A fine, grey cloud rose from the cover of the old photo album. Lyra wrinkled her nose as a sneeze threatened to erupt in reaction to the dust. How had they let it become so damned filthy up here? It’s not like she and Jasper had been into the attic for years, and their parents wouldn’t have ventured up often.
As she opened the faded cover, she was faced with photos detailing her childhood; all were noted with her mum’s neat, precise handwriting. Always her mother doing the notes, snapping the photos, smiling happily; never her father.
Lyra couldn’t remember a time when she’d seen her father smile at her or Jasper. He was always distant; there in person, but never in spirit. She looked down at the photo album again. The page was open to a series of beach photos; her eyes were drawn, almost unwillingly, to the forbidding figure that was her father. Her eyes narrowed as she studied the snapshot, and she pictured that day in her mind.
It had been her tenth birthday and Jasper was still only seven – or seven and a half, as he stubbornly insisted – at the time. Her mum had pulled out all the stops: all her friends were invited, her favourite foods cooked, new clothes were bought and Jasper was warned to behave or suffer the consequences. Lyra remembered it all with a clarity that astounded her; the heat of the summer sun, even hotter than normal; the sharp tang of the sea breeze that tangled her ruddy hair; sweetness of the cool, homemade raspberry ice-cream in her mouth.
But lurking behind those memories was a lone figure – scowling more the closer the date came – casting shadows in to her happiness. Her father, the golden glow of his hair looking out of place with the dark expression on his creased face.
Really, she mused to herself, she didn’t know much about him beyond his name and a few living habits. She didn’t think that Jasper and any particular insights to his character either; he had always distanced himself from them both. She didn’t know his favourite anything, no particular dislikes either – unless you counted the world in general.
“Li, you eaten enough dust and spider webs up there yet?” Jasper’s voice floated up to Lyra’s ears.
She rolled her eyes as she continued to flick through the album. “If I remember correctly, Jas, you were the one who was prone to eating such food, not me!” she quipped as her brother’s head appeared from the staircase.
Jasper scrunched up his face. “I was three, give me a break!”
“I was merely stating a fact,” Lyra declared innocently, still flipping through the album in her hands.
Jasper muttered indistinctly under his breath. Ducking slightly to avoid the rafters – yet still managing to collect a few spider webs in his blonde hair – he wandered over to the open that Lyra had retrieved the photo album from.
“’Photos, 1989 – 1999’,” he read off the box. “You’re spending all this time looking at photos?” he queried.
Lyra looked up into her brother’s hazel eyes. “Why not?” she challenged. “And this way,” she added slyly, “I can find embarrassing photos of you and put them away for your twenty-first…” Jasper lunged for the album, but Lyra jerked out of his way.
“Na, uh, uh. There’s no point doing that,” she told him, her reasonable tone belying the smirk on her tanned face, “You know perfectly well that I can recall plenty of embarrassing incidents – and outline them in detail, too – without photos.”
It was Jasper’s turn to roll his eyes. “You’re terrible,” he informed her sternly.
Still muttering about perceived conspiracies against him, he retreated back down into the kitchen.
Chuckling softly, Lyra returned to flicking through the photos in various albums. More memories jumped out as she went through them; Jasper’s first bike ride, complete with grazed knees afterwards; her forays into dress-ups with her friends; Japser running around the garden and – to Lyra’s amusement – completely naked. That last picture found its way into her pocket to be put into use as an embarrassment tool later on.
Still chuckling slightly, she set that album on the pile next to her, which was coming to resemble a sapling swaying in the breeze as it moved to and fro slightly. Reaching back down into the box for another album, Lyra’s hands scraped the bottom of the box. Blinking in surprise, she peered into the box, squinting in the fast growing gloom of twilight visible through the window.
All that was left was a small, tattered black book, lying in the corner. Gingerly picking it up, Lyra opened the front page to find a familiar scrawl written across the page. She moved towards the light switch; Jasper might be able to read something this small in this light, but she couldn’t.
Her father’s diary. That was what she held in her hands.
Lyra was surprised to find herself struggling with herself to read it. Should she? Or was it just being morbid, delving into the past like that? But curiosity won out in the end, curiosity and that burning desire – one left over from childhood – to know if her father truly loved her.
Deciding that, she quickly stuffed the photo albums back into the box and headed down the stairs to the comfort of her own room. Once there, she settled on her bed and opened the diary up.
The first thing Lyra noticed was the date: August ’88. She would have only been three, and Jasper only a couple months old. She tried to strain her memory back that far, but failed miserably; her fifth birthday was just about as far back as she could go, even with vague flashes of memory.
That first page was nothing more than a random outpouring of words, slithering over the page like a bowl of spaghetti; no real sense seemed to come from it. The second one seemed to make sense, but it was vague, always hinting towards some ‘event’ that, in his words: “Stole my life and stole me from my family.”
Lyra frowned. It sounded as if he didn’t like being so cold and distant, but then why was he so distant…
Her eyes then widened as she read the next few pages, and her trembling fingers let the diary slide from her fingers as easily as a gust of wind blows a piece of paper off a table. God, no wonder he pushed us away… Lyra’s mind swirled unpleasantly.
To have to witness something like that, and then have to go on like nothing had happened…
Stiffly, she picked the book back up off the floor and marched mechanically back up to the attic. She then returned the small diary to the box it was in before fleeing once more to the safety of her room.
Collapsing on her bed, she vehemently wished that she had gone with the part of her brain that told her to leave the past in the past. Damn that curiosity complex of hers. Now she had images of murder stuck into her mind, thanks to her father’s far too descriptive passage – which she suspected had been a vain attempt to banish what he witnessed from his mind
The knowledge that her father had loved her – and Jasper – was the only salve to the wound that reading that entry had made her mind present.
Sometimes, truth wasn’t worth the price you had to pay for it; the past should be left alone.
A short story I wrote last year for English, and one of the few stories of mine that I don’t loathe as pathetic twaddle.
Or maybe I just like the bickering between the two characters.
And I know that the ending sucks. I really should re-write it and make it longer (it ends so abruptly because there was a limit on the length.