Havilah Goldberg, was anxious as she arrived at Ayem’s large mountain cabin, high in the rocky foothills above the secluded town of Isoquester. The mist from the water fall was washing over the whole property. Oh great, just great, she thought as she stepped out onto the packed gravel driveway. As it always did, the roar of the waterfall filled the small valley and the early afternoon breeze carried the mist across Ayem’s side of the valley. His plants and trees loved it but it would quickly soak her hair and clothes by the time she got to the door unless she grabbed a raincoat.
Isoquester, the nearest town, all four buildings of its four-buildings, was almost an hour down the gorge and her city home closer to 2 full hours away.
The first time she met Ayem here, she wore a white cotton blouse with a silver rose broach but she had brought no coat. The meeting had been arranged by his agent who failed to warn her and when Ayem opened the cabin door, she was dripping wet and mortified to as she realized how her blouse was clinging transparently to her small but curvy body. She wanted and needed his job as a personal editor and cringed to recall how, incredibly unprofessional I looked but, with his eyes averted, Ayem had been a complete gentleman and showed me straight to a small library and provided a towel and a warm, heavy cotton sweat suit to change into and offered the use of his dryer for my clothes.
“Oh no! Ms. Goldberg! Please come right in! I’m so sorry about this. I should have called to warn you about the waterfall. I’m in a full rain coat whenever I’m outside. It can be like a rain forest here, but I have so few guests, and I . . . . never mind. This is completely my fault.”
Then he closed the door and left her to dry and change and recollect herself for their meeting. He had a hot coffee in-hand when I was ready and now that I think of it, he never even mentioned the incident again and I bet no one else knows that it ever happened.
Today, she was prepared and quickly grabbed her hooded trench coat from the back seat and closed it around her body and head.
She quickly let herself in with the key Ayem had given her over 8 years ago. The roar of the waterfall fell almost silent as the front door closed and she deactivated the security system. She paused to let the sudden silence settle her mind about Ayem not being here. She had never been here without him but he was in the hospital recovering, hopefully, from a nasty car accident. He’s going to be okay, she thought. He has to be okay!
As his editor and advisor, she knew more about this reclusive writer than anyone and the non-disclosure engagement she had signed to be his only employee compelled her to protect whatever secrets she came across while working for him. She gathered her fortitude and determined to take care of things while he recovered from the accident.
The hospital had called her because she was his emergency contact. He had asked her months ago about doing this and she was surprised that he had no family to name instead. I sure never expected to be called, but who plans to have car accidents?
She had the simple to-do list memorized:
- 2 fresh sets of clothes, w/ 4 sets of underwear (awkward because she had never been in his bedroom)
- collect any postal correspondence from his box in Isoquester (done )
- feed the fish in his large fish tank from the supplies in a nearby cabinet (all dry and easy stuff)
- return any phone messages and set expectationsfor anyone wanting to meet with him.
She took care of everything she could before heading to his office upstairs.
Ayem had his builder carefully insulate the rest of the cabin with soundproofed, extra thick walls and windows so the house was mostly quiet, but his office was the single 3rd story room with a small deck surrounding it. With windows on all 4 walls, it overlooked the full valley and falls and road down to Isoquester, all without all that insulation, it was almost as loud as being outside. Okay, I don’t know how he works up here but I can’t put off his office any longer I’ll just grab his calendar and come back to the dining room table. Ayem preferred his office to be noisy and when she asked about it he would only say that he needed the roar to keep him focused on the story he was trying to tell.
Such a strange man sometimes, she thought.
With everything done quicker that she expected, Havilah paused in the middle of the large area between the fireplace sitting area, the dining room and small library to catch her breath. The duffel of clothes was ready to take to Ayem but they asked her to only come back during normal visiting hours which didn’t start for another four and half hours. She reviewed the timing in her head; it will take almost 2 hours to get there if I stop for a burger in Isoquester, so I need to leave in two. I’ve got two and a half hours to kill. I could sit in the parking lot and read. What a joy that would be. No, I can read in comfort here.
It’s going to be hard to read; I’m so worried about Ayem and his injuries. She was worried about the deadline for his galley markup. Ugh, and what am I going to do with Markus?
Markus was the cover artist. Ayem like the last version, but insisted on the background color be darker with shadowed suggestions of ivy growing through the darkness as Marcus had in an earlier version but was discarded because the front image of a broken man itself was dark. They had agreed to brighten the man, but the background now had to be darker. Marcus was supposed to have it in their inboxes and . . . BING-BING–BONG! Her phone chirped an email alert. She navigated to her inbox and, Yes! There was the requested image and it looked great.
