Evelyn - Holland, Michigan
Liria consists of five nations – Cigoc, Donegal, Halifax, Mallygar, and Tunway. For seven centuries, they stood united. The Wedding War shattered the continent, and its people, irrevocably.
Every story had a beginning. Her father once told her that every book began before the first page, and ended long after it was shut for the final time. The words on the page were only small portions of the lives of the characters within it. For the reader, the story began on the first page. That was easy. But for the characters? They would probably hold different opinions; some might not realize they were in a story at all.
If anyone asked her, she’d tell them her story started at her grandparent’s backyard in Holland, Michigan, during their annual Fourth of July celebration, when her cousin Jacob got out of his car with the fireworks. Her father would’ve disagreed; he would’ve said it was later, when her Uncle Ian handed him a third can of beer and he, uncharacteristically, accepted.
“Scholarly debate,” he’d say with a laugh, and she’d agree, but she knew better. It was her story, and it was definitely the fireworks. All hopes of leaving on time had long since passed by the time her father had accepted the beer. If they’d left on time, they wouldn’t have stopped in Roanoke and if they hadn’t stopped in Roanoke they would have reached North Carolina without a hitch. Her story began eighteen years into her life. And it was definitely the fireworks.
It was funny, the details she remembered from that day. She had never been a particularly observant person but she seemed to retain every aspect of it, almost as if she had known it was the start of some new chapter in her life. It hadn’t started out differently than any other day – she’d woken in her grandparent’s house, where she and her father had been living since the school year ended. They’d come from Maine that year; the previous year it had been Minnesota, the year before that California, and beyond that the states all blurred together.
Her father was an English literature professor, a traveling scholar who spent every year teaching at a different college or university. The room that she woke up to that morning contained essentially her entire life. Her father had poked his head in to remind her that they’d be leaving that evening after dinner and he meant it this time, Evelyn, and to make sure everything was packed up.
She hadn’t felt the urge to inform him that she’d never unpacked; she was quite accustomed to living out of boxes. She also didn’t bother to tell him that she’d already canceled the hotel reservations because she knew they’d be staying with her grandparents for another night; it was the Fourth of July, after all, and there were going to be fireworks.
Eve glanced around her room after her father descended the staircase, yelling something about French toasts sticks in the kitchen. The twin-sized bed still had the yellow tulip covers that it had had since she was a little girl. An old record player, her grandmother’s, was on the floor, a stack of Elvis records beside it. A dresser stood against the yellow wall, but none of its contents belonged to her. A few scattered objects sat upon it – mostly pictures, and mostly of her cousins, the ones who lived nearby and were around to take pictures with. The clothes in the closet were not hers. The only things not in a box were her books, which, she supposed, she might as well pack up.
Eve slid a record on the player and set the needle down, catching “Heartbreak Hotel” halfway through the refrain, before addressing the enormous stack of books beside her, waiting to be hoarded into another box. Eve hated the idea of her books closed up and packed away. They were meant to be kept out so they could be read. They wouldn’t do well in such confined spaces. Eve slowly and reluctantly began packing them, reminding herself that in approximately forty-eight hours she would be unpacking them again in a new house. She stacked the books carefully in the cardboard box, largest first, followed by the little paperbacks. She read the titles of a few and simply put them away, but most she could not resist flipping through, at least one or two pages, and remembering why she’d liked them in the first place.
Soon only one remained. The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury. She’d finished the book just the day before. The pages were creased from the dog-earring she’d done to it, a habit she was trying to break. She opened the book and smoothed out a page. “There was a difference between memories and dreams. He had only dreams of things he wanted to do, while Lespere had memories of things done and accomplished.”
She liked that line. Of all the short stories in The Illustrated Man, The Kaleidoscope had been her favorite. The story featured a group of astronauts after the spaceship malfunctions, floating aimlessly as they wait for their inevitable deaths. The narrator laments on how little he’s accomplished in his life and wishes that he could have had an impact on another life. As he dies, the setting changes back to earth, where a little boy mistakes the narrator for a shooting star and makes a wish. It was sad, but there was a distinctly hopeful undertone in the story because, in death, the narrator does what he’d never been able to accomplish in life. She kept the book out; she’d read it in the car.
She turned the record player off and glanced once more around the room. She was ready to go, even if her father would not be. Her eyes drifted to the nearest photograph atop the dresser. Eve picked it up. It had been taken nine years before, when she was nine years old. She and her father stood in front of the barn they had been living in at the time, somewhere in Kansas, smiling and waving at the camera. She was wearing blue jeans and a red and white striped shirt. Her black hair was in pigtails and her two front teeth were missing. Her father wore black overalls over his orange shirt with a straw hat on top of his head, an outfit she’d laughed at many times. His pale brown hair nearly reached his ears, much longer than it was at present. His gray eyes were squinting at the camera, as were her green ones. He was on his knees with one arm wrapped around her shoulders. They were happy. It was the perfect picture, apart from the glare reflecting off her necklace.
