The Absolution of Atticus

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06 :: UMBRELLA

— Cooper —

GRACE,

You are not born yet. You are an idea. Hell, you can probably see more than me, wherever it is that you are. Anyway, this is a sort of journal. Something to be ripped apart or burned at some point more than it’s meant to be read. So it doesn’t matter what I write.

My grandmother’s name was Grace, so I figure eventually, whenever it is that you choose to come to me, you’ll be sent from her, from Grace.

I don’t know you, yet. I’m young and drunk and you’ll probably end up saving me from some terrible shit in the future. I’m not making sense. This whole time capsule thing, it’s dumb, really. But time is funny. It keeps some things and destroys others.

Atticus R. Sinclair, Aug. 13, 1980

My eyes are blurry reading over the letter again and again. It’s like the passage of time has crippled the words. They’re a different language now. For the past three days, I’ve been rereading the last two lines like scripture, trying to translate them. Mostly, it’s because I’m scared to open the next envelope.

“Love letter, Benson?”

I crumple up the paper and shove it in my coat pocket. When I swivel around in my chair, Maverie is poised and polished in all her redheaded glory, leaning up against the cubicle wall like it’s a high school locker.

“No, just—some old mail,” My voice quavers.

She eyes me suspiciously with vibrant blue eyes that would make any man bow down at her feet. For some reason, though, they don’t have the same effect on me that they used to. She clears her throat, agitated, and steps closer to me with a low voice. “Early break, twenty minutes, bathroom, ground floor.”

I immediately tense up. She taps the surface of my desk with her press-on a few times before leaving. As the metal settles into my bones, I try to remember the last time I felt wind in my face. I can’t.

Twenty minutes pass, and I find myself on the ground floor, deadbolted just outside the bathroom. If I wanted, I could leave. Suddenly, the door swings open and Maverie pulls me in by my shirt.

“Mav,” I choke almost immediately, her mouth smashing against mine. I try to shove her away. “Mav, hey, hold on.”

“Shut up,” She groans in protest. I have to push her back again, and she’s not happy about it. “Alright, what?”

For the majority of my life, I’ve managed to lose control of things in a relatively manageable way. So far, Jennifer Maverie has consistently fallen under the category of manageable, out-of-control things. I take a breath.

“Don’t you think we should just… take it slow?” I say. “I mean, I just--”

“Oh,” Maverie coughs out. She takes a step back, glowering. “Oh, I’m sorry, you have it all wrong here. Honey, there is no us, and this is not about you.”

In a sense, I am relieved as she says those words. “I--I know that, I do. I just don’t feel like--”

“You don’t feel like what, Benson?” The woman takes on a serpentine hiss, and my blood runs cold. “I don’t really care what you feel like. You work for me, and I swear to god I’ll have your ass fired if you speak a word of this shit to anyone. Do I make myself clear?”

My throat is too dry to house a coherent reply. Nothing really comes to mind, anyway. My limbs feel like lead. I swallow and nod, jaw locked into a silent position, where it will stay for the next hour at least. I don’t meet her eyes.

Jennifer sighs, inching closer to me. She reaches up to stroke my face, tugging at the ends of my hair. When I close my eyes, I can block everything out. I know everything she likes, the way she moves and manipulates. I’ve been exposed to this so many times, it’s more of a numbing experience now. She likes when I break the buttons of her shirt, but it’s the middle of a work day, so I know better. She likes when I crush her against the wall, so I do. She tells me to take her, so I do, and all the while, she’s whispering into my ear.

“You’re really nothing, baby.” She gasps. “Keep your mouth there, right there, that’s all it’s good for.”

But it’s all routine, and when she’s finished with me, dabbing her forehead with damp paper towels and applying a fresh coat of foundation in the bathroom mirror, I am the last thing in the room she’ll look at directly. Before she leaves, she makes me button up her shirt for her, slowly and with shaking hands, then informs me that I’m done for the day.

I’m left sinking down to the bathroom floor, dazed and heavy, almost too exhausted to hold myself up. My shirt is only half buttoned and my belt is undone as I exit the building. It doesn’t even occur to me that I’ve left my laptop and briefcase on the eleventh floor. Walking out into the October chill is a dull reminder that, at the very least, I’ve retained my senses.

