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Tabula Rasa

Tabula Rasa


by Steven C. Caldwell

First Appeared in Burnt Toast#9, 1991

When the news came that her father had died, Sarah quietly replaced the receiver and continued entering the list of new books into her terminal. She did this for approximately fifteen minutes before she broke down into a steady sobbing. Her workmates, now her surrogate family, consoled her as best they could -- "It was a terrible thing, shhh its okay, listen its alright, come on, cry as much as you like..." They avoided calling her 'Honey' and privately she thanked them for it, but said nothing.

* * *

In the week that followed Sarah's brother took control. It was only natural that the oldest offspring would make the arrangements that were necessary. Sarah, everyone noted, was bearing up well, 'considering'. Considering what? Her father had died in his sleep at a retirement complex in Queensland. He was an unremarkable age and had lived an unremarkable life. There had been no achievements, no marks left in the landscape. The man paid to say nice things about her father was on the verge of speechlessness at the funeral, which in itself had been an unremarkable event.

And to think the relatives mistakenly thought that Sarah was crying out of love.

She was crying in shame.

* * *

By the end of the week Sarah had returned to her job at the library. Everyone was helpful and almost sickeningly sympathetic. She had no idea why they were carrying on in this fashion but refused to tell them so. It was not her way to air her thoughts to others; particularly those that meant so little. How could Sarah tell them that she had never been close to the man. It didn't matter. Better to forget the whole thing. One chapter in her life finished.

* * *

Soon, those people who called themselves her friends stopped phoning her. As it was she very rarely returned their calls and when she did she only ever exchanged social niceties. Now she never called back.

* * *

Sarah didn't mind her nightshift work. The library assistant rostered on with her was generally efficient, and if not could be easily made to receive a boost of efficiency.

She liked nightshifts because they allowed her to get the cataloguing up to date -- a job which many would find tedious, but other individuals find a complete joy. Very few people came in to bother her. There were very few requests. The silence gave her time to reflect over the last week. As strange as it may seem, Sarah allowed herself the luxury of a wide grin when she thought of the funeral. Only her father would be misquoted at his own burial. Now, what did the director say? Something like, my father was often heard to say "You know you're dead when you stop talking." Everyone in the room knew that was wrong.

He would say, he would... at dinner he would go on about it, now what was it? Something about silence...

Sarah began to file through her memories.

* * *

That was when the punks came in. Now she had seen them before, they often came in, took books off shelves, muttered obscenities, and generally annoyed people. They weren't punks in the strict sense of the word, but somehow that was all she could call them.

She watched them carefully, but not too obviously. They sat at the computer catalogues and started to type. She knew what they would type and sure enough, by the time they had gone, she had erased 'GO FUCK YOURSELF', 'EAT MY SHIT' and two 'I WANT YOUR CUNT's. On the last terminal were the words HI HONEY.

She stopped, watching the cursor flicker, and then erased the message. Hi Honey? Why that? After everything else they wrote why something so tame? Then she remembered-

At dinner he would say "Now listen, Honey, there is something I..."

It's just those punks. Leave it alone.

Back to work.

* * *

"Excuse me, do you have any information about topiary?" Sarah spun quickly to face an Asian man in a dark suit. She motioned him into a chair and began to work furiously at the keyboard for him. She accessed GARDENING, then GARDENING ORNAMENTAL. Both failed to produce a response so she tried BONSAI. Eventually she managed to find him something which she hoped would be suitable. He smiled and left her to her desk.

She turned to the terminal and read HI HONEY ITS ME.

She suddenly felt very cold.

Who had been at her terminal? Was this some kind of joke? That library assistant is going to get a talking to... no, wait, she's at the circulation desk on the other side of the room. She looked back at the screen. SOMETIMES I CAN'T GET THROUGH TO YOU. YOU NEVER MAKE THE EFFORT TO TALK TO ME HONEY.

Sarah had been sitting there the whole time. She had only looked away for about five seconds.


Blood pounded between her temples. Her fingers were numb.



They hadn't talked in years. They had written, yes but...


It can't be him.


Talk? Now? That's all he ever did, all you ever did. Never with us Dad, but too us. And all you ever had to say were trite little homilies Dad, not Wisdom of the ages as you thought it.

The cursor hopped its way from letter to letter...

T..H..E..R..E I..S S..O..M..E..T..H..I..N..G..

All Sarah could do was stare as the sentence formed.

He wanted to speak, to tell her something. Why speak now?

He had said there was nothing to say any more after what had happened with Martin ITS ME YOUR FATHER? and then with Leslie's accident ANSWER ME HONEY I didn't turn away I had my ANSWER ME BABY? life Dad REMEMBER WHAT I SAID, don't you listen I'm not LISTEN JUST THIS not again, never again, I've heard enough HONEY don't, don't DON'T DO THIS TO ME do this to me?...

She stared at the screen. The cursor hopped faster...

* * *

Jan, the library assistant, called for an ambulance twenty minutes later, after Sarah started screaming. She had been writing notes to herself on the computer for some time. Jan watched her write and then read them as if discovering the words for the first time.

The last note read,


Sarah had been dead inside for a long time.

She had just let herself know it.


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