Eve touched the same necklace now hanging around her neck. She traced the golden triangle and felt the familiar bumps along the border. Inside of the triangle, a smaller maroon triangle was raised and it contained another golden triangle. Within this, two curved lines met to form a mangled X. As a child, Eve had treasured the necklace, a gift from her mother. As she got older, however, Eve resented it as much as the woman who had given it to her – and abandoned her. Despite her resentment, she still wore the damn thing. She glanced at the picture again and tried to remember who had taken it for them. Maybe they’d set a timer. She set it in the box with the books.
Eve went downstairs to the French toasts sticks her father had promised her and found him eating alone at the table. She filled a plate and sat down.
A few minutes to themselves was a rarity in this house. When they stayed in Michigan, family constantly surrounded Eve and her father. If her grandparents weren’t home, one of her father’s three older siblings and their spouses and children surely were. It was the only time of the year when they all saw one another, so Eve could hardly blame them for their excitement, but quiet breakfasts while her father graded papers or she puzzled over math problems were what she was more accustomed to.
Her father looked up at her. “Five bucks says Lara burns the cake.”
Eve shook her head. “When she brings it out, it’ll have a chunk gone where Ryan ate from it.”
Her father stuck out his hand. “You’re on.” They shook on it. This was their private tradition. Every year, her father’s sister, Lara, made a huge American Flag cake with white frosting and blueberries and raspberries representing the stars and stripes, and every year something went wrong before it could be eaten. Maybe it was left at home, maybe the dog ate it while no one was looking, but in Eve’s eighteen years of Fourth of July celebrations, she’d never tasted that cake.
Her father laughed, seemingly knowing her thoughts. “I had it once, you know, before you were born. I got to it before Lara had a chance to mess it up. It was actually pretty good.”
“Are you suggesting that the Curse of the Cake has something to do with me?”
“I didn’t say that, but now that you bring it up….” She threw a grape at him.
“Don’t let your grandmother see you messing up her nice clean kitchen before the rest of the family has a chance to see it,” her father said, picking up the grape off the floor and tossing it in the trash. He cleared his plate and went outside, leaving Eve to finish her meal in silence.
Eve glanced out the window. Her father was already collecting vegetables from the garden out front. For a few weeks in June and July, her grandparents had the best looking yard in the neighborhood because of the way her father catered to it. He spent hours weeding and trimming and planting, even though he knew all his hard work would only be around for a few more months. He took great pride in his yard work, but the places they rented didn’t always have gardens. Or yards. Eve considered joining him outside, but it was their last day in town and she hadn’t inherited her father’s green thumb. She sought out her grandmother instead; the party was that afternoon and she’d have something for Eve to do.
If Eve had been asked to think of “home,” her father’s blue pick-up truck would have been the first image in her mind. Holland would have been next, though. It was a relatively small city just off the coast of Lake Michigan, in the real part of Michigan, not the Upper Peninsula that people in Wisconsin and Minnesota seemed to think constituted the actual state. It was a quiet city, where most of the people worked in some field related to fishing, automobiles, or furniture.
The Blair family lived in the midtown area, a ten-minute walk from downtown, fifteen minutes from the beach. Eve had spent many days in the quaint stores on Main Street after working hours in her grandmother’s tourist shop. It was the kind of city filled with friendly and helpful people, which was good, because it was also the kind of city where everyone knew everyone, and their business.
Uncle Ian and his family were the first to arrive. They’d remained in Holland while the other siblings had moved around the state or, in her father’s case, the country. Ian was her father’s eldest brother, a police officer who mostly sat in his police car, and it showed. His three sons leapt from the car, Tony and Adrian jumping immediately in the pool while Peter headed towards their grandfather at the grill. Eve waved to them all and continued bringing the food outside; she’d seen them plenty in the last few weeks, and if she had to discuss college plans with Adrian one more time she’d take her father’s keys and head to North Carolina now.
Uncle Derek arrived next, dragging his teenage daughter Penelope behind him. While her brother Tyler ran to the pool with the other boys, Penelope plopped herself down in a chair beneath a tree and pulled out her cell phone. Eve overheard her telling a friend how the humidity was curling her hair and she rolled her eyes. From the other direction, she heard Penelope’s mother proudly announce that their eldest son Jacob was on leave from the Marines, and would be arriving with fireworks shortly.
Her father’s only sister, Lara, was the last to arrive and when her youngest son, Ryan, announced that his mother had burnt the cake, Eve discreetly handed her father five dollars. The two other children, Caitlin and Carson, trailed him, carrying platters of non-cake food items.
The family celebration was chaotic and loud, as expected. Her family wasn’t huge, but the families of a police officer, a Navy veteran, an engineer, and a professor, fenced in a relatively small backyard with a pool, usually provided moderate entertainment for those sober enough to watch.
Tony bumped into Penelope, causing her cell phone to fall into the pool, which led to a screaming match between her and her father. Ian’s wife, Christina, and Lara both brought potato salad, and though no words were exchanged, Eve noticed both women carefully observing whose bowl held less as the night wore on; she took some from both, just to be safe. Derek and Ian arm wrestled and knocked over the refreshment table and Eve’s grandmother reprimanded both men as if they were four, rather than in their forties.
