The Diary

The Diary
by Andrea Lena DiMaggio

Romulus, Michigan....November 23, 2016
The young man lay on his couch; another migraine courtesy of a job that promised no future other than being consigned to disappointment. It wasn’t so much what he was asked to do as in what manner he was asked to perform his tasks. He heard a soft knock at the door followed by an even softer half-growl from the Weimaraner that lay next to him on the floor. He arose and walked quickly to the door followed closely by the dog whose mood had changed from vigilant to frisky in a moment. He opened the door and was greeted by a kind almost grandfather-ish looking man who smiled and spoke.

“Daniel Huarte?”

“Yes….” Daniel’s eyes glanced down to the package in the man’s hands. A dreamer of sorts, unexpected letters and packages were always greeted with wonder, as if someone might send him a manuscript from a heretofore unknown author or a nice hard-to-find action figure for his collection. The man’s eyes caught his glance and he smiled at the young man with a beneficent nod.

“I’ve a registered delivery.” The old man seemed almost gleeful as he handed Daniel the package, indicating on the cards taped to the outside.

“Just sign by the ‘x’ on both cards, please.” Daniel signed the cards and handed them back to the man, who nodded once again.

“Happy Thanksgiving,” he said before turning to go. Halfway down the porch stairs, he turned once more and said at last,

“Good Luck, Daniel.” Daniel had his head down, and he raise it to respond, but the man was already gone. He walked back into the house, nudged several times by the dog.

“I don’t know what it is, Mitzi…Let’s sit down and open it, shall we?” The dog tilted her head to one side as if she was considering the suggestion. Daniel walked back to the couch and sat down. Moments later he held the contents of the package.

“What do you think it is?” He asked the dog; many folks talk to their pets, but a single man with few acquaintances and fewer friends might turn to his dog for encouragement and counsel. He stared at the book in his hands. Just a bit larger than the palm of his hand, it was covered in pink satin antique fabric…the kind with subtle darker stripes woven into the cloth. It had a hasp that closed over the cover along with a tiny gold lock. A key was secured to the book with a piece of string.

“My Diary…wow…who do you suppose sent this?” Of course the dog was attentive and equally as silent; she did, however, lick his hand. A quick examination of the package inside and out revealed no return address or name. And of course, the postman had already departed. He paused for a moment. Even though the diary had been sent to him, it almost seemed as if he was violating the privacy of the sender. Something almost spoke inside his head, as if to say, ‘go ahead, it’s alright.’ He took the key and carefully opened the lock.

“No turning back, girl.” He smiled and the dog seemed to nod in agreement.

“May 17, 1995, Dear Hortense.” Soft flowing script; cursive like the kind they used to teach in school; even if she hadn’t included her own name, it would have been understood immediately that it was written by a woman, as feminine as it appeared. He smiled only a bit and sighed.

“He came today. So sad. I don’t know what to say. I can’t imagine a child being more miserable and yet as kind as can be. He even thanked me for letting him help. I suppose I could manage to get to the store myself, but then that would spoil everything, wouldn’t it?”

It was easy to fall deeply into wonder and fancy with an unknown woman writing to herself about a child; almost a bridge to Terebithia moment lit by a Narnia lamp post. Daniel wrote stories of adventure in strange lands that no one wanted to read; much less produce as a film or a TV show. But he still could dream.

“The boy is such a dear; it’s a mystery as to why he’s so sad. I promise, Hortense, that I’ll ask him straight off tomorrow. Perhaps we can help him?”

“I wonder what she found out. I guess we should keep reading? You know, it always made me wonder what kind of person talks to themselves by name in a book, you know? Maybe the same kind that talks to their doggie? Mitzi?” The dog had hopped up onto the couch and had fallen asleep.

“I’ll keep you posted….what else?” Daniel turned the page. The words were written this time in a light purple ink, almost lilac; a special entry.

“He came today and I did what I said. ‘Why are you so sad, young man?’ I asked him. I’m sure there was something going on inside, but he denied it altogether. I find it hard to believe that a boy that nice should be so sad; even though he said he wasn’t, the streaks down his dusty cheeks told me everything. Things are as they should be, however, since he came when no one else would.” The paper was a creamy shade; slightly faded due to age, but it still bore the unmistakable mark of tear stains.

“I wonder why she would cry for a boy she didn’t know?” He turned and the dog had begun to lick his knee.

“I’ll get you something to eat in a second, girl. Just let me see the next couple of pages.” He said to her, and she laid her head on his knee and lolled into a restful doggie nap. Page after page of ‘poor boy’ and ‘oh, what a dear child; minutes turned into an hour until he got to an entry that was jarring.

“July 18, 1995. Dear Hortense….” Same beautiful cursive; so lovingly crafted but the beauty lay not in the expression, but the heart that the words expressed.

