As I slipped out of unconsciousness, I felt my whole body engulfed in the gentle and constant rocking of the waves. I felt warm and comfortable in that small bed, but it felt like something was missing. I was expecting to feel the slight dip of the bed and Summer’s body by my side, but as I reached my hand to where she had fallen asleep, I found the spot to be empty. I opened my eyes, the room pitch dark. I got up and searched for the switch of the lamp beside Summer’s bed, the faint light revealing that she indeed was missing.
I got up from the bed and made my way to the bathroom. I knocked, but no sound came from inside. That was when I turned around and noticed that the door of our cabin was ajar. I opened it, and as I had hoped, Summer was standing by the railing of the ferry.
“What are you doing?”
I turned around, startled by Harry’s voice. He was standing by the door of our cabin, wiping the sleep out of his eyes.
“Oh Harry, I’m sorry! Did I wake you up? I tried to be as silent as I could.”
“Don’t worry, you didn’t wake me,” he assured me, walking towards me “Why did you wake up anyway? Something bothering you?”
“Oh no, nothing’s bothering me. I just couldn’t sleep, that’s all, “I stated, “I’m still thinking about the song you played. I can’t get it off my head. It was magical.”
Harry walked closer to me and reached my side, a wide, proud smile on his face. He rested his arms on the railings by my side, looking down at the dark sea bellow us. He noticed what I was carrying “Hey, what’s that?”
“The Book,” I answered. When I found myself unable to sleep, my mind occupied itself with everything that it possibly could, so only naturally it found its way to The Book of Judgment. It felt like it was asking me to get it out, to look at it, to feel it, so that’s what I did.
“I know what it is. I meant, why do you have it?”
“I don’t know... I just felt like it was time to bring it out from the bottom of my backpack.”
I traced the cover with my fingers, feeling the bumps of the leather which adorned the cover. Smoothly, Harry’s hand found its way to the book and pulled it gently towards him. He opened it and turned some pages as he scanned them quickly, not actually reading what was written.
“This book,” he started “The power it had over those students... Now it means nothing, just some pieces of paper in our hands.”
Then he turned a considerable number of pages and flipped them, landing on the page that read “1975” as a title.
“If I am not mistaken,” he continued, his eyes not leaving the pages “You were going to search my name, weren’t you?”
I furrowed my eyebrows “What? What an odd question. Of course I wasn’t searching for your name.”
“I don’t mean tonight, I mean that night at Hudson when I found you reading this book after you sneaked out from Hall A. You were looking for my name, weren’t you?”
That question both amazed and paralysed me. How was it possible that he remembered that night? That memory was almost like a dream now, a memory so far away that it didn’t seem real.
“Yes, I guess I was,” I answered with honesty. Suddenly, a wave of nervousness rushed through me, but I couldn’t quite understand why. It was as if the Harry next to me was the one I had first met, not the Harry that I had grown to love.
“I remember it so well... When you saw me your body shook as if you were hit by lightning...” He paused as he relived the memory “I thought ‘Goddamnit, this girl is seriously brave for breaking curfew on her first week of school’...” Then, a chuckled left his lips and he looked down at me “You impressed me.”
“You know me, always full of surprises!” I chuckled shyly. Although we were talking in a casual way, I could feel my knees trembling as Harry brought back memories that didn’t please me one bit.
“Hey, why so tense?” He knew me too well, making all efforts to hide my anxiety useless.
“I’m not tense, I’m just... I don’t know. This book has been the cause of so many problems and now we are here, with it in our hands, talking about all the things that happened... It makes me nervous.”
We both stood quietly looking out into the vast black ocean ahead of us, the light breeze hitting our faces, our thin clothing dancing around us.
Soon enough, Harry’s eyes darted down to the book. “Ah look. September 6th, 1975. Harry Edwards. Talking back to teachers, breaking curfew... Oh, this is interesting; picking up a fight during lunchtime... I remember this week. It was my first week at Hudson. Lovely days.”
I was speechless, but not of amazement for his absurd actions. It was the calmness in his tone that made me not know how to react.
“Tell me, did you manage to read it after all?” I noticed Harry was speaking to me, and I shook my head to focus.
This time I made sure I didn’t look away from him as I spoke: “No, I never did, not a single page.”
“But you were curious to know what I had done, who I really was. Why didn’t you go back to it, why didn’t you finish reading it?”
“Harry, do we really need to talk about this? It was such a long time ago, we are different people now.” I really didn’t want to answer that question. Why was he putting me in an uncomfortable situation when we knew perfectly well that I didn’t want to talk about those times anymore?
“Well, you were the one who took this book out of your bag so... Just tell me, why did you want to read it?”
I knew I couldn’t escape his questions even though telling him the truth was going to demand all the courage in me. I was scared of how we would react, but he was the one, after all, who asked the question so he clearly wanted an answer.
“That night I just wanted to find something about John, I didn’t waste time reading anything else like this entry from your first week at Hudson. Nobody was telling me the truth, or at least the whole truth, so I had to figure it out myself. I thought The Book was the best accountant of the incident, but I discovered it had nothing of the matter.”