It was during the midst of her grandmother’s scolding that Lara’s husband, Keith, turned to Eve. Like Lara, he was an engineer, but ever since her grandmother began showing her her old VHS tapes, Eve thought he looked more like a 1940’s movie star. With his black hair slicked back and his thin mustache - he was even holding a cigar - the only thing that ruined the image was the Detroit Lions T-shirt he wore, and the backwards baseball cap. “Are you excited for school this fall, Eve?”
She shrugged. “I’ve spent a lot of time around colleges. I feel like I’ve already been going for years now. How different can it really be to actually attend one?”
“Oh, it’s nothing like high school,” Lara commented, pulling her long brown hair up and tying it with a hair band. “You’ll have so much freedom and so many different opportunities.”
“Yeah, we’ll see how much freedom Eve has with her father two blocks away,” Derek said, interrupting his mother’s rant and joining the conversation. He was right; this year, her father had taken a job at Guiford College in Greensboro, North Carolina, the same college that she’d be attending for the next four years. Whether her father moved on after the year was over or not was something they hadn’t talked about yet.
“What are you going to study?” Lara asked, persistent on the topic.
Evelyn laughed shakily, the same laugh she’d been giving for weeks every time an adult asked her what she wanted to do with the rest of her life. “Oh, God, I have no idea.”
Her grandmother tittered disapproval at her use of the Lord’s name in vain while the others offered assurances and suggestions. “Just don’t waste your life on literature,” her grandfather said with a wink and a nod towards Ned.
“I still don’t see why you didn’t even apply to Hope,” her grandmother said with a frown. She was still wearing her apron, even though the food had been ready for hours, and she tugged at it impatiently. “It’s the family school. Adrian’ll be there next year and you’d be so close to home…Ned, why won’t you consider a job at Hope?”
It was a discussion they’d had countless times before, her father and grandmother. Most of her family had gone to school at Hope College, which was ten minutes away from her grandparent’s house, except her father, who’d attended Arizona State University for a year before returning home and continuing his education online. His priorities had shifted some during his first year away.
Derek jumped to her father’s defense. “Ah, mom, leave Ned alone. He likes to travel – nothing wrong with that. And Eve’s her father’s daughter, am I right?” He wrapped his arm around her shoulder, his scruffy beard itching the top of her head.
“Let’s hope she’s not too much of her father’s daughter. Or her mother’s, for that matter,” her grandfather said with a laugh that everyone knew was only part in jest.
There it was. It came up every year, somehow. Eighteen years later and there still seemed to be some sort of taboo on the conversation. Her aunts and uncles shifted uncomfortably while her grandmother glared at her him.
“What?” He asked, holding his hands up defensively. “I’m just saying, I hope Eve has a better head on her shoulders than her parents did when they were her age.”
Her father didn’t miss a beat. “She does. Believe me. And it’s like Derek said, I’ll be there the whole time – Evelyn won’t be getting away with anything,” he said with a laugh.
His comment seemed to relax the whole group and the conversation shifted to Lara and Keith, who answered questions about Adrian’s upcoming year at Hope College.
Her father had handled the situation efficiently and seemed to take it with stride, but she knew him better than that; she watched from the corner of her eye as his shoulders sagged and he rubbed his hand across his face. He was relieved to have made such a narrow escape and….there was something else on his face that she couldn’t quite define, but she thought maybe it was sadness.
Her father had been the first in the Blair family to leave the state of Michigan to attend college. He was the youngest in the family and the brightest, the straight A student, the no-nonsense child who never got into any trouble. He left Michigan one summer to attend a leadership conference at Arizona State University and didn’t return until the following summer, when he walked into the house with a wedding ring on his left hand, a baby in his right, and no wife. His parents were outraged, his siblings stunned, but he’d refused to explain or defend himself. When his family realized that their efforts to acquire information were futile, they’d embraced his daughter while he got a job on a farm nearby and continued his education online.
As soon as he had his degree, he’d taken Eve and left, working various jobs and furthering his education simultaneously until he’d become a professor of his own. The family’s initial anger had subsided and no one was anything less than loving to Eve, but the whole episode was largely ignored by the Blair family; sometimes they acted as if Ned had found Eve somewhere, which could have been entirely true, for all they knew. Eve would believe that. She didn’t know anything more about her mother than the rest of her family did, but, past the age of seven, she’d lost interest in the scandalous unsolved mystery of Ned Blair. The thought of her father in some sort of salacious affair made her gag anyway.
The conversation about Adrian’s education lasted far shorter than she would have liked, and her grandmother steered the discussion back to her father, the child she saw so rarely. “Are you excited about Greensboro, Ned? You’ve never lived in North Carolina.”
“Over the moon,” he replied, popping a few chips into his mouth. Eve worried that attention on her father’s sporadic career moves would lead once again to her mother and searched for a new topic. She needn’t have worried, though.
Jacob had arrived and so had the fireworks.