“He’s finally admitted he’s sad. Week after week of kind attention to these old bones….somebody that looked past the dusty hallway and the dark doors. Someone who cared enough to help me, dear heart. How special a child who would care for someone whom every other soul in town considered unlovable…someone who wasn’t acceptable. And there he was today. I asked him and he finally answered.” The words promised a revelation, but Mitzi had woken up and was whimpering by the doorway, looking very, very anxious. Daniel laid the diary down and in a moment was out the door with the dog.

* * *

“You know, dear heart, that we have endured so much ignorance and scorn these past few years, but I cannot fathom how someone could hurt a child like this boy has been hurt.” Daniel hadn’t noticed, but he had begun to read aloud, more for the benefit of the moment than for either him or the dog. A solemnity of sorts began to permeate the moment even though the sound of his own voice was as jarring as ever. He wanted to sound authentic for the narrative, but the same old baritone came from deep inside; disappointing as always.

“The boy admitted to me that he feels out of place; like he doesn’t belong.” The words seemed to sting; almost as if Daniel could feel for the child.

“Imagine that…he actually told me how sorry he was for me because no one comes to visit me. The only one in how many years, dear heart?” Hortense spoke to herself in much the same fashion that Daniel had resigned himself to. He actually found himself hoping that the woman had a dog as well.

“Barbie has found a new friend; the boy and she have taken to each other. No other person other than the postman has been kind to the dog, and I imagine she and the boy have become kindred spirits of a sort, aye? Maybe like I have with the boy as well. It’s fascinating how a welcome smile and a nice bark can help a child open up. He says they hate him!” It wasn’t as if he knew, but Daniel almost sensed a feeling of anger from the words, even though the pretty script belied the message.

“If Peter had lived? We would have had children, would we not, dear one?” Introspection? Grief? Who was Peter? And who, really, was Hortense other than a name on a page?” Daniel felt a chill up his back, but it wasn’t eerie or uncomfortable; almost like the feeling you have when you go through something that seems very familiar, but you don’t recall where or when.

“The boy was teased, from what he said, by his family today. ‘They hate me,’ he said once again. It brings me to tears to hear him say it so matter of fact, as if he deserved to be neglected or mistreated. And all because he’s different?” The lament seemed to cool and warm Daniel at the same time; a fearful dreadful sensation came over him. The words almost demanded attention that he was too scared to give, but too rapt to ignore. He read on.

“I remember when I found out…you remember, don’t you, dear heart?” The words seemed almost foolish, since Hortense was asking herself that question, but it was really almost an inner poet speaking out what she needed to say in order to assure herself.

“You’re a boy, Harry! And boys don’t do that at all. You’ve been given much, Harry; don’t disappoint your father!” The words seemed to shout the accusation, as if the somber disdain wasn’t enough to get the reader’s attention.

“You’re a wizard, young man, not a witch; no matter what you think or feel!” Screaming denial, the words felt like they weren’t meant from poet to reader only, but seemed to pierce Daniel’s heart.

“When we…when I changed, it changed everything else forever, dear heart, now didn’t it? And the boy knew the same pain….the same feeling of being trapped between three worlds? Like he didn’t belong to his family and he didn’t belong to his…what they expected him to be…and he didn’t belong to the world of solids and substance?” Mitzi nudged Daniel’s arm; a hungry dog might wait for a while, but a whole day? Daniel laid the diary down once again and went into the kitchen. Minutes later both he and Mitzi were back on the couch. He looked around and noticed it had gotten dark. It seemed to have gotten dark inside himself as well. Turning on the lamp next to the couch he returned to the diary.”

“Out of time and out of place and out of any welcome; he’s just like we were. I should have seen it; the same sad look we had when we were his age.” She continued to speak to herself as if she was two instead of one. She was two, in a way, but in a way that was coming together even as he read; a purpose seemed to emanate from her words even as the ink blurred more and more from empathetic tears.

“Such a sweet child. Like I was….me…the first time after I changed I felt so alive. I couldn’t have borne the ignorance and hatred that came my way if I had remained as I had been created. I used my strength to change for my own benefit; a violation of a foolish rule. How can we be helpful to others if we are too weak and neglected ourselves? And to be who we were meant to be? I vowed at that moment, and you know because you were there, dear heart, that never again would I act so selfishly as to be foolishly selfless. And somehow, if I ever found out ….If we ever can do something for that dear child that I will…we will do for him what others so carelessly insisted I shouldn’t do for myself.” The final words of the page were almost unreadable due to the blurred ink. Daniel paused and sighed as deep a sigh as he had ever let go.

“September 8, 1995…Dear Hortense.” Even though nothing had changed visually in the cursive, the writing seemed to be lighter, almost gay and carefree even before Daniel had read past the salutation.

“Mommy wrote to me today; they know that they….” An odd pause, as if she had been speaking aloud along with Daniel’s narrative.

