From the novel:
William (Bill) Lewis
I thought I had buried the past with Ellen. I was wrong.
Here it is again, and I'm glad.
~ Bill Lewis to his sister-in-law,
I buried Ellen on the afternoon of November the second,
2005. We had known each other for fifty-five years, been married
for fifty-one of them. One would think that after all that time
together I would know everything there was to know about her.
I didn't think we had any secrets. I was wrong.
I spent the first year after Ellen's death in a blue funk.
I just went through the motions of living; I developed a routine
that required little of me, and was as free from change as I
could make it. I'd dealt with too much change in my life already
and I wanted no more. Yet throughout all my waking time, every
minute of it, I was aware of the great ringing emptiness of our
home, and the emptiness I felt inside.
As soon Ellen's body had been taken from our home, I moved
my things from our bedroom to the guest room at the end of the
hall. I knew I could not sleep in our bed again without her,
or look at her things on her dresser, her clothes in our closet,
and the other constant reminders of her everywhere in our bedroom.
I left everything the way it was before she died, and closed
the door behind me.
After the initial, hectic business of finalizing a life so
long lived; writing thank you notes to well-wishers, canceling
Ellen's many magazine subscriptions, notifying her many correspondents
the ones too far away to have read her obituaryand countless
other tasks that filled those early days, I morphed into the
soporific routine I mentioned.
The morning of the first anniversary of her death, I decided
it was time to get on with my life. I had mourned Ellen's passing
until I had become a nothing, an old bag of bones just going
through the motions of living. It was time for a change. I called
Ellen's sister, Suzanne, who lived about an hour away and asked
if she would come over and help me dispose of Ellen's things.
Since Suzanne had been badgering me for the past six months to
do this, she came willingly.
By mid-afternoon, those items that could be donated to charitable
organizations were boxed and piled in the front hall waiting
to be picked up. Suzanne and I divided the special keepsakes
without a problem. We capped off the afternoon with a glass of
iced tea on the porch, sitting in silence, each of us fighting
back tears. It was almost dark when Suzanne bade me good-bye.
As she was walking to her car, she turned and asked if I had
gotten the boxes from under the bed.
I was unaware of any boxes and my response said so.
She walked a few steps back toward me. "I saw four boxes
stacked one on top of another under the bed, centered up against
the headboard. I thought you knew they were there; that's why
I didn't mention them before this."
I told her I'd retrieve them and call her about what I found.
I came back into the house and had started up the stairs to Ellen's
room when the phone rang; it was an elderly neighbor who wanted
me to take her to the drug store to pick up her prescription.
After we left the drug store, I invited her to eat supper with
me at a nearby diner. I was more saddened by the act of closure
that Suzanne and I had performed than I thought I would be, yet
glad it had been accomplished.
Dining out with my neighbor was a celebration of sorts, as
well as a sign of a new beginning for me.
Later that evening, I passed Ellen's room on the way to my
room. Her door was open now and I paused to look inside. Something
nagged at me, something I was supposed to do in there. I shook
my head and started on down the hall. Then I remembered the boxes.
There were four cardboard boxes, the kind that would each
hold a ream of letter-sized stationary, taped together one on
top of the other under our bed where Suzanne said they were.
There was a substantial layer of dust on the top box, and the
tape was so dried out that it gave up easily when I pulled on
it. They had apparently been under the bed for a long time.
I lifted the lid on the top box and found a large envelope
inside of which were a number of letters, twenty-five in all.
The earliest was dated May 26th of the second year after I went
to work for Pinkerton's; the latest was dated three months after
I retired ten years ago. Each was a rejection from a publisher
or an editor, of a work submitted by Ellen. Three were from book
publishers, the rest were from magazines. Some letters were personal
and encouraging replies, some blunt form letters, a few had brief
hand written notes across the bottom of Ellen's query letter.
Each letter referred to a short story she had submitted. A few
of the stories she had submitted twice, one story, Faith, had
she submitted three times. None of the stories were dated. Later
I discovered that several stories had not been submitted at all.
I was shocked. I had no idea that Ellen ever wrote anything
other than letters to friends and relatives. She had apparently
been writing short stories also. Doing it without my knowledge.
Why hadn't she shared them with me? I couldn't think of a reason.
I felt hurt, then angry.
I pushed aside the boxes, got up from the floor where I had been
sitting, and went downstairs to make a cup of tea. Curiosity
quickly overrode my anger and I carried my tea upstairs to continue
my investigation of Ellen's secret boxes. I picked up the box
I had opened and moved to her dressing table. Seated, tea at
hand, I set aside the envelope and looked at the contents underneath.
There were six of her short stories, each neatly bound in a cover.
I briefly thumbed through them, then retrieved the second box
that contained seven stories bound the same way. There were more
stories in the third and fourth boxes, a total of eighteen stories
I met Ellen at a workshop conducted by B. F. Skinner, the
world renowned Behaviorist. Ellen was working toward her Ph.D.
in clinical psychology and needed this workshop credit for a
course she was taking about comparative theories of human behavior.