I go home and stand in front of Grace’s door for a few minutes. I realize as I’m wallowing there, that I left her letter back in my cubicle in the pocket of my jacket. She’s probably not at home anyways.

The painting in my apartment is colorful. It stands out amidst all the grey and all the dark. I set my keys down on my dining table, which is coated with a layer of thick white envelopes. I take a seat, the bottle of Jack Daniels heavy in my hand and the legacy of none other than Atticus Sinclair spread out before me. I pick up the second dated envelope, and it’s heavy. Curiosity burns warm in my chest, almost hotter than the bitter sting of alcohol that I can only remember vaguely at this point.

I set the bottle aside to tear the letter open.

Grace,

I went to a party tonight. Missed a once-in-a-lifetime meteor shower for it, but I guess I don’t care. Shit like this happens. Sorry. I shouldn’t be writing like that. It’s just, my lungs are heavy, and the pressure is crushing. You couldn’t help me, even if you wanted to. I’ll keep saying that to make myself feel better. There’s nothing you can do. I can see you now, looking down or shooting little love arrows or sleeping in some cloud. Wouldn’t that be something, sleeping in a cloud?

Anyway, met this girl tonight. She’s a musician. She has the strongest fingers of anyone I’ve ever met, cause she’s been playing that orange guitar for so long. She reminds me of a statue I once saw, probably in a movie or something, but still. Art. We got high and she sang me to sleep. I woke up and she was gone. And I can’t help but wonder if she was a dream or a real person. She could’ve been a dream. She was high enough to be a dream.

Atticus R. Sinclar, Nov. 12, 1980

Just as I finish, there’s a knock at the door. I set the letter down and toss a blanket over the stacks of letters. I don’t know why I do this. It’s not instinct. Grace should see these, but I remember the first letter, and how easily it crumpled in my hand, how easily I lost it after I saw what Mason was doing to her. She doesn’t need these right now. I find it hard to convince myself that this is the truth. Instead of trying too hard, though, I ignore everything and go to answer the door.

She’s standing there looking flushed, a half eaten croissant in one hand and a dripping umbrella in the other as she shoves her way into my apartment. “I need you to do me a favor, and I promise I’m not mad at you right now, so you just should really do it for me, okay?”

“Uh,” I stammer. “Okay, what do you need?”

“It’s not illegal. I mean...” She takes a big bite out of her pastry and chews it solicitously. “It’s my mother.”

I take a tactical position, blocking her view of the dining room from where she’s standing behind the kitchen island. I’m praying she won’t catch sight of the letters because I don’t know how I would explain any of it to her. The day has been eventful enough as it is. So I use my height advantage to spare myself the drama. I figure the letters, as crucial as they might seem, can wait.

“Serious question,” Her big brown eyes are imploring. “Are you down to party plan?”

With Grace, I don’t attempt to read too much into things. Her movements can be as profound as they are superficial. She takes me to her apartment first, spilling apologies and thank you’s and god bless your soul’s left and right.

“I’ve been cleaning everything for weeks, but I swear, she’s a droid, or something. She can smell dust, dust!” Grace is bouncing around her entire apartment. As I watch from the barstool, I’m grateful that it rotates 360 degrees, because the girl moves like a hummingbird.

“And when was the last time you saw her again?” I ask, swiveling the chair to follow her from the entertainment center to the desk.

“Seven years ago,” Grace pauses, faraway eyes trained on the ornamental rug in her living room. “After she dumped the Scandinavian guy,”

I sigh, not really knowing what to say. If I could, I would.

She blinks, “Anyway, uh, we should get started.”

I nod and remain seated, waiting for the party planning to begin. That is, until she twists her mouth up into a wry smile and says, “Actually, I was thinking we should just get out of here for a while, if that’s okay with you?”

I can think of nothing better to do than follow Grace Sinclair, so I tell her that it is, in fact, okay with me. We venture out amidst the rain and running pedestrians, shivering content under a shared umbrella.

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