Title: A Change of Grace
Chapter: 40 of 41
Summary: Taylor ends up traveling back in time to New York in the 19th century. There he meets Kathryn, Benjamin, Joshua and Grace among many others. The story follows both Taylor’s adventures in the past and Isaac and Zachary’s search for him in present (1997/1998) time.
Taylor sneezed for what felt like the hundredth time, and sighed irritably. Between his nose, and his eyes, which felt swelled to the size of his kneecaps and itched abominably, the venture into the attic was working out to be much less than pleasant.
Too much dust, too much mold, too much everything. Everything except anything worth looking at, he reflected sourly. Old linens, old clothes, old junk, nothing really interesting. He’d finally thrown himself into an old chair, coughing at the dust that rose around him, gazing absently out the window. Funny, crescent shaped window, he’d never really noticed from outside. It gave out on a glimpse of green, a flash of blue. Nothing to look at even out the window. Still, for all its dust and allergy invoking irritants, it’s lack of expected treasure, it was peaceful up here. The sounds of the rest of the house muted and dim, the tightly closed windows shutting out even birdsong. He could tolerate the irritation simply for the quiet. He leaned back, eyes taking in the mounds of old clothes, the shadowy shapes of wardrobes and trunks, insubstantial in the flickering of the oil light. There still seemed to be promise here…
Taylor’s eyes rested on the engravings, tracing them over and over, mind absently fixated. He’d slipped into a dreamy half doze, comfortably settled against the dusty rose of the old chair, eyes settling here and there, sleepy…
Beautiful old trunk, what he could see of it from here, elaborately carved, trimmed in brass that still managed a touch of gleam, through the tarnish and dust of an age.
The trunks antique beauty was interrupted at one corner, by the incongruous addition of a leather luggage tag. His doze lifted slightly.
“Name tag?”. Why would there be a modern tag on an antique trunk? Had someone shipped it?
Awake now, dreamy contentment falling away in wisps and tatters, he sat up, head tilted, eyes narrowed. Something… almost there. What was it? An electric tingle seemed to suffuse him as the trunk, in his vision, appeared to grow, blotting out the rest of the room.
And then, there it was, so clear, so obvious that for a moment the shock of it took him over, blacking out his vision, drying the spit in his mouth. G.G
His throat felt suddenly blocked, and he swallowed against the ache, getting up almost in spite of himself, need warring fear. Was it hers? Was it?!
Dropping to his knees in front of the trunk, his hand grasped the tag, the leather dry and brittle. Old. The clear plastic sheeth protecting the tag was clouded with dust and age, but he made it out easily. Diana. Someone had labeled it with his mother’s name. Had it been left to her? He’d never seen it…
He rocked back on his heels, pondering. It wasn’t his, it was his mother’s. Should he open it? Brief war of conscience, the almost painful tingling thoughout his body deciding him. He had to see, had to know, it wasn’t something that could wait. He would tell her he had opened it, but open it he would.
Almost as if guided, his hand traced the edges of the trunk, fingers slipping into the deep slotted groove that held the key. Hesitation vanished, seeking fingers fitted key to lock. For a moment he thought it wasn’t going to work, tumblers so many years frozen in place stiff with disuse. He turned the key harder, afraid it would snap off in his hand, rewarded with the sudden slipping release as the tumblers turned and the lock clicked.
Frozen in place, hand gripping the front of the trunk, fear welled in him. Could he do this? The past weeks of uncertain longing suddenly crashed in on him as he realized that opening this trunk could, COULD prove this strange dreamlike trip a reality. His mind, sheltering in the faint plaguing doubts screamed at him to back away, lock the lock, forget about it, his heart, already in possession of the truth, guided his hand as it pushed the lid up.
For just a moment, relief and disappointment seizing him, shaking him, his eyes rested upon linens. Only more of the same, old rags of handkerchiefs and tablecloths, napkin rings and tassels. Nothing here anymore important than in the rest of the trunks.
Breath expelled in a sudden rush, he realized he hadn’t been breathing.
