It was a sad day when they lost Gwenny Knox—not just for the world, but for the singer’s biggest fan. It came on a day so casual and ordinary it seemed that nothing could go wrong. April, early spring, with birds in the air and bees buzzing amidst the cropping of freshly-sprouted flowers, something so dark and ominous came trotting through one woman’s life in a way that could be seen as ironic. Everything seemed to be going fine—perfect, even. Fresh out of college and with a potential boyfriend that appeared to have it all, how could anything go wrong, especially in a world so loving and caring?
The day of April seventh, Nineteen-Ninety-Two, Diana Newborn turned the TV on expecting nothing but the usual.
Later, she would realize how little it took to change someone’s life.
Scrolling across on the bottom of the screen in a sickly blood-red, the words ‘Singer Gwenny Knox found dead in apartment’ would plant itself in Diana’s mind and haunt her for the rest of her life.
An ornate China cup slipped from her grasp.
When it shattered on the floor, she did little more than blink.
It took less than a minute for her to lose the strength in her legs.
Backward she stumbled, landing in a chair she spent the rest of the afternoon on.
One contemplation came clear as day. Surprisingly, despite the fog that lit her brain, it pierced the atmosphere of despair and begged one question from Diana’s reeling mind.
How could such an amazing singer—such an amazing talent—be gone, just like that?
One week later, she watched her idol be put to rest. For two whole hours she listened to a preacher’s sermon. He dealt with the specifics, but not the vague and chaste. He spoke of Gwenny—how, as a singer, she touched the world with her voice in a way that no other woman had previously done. He spoke of lives she had changed, but ultimately saved, and how her passing would affect the years to come.
She once vowed to bring world peace.
Given her youth, she could very well have succeeded with her dream.
After the preacher bowed his head and said amen, the camera faded back, away from the porcelain-white coffin and the single heart-shaped wreath of roses that adorned it.
A choir sang hallelujah.
The friends and family cried.
Viewers at home mourned in a way that only those who loved someone they never met could.
“It’s a sad day indeed,” an anchorwoman said, wiping away tears as she unexpectedly came back into frame. “The world will never be the same without Gwenny Knox. She will never be forgotten.”
The broadcast finished, the funeral ad finem, Diana turned the TV off and walked to her room.
All she could do once she spread out along her bed was stare at the picture of Gwenny on the wall.
Keep it up, Diana, it read. Your friend, Gwenny.
A long trip can never mean a short fall. Darkness shrouded Diana’s life in the days after the funeral. So dark her life became she went to the doctor and asked for something to save her life.
Twice a day, morning and night, with milk.
Milk made her remember Gwenny. She’d always aspired to make the world a better place. Come rain or shine, Gwenny’s presence lit the world in a way that not many lights could. Children especially looked up to her. A Saxon beauty with fire-red hair, she often appeared on the cartoon channels with a glass of milk in hand. Upper lip painted white, she would smile and tell the world’s youth the benefits of drinking milk.
All of this sadness, all of this milk, made Diana cry.
She took a few days off work, hoping for the pain to go away, though she knew she wouldn’t.
Two weeks to the day of the announcement, Diana stared at the ceiling and sobbed as Gwenny stared back at her.
A poster advertising her album took up a twelve by twenty-four-inch space on the ceiling above Diana’s bed.
Gwenny had really skydived to take that picture.
If only she were still alive. Maybe then Diana could go on with her life.
Every Monday, as she always did, Diana went to the post office. The Monday after a doctor saved her life, she received a package addressed to her, but without a return address.
She asked one of the clerks if she could take it home.
Why couldn’t you? he had asked.
There’s no return address, she had replied.
It was sent to you. It’s yours.
At home, she sat the package on the glass coffee table and prepared to gut it with a knife. In this preparation, the crude paper wrapping appeared to stare at her, as though questioning what she wanted with its forbidden contents. To who it belonged, Diana didn’t know, but to who did it remain? What could it mean? Having a package mailed, but without the ability to be returned?
