Story A Day for May, Day 28


Black Ink

I’d been waiting for Kate to come for a chat, not to talk about Trey, but to ask about her grandfather. She would have so many questions, and who was there to tell her about him? Not her great aunt, who denied her brother’s illness, classifying it as “the eccentricity of genius.”

So few of us remained who knew him then.

For a child, what exists, day by day, is what is normal. It’s only later, in the breeze of comparison, that we begin to discover, no, it’s not “normal” for one to shut himself in his room for days on end, leaving a ten-year-old to care for herself.

Why didn’t we step in? I still ask myself that. So I wasn’t surprised when Kate asked that the evening she dropped by. It wasn’t her first question, but after we’d worked our way around to the barb of her childhood, it was the next spontaneous question.

“Why did no one intervene?” she asked. “For example, a department secretary. Or one of his students.”

Or you. She didn’t say that, but it was what was on my mind.

“We were so busy with work,” I said. “And times were different. We had this notion of privacy–what people now would refer to as boundaries–and this idea tangled with the concept of respect, somehow. We all revered your grandfather. Getting involved, that intrusively–it would have run counter to decorum.”

“I keep reminding myself that I came out all right,” Kate said. “And he did, too, eventually.”

“But it doesn’t take away the hurt, does it?” I asked, for I’d heard beyond her words. “Perhaps if you’d been younger, seven, instead of ten, eleven. If you’d been unable to get yourself to school… then someone would have stepped in, I’m sure.”

“What was wrong with him?” she asked. “He was bipolar, wasn’t he?”

I nodded. “He was diagnosed as schizophrenic at the time. So little was known about bipolar then, what was previously called manic-depressive.”

I asked if she remembered the summer she’d been sent away, to live with her great aunt. That was when it was the worst. I had to take over his teaching load that summer while he was in the hospital. We thought he might be institutionalized. They talked of electroshock treatment. But he came back in the fall, subdued, internally restrained, as if he were perpetually holding back.

One November afternoon, before winter’s chill set in, he and I sat in his office for my weekly thesis meeting, and he shut his book with a bang. “We must get out of here!” he said.

It was the first bright spark since his return.

We left campus behind, roaming along the creek to where it joined the sea. The wind raced off the waves. He stood on the bluff, his arms outstretched, and he roared.

“Isn’t the wild delicious?”

I looked through the sadness in Kate’s eyes, to find that same spark–that untamed spirit of family brilliance.

“You know that Steinhart is still after his notebooks? He’s got the legal team on it.”

“Not to worry,” she said, with a wild laugh. “We’re going to burn them, Trey and I! We’ll have a bonfire. And you can come, too!”

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Prompt for May 28: “Your story must include these words: ink, previously, work, breeze, seven, run, delicious, example, spontaneous, barb,” from