A is for Alibi Page 53

Grace helped me cart the boxes to the car, six of them. I should have taken the stuff the first time I was there, I thought, but I couldn't picture driving to Vegas with the entire backseat filled with cardboard boxes. Still, the boxes would have been intact. It was my own damn fault, I thought sourly.

I told Grace I'd be back first thing in the morning and then I pulled out. It was going to be a long night.

I bought two containers of black coffee across the street, locked the door to my motel room, and closed the drapes. I emptied the first carton onto the bed and then I started making stacks. School papers in one pile. Personal letters. Magazines. Stuffed animals. Clothing. Cosmetics. Bills and receipts. Grace had apparently saved every article Elizabeth had touched since kindergarten. Report cards. School projects. Really, six cartons seemed modest when I realized how much there was. Blue books from college. Copies of applications for work. Tax returns. The accumulation of an entire life and it was really only so much trash. Who would ever need to refer to any of this again? The original energy and spirit had all seeped away. I did feel for her. I did get some sense of that young girl, whose gropings and triumphs and little failures were piled together now in a drab motel room. I didn't even know what I was looking for. I flipped through a diary from the fifth grade the handwriting round and dutiful, the entries dull. I tried to imagine myself dead, someone sorting carelessly through my belongings. What was there really of my life? Canceled checks. Reports all typewritten and filed. Everything of value reduced to terse prose. I didn't keep much myself, didn't hoard or save. Two divorce decrees. That was about the sum of it for me. I collected more information about other people's lives than I did about my own, as though, perhaps, in poring over the facts about other people, I could discover something about myself. My own mystery, unplumbed, undetected, was sorted into files that were neatly labeled but really didn't say much. I picked through the last of Elizabeth's boxes but there was nothing of interest. It was 4:00 in the morning when I finished. Nothing. If there had been anything there, it was gone now and I was irritated with myself again, berating myself for my own poor judgment. This was the second time I'd arrived too late, the second time some vital piece of information had slipped away from me.

I began to repack boxes, automatically rechecking as I went, sorting. Clothes in one box, stuffed animals tucked into the spaces along the sides. School papers, diaries, blue books in the next box. Back it all went, neatly catalogued this time, compulsively arranged, as thought I owed Elizabeth Glass some kind of order after I'd pried into the hidden crevices of her abandoned life. I riffed through magazines, held textbooks by the spine, letting the pages fly loose. The stacks on the bed diminished. There weren't that many personal letters and I felt guilty reading them, but I did. Some from an aunt in Arizona. Some from a girl named Judy whom Libby must have known in high school. No one seemed to refer to anything intimate in her life and I had to conclude that she confided little or else that she had no tales to tell. The disappointment was acute. I was down to the last pile of books, mostly paperbacks. Such taste. Leon Uris and Irving Stone, Victoria Holt, Georgette Heyer, a few more exotic samples that I guessed had been from some literature survey course in college. The letter slipped out of the pages of a dog-eared copy of Pride and Prejudice. I nearly tossed it in the box with the rest of the stuff. The handwriting was a tightly stroked cursive on two sides in dark blue ink. No date. No envelope. No postmark. I picked it up by one comer and read it, feeling a cold pinching sensation begin at the base of my spine.

Darling Elizabeth ... I'm writing this so you'll have something when you get back. I know these separations are hard for you and I wish there were some way I could ease your pain. You are so much more honest than I am, so much more open about what you feel than I allow myself to be, but I do love you and I don't want you to have any doubts about that. You're right when you say that I'm conservative. I'm guilty as charged, your Honor, but I'm not immune to suffering and as often as I've been accused of being selfish, I'm not as reckless of others as you might think. I would like to take our time about this and be sure that it's something we both want. What we have now is very dear to me and I'm not saying—please believe me—that I wouldn't turn my life around for you if it comes to that. On the other hand, I think we should both be sure that we can survive the day-to-day absurdities of being together. Right now, the intensity dazzles and it seems simple enough for us both to chuck it all and make some kind of life, but we haven't known each other that long or that well. I can't afford to risk wife, kids, and career in the heat of the moment though you know it tempts me. Please let's move slowly on this. I love you more than I can say and I don't want to lose you which is selfish enough, I suppose, in itself. You're right to push, but please don't lose sight of what's at stake, for you as well as me. Tolerate my caution if you can. I love you.

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