Lips pursed, Diana pushed the knife forward.
Tip poised at the package’s belly, she thought of secrets and what all could they hold.
This isn’t mine, she thought, reality eating her heart. I’m not supposed to have this.
It’s yours, the mailman had said.
She swallowed a lump in her throat.
In one fell motion, she gutted the package like a pig.
Inside was a brown, leather-bound journal.
Its surface lay inscribed with a name, finely embossed and stenciled in gold print.
“Gwenny,” Diana whispered.
For reasons she couldn’t describe, she didn’t drop the journal. It could have been because of the knot that tightened in her stomach or the bile that rose in her throat. It could have been a number of things. Regardless, she couldn’t still the tremors that flowered across her body.
Who would commit such a cruel, sick joke? Who could even begin to lack the unfathomable amount of conscience it would take to realize such a crime?
Though the exact person could be questioned, the perpetrator could not.
Diana’s thoughts immediately went to her workplace.
It drove her coworkers crazy. To hear Gwenny Knox day in, day out, whenever the assistant manager graced the ribbon shop’s halls? For those who hated Gwenny for reasons selfish and inane, it would take little to exact vengeance on someone who adored her so much. A beat-up journal, half price at John’s; stenography, light and prerendered; coloring, cheap and affordable—a collective effort could produce such an immoral thing at an astoundingly-low price.
Her coworkers once protested for all traces of Gwenny to be removed from the store.
Diana had refused, and the leading manager agreed.
Hate brewed in places small and chaste. Those within it were tainted oh so easily.
“It can’t be real,” Diana whispered, tracing the lettering. “It just can’t be.”
The bottle inside her opened.
She reached out to open her offering.
She found the book was locked.
Troubled, disheartened, and almost about to cry, she set the journal down and began to walk away, but stopped when something flashed back at her.
A key, taped to the bottom of the leather, smiled in the fading afternoon light.
Do I really want to? she thought. Do I really want to see the things they did to me?
Indelible demons ate at her.
Diana returned to the couch.
Finger pressed to key, she slid the tape up, over and off, then took the kingdom between her fingers.
Could something so small hold so much?
She decided to find out.
Diana pushed the key into its lock, twisted its hilt, and breathed when the world before her opened its gate to allow her passage.
Pushing the clasp aside, she opened the journal to find a note addressed to her.
I hope this has come to you easily enough. I’m so, so sorry I’ve taken this long. I know how much you loved me, and I know how heartbroken you must be to know that I am gone. Even from the distance apart we now so truly are, I have felt your pleas, your cries and your sorrows. My mortal heart and eternal soul have yearned to offer you the answers you desire.
I will not leave you to wander alone.
Within this journal I chronicle my life. From the day I became a woman, to the night before I died, I told a story that no one except you will ever see.
My life is in your hands.
The moment she stopped reading, abandon took Diana’s soul.
It forced her into her room.
It made her pull everything off her shelves.
From CDs, to posters, to personally-signed pictures and to the autobiography that another man wrote, Diana stole the memory of a woman through her handwriting itself. Embedded into her head like calculations meant to fulfill the very nature of life, she examined the words and their letters—how Js and Ys curved, how Ds weren’t sharp, how Cs looked like half moons and how Xs appeared not slashed, but crossed. In doing this, the world brightened and the rain stopped falling.
The journal, the pictures, the CDs, the autobiography…
The leather-bound tome now sitting the other room could only belong to one person.
Before Diana rose, one question that had huddled in the back of her mind came forward when the storm of others were answered.
Who sent the journal—Gwenny, or someone else?
She read for the next ten hours. Nestled in a recliner under an amount of blankets that would not have suited her on a normal, warmer night, Diana gleaned a dead woman’s words from pages that she should have never seen.
Balanced on her lap, scrutinized under the intense glare of an almost-dead lamp, flowery, nearly-calligraphic print smoothed pages out in a way a machine would have never been able to.