“Just what did you expect to find, stupid? The answers to the universe? It’s not going to be hers, you’re not going to find…” His thoughts broke off as his fingers, wandering aimlessly through the layer of yellowed linen, happened onto a different texture. Under the hankies, under the napkins…
Teeth clamped to lip, he pulled gently, shifting the layers of protective cloth out of his way, eyes fastening on the photograph his hand held. A young man, a young woman, sepia toned and smiling. Smiling? He’d never seen old portraits like these where the people smiled…
One hand clamped over his mouth in shock as recognition hit. Josh and Grace. Older, much older than he remembered them but them nonetheless. Unmistakable. G.G. Grace Gage. No doubt now in his mind, he swept the intruding tattered cloths to the floor, eyes resting now on the memories of a lifetime.
The numbed buzzing in his feet intruded, and he shifted, annoyed, stretching out legs gone solidly to sleep. So much of their lives in here, how long had he sat, pouring over their lives?
Playbills and press, they’d really done music! His face had broken into a delighted grin at the sight of the first one, bittersweet happiness that they’d done things their way, yet without him. “Oh, God I miss you guys so much…” He’d felt the ache of tears in his throat almost at once, refused to give in to it. To sit here crying over them… no. His eyes lit on photographs, photos of the two of them, of their children, their home, their dog! “One of them was a camera nut…”
He’d pulled out love letters. Josh had gone somewhere, where had he gone? Wherever it was, he’d desperately missed Grace, his letters full of longing and love.
Baby clothes, lacy and voluminous, preserved agelessly, the lace barely yellowed. Birth certificates. Death certificates, bringing the pained sorrow to his eyes again, at the knowledge that their children hadn’t lived. What could have happened?
“Oh, Grace, how awful… to lose your babies… I wish I could have been there…” Heart aching for her, hoping she’d had people she loved around her, he stood, unable to sit on the floor any longer, dragging the old trunk to the foot of the chair, reaching in to touch the edge of a flash of rose fabric, almost hidden beneath the reams of photo’s, memorabilia, old jewelry, and books. That color, a faint faded ghost of something he remembered… gently, carefully, he pulled it out, revealing a dress he knew well, a dress he had bought for her, brand new a few weeks ago, faded with almost a centuries aging. He held it up, blinking back the tears that rose to his eyes, smiling a little as the shawl and gloves fell from its folds, onto the floor in front of him.
“Oh, Grace, you saved it all this time…” Almost unthinking he ran the edge of the shawl against his cheek, reveling in its softness, and the faint scent he fancied he caught. “After all these years, could it still smell like you, Grace?” His eyes shifted back to the dress, taking in evidence of hard wear. Was that a cigarette burn? He chuckled, shaking his head. “Poor Grace, I totally corrupted you…” Still the fact that the dress had remained a favorite pleased him, and he folded it carefully, setting it back, eyes coming to rest on the neat stack of books, each carefully dated. Diaries? He picked one up, vaguely guilty, leafed through it, almost immediately caught up in the words of that long ago girl. Eyes ran the pages, skimming, feathering through, lighting here, stopping there, knowing that at some point he would read them all, glancing through each, settling back to read more thoroughly as his interest caught, face mirroring the words, smiles flickering in his eyes, sorrow shadowing his face.
So many, many years of faithful entries, never missing a day. He could never possibly read them all, yet somehow his fingers, guided by some other will, took him where he needed to go, let him read their small joys and great blisses, their frustrations and tragedies. Their world became his, Grace’s words the words of a dearly loved friend he’d never left, sharing her life with him.
Hours passed as he lived her life with her, choosing entries seemingly at random, paging through the years of her existence as the shadows grew long around him, and the oil in the lamp grew low.
Sighing, he rubbed his eyes, the last journal resting in his lap. Overwhelmed, head aching with the pain of unshed tears, he let his eyes close for a moment. He would read all of these books, carefully, completely, but for now, he’d had enough. Through Grace’s words, changing from those of a young girl to a woman, to the old woman she had been at the end, he’d known her life. The joys had been many, their happiness full, their sorrows shared. He couldn’t have wished them any more… yet his heart ached that he hadn’t been there for them when times were hard, that his friend Josh hadn’t seemed to have anyone but Grace, nor she anyone but Josh. For each other they had lived, recognizing the rest of the world, not quite shunning it but not paying a great deal of attention to it either. Was that good?