Harry flipped some pages, scanned them up and down “You’re right, there is nothing here. Guess this book is not as impartial as we thought.”
A sudden wave of sadness rushes through me. Of course he was being ironic when he said The Book wasn’t fair, because it was an undeniable truth and we had known that fact since ever. What pained me the most was the way he said it, wishing that maybe things had been different, wishing to have been treated fairly, to have his uncle, the only one who had the authority to write on that book, make better judgments.
“Hansen never wrote it down, but he didn’t need to really. This book served as a way to humiliate students, to make them feel so ashamed of their mistakes that they wouldn’t do them again: writing my name on this thing wouldn’t solve anything. It doesn’t bring people back from the dead.”
I shivered, his words too dark for me to handle. I could feel that he was punishing himself by saying those things, and he had to stop that second.
“Harry, let’s head inside, it’s getting cold.” I placed my hands on his shoulders and tugged at him softly, but he remained in place.
“Besides,” he went on “Imagine having the words ‘Harry Edwards, killing John, an innocent kid’ written in this book. How fucking hilarious is that?! It’s so absurd it sounds like a joke!”
“Harry, stop!” I was growing more anxious by the second as he said those horrible things. Why was he doing it to himself, especially after such a wonderful night? “Just shut up! I get the picture, you don’t need to elaborate.”
After raising my voice, he seemed to calm down. He just stood there, the moonlight hitting on side of his face, the other succumbed in darkness.
“But Hansen did have the obligation of writing it down, no matter how fucked up. I think we should make amends, don’t you think?”
With that, he slid the book over to me. I held it, unsure of what he was doing. Harry then rushed into our cabin, bringing back with him a black pen. Soon enough I caught his train of thought.
“Don’t even think about it,” I told him, trapping the book securely in my arms, giving him my shoulder.
“What harm can it do? Besides, this book in our possession means nothing. Whatever we write will have no value anymore because we own it now. Anything written on it will mean nothing.”
His words made absolute sense, but deep down both of us knew that, even if The Book had no power now, it had its hook on us, that even though it would bring us no consequences on having our names written there it would still hurt and feel real.
I looked right at him, trying to read his expression. He was set on taking it through, on writing all the things he had done wrong that weren’t written when they should have long ago. I knew I could not change his mind, but I could try to make it less painful.
“With one condition,” I said, extending my hand “I’ll go first.”
Harry raised an eyebrow but didn’t argue. He gave me the pen and I flickered the pages of the book until I reached a blank, new page.
I wrote the date of that day, fourth of February 1978, as it was costumed with all the other entries. Under it, I wrote my name, Summer Daniels, with a dash after it. Then I wrote the following in bullet points:
Lying to friends and teachers about her true identity.
Lying to her parents by concealing the truth in her letters.
Entering Hall B, twice.
Not obeying the director’s orders.
Stealing The Book of Judgment.
Running away from Hudson.
I closed the pen, satisfied with that list. In all honesty, it actually felt pretty good to write down all my deeds, even those that I wasn’t proud of. During all the time, I wrote Harry hovered over me, reading as I wrote.
“You missed the stable thing,” he added.
“Ah, right!” I opened the lid of the pen and wrote “Being at the stables when she shouldn’t and consequently setting it on fire.”
“You didn’t burn it down, I did.”
“Well, if I wasn’t there maybe you wouldn’t have burnt it.”
“Maybe. Now my turn.”
Reluctantly, I gave him the pen. I knew Harry had done much worse things than I did, and I feared what he was going to write for the sake of bringing back bad memories.
He wrote his name under my list of deeds and proceeded to write his own:
Being a bastard towards teachers and friends
Picking up fights, often
Going to the city when he was forbidden
Hanging Zach from the top of the stairs
Burning down the stables
Almost killing Summer in the fire
Almost killing two senior guys (although they kind of deserved it and I still don’t regret it) and hurting Summer
Persuading Summer into going to my room
I’m sorry for breaking Summer’s heart, countless times
Killing John two years ago, being a coward by not admitting my mistake, but trying to convince myself that I didn’t do it when everybody knows I did.
It was true he had broken my heart many times before, but nothing compared to how he had shattered my heart in that very moment. He was not complying to my desperate requests for him to stop, and it felt like I was begging him to live when all he was focused on was dying. Tears were threatening to fall down my face, and watching Harry’s hand shaking as we wrote almost made by eyes spill all the salty water in them and join the ocean’s water down below. I had to stop him, I could not bear seeing him put himself through that self-destructive process.
In a desperate motion, my hand clawed the page he was writing on and ripped it, throwing it immediately down the balcony and into the sea, the moonlight reflecting on as it floated above the water and making it shine like a star in the middle of the dark ocean.
“What do you think you’re doing?” Harry was startled, but I was too overwhelmed with emotions to let him speak.
“What am I doing?! What are you doing?! What is the purpose of this? Why are you putting yourself through this torture? What will it prove?”
“You won’t understand...” He said, visibly distressed.
“Make me understand!” I shouted, trying to contain myself for there were other passengers sleeping nearby.