Okay then. I guess I’ll find something to read. She turned and walked into his library. It was actually a re-tasked small bedroom the architect had talked him into to help with any future resale. The large window gave a wide view of the river basin below the falls. Ayem had set a comfy love seat facing out. He current reading pile was on a small table nearby. One wall had a wide closet full of file cabinets and the opposite wall was end to end with wood bookcases. She walked over to peruse but quickly noticed that he had a small collection of his own eight novels she had helped him publish. He had 3-5 copies of each in both hard and paperback. This must be his gift stash, she thought. She moved her fingers across the spline of each of his novels. She loved them all and loved the memories of working with Ayem to close plot details, wasted passive words and verb tense errors.
She recalled his common theme, the redemption of troubled souls. She had helped edit the last 6 but had gone back to read the first 3. She warmly recalled how each were each powerful, touching and compelling.
“Hello, what’s this?” On a small table next to the love seat was his journal. That belongs in a file cabinets. Did he leave out by mistake? Not likely. His novels were very popular but he was very protective of each manuscript, even from her until the basic story was drafted.
She circled the loveseat to pick it up. She expected author notes used in creating his 8 novels but she never got that far as there was also a simple envelope with her name on it and a larger hand-written envelope, stamped, addressed and mailed to her at this address. It carried one of Ayem’s return address labels, and the date the stamp was cancelled was the day after her first visit.
Why did he send something to me here? She opened the smaller envelope first and unfolded the letter and was shocked to that it was his apology for committing suicide What?! because he just couldn’t bear his life any longer. He directed her to open the larger envelope and then apologized again. She did so and she found photos. At first glance, she recognized the photos and realized that she had completely misread Ayem. He had kept embarrassing security cam photos of their first meeting both from the front porch and the library where she had gotten so wet, she had to change clothes. Here in the photos was the proof.
She stood up and dropped the photos like they were poison, and her mind raced. What does this mean? He saved the photos, but sent them here but why? All this time, I’ve completely misread him. Embarrassed and violated, she looked at the pile of photos on the ground. “This makes no sense!” she said out loud.
She gasped that she had so badly missed so who Ayem really was but–what to do next?. First things first. He tried to commit suicide by car accident. Since he failed, I should try to prevent him from trying again. She called the hospital and asked for the head nurse for his floor. She quickly explained the suicide note and, “please put some kind of watch on him.”
“Thanks for calling Ms. Goldberg. We have a protocol for such matters. He’ll be fine, but please get here soon as we’ll need someone he cares about to help keep him from trying again.
She grabbed the duffel and quickly left for the hospital.
– – = = ( o ) = = – –
“Okay, first: the cover for you latest novel is back from Marcus and the new cover is perfect, so this project is ready to publish.”
“Havilah, did you see and read my note?”
“Yes Ayem! You left a suicide note but you obviously survived the crash. I broke, oh I don’t know how many speed laws, to get here before you could try again. Now, I can relax because someone is watching you. He’s back at the nurse’s station watching you by camera.”
His eyes rolled. “I deserved that I guess.”
“But since you asked, Ayem, I am ripping angry right now. You are much more than my employer. You’re my friend. Why didn’t you say something?”
“Well, I’ve struggled with my secrets for over two decades and last night I was depressed about the man I used to be and my failure in becoming the man I want to be. If anyone knew my full story — I’d be rejected as an author, as a civilized person and even,” he paused to shake his head, unable to meet her eyes. “I would be a public pariah, and would be rejected–even as a friend.”
“And Havilah, thanks to your help, millions of people know my story without knowing it.”
“Wait! What do you mean by that? How can anyone know it without . . .”
Because they are laid out in my novels. You’ve read them, so you know how painful those events would be. Havilah, I’m telling you that they are also my story.”
“You mean your novels are autobiographical?! — How?”
“I gave myself a different name in each story and changed characters, places and even character genders to hide the truth in plain sight.”
“Wait — just wait!” She dropped his hand and stepped back, then away from his bed, thinking. This changes so much. Now, I don’t know where to begin. I had this all plotted out. I knew what I wanted to say to you. I wanted you to know how angry I am at you. Do you recall how you staged your journal for me to find? Ayem, what did you wanted me to see after your note?”
