day playing in the waves, and that night she'd gone to the bar and met a woman vacationing from Las Vegas who had been saving up for the trip ever since she learned her name meant "pretty" in Spanish. Persephone and Linda had danced the night away, but when dawn neared, Lena chose not to invite Linda back to her hotel room. It didn't seem fair to start something right before reading the novel. That realization sucked the flavor out of the idea of last meals, and she'd settled down on the lounge chair with the manuscript the next morning.

As she read, Josef walked around the lounge chair, silent and invisible, a sentry and a scientist, waiting and watching. They'd discussed the plan. If the book had its intended effect, Lena wanted Josef to keep her from harming anyone or herself and, if possible, allow the hotel staff to find her and hospitalize her. That way, even if she was in a catatonic state, she could provide her family some closure. Josef was to make sure the book was completely destroyed, burned if it could find a secluded place, or thoroughly shredded and then buried at sea. It waited while maintaining a strict, circular perimeter around Lena while she read.

She reached the two centered words on the last page, turned it, and stared at its blank back, the ghostly reversed text whispering through the thin typing paper, saying goodbye, telling her she was back in a world of children's laughter and ocean waves. But she wasn't returning to her world. She was entering a new one. It would never be the same.

She thought she might hyperventilate and pass out for the third time in her life. Instead, when she breathed in, the warm, humid air caught just long enough for a single sob. She put a trembling hand over her mouth, preparing for more crying. Though tears did run down her cheeks, she exhaled slowly and calmed.

Josef took the form of a breeze so it could blow gently over her skin and remind her of its presence. All those years in the attic of the New Old Synagogue between pogroms had taught it its greatest strength wasn't in its fists, but in the sense of protection emanating from a silent, loving presence. The breeze blanketed her, then it swirled the tiniest bit, asking her if she was going to be okay. And then it waited.

Lena spoke to the breeze, to Josef, and also to the sound of the waves, the light warming her skin, the mother shouting at her kids not to play so rough, the palm fronds rubbing against one another as they danced, the margarita, warm, and full, and melted.

"I'll go on."

The End    

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