“I have always pitied myself, it’s not just now that I’ve decided to do so!” Harry said over my voice “I had always thought that my misery was a way of being punished for my mistakes, but that’s all a fucking illusion! I regret immensely some things I did, but my own suffering won’t atone them. No matter how much pain I feel in my own heart, I never had a proper punishment, my name was never written on this book like it was supposed to!”
Harry took a deep breath, closing his eyes momentarily “And you know what else? I was never able to make amends! No matter how much I suppressed any kind of possibility of being happy during those times at Hudson, doing that never brought John back to life.”
“You know what Harry?” I said, still too much in shock to try to comfort him, my instinct of wanting to prove him wrong taking over “For the first time I’ve known you, you are so completely wrong. You think like this because you were taught that forgiveness will only be granted if there is massive sacrifice and punishment, if you manage to actually turn back the clock and take back your mistakes. But I’m sorry to tell you that that’s not possible. Forgiveness is given when people show that they are truly sorry, and Harry, you have shown every single day that you regret what you did. You don’t need to be punished or to suffer to amend what you did!”
“Even if what you are saying is true, John’s family won’t ever forgive me.”
“Then you must forgive yourself!” I almost shouted, stomping my foot on the deck, exasperated “Now I get it! It’s this book’s fault! If it hadn’t taught people that mistakes shouldn’t be shouted at people’s faces, everyone would try to move on, to forgive, to be forgiven... But no! This is the fucking devil and I am so damn happy we brought it with us because now I understand my friend’s need for revenge! That is all this book ever taught them!”
I had never experienced such anger and repulsion as I felt in that moment. I started tearing pages away, I was throwing them into the sea as if they were garbage. But that was the thing, those pages, they weren’t garbage. Those pages defined a generation, they gave life to a way of thinking and evoked emotions that I could not bear. Those pages made moving on, detaching from the past impossible, for they were a physical reminder of my mistakes, of Harry’s mistakes, of everyone’s mistakes. That book could never justify the way my friends treated me, but it could explain it. They believed that to make justice, people needed to be punished, no matter at what cost. They believed that for every mistake (no matter how small) there had to be a humiliation, a penitence, a sufferer. They couldn’t understand that regret was enough of a punishment, and as I saw it, the biggest of punishments in that matter. Just looking at Harry and I, we had both regretted our mistakes immensely, but that personal hardship was never enough.
As I tore the pages, tears falling from my eyes, it felt like I was ripping the past of all those students before me, students which were tormented by their past mistakes and who struggled with becoming a better person than they were before. At least I tried to convince myself that such action could do just that. Even though symbolic, I felt like I was freeing those students and my friends, even the ones who had punished me. Those deserved to be freed the most.
That was when I felt Harry’s hands grabbing both my wrists, stopping me from ripping the thousand-year-old pages. I sobbed, I contorted my arms so he would free them, but he wouldn’t let go. Harry pressed my head into his chest, dragging me into an embrace which I at first did not accept, but as I calmed down I started to relax against his body. I wept in his arms, out of desperation and sadness, The Book of Judgment still between my hands, half destroyed.
Harry sniffed, indicating that he too was crying. I didn’t know what to say: that moment was too filled with pain to be uplifted in any way, but I had to try.
“Help me get rid of it, please.”
With that, Harry let go of me and took the book in his hands.
“I don’t see how this will solve anything, but I’ll do it.”
With that, Harry took the top of a page and tore it downwards, the sound of the paper being separated from its cover satisfying. Harry extended his arm and let go of it, the small page when falling down in a similar fashion as leaves fall during autumn from the trees, signalling the beginning of a new season.
We went on tearing. We tore and ripped every single page until only the cover of the book remained. We looked down at the sea, and the pages had created a trail as we threw them. With the light that shone from the moon, the pages floating in the sea contrasted greatly with the blackness of the water, and the image was quite compelling. It truly felt like those pages, as they were floating freely in the overwhelming vastness of the ocean, were the remains of dark times, and a new beginning was eminent, for everyone.
“What do we do with this now?” Harry asked, breaking the silence.
“You throw it. It has done much more harm to you than to me.”
Harry knew that since the cover was much heavier than those flimsy pages, he could throw it much further away. He pulled his arm backwards and threw the cover as though it was a frisbee, making it fly for as far away as one could see. Since the cover was dark brown, once it landed on the water with a splash, Harry and I could not see exactly where it had landed, but we knew it was there, and that it would sink sooner or later, never to resurface again.
“It’s done,” I sighed, feeling the sticky tears dried on my skin.
“I hope not in vain,” Harry said, staring at the trail of glistening white pages which were starting to sink by disappearing in the waves.
“That’s up to us, if it was in vain,” I said, looking up at him “We can hold on to it or let it go. I am choosing to let it go. What about you?”
“I want to do that, too,” he answered, placing his elbows on the railing and lowering his head “I’m sorry for shouting and making you cry.”
“Don’t apologise. This would have happened sooner or later, and even if you didn’t shout, I would cry anyway,” I said, leaning towards him, “Can we go to sleep and only wake up in the morning?”
And with that we went to sleep for the second time that night, feeling a little lighter now that we carried less baggage.