“I, I was drinking and, oh! I recall now.” Tears appeared in his eyes. This would have worked so much better if I had been sober and planned for those stupid airbags.”
“You forgot about the airbags. . .? Seriously?”
“I’m an alcoholic and was drinking. I just knew that I was going to drive towards the city and find something to hit that would not endanger anyone else.”
“Okay, so you did that. Fine! I accept this part of the story, but Ayem–you also produced and kept photos of me from the day we first met.” She began to pace around the cramped room. “You, you printed them off and, what, studied or enjoyed the look of my wet blouse and body?! Do you realize how sleazy and perverted that was. Do you understand how violated I feel? And that stunt with putting them in an envelope and mailing them to me at your address, that this proves nothing. You easily could have made and shared as many copies as you wanted. You also played, acted really, the part of such a gentleman about helping me freshen up and then we had our meeting and all along I thought and hoped that you were impressed with my credentials but now I suspect you only wanted me around for a possible repeat of the great waterfall wet tee-shirt event. Do you understand how humiliated I am?”
Ayem had quickly dropped his eyes again. “You are mostly right. I could have made copies, but I didn’t. I could have shared them, but I didn’t. No one except the two of us knows that it ever happened, but it did happen and I realized the next morning that most likely I had caught your images on my security cams. Havilah, it was like someone from my distant past watching and printing those images. Once they were in hand. I wanted to destroy them, but that would only hide the evidence of my crime and I could not bring myself to hide the truth again.”
She watched him for a moment, gratified that he was suffering, but then her own plot reasserted itself. She took a deep breath to settle her feelings and tone of voice, before continuing.”But Ayem, it was a long drive from the cabin to here and I have already decided what I’m going to do.”
“Of course you want to terminate your employment. I fully under. . .”
“No! I don’t. Ayem, I’ve read all your novels. I’ve told you before that each of your stories uniquely builds the image of a broken person, crippled by their own decisions but you always had a redeemer character to break through your protagonist’s frame of mind, someone who shook him or her to get them to pay attention to the path of redemption. Your protagonists are always worth saving.
“But Ayem, it never occurred to me that you were all of your protagonists. Did you really commit an extortion, robbery, insurance fraud, and all that other stuff. I’ve never seen you drink. Are you an alcoholic? Were you that drug dealer and grifter?”
Ayem appeared to be taking hits from invisible fists at the mention of each charge. “Yes Havilah, I was each of those characters.”
“And did you really have a redeemer each time?”
He looked up with red, moist eyes, “Yes, each time, there was someone to pull me away from the terrible life I’d gotten involved in.”
“Even novel number 7, “Uncle Henry’s Favorite Niece?”
“Please Havilah – you’re killing me here. Yes, yes, they are all true but obscured.”
“Wow! Didn’t see this coming. Let me think. Okay, that is huge, but it doesn’t change my final point. Ayem, if you’ll have me, I would still like to be your editor, your friend and your redeemer for those photos I forgive you.”
Ayem, raised his eyes to her; exhausted with emotion.
“By the way, how is it that you’re not in jail?”
He smiled a bit as the tension broke. “Some of my redeemers were attorneys, and I only wrote of that path once. The last time, I knew of others that were involved and the DA made me an deal to testify in exchange for going into witness protection, so I did. I saw it as my chance to start over. I only asked for my cabin and to chose my new name. They allowed me to move to my gorge above Isoquester because it is so remote.”
“Well, I am forgiving you because I think I know your heart even though I clearly did not know your history.”
“You understand that whatever we decide, you are still bound by that non-disclosure agreement. The feds are not going to be happy that you know this much.”
“Understood.” She plopped into the chair near his bed. So, can I know your original name?”
“No, it’s classified but the real reason is in my new name itself is a message that I did not want anyone to know.”
She tilted her head and looked at him askance.
“My new name is all anyone needs about my personal life and how it connects to my books. That and I’m not perfect about carrying it out. Every time I hear it spoken or sign it, it reminds me that I’m not him, that guy, anymore.”
“Huh. I don’t understand. You’ve never explained the meaning of your name. What nationality is it?”
“Say it slowly, out loud and look for ways to break words up even though they are spelled differently.”
“Ooo-kay. Ayem Nott-hymn.” She made a face, not yet seeing it. “Aye-em Not-hym. Oh good grief! How could I’ve missed this all these years, I’m not him. You’re saying you are not that man from your past. Brilliant! So, what is your next novel going to be about?”
“It depends. What gender would you like to be?”