I was there at the behest of the U. S. Army to see if I could
learn anything that might be helpful in my line of workspy
chasing. I felt out of place and uncomfortable in the presence
of all the academics attending the workshop and it must have
showed - at least Ellen noticed. During a coffee break, she left
a group she was with and walked over to where I was standing
alone. "Are you finding Dr. Skinner's presentation fascinating?
I am," she said brightly.
She was small but very well proportioned, with an attractive
face wreathed in curly, honey-blond hair. Her eyes were large
and amazingly blue. Her radiant smile lit up her whole face,
and her body radiated energy. I was so taken by her appearance
and charm that it took me a moment to respond. I didn't know
quite what to say either, so I opted for the truth. "Frankly,
I don't understand much of it," I replied sheepishly.
"Aren't you a psych major?"
I admitted, somewhat hesitantly, that I was in a branch of
the military; that I was an investigator.
Just then the break ended and people started filing back into
the conference room. "I don't want you to feel left out,"
she said as she tugged at my jacket sleeve. "There's an
empty seat next to me. Maybe I can help you understand more."
She offered with such charm and sincerity I couldn't refuse.
Actually, I didn't want to. We sat next to each other for
the remainder of the conference.
I took one of the stories to bed with me. Once comfortably
settled, I began to read it. I am not an avid readerI seldom
complete a book I startso I won't claim to be a critic.
But the story held my interest and I finished it before turning
out my light. During the next week, I read the rest of Ellen's
stories. I liked every one of them. But they really aroused my
curiosity. Most were about women and no two characters were alike.
Also, they were set in different times and in a variety of locations.
From where had she gotten the ideas for them?
One of the stories in particular tugged at my memory; there
was something vaguely familiar about its setting. I picked through
the stack of stories on my desk and retrieved Return to Punkin
Center. I settled back in my chair and started to read it again.
I was halfway through it when I remembered.
The morning of my sixteenth birthday my father led me out
to the decrepit storage shed that leaned tiredly against our
back fence. I'd explored it when I was younger, but not thoroughly,
as it seemed to be full of junk: old paint cans, broken garden
tools, pieces of fence, and more; especially spiders. There was
a big something covered with a tattered canvass at the very back
of the shed which I was never curious enough about to wade through
all of the junk and spider webs in front of it to check out.
"Your present is in the shed, son," he said with
a smile and walked away.
I pulled open the door and looked in the gloom for my present,
probably gift-wrapped and lying on top of the junk where I could
easily see it. Not there. 'Dad's hid it under something,' I thought,
although it didn't look like any of the shed's contents had been
disturbed since the last time I was inside.
I began pulling out junk and piling it in the yard. After
an hour, I had worked my way back to that large thing covered
with the old tarp and cobwebs. Carefully I pulled off the canvass
- I'm very afraid of spiders - and dragged it out of the shed
as fast as I could. I'd not paid any attention to what it covered.
When I came back into the shed, it took a few moments for
my eyes to get used to the gloom. When they finally did, they
flew open in surprise. The canvass had been covering an old Indian
Chief touring motorcycle. It had obviously been wrecked; the
handlebars were twisted, the front fender was partially wrapped
around the front wheel, which was severely bent, the panels on
the left side were scratched and dented, the saddle with warn,
padding spilling out of it. Only the stem of the rearview mirror
remained in place.
"Happy birthday, son!" Dad's sudden presence really
startled me. Because my disappointment was just turning to anger,
I didn't respond. I just turned away from him and stared at the
"If you'll repair and restore this bike, you'll own a
very valuable motorcycle. Hopefully by the time you get it road
ready, you'll have more sense than I had and it won't end up
in this condition again."
I asked him what happened, but he turned and walked out of
the shed toward the house without answering. I guessed he hadn't
During the next three years I spent every dollar, and every
minute I could spare, restoring the Chief, and by the end of
the summer between my junior and senior years of high school,
I put it on the road for the first time. The day that I should
have started my senior classes, I started instead on a yearlong
ride around the United States. I did seasonal work to get cash,
slept in barns and on picnic tables in parks, took a cheap room
every now and then so I could shower and wash my clothes. I had
stopped one afternoon at Punkin Center, Colorado for gas.
During our courtship, I regaled Ellen with my adventures during
my odyssey, to which she appeared to pay nominal attention; apparently
closer attention than I thought, though. She still had the details
of my gas stop at Punkin Center well in mind when she created
her story around themalmost ten years after we were married.
Over the next several weeks, I reread each story. I began
to recognize similarities to places we had visited, events we
had shared, and people whom she had talked about. Around these
she wove her fascinating narratives. Using the rejection
notices as a guide, I placed her stories along a time line. Since
I couldn't be sure how much time elapsed between her starting
a story and her receipt of the disappointing letter related to
it, the time line was only a rough guide indeed. After several
attempts to make it work, I gave up. Instead, I placed the stories
in order along the time line of our marriage, at least those
that contained clues I could use as anchors.
I am going to submit her stories again, this time as a collection,
and in the order I grouped them. I have written introductions
to some, and suggested where she got the ideas for others. Those
about persons or places I did not recognized will have to stand
Ellen is available
Order a print version on-line direct
from the author for $12.00 plus $4.00 shipping by Paypal
Where authors and readers come