Excerpt: Just Before the Dawn (Sicut Ante Lucem)

By Sophie Stephens

Page 61-62

“What do you write, when you come to the park?” Cooper asked me.

“Anything. Anything that comes to mind. Sometimes I just write about what I hear or see or smell. Other times I add to my ongoing story.”

“Write something for me.”

“What?”

“I know you keep your leather notebook with you at all times,” he said, looking at my bag. “Write something for me.”

“I don’t know if I can just write something on command like that.” I replied, but I pulled out the leather notebook with the flowers on the front and the multiple half sheets of only partially thought-out plot or dialogue sticking out. I untied the ribbon on the side and opened to the first clean page, pulling my writing pen out of the front pocket of my bag.

“I’ll write something when you write something. I mean, mine will be absolute trash and yours will be a masterpiece, but then it’s not like I’m staring at you waiting for you to write something.”

“But why?” I asked. “Why do you want me to write something?”

“Because it’s important to you and you’ve never shared any of your work with me.”

“Oh, don’t take it personally. Hardly anyone has read my work. Not even Rosie, actually.”

“Then let me be the first.”

I ripped out a piece of paper and gave it to him, and he started writing instantly. It might have been gibberish, from what I could see when I peek around the food at him.

I sat, thinking, for a long while before I started writing.

I have lived in this town for my whole life, and most of the time I don’t bat an eye at the fact. I’ve never been bothered by the walls surrounding me, growing taller. But in the late fall when the blue sky is swarmed with black birds migrating south for the wintertime, traveling thousands of miles somewhere new and warm, I get homesick for places I have never been. Places like Paris and London and Rome and Toronto. Places like Oslo and Dublin and Copenhagen. Berlin. Moscow.

I envy those birds.

More and more, as the years go by, I just feel suffocated by the confines of this stupid little town in the middle of nowhere. I relish in the memories I have made here with my friends. But the sights were getting plain; the activities, boring; the air, stale. A town like this, I can see what the appeal is. Safe, small. A good place to raise a family. Except when I close my eyes and take a deep breath in through the nose, my heart races and I feel stuck, panicked. I can see my opportunities dwindling. This ache inside of me, it hurts when I think about living in this little town. I feel scared, thinking about growing old here. These birds, flying over head on instinct, don’t understand how lucky they are to have those wings by their sides, giving them the power to leave. To experience.

I long to see what they get to see during their fall adventures.

I want to follow them. I want to have adventures,too.

You know I have never seen the oceans? Never stuck my foot in salt water and seen the waves up close? I’ve never seen the snow-capped mountains in Colorado or along the East coast.

I can see myself in a train car one day, eventually, sometime down the road. I’m riding through the mountains, fresh snow falling against the window I press my nose against. I carry only a small case with me. A quick trip, just a few days, a retreat. Maybe I’m by myself, or maybe I’m with a best friend, but I’m relaxed. Happy. Truly happy for what feels like the first time in forever.

I don’t need much. I just need to see it, experience it. Just once. Just to breathe in the thinning air and smell the snow and the pine trees and the clean air. To taste the snow falling onto my tongue.

Just to live a little.

I don’t know anyone who truly understands what this feels like. Only a handful of people in the world suffer from such strong wanderlust without a cure in sight, just like I do. But I can’t help it. I try to ignore it and it grows stronger, try to suppress it and it bubbles out, taking over my thoughts. Nobody I know understands the value of an experience in a new place, but I long to go see the world. 

must go see the world.

I put the cap back on my pen and placed it inside my notebook before shutting the cover. Cooper was done writing and had begun spacing off into the woods as I finish. Closing my notebook alerted him that I was done.

“Can I read it?” he asked me, reaching for the notebook.

I nodded my head, silent. I felt nervous about this, but I let him read anyways. I wanted him to read it.

I watched him as he read, but his face had little expression. When he was done he shut the notebook and handed it back to me. I cocked an eyebrow as to ask “Well?”

He smiled. “Is it true you’ve never seen the mountains?”

 

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