His eyes opened again, and he flipped open the last book, noting the shaky writing. She’d been so old, so old when she wrote in this one. Unreality washed over him, cold and sickening. Grace was his age, how could she be old? Sighing, he closed the book again, flipping it over impulsively, opening to the end. The last entry ever, he knew. His eyes widened a little, as the page fluttered out into his lap, in actuality not a page, a carefully folded sheet of paper. Did he really want to read it? He slid the oil lamp closer, eyes fastened on the pages. An outside observer would have found his changed countenance fascinating, as the color drained, then rose, in his face, eyes filling with tears he absently wiped way, ignored.
August 15th, 1963
My apologies to you, dear diary, for this is to be my last entry in you. I look at the trunk filled with your predecessors, and wonder finally, how one person could have so very much to say? Now, I finally find the adventures have ended, the experiences faded, the life… finally reduced to that of an old woman in a chair, gazing at the sun she can no longer walk in. What need I to document such tedium? Ah, but I am in the last days now. I feel it.
I take upon myself now the burden of decision. To, one last time write my heart? Or to be careful of my words, with regard for other eyes that may read? Other eyes… what care I for what they think? They consider me in my dotage, my writing nothing but the ramblings of a senile old woman whom they consider lucky to be able to find her mouth with her spoon. Bah! That I have all my wits about me should be obvious to the most deplorable idiot, yet I find that it is not so. Either I am surrounded by deplorable idiots, dear diary, or my wits have departed, leaving me blissfully unaware.
I ask myself now how long I will continue the charade… that of a final journal entry, when in actuality I ponder the decision… to write the letter that I have already had written in my soul these last 80 years. Ah, dotage becomes a likelihood now, does it not?
To write a letter to a boy not yet born, last spoken to by me in my sixteenth year. Such a boy should be in his winter as I am, or in his grave, as is my dear Joshua. Yet he is not yet born. Or is he the same age he was? How many times, over the years, I have wondered this, as I grew older and lived my life. Does he, in his own time, grow older too? Have 8 decades passed for him, placing him sometime beyond the year 2000? Or have my intervening years not existed for him? Oh, dear diary, I don’t know how it works, I only know that it is. And now I see, the decision is made. There could be no other way, of course. One does not carry an intent for an entire lifetime, only to back out in the final days.
This then, ends dear diary, my final entry. Guard my life well, all that remains of it lies between your pages. I now commence the letter I started, in actuality, in the year 1883, in this very month of August.
Taylor, if you are reading this, my wits must have been about me. Now don’t laugh at the old lady, it is rude.
I know you were never supposed to tell us where you were from, and I know, and have known, all my life, that I took dreadful, unforgivable advantage of you that night. Do you remember that night, 80 years ago? Ah, but for you, if you read this at the moment I pray, it has not been 80 years. No, it has been perhaps a few weeks, a few days, a few hours? Oh, that you cannot miss us, the way we have, in this long lifetime, missed you! The passage of our lives was over before you returned home. For you, now, we are long in our graves, our reputations, if any, that of eccentric old Aunt Grace and Uncle Joshua… that you should think of me as Aunt anything may cause me to laugh myself into my final sleep. After that kiss! Writing this to you I find myself sixteen again… what an odd thing. If you’ve read any of my journal, you know that Josh and I had good lives, full lives. Lives that owe a great deal of their happiness to you. What you showed us, in that one short week… oh an entire lifetimes teachings have not come close to the wisdom of that one week.
The simplest lessons are often the most profound, and you taught us to be ourselves. To live as we pleased, not as the world dictated. We lived the way that made us happy, and we never wanted for anything. Oh, we achieved no fame, no stardom. We were not celebrities, as I suspect you are, but we did well, and we regret nothing. Oh, there were sacrifices, of course, and there were tragedies, as you may have read. We were told those were the will of God, punishment for our scandalous lifestyle. What care I for a God that holds the gift of music a sin? Bah! And what care I for those who’s narrow minds would allow them to say such things? Far more did I long for you, and you’re wonderfully bright and innocent way of looking at things. For your disdain and misunderstanding of societal concepts. Though you never really left us, not really. In our hearts you dwelled, brought to the fore when the “going got tough”.
My Joshua developed the rather unconventional habit of consulting you, when faced with a dilemma. I want you to know you unfailingly helped him out of it, no matter the circumstances, Or the time of night! Though you caused him no end of nightmares as well, Taylor my love. How many nights he awoke in cold sweat. Dreams of your world. He never talked about it, but his sketches told the story. You’ll find them between the bottoms of the trunk. Yes Taylor, BETWEEN the bottoms. Look. You’ll see.