Faint fingerprints here, ink smudges there, the slight stain on a page where something would have been spilled—you would have thought a woman of such dignity and class would write in her journal under the cover of night, in bed or at a desk. You would have thought her to write stooped over a journal in an almost-comical manner. Hair pulled back, glasses poised at the tip of her nose, makeup removed to reveal the hazards of age—you would have imagined her as many things, anything but sloppy. How would be a given, but why would be a testimony.
In truth, many thought celebrities to be godlike—creatures to be looked upon and reveled within.
In reality, women like Gwenny Knox were just like everyone else. Sure—they might have nicer clothes, prettier diamonds and bigger houses, but deep down, they were all the same. The master plan had ordained such. They may put men on pedestals and give them complete and utter control, then raise women on thrones and call them goddesses of the mortal world, but they were all the same.
Men are created equal, they said.
If only it were true.
Raising her head, Diana took a deep breath and rubbed her eyes, troubled by the contents that lay within the book before her. It seemed wrong, to know each and every intimate detail about a person’s life. Whom they loved, whom they hated, whom they despised and whom they wished would die—brutal honesty lies only within the confession of something another is never supposed to see.
Three years ago—at the height of her career, when it seemed that nothing could put her down—Gwenny wrote of a performance in Pennsylvania, when she performed the National Anthem to a group of twenty-five-thousand people.
I don’t know what I’m going to do, the entry began, handwriting slightly skewed by the tension wrapped within the words.
I don’t know how I’m going to go out there and sing the greatest song in American history without screwing up. It’s bad enough to be playing at the biggest event I’ve ever been to, but to know someone’s out there, waiting to watch me fall?
I saw a few of them just before I came into the stadium. The paparazzi are heartless when it comes to seeing a flaw that they can sell. Just yesterday, I saw a starlet trip over a hose and a man take a picture of it. He caught her stumbling into her security guard and catching his shirt to keep herself from falling over. What’s it going to say in tomorrow’s tabloid? “Drunken Veronica stumbles into security guard?”
What are they going to say if I mess up? What if the track skips on the record and I’m stuck mouthing the words? I can’t sing live. They told me not to. They said to ‘preserve the integrity of a pure recording’ and not to ‘risk a false line in a song meant to give the players hope.’ But what if I don’t have hope? What if something happens and the world thinks I’m fake?
I don’t know. I could have someone turn the microphone off, or down, so my voice doesn’t rise over the recording, but I don’t think it would be much help. At best, they could cross the lower audio off as a technical malfunction, but the paparazzi and tabloids would still latch onto that.
He’s watching me, always waiting for me to screw up. I saw him run up a flight of stairs and throw himself into the media box before anyone else could get in. He’ll be there watching the whole thing, recording my performance with a camera and scrutinizing each and every action.
Tomorrow, after the show’s over, he’ll watch my three-minute performance dozens, maybe hundreds of times, only to find one little flaw.
I don’t want to go out there and sing, not while he’s there.
They’re watching me, waiting for me to fail.
Let’s hope I prove them wrong.
A wave of hurt washed over Diana’s chest. In their strange, brave world, it was still hard to believe that anyone could feed off another in such a cruel, violent way. To hurt physically was one thing—to leave a wound that would eventually heal, then scar over—but to harm emotionally? The verbal insult of a misogynistic moron could hurt for days, while the deceit of a friend could last months, maybe even years, but to have your undeniable talent questioned in front of thousands, possibly millions of people?
Diana couldn’t imagine what Gwenny must have gone through. Words on a page could only convey so much.
Reaching forward, Diana prepared to turn the page and continue with Gwenny’s life, but stopped.
She originally sat down intending only to read a part of the journal.
Ten hours later, her head throbbed, her eyes burned and her back ached.
She had to sleep.
Setting the journal on her bedside table, Diana rose, arched her back, and crawled into bed.
When the world went dark, she closed her eyes.
Tomorrow was another day.
Gwenny’s journal would still be there.
