By Ollie Mae
Leopold Baker had wasted most of this life locked in his study trying desperately to write something real. He often joked with his close friends that an author spends all of his life arranging and rearranging the twenty six letters of the alphabet over and over again. It was enough to make anyone insane. On the night that Leopold Baker died he had been sitting at his desk, staring at his typewriter and the blank page before him. At around 2:30 in the morning, surrounded by cigarette smoke, crumpled pages of forgotten first drafts, and half full mugs of lukewarm coffee, Mr. Baker had a heart attack and died peacefully. Or at least, that was what Mrs. Baker told the police.
Mrs. Baker often joked with her close friends that the only thing her husband had managed to accomplish in his forty two years of life were those first three pages of his novel back before they had been married. She had fallen in love with those first three pages, that love letter he had sworn was inspired by her. They were the most beautiful arrangement of words she had ever heard. But he couldn’t continue it. And years later, in a drunken daze, he had spilled liquor over it one night and the ink had all bled together into one great smear of gray. An entire life's work, gone in the amount of time it took for her self-righteous husband to knock a glass of brandy over. Mrs. Baker had taken it all with a rather dignified sense of amusement, as if she was observing some old fashioned sitcom. After all, it was funny. Wasn’t it? That she had devoted her life to this man, this poet in the attic, enveloped in smoke who smiled like he knew who she was, who she really was. That one could go from loving someone to despising them so fast. That she had stood at the altar with him and given him her future, given him everything she had just so he could have the chance to write something real. And he had thrown it all away in the amount of time it took for him to spill a glass of brandy.
At her husband's funeral, Mrs. Baker sat in the front row of the church pews and debated what people would say if she didn’t cry when they carried the casket away. Mrs. Baker had never been one to cry. That had been her husband’s job, to feel all these emotions, this insane spectrum of humanity, and then turn it into poetry. It had been her job to fold the laundry into two matching piles on their bed and collect the empty mugs of coffee off his desk each night. Mrs. Baker had spent most of her mornings standing over the sink, staring down at his dishes. Wishing so, so badly that she had been the one blessed with his gifts. Mr. Baker often talked about his gifts. He talked of how he had always known he was a writer, even as a young boy. He talked of how god had blessed him with this talent to bend and twist language to his will.
At the funeral, while she sat staring at the casket that concealed her husband’s dead body, Mrs. Baker wondered what her beloved Leopold would have written about his own death, if he had had the opportunity. He often wrote about Death. But he wrote about Death as if he was a person. A living feeling being who remembered every life he had taken. Mrs. Baker had always assumed this was a strange habit of her husband's that he had acquired as a young boy to cope with his own fear of death. But as Mrs. Baker had stood in her husband’s study the night that he died, staring at the back of his head as his fingers furiously flew across the keys, she could have sworn she felt him. Death, like a shadow dancing at the edge of her vision, waiting as if he already knew what was to come. The outcome of decades of abuse, spilled brandy, clouds of gray smoke, and dirty dishes. He stood, hands outstretched before her husband, reaching for the oblivious writer. And Mrs. Baker almost laughed at the thought, that even with all his gifts and blessings, Leopold Baker had no idea when Death stood over him.
Mrs. Baker thought she would live a happy life after she killed her husband. But instead she spent every day watching her back and her nights lying awake in bed, hands shaking, terrified that he would find her. It wasn’t the police she was running from. No she could handle them. It was her husband's old friend, Death. The one that had cursed her with this creeping paranoia, this crazed obsession, and this bitter disposition. Mrs. Baker never stayed in one place for too long. She had become familiar with hotel bedrooms and strangers’ living room floors and the cold wood of park benches. And every new place she saw, every new experience, she wondered how her late husband would have described it. How would he have described the light that filtered through the dirt stained window of the taxi cab, the floral wallpaper and moth eaten couch in that overly friendly bartender’s apartment, the condensation that swirled from her lips when she slept out in the cold, the frills of the maid’s cleaning uniforms as they bustled down hotel lobby hallways?
After a decade of this, her running turned to chasing. And she found herself chasing after the ghost of her husband. Mrs. Baker went to his childhood home, to the room he had been born in where God had blessed him with his gifts. And she went to the city, where he had spent his early twenties standing at bus stops wondering how all these strangers' lives connected and intertwined and overlapped. And she went to the Grand Canyon, where she stood on the cliff edge and imagined that she was flying. And when she finally made her way home to the cluttered office where her husband had wasted most of his life, Mrs. Baker sat down at his desk and, with shaking fingers, began to write.
Ollie Mae is a 14 year old homeschooler who has been attending writers workshop since almost before she can remember. She loves reading and writing, cares deeply about climate justice, her best friend Morgan, and her two dogs. She knows that writing will always be a part of her life whether she goes on to become an investigative journalist, a forensic psychologist, an astrobiologist, or a poet.
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