Small triumphs, Taylor. The passage of time brought so many small triumphs, such vindication, as my suspicions about you became verified.
The night you took me to the pub, how charmingly called a “nightclub” now, Ha ha, a bar is still a bar. You had so much to drink, you poor child, you could barely stand. Oh, but it didn’t stop your words, just as my age and arthritic fingers cannot stop mine! Oh, the things you told us, and how hard did my Josh try to stop you! How many times he told you to be quiet, to shut up, how many times he told me to stop pressing you… told me it wasn’t fair to take such advantage when you didn’t know, or have any control over what you were saying. Press I did, though, and never did I forget a single word. I knew that night, Taylor. I think I did a fabulous job of not letting a soul know that I’d met a boy from the future, what do you think?
The passing years, as I was saying, ah but I do ramble, do I not? As I was saying, the passing years brought me explanations to your oddnesses. You can well imagine how I felt when your bizarre habit of staring at the odd white mark on your wrist, before checking the time, was explained by the advent of the wristwatch!!! One summer’s sun and I recognized the same white mark on my very own wrist… and the same gesture! “There!” said I. “He wore one of these…” I knew, you see. I only waited to understand. And those photographs. Even to this day there are none so very fine, but they are coming, I have no doubt. How could I? I saw them, pulled from your wallet by your hand. So many mysteries about you, uncovered by the passing time. Even this great city… growing up around me.
How it pained Josh’s heart to see it, reminding him constantly of you. We spoke of you often, he and I, and we spoke of our knowledge. Josh declared it silly to his dying day, but his dreams and his art told a different story. He understood, as I do. He never, never stopped missing you, Taylor. Twenty years after the last moment he saw you, he still talked about you. He still called you friend. He treasured the photograph you will also find, the one taken of you and I, outside the pub. The only picture we’ve ever had of you, carefully preserved these long years. I fancy I can preserve my youth along with newsprint. Funny old woman, aren’t I?
I’ve watched the family carefully. I do believe now I know who you are. I hope I’m correct, or some stranger will be reading this letter and thinking what a barmy old coot this Grace person was!
You see, Taylor, the resemblance between you and Josh was unmistakable. I remember you calling him “Ike” that night, you saying that was your brother, and how he did look like him, I later saw. Your resemblance to Josh’s sister Lou was nearly uncanny as well, and so my eyes have stayed firmly affixed to each generation. Oh, Lou… you remember Lou! Stealing your hair, the little minx! Ha ha, such a bad girl. If you’ve read the journal, you know Louise married, not particularly WELL, but happily. She did alright for herself. Ah, listen to me! Thinking you have read over 80 years worth of diary entries! Mercy!
As I was saying, I watched the family closely, keeping in mind the names you told us that night. Here is what I have deduced. Josh’s sister Odelie, you remember her, the babe who so enjoyed your absurd long hair!
Ellie had children… one of them, a daughter, Deirdre Mae, had a daughter herself, and that daughter bore the name Diana Frances. I do believe you said that was your mother’s name, wasn’t it, Taylor? And oh how this girl looks like Louise! And you! She looks so like you it makes my heart ache to look at her!
All these long years I waited, and expected, yes, a girl child named Diana, yet when it happened do you know what I did? Me with my exceptional intellect, sharp wit, rebellious ways, and such smug knowledge of future events? That’s right, you guessed it. I fainted. Dead away onto the floor, and felt quite the fool! And I suggest you stop laughing. Remember that punch I gave you!
Ah, you’ve been on my mind much, these past years, since my Josh passed. Oh, you would have been so proud of your friend, had you only known him! How many times we wished, upon hearing a knock upon the door, that we would open it and find you…
You showed him so much, and he never forgot.
All his life he was headstrong, opinionated, and possessed of an ego roughly the size of New Jersey. (you may laugh now. in fact you must). Yet because of you, he was aware of such things, and took great pains to overcome them, to always act kindly, generously toward others, to put himself second, and to show others the respect that was due them. I think he succeeded, Taylor, and again I say, you would have been so proud! Such a shame that the years could not find a way to bring us together again. Ah, the mind boggles… for many decades we have longed for you, yet you have been gone from us for… how long? How long, Taylor? No time? Do you even possess the memory of us?
