Write On!

Parts of the Whole (Twisted Sister, Part 4)

In Responses on July 13, 2012 at 3:20 am

by Tara Wiley

You and I will never read that volume.

Guido Reni, like his own eye’s apple,

Guarded long the treasure-book and loved it.

Guido Reni dying, all Bologna

Cried, and the world cried too, ‘Ours, the treasure!’

Suddenly, as rare things will, it vanished.

-Excerpt from “One More Word” by Robert Browning

Poetry and stained glass, arts filled with symbolism found in precise cuts of word and polished sand. The artists refine and divide, heat and chisel, until the multifaceted gems of choice words and color shock the observer with newly illuminated truth.

As a student at Baylor University, I spent hours on end in Browning Library. I studied beneath shafts of sunlight filtered through exquisite stained glass windows illuminating poetry by Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning. I struggled through classic literature, learning to dissect story arcs into plot and subplot; setting, protagonist, antagonist; the primary and secondary colors of words.

Yvonne and I studied together, falling in love with poetry and prose over and over again. I could dissect the words like a scientist. She, on the other hand, was an artist. She found inspiration in the classics, then reinterpreted them with her own beautifully crafted stories and poetry. I knew my future lay in editing, perhaps in marketing. I predicted I’d one day see her name on the New York Times bestseller list.

Until that day, sixteen years ago.

The alert urgent email from Yvonne Smith came across my laptop as I sat at Starbucks reading a science fiction book I was about to promote. The words seemed so unreal, I wondered if they were part of the novel I was reading.


I am so sorry for telling you this by email, but I do not have your phone number, and Yvonne’s phone was destroyed in the accident.

Please call as soon as you get this. There was a terrible crash followed by an explosion. Yvonne is – I cannot type it yet. Please call, now.


I spent the next week in Enid, Oklahoma, helping Peter make the funeral arrangements. As waves of grief overcame him, I would take over. He would do the same for me. Somehow we made the necessary choices together. We buried her charred remains in Waco and ordered a simple gravestone to be delivered in one month’s time. I had never made these kinds of arrangements before. I did not know she would lie under the freshly upturned earth without a marker for thirty long days. Peter would be back so we could see this final moment through together, the widower and the best friend, her only family.

Peter was gone only a number of hours when the letter arrived in the mail. Only the last line kept me from calling him to turn around and come back.

I’m not dead. Meet me tonight at Guido’s Pizzeria. Tell no one.

Finding a dimly lit corner at Guido’s was not a challenge. Recognizing my best friend of ten years proved nearly impossible. I actually thought I’d arrived ahead of her and sat in a booth at the back, only to have a near stranger suddenly sweep in beside me. Thick makeup darkened her usual café au lait complexion, and her hair was dyed an eerie red. My best friend always boasted about her better than perfect vision, yet horn rimmed glasses framed her nearly black eyes. The transformation was made complete with a silk layered outfit reminiscent of a sari, so very unlike the structured, bold clothes Yvonne tended to favor.

Yet, when she wrapped her arms around me in a tight hug, I had no doubt that the person lurking behind all the makeup and strange clothing was indeed my closest friend and confidant. I drew back, and noticed deep folds creasing her forehead where she drew her eyebrows close in concern.

“Joan, you don’t look so good,” she scolded, preening and clucking over me like a mother hen. I brushed away her hands and scooted a few inches further into the corner of the booth.

“Well, I did just bury my best friend,” I retorted, my voice tight and hot with emotion. Tears immediately welled in Yvonne’s eyes. She blotted them quickly with a napkin before they coursed telling streaks down her face. I let mine flow freely.

“Oh, Joan, I’m so sorry. There was no other way –”

“Wasn’t there? You have some explaining to do.” My voice rose with each word until I nearly spat the last syllables into her face.

“Joan, please, I am here to explain, but I need you to quiet down. I know you have so many questions, so many I won’t be able to answer. I can’t say I’m sorry enough, and I will have to apologize all over again in a few minutes, so please, just listen for a bit before you judge my decision.” I turned my body towards her, but crossed my arms across my chest. I fully trusted exactly two people in my adulthood, and an explanation would not be enough for Yvonne to re-earn her position in my heart. Still, I listened.

“I have never lied to you, Joan, truly I have not. But I also haven’t told you the full truth about my past, about my family. When I came to Baylor on that scholarship, I was determined to start a new life for myself, and I did. You were a big part of that, as was Peter.”

She shuddered a bit as she said his name. I wanted to ask – does he know? – but she had insisted I listen first. I waited silently while she paused to drink the water the waiter had quietly delivered moments before.

“You know I – oh, what do I say, Joan? It’s messy, and complicated, and it all caught up with me despite my best intentions. When a family secret runs so deep and so long I guess it becomes inescapable…” Words began to tumble over one another, blurring together like the colors in those stained glass windows as the sun set behind them. The divisions and details were lost on me. All I could see was the pain working its way across my best friend’s face as she wove a tale of slavery and bondage that went far beyond the Civil War, into generations riddled by deception, manipulation, and always, illegal activity.

And in those moments, I understood why our kinship ran so deep. We had a common history so dark we dared not speak it. Neither of us had thought to question the other’s lack of personal back story. To ask each other would be to divulge our own, and we weren’t ready. I still wasn’t ready. Heck, I couldn’t even remember most of my own story. So I stopped her midsentence.

“Yvonne, enough. Enough. You are here, you are alive, and –“ In those few words I saw it happen, the widening of her eyes, the tremble of her lips that slowly worked its way down through the rest of her body. She lifted a hand, pointing at the glass of water, accidentally poking it and sending it crashing to the floor. She keeled over into the shattered glass. Suddenly people were everywhere, calling for paramedics as my best friend seized and died her second death on the floor at Guido’s. I used the chaos as a chance to escape. I honored her request. I told no one.


Stained glass windows, like other works of art, are meant to be swallowed whole to receive the full effect. Still, apprentices insist on the dissection of every choice of color and placement in an effort to reproduce another’s genius.

This scene at Guido’s flashes across my mind in an instant as I sit wrapped in the dingy white sheet in the motel in Bellevue. I had removed the details of the memory, like so many others, carefully forcing the event into another crack of my heart where I hoped the flesh of years would slowly envelop and dissolve its existence. Now I needed Yvonne more than ever. I needed to know the placement of each cut piece of glass. And instead, all I could remember was the whole of it. And Peter; had he known? Something about the tightness in his jaw as his face looked through the television screen tonight made me shudder with fear when I should have felt love. The secrets were piling up and I was losing ground fast.

Yvonne’s body hit the floor with a thud – and then another. I jump to my feet. It is not a memory. Someone is knocking at my door. Even as I contemplate what to do, I hear footsteps retreating.

Another jolt: the cell phone, the one left under the seat of my car after I left Mexico, rings from the bottom of the satchel on the bed. I answer with a hesitant voice and hear the Very American Man from the jail.

“There’s a bag outside the door with fresh clothes. We need to keep moving. Change quickly and meet me behind the building.” He hangs up before I can reply. I sit for a moment.

What choice do I have? I know he is right. I know I don’t know what to do on my own. I know I need answers, and hope he will have some. I get the bag and spill the contents onto the bed. A simple teeshirt and jeans – 6 long, exactly my size. A wig. And horn rimmed glasses.


Links back to the beginning of the story…

Twisted Sister Part One

Twisted Sister Part Two

Twisted Sister Part Three

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