Chapter 30


Tracey sits in a dorm-style room, atop a twin bed. The walls are bare, colorless. She’s wrapped in a blanket, reading a book. A knock at her door, which is already propped open. It’s Helene: “Can I come in?” Tracey closes her book and sheepishly looks to the floor; it’s an indirect and ashamed “yes”. Helene enters. She’s still walking with a cane, and has a tote bag. “I brought you something else to read,” she says. She takes out the manuscript that she had been studying for the publisher, and hands it to Tracey. “You did a terrific job with this. You should keep it, so you have your final draft. Alina would never read the publisher’s last edits; she would only read her own final copy.” Tracey takes it and sets it at her side. “Well, this is probably my first and last book,” she says. “So thanks. It’ll be nice to remember the career I almost had. I’m sure they’ll be taking my name off it altogether.” Helene is tight-lipped about her kind deed: “Just get back on your feet. Stay healthy, stay medicated. You should be fine.” // “I hope it’s that simple…Why exactly did you come to see me?” Tracey asks. Helene crosses her hands, ready to dive in with questions.


“Did you really see Alina?” Helene asks Tracey. It’s calm, but it’s pointed. It’s vulnerable. It needs answering. Tracey stares back, uncertain how to answer. “I think so,” she says cautiously. “My doctors tell me otherwise.” She pauses, thinks, and turns away: “Yes.” Helene didn’t have any expectations here; she just needed to know. “Why do you think she came to you?” // “Unfinished business, maybe. The book?” // “She went to Ward for that, didn’t she?” // “But she left him.” // “So why you?” // “Maybe she didn’t need Ward’s help with the book. … Maybe he was her eyes and ears on something else.” A pause as Helene lets it soak in. “How would you know that?” // “I’m not sure what you’re really asking me.” // “I’m asking you to tell me what Alina really meant to you.” // “And why I could see her, but you couldn’t?” // “Your explanation might help with that too, yes.” // “OK. Well…” And Tracey tells Helene everything.


“To say all of that out loud, I realize how crazy it sounds,” Tracey says to Helene, having just finished all the details of her and Alina’s affair. “She wanted to be with you. I was the consolation prize. Not even a prize really. Just consolation.” Helene knows she has to be stoic here, and she maintains a pensive stare as she processes everything. “Please say something,” Tracey whimpers. “None of that matters now,” Helene says. “I’m glad you got to feel for her what I felt for her. I am.” // “Can you forgive me?” // “There’s nothing to forgive, at least in regards to Alina.” // “I’m so sorry, Helene. For hurting you.” // “I know.” // “Forgive me, please.” // “No.”


Tracey cracks. Helene’s stern ‘no’ seems cruel since Tracey is clearly so weak. Nevertheless, Helene remains unforgiving—at least on the surface. Tracey, desperate to defend herself, breaks into a far-reaching explanation for her behavior: “I killed a girl in high school. On accident. It was supposed to be a joke. Everyone thought I did it to…take her spot as editor of the yearbook. How stupid would that be? I gave her a pill. It was just supposed to make her fall asleep. To look drunk. She fell in the pool. They said I pushed her, because nobody was out there to see her fall in. I was in the bathroom when it happened. Everyone thinks I did it, out of ambition. Opportunity.” She’s still waiting anxiously for Helene to say something; it feels so desperate now. Painful. Helene, at last: “You’ll understand why I believe them and not you. Unwell or not, you’re lucky I’m still alive. And that I’m not pressing charges.” Tracey starts to say ‘thank you’ but Helene interrupts with “You’re welcome. Now get better. And don’t ever contact me again.” This does nothing to assuage Tracey.


Helene readies herself to leave. This is goodbye for the two of them. Tracey, on the verge of sobbing, has one thing to add: “I really loved you too. For you. For Alina, yes, but also for you. I understand why she was so enraptured. I so want that one day. What you two had. I loved you both for that.” Helene stares coldly at Tracey, and has some pointed parting words: “Then go earn it for yourself. For once in your life, earn something yourself.” She leaves Tracey, who looks defeated by this ending. We’re proud of Helene, but as soon as she’s around the corner and away from Tracey’s view, her confident, poised face dissolves into tears. She can barely catch her breath for 20, maybe 30 seconds; this was all bottled up when she was face to face with Tracey. Then, quite suddenly, Helene stands upright, wipes her eyes with a kerchief, and lets the moment pass. All better.

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