Ah, I know we have talked about THAT, Josh and I. Whether you remember us. I believe you must, because why only for us would you have come? No, you came for yourself as well my love, and so I feel sure you retain some memory of us. Ah, but we miss you. I look up now, old eyes that can barely see the doorway, and pray that I will see you standing in it… but how can I?! Stupid old woman that I am, I pray it though I know you are not yet born!
Ashamed to say this, but I’ve tried to become close to Diana, more on your merits than hers. Oh, she thinks I’m a dotty old woman with more wrinkles than brains, they all do nowadays, but I think she likes me. Likes the stories of crazy old Auntie Gracie’s wild life. And oh how she reminds me of you. Her eyes, her hair, her face… her very gestures and movements are all yours. Or, should I say, yours are hers! Yes, get it right old woman! I touch her arm, her hand, and fancy I am touching some part of you. Perhaps I am, if she is to be your mother. As you read this, already is your mother and has been for some time. Sixteen years I would say. Such a long time, and I have no hope to live to see your true arrival. At 96, another ten years would make me one hundred sixteen! Even should I live to such a revolting age, I would certainly have not one shred of mind left! No, I will not see you again, I have realized that, though over the past years since my Josh passed, you have been on my mind more than anything. Ah… the song. The song you gave Josh. Rest assured, he sang it only the one time, per your instructions. Did you ever know why he wanted it, Taylor? He sang it for me when we married, telling me it was the only time I would ever hear it. He seemed so puzzled at his own words… yet for my entire life I have hummed it, sung snatches of it when nobody was around… yet what I wouldn’t give to hear it, if not sung by my Josh, then sung by the boy who penned it… your brother, am I correct? Ah, but I will not live to see such days, my days now are numbered. If I see another Christmas I will be terribly shocked. Not that I feel ill, mind, no… there is no decline I can detect. I just know.
I feel there is so much else I must say… yet the words refuse to come. Oh if only you were here! Just once more before I die, I would see you… if you could come to 1883 can you not come to 1963?! It seems a much shorter trip.
The necklace! Yes… believe this as you may, it has been around my neck from the afternoon Josh gave it to me, telling me it was a gift from you. It is still around my neck, never having been removed. It was around my neck at the births of my children, and it saw them into their graves. It has been there for every happiness, every sadness, every illness, every birth, every death. Josh told me you meant it as a remembrance of you. How I raced back that day to that absurdly gaudy apartment building, determined to see you once more before you left… only to find the apartment vacant… devoid of furniture, of life, of any SIGN of life. Yet in this tiny locket I feel something of you. It seems to reverberate with an odd warmth, and it seems to share something of my sorrows and my joys. It is a bit like having you with me, even Joshua agreed on that. I have never opened it, Taylor, and I never shall, but I shall take it off this day, and tuck it into the trunk, along with this letter. I want it to go back to you, now a remembrance of ME, from me to you. Far better than some sentimental fool deciding that Aunt Grace must be BURIED with it! Perish the very thought! Yet, for the first time in decades this chain leaves my neck…
I think, Taylor, I’ve said all there is for me to say. Oh I could ramble on for hours and days, but what use would it serve?
Rest easy with what you’ve done, my dear friend. You worked a miracle for us, and I fervently hope that we, in turn, did something for you. I’m going to end this letter now, and tuck it away with some other things you may remember… and some things you won’t, yet I believe will enjoy seeing. I will call Diana soon, perhaps this evening, and tell her to take the trunk with her. If she is anything like you, she will do as I ask, and she will keep it. It’s not to be opened, not until after you have turned sixteen. You never did tell me your birthdate, so I know not at what time of year that will occur… I find myself hoping it is AFTER you return to your own time, and not before you even leave! What a lunatic I would sound were THAT to happen!!! Ah… perhaps I shall change my instructions. She is not to open this until after the first of September, 1999. If my math skills are correct, that is the year.
Do you think that will work, Taylor? Does this crazy idea of writing to you have any chance of success? Do you think it does? You taught me well, my love. Even if it seems unlikely, if it’s what I want to do, I must do it. I understand now, the power of dreams. I love you, Taylor. And Josh loved you.
Be well in your life.