Some people are stayers. They move through rooms in slow motion, observe what comes next, find ways to echo in their spaces. Even their scent lingers, inhabiting the nooks and crannies of the everyday, until their essence chances a state of unwelcome. Uncle Charlie had been a stayer. Would have stayed an eternity had death not come. His touch remained on every book in The Literate Jester. The rare spice of vanilla pages and his favorite pipe tobacco on his clothes had not left Jack.
And then there were the goers. People who hunted the next thing to come. The impulsives who fled, instinct over thought, outpacing control, who dropped fast slivers of themselves in their wake for others to pick up and hold to the light in remembrance.
Benetta Tolland was a goer.
Jack knew this as surely as he knew the morning on the roof and the attempt in the bathroom mirror were part of her nature. And he blamed himself for everything that day, from the kiss that fogged his head and clobbered his pulse to speaking his deepest desire, a desire he had told no one. For Jack, going back to the time he was responsible for his parents’ death would mean he could move forward. He never imagined Benetta might think he wished her gone.
And yet, here he was. A stayer, forever chasing a goer.
He doubled over, a second and complete copy of Eve of Monocacy in hand, the push and pull of oxygen to the deepest parts of his diaphragm sated for the first time in nearly an hour. From between the pages of her poem, Jack pulled out Benetta’s hastily scrawled note and reread it by moonlight.
In the absence of her relentlessness emerged an elusive peace. Her father had told her as much. She didn’t understand, never saw it until hurt came and time ceased.
A line from the text, verbatim.
Benetta had stolen away in the night with nothing more than her uniform and haversack and the long rifle Jack had tipped against the bedroom corner. A measure of trust, returned. The gun was the first thing he looked for each time he awakened, for Benetta was nothing if not a warrior first. Guilty of nothing more than taking on his fight as if it were hers.
And tearing out the poem’s final page.
And hiding a second copy of her book—none too well, mind you—to conceal her fate.
A scratchy bed of crops at her back, a cloud chariot racing across the sky, Benetta Tolliver had died in the Thomas field.
As had a piece of Jack when he read it.
The bedside clock had read a few minutes past three. Now, at five, the beginning of a new day, the gray before the rising sun, Jack feared another ending.