The first line she read the following morning after she rose, showered, and ate was, It’s amazing, what people can do to you.
Settled at the bottom of the page like some ugly thing that crawled out of its grave and died, the words corresponded with a notion that could not have otherwise been explained. Pinned to the following page, during which the entry continued, was a picture of Gwenny standing beside a man Gwenny had referred to as ‘John.’ Arm around his waist, body pressed against his in admiration, not love, Gwenny appeared to be as happy as can be, while John smiled a smile that could only be done with his mouth. In his eyes lay a form of animosity not seen in most ordinary people. The I don’t care for strangers seemed oddly present, but something else lingered there too—hate, maybe, or zeal in an awkward manner.
Regardless, John’s presence in Gwenny’s life came with a purpose, a purpose so deviant and maniacal it merited its own form of distress.
The entry continued.
It’s official—John started a rumor that I was cheating on him. For what reason, I don’t know, but I’m hoping his lack of celebrity isn’t going to contribute further to anything he’s saying. It’s bad enough to have someone as famous as me say something, but him, a nobody?
I don’t know what’s going to happen.
My record label said my album sales are dropping. Fly isn’t at the top of the billboards anymore. They said the spike in sales dropped right after John sold his story to a tabloid. “Gwenny cheats! Boyfriend John left heartbroken!”
I’ll confess. I bought the tabloid even though my manager told me not to. He said it wasn’t worth it, that it was all full of lies and rumors. It doesn’t bother me that he said I’m cheating on him. He’s needy, he’s greedy, and all he’s wanted from the beginning was to be a celebrity. It’s not the infidelity that bothers me at all. No. It isn’t. It’s what he said in the article that hurts the most.
‘I know what you think,’ he wrote. ‘You think Gwenny’s this amazing person who can write songs that change the world and the way people think, but you know what? I know better. I know she doesn’t write the songs. She pays someone else to do it.’
This is what hurts the worst. This is what makes me cry at night and break down at the idea of performing at another show or concert. He says I have no talent, but what he says isn’t true.
I guess it doesn’t matter.
It’s getting to be too much. I don’t know why, I don’t know how, and I don’t really care, but I just wish he’d go away. I know he won’t though.
My lawyer said I should sue. They have proof that the album sales dropped the day after the tabloid came out. I went from three to twelve in less than a day. They don’t think it’s even the tabloid that did it, but the news reports from people following the story.
I don’t know.
I really don’t know.
It’s too much. It really is too much.
Diana closed the book.
Fuming, once again near tears for the first time in days, she put the book on the table and walked into the kitchen.
She couldn’t read until her anger died down.
If, somehow, she picked that journal up again, she knew she would tear the book apart and throw it in the trash.
That couldn’t happen.
Gwenny’s story was almost over.
Three days after Diana had last attempted to read from the journal, she turned the TV on to find a news report from the same channel that had broadcasted Gwenny’s funeral.
“This just in,” Chelsea Dashborough began, more poised than she had been during Gwenny’s funeral. “The coroner’s office has released a statement saying that celebrity singer-songwriter Gwenny Knox did not die as a result of an accidental overdose or suicide, as was originally believed at the time of her death. It is with both relief and sadness that we say Gwenny Knox’s death was the result of a heart complication that occurred while she slept. As troubling as this news is, friends, family and fans can finally find peace in the fact that Gwenny died of natural causes.’”
One week later, Diana opened the journal and read the last thing Gwenny had ever written.
I don’t know how to express the way I’m feeling right now. I have this pain in my chest that won’t go away. I took an Aspirin, but it hasn’t helped. It’s this low, dull throb in the middle of my chest that starts, fades, then starts up again. In a way, it feels like someone pushed their hand into my chest and started squeezing my heart. It might be stress, but it might not be anything at all.
I haven’t said anything to anyone yet. My security guard is in the basement, making sure that the paparazzi don’t try to break in like they tried to the other night, but I’m starting not to care anymore. If someone breaks in and shoots me, it won’t matter to me. I just hope that whoever does it has a good aim, because it better kill me.