“It’s more than ‘all is forgiven,’ Hortense, my dear. It’s that there was nothing to forgive in the first place. Daddy sends his regards….and asks …written by his own hand…’my dear sweet child; I am so sorry….’ He’s sorry, dear one. Centuries of pride…am I angry? No…I am as at peace as any time in my life, and I know he and Mommy are sorry. We’re a family again.” The word again was almost indecipherable as the ink was nearly all washed away. Daniel shuddered as he read the words again.

“We’re a family.” So foreign; not just in language or culture, but in spirit as he began to weep for the woman on the page; the woman had started life much in the same way as the little boy for whom she wept. Her heart of forgiveness so deep; her heart of compassion so wide, he wished he could have known her. And he wished he had been blessed as the little boy to have known her even if for a moment. He sighed. Probably the best fantasy he had ever read, he could only wish that he had the talent and the words to speak with such prose about something so personal.

Mitzi nudged him, her wet nose cool against his bare arm. Once again he laid the diary down and the two went out for another walk. He returned and noticed that the lights seemed dimmer in the room; a breaking dawn will do that. He shook his head and sat down. A long, ponderous and lonely day ahead, he sighed once again and picked up the diary. Entry after entry seemed to be joyful and with great relief.

“January 17, 2002 Dear Hortense…Life is beautiful, but I do so wish I knew what happened to that child.

“July 4, 2009 Dear Hortense. The whole town seems excited, and I’ve learned to be content. New neighbors invited me to their home for a nice meal. Life has changed so much. My heart is filled with joy but for the thought of that dear child. I only wish I could find him.

“November 20, 2016 Dear Hortense…I’m so glad we’re going home, finally a part once again of the grand scheme of things; a happy creation once again reunited with my creator. Only one thing left to do other than to give thanks? We found him! I’m so glad…now I can rest assured that we both will know what it is like to truly be who we are and to truly be thankful.”

Daniel spoke the words, and something inside of him was grateful even through the loneliness and pain. Something that seemed so oddly familiar even though he had struggled with gratefulness for a long time. He remembered how much he had longed to be different, and how his brothers and his father had teased him. He remembered how his mother had loved him but had been helpless to protect him. The days that turned into weeks that turned into years of being something other than who he was. Mitzi interrupted his musing with an anxious bark.

“It’s okay, girl. Really. I’m finally happy, even though I have no idea why." He winked at the dog at the silly fib.

"And I’m grateful…I’m alive…and at least I’ve got you, right?” The dog barked in agreement. The moment was as magical a moment as you’ve ever read about anywhere. And there was nothing different other than a changed heart. Daniel looked down at himself; perhaps for the first time without hating himself, but he felt oddly hopeful. Things hadn’t changed one bit other than that his heart, broken in so many pieces over so many hurts and disappointments, had begun to knit together. He got up off the couch and walked into the bedroom.

“’The first day is always the hardest,’ Kristie had told me the other day. I don’t know how I’m going to manage it, but I’m on my way, girl,” Daniel said, looking down at the dog; Mitzi appeared eagerly encouraging, as if her tail wag was a signal for approval. Daniel opened his dresser and pulled out some garments. A few minutes later he stood before the mirror on his closet door….her closet door.

“Daddy’s going to be pissed, but I think in the end he’ll come around, what do you think?” Danielle Marie Huarte nodded at her best friend in the world, who wagged her tail in glee.

“Yeah, that’s what I think, too. “ She looked at herself in the mirror, as if in examination. Her light brown hair was pulled back, exposing a graceful jaw line courtesy of her mother and a nice slender neck courtesy of Dr. Alphonso Ghiaralldi. Her face was almost pristine, absent of any makeup other than a bit of shadow and lip gloss. Her blouse was a simple dark green, gold strands made it almost shimmer; maybe too early for Christmas colors but that was okay. Her jeans were loose; a fit that worked for girls her age; they tapered down into dark brown low-heeled boots more suitable for a walk after the big dinner.

And finally, she grabbed the last garment from her closet; a gift from her father years before, but the first time that Danielle would wear it instead of Daniel. She pulled it on and smiled broadly as Mitzi wagged her tail excitedly.

“Yeah, girl…I think he’ll like it just fine,” she said as she modeled the hooded sweatshirt with the Detroit Lions logo emblazoned on the front. She looked at herself in the mirror once again; perhaps for the first time really being thankful for the person she was. No longer ashamed and filled with doubt; no longer the little boy who was befriended by a kind old and very eccentric lady, she smiled at the image in the mirror before turning to the dog.

“Happy Thanksgiving!”

I hope I've done justice to Melanie's Challenge. To all of my friends here I wish you well; to my American friends, I pray that you have a joyous Thanksgiving, which I wish as well to those of you around the globe. Con Amore, Andrea

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