I don’t need anyone hurting me anymore.
John’s ruined my career. There’s no way I’ll ever get it back, not after all these people are talking. I don’t think I want it back anymore. Even if for some reason I manage to get past this, someone’s just going to say I’m a slut, a whore that sleeps around.
I don’t want that.
Sometimes, after a long, hard day, I start writing in this journal hoping to expel everything that’s inside me.
There’s no way of getting rid of this.
I don’t want it anymore.
Maybe I should just give up.
Diana closed her eyes.
The final entry of Gwenny Knox’s life ended with a sentence so illegible it would never be read. To what it addressed would be forever lost along with the life of a woman who died too young.
Fighting back tears, hoping and praying that, somehow, she would realize where the answers to all of her questions were, Diana pushed the journal back and prepared to close it for the final time.
This is it, she thought. This is the end.
She closed the journal.
A single piece of paper fell from between its folds.
Diana picked it up without conscience.
Her name graced the note’s front.
Without much thought or consideration in mind, she unfolded the note and placed it on the table.
Diana, it began.
Now that you’ve poured your heart, mind and soul into this diary, only to be given nothing in return, I’m here to answer the question you’ve been wanting answers to for weeks on end.
I died of a broken heart.
Should this be a burden to your immortal soul, I am sorry that I have pained you so, but should this be a relief, know that in my passing, I felt no pain. It’s true when they say that the greatest relief in life is to finally, truly be free of the mortal world. I am here to tell you that after I fell asleep, I merely did not wake up.
I wanted to deliver this message to you, Diana, because I know you were the one who was truly heartbroken over my passing. No one cried as much as you when you heard that I was no longer here. No one felt as though their life would end without my presence. No one went to the doctor and asked to be saved, as you did with a simple but tragic pain in mind. No one has ever mourned as you have. No one ever will.
You were my number-one, Diana. I’ll never be able to replace all the letters you sent me, all the times you came to see me, all the things you tried to do. I’ll never be able to replace any of that.
You were the one person who really, truly loved me.
I’ve left something for you. I wish it could be more, but it’s all I’m able to offer that you no longer have.
Spread your wings, Diana. You’ll fly with me one day.
Through a haze of tears, Diana opened the journal and turned the last page.
Sure enough, an envelope waited, taped to the back of the journal where no other pages remained.
Carefully, she peeled the tape away, took the envelope in hand, and opened it.
She pulled out a folded poster.
When she unwrapped it, she nearly burst into tears.
Printed on its surface, in color, clarity and posture that no living, mortal thing would have been able to capture, was her last meeting with Gwenny. At a time when Diana had not brought a camera to take a picture with, she’d taken comfort in the fact that she would see her idol again, come time for her next concert. It wouldn’t have been long. A week and a day to the signing, Diana would have been in the third row, waving her arms in the air to the sound of the most beautiful voice on Earth.
When the world robbed Gwenny away, that last meeting would have been forgotten, had someone not taken this picture.
In the corner, next to the slight amount of black space from another fan’s coat, was Gwenny’s message.
Thank you for being the last thing I thought of, it read. Thank you for being there when I fell asleep. Thank you for comforting the girl with the hollow, glass heart.
Diana closed her eyes.
She could not contain the tears that followed.
“Thank you, Gwenny,” she whispered, holding the poster close to her heart. “Thank you for everything.”
Sliding the poster in the envelope, she placed it in the back of the journal and locked away the rest of Gwenny’s life.
Her heart on her sleeves and her pain on her face, she took the journal in hand and went to her drawer. There, she placed it next to every piece of Gwenny she had. Among CDs, DVDs, pictures, posters and other items, the journal stood out as something plain, something so unlike the woman she had come to know and love from the day she turned thirteen.
With one last look at the contents within, Diana pushed the drawer shut.
As she turned to walk out the door—not only to her life, but her future as well—only one name lingered on her mind.