Someone once told Atlas, “Well, these things take time. Friendships don’t heal overnight.” But she didn’t believe it. She once thought anything could be fixed - she believed friendships could mend just like dough. But maybe she was wrong. It was simpler back then, now it’s not so innocent once you’re older.
The window curtains waved in the wind as Atlas sipped lemonade one Sunday morning. The porch was cooled from the sun which made a perfect midday break. The town in New Hampshire where she lives is called Keene. It was lonely during the summers - only her aunt, who never let her say her name but only “Auntie,” lived in a small house with blue paint chipping off the house. Between Auntie and herself, the days droned on. Atlas never wanted to admit it, but sometimes she wished her parents back. Sure, she didn’t know who her parents actually were, or even the possibility of their existence, but she still wished it.
“No, stop it right there.”
Auntie’s tone deepened into a firm resistance to Atlas’s questions.
“Please, all I want to know is her name. What’s her name?”
Her aunt’s eyebrows furrowed, “Atlas, I will not repeat myself. I told you years ago, anything you want to know about your mother will corrupt you. I said no.”
Atlas couldn’t understand why. What was so frightening, so powerfully menacing about knowing who her mother was? What would it harm? And lastly, why would it corrupt her?
She decided to drop the subject. If her aunt couldn’t tell her, then she would have to find out herself. As sneaky as it may be, not knowing was the one thing keeping her from knowing who she was. Atlas didn’t know herself - maybe a piece of information about her mother would somehow mend a piece of herself that she lacked. More than anything, she felt so alone in the world. This was her time - time to be bold, to be brave, to find out the truth.
Maybe, just maybe, then she would find herself.
Levy smirked, “That’s stupid.”
That was something he would say. Even if Levy was her best friend, it didn’t make his comments any less rude. “Seriously? I really need moral support over here.” He only shrugged and scratched the scab on his arm.
“Levy, I don’t know what to do. I know nothing about my mother. I feel like there is a part of me missing.” Atlas paused, “I feel as though, I need to find her.”
He looked up. “Why do you need to find her? If I were you, I would keep moving on. There’s a reason she didn’t want you-” He stopped short.
Atlas looked up with tears brimming her eyes. “If you can’t help me, that’s fine. I didn’t want your help anyway.” An ache in her stomach felt as though it were ripping her insides out. Maybe he was right. There was a reason - there would always be a reason she was given away.
There was a reason she lived with her aunt and not her actual mother. But couldn’t she find out why?
If there was one person who knew the answer to her questions, it would be Brutus. Brutus was an alarming fellow who lived downtown, Keene. He owned a bookstore where the books reeked of a wet moldy smell covered up with febreeze. Whatever the age, people didn’t stay in the store very long to buy or even speak to him. Chills ran down Atlas’s back thinking of confronting him. But, if she were ever to know, Brutus would know. He lived in the town of Keene way longer than anyone around.
The bell rang as she stepped inside. The moldy bookstore was much changed than she last remembered it. Instead of books disorganized without shelves to place them, he bought wooden shelves lining the walls and white sparkling lights rimmed around the perimeter of the ceiling. The green carpeted floors creaked as he stepped out of the back office. “Ah, Atlas.” He laughed, “‘Atlast’ you’ve come into my bookstore. What can I help you with?”
She shrugged off her shivers and decided to be brave. Why else would she have come here? This was no time for cowards.
“I was wondering if you knew my mother.”
There was a pause. He awkwardly looked around the room looking as if he wanted to avoid the question. He lifted his nose, “I think there might be something burning.” He hurriedly rushed out of the room into the back office.
“Brutus, I know there’s nothing burning back there. Can you please tell me what my mother’s name is?” Atlas waited a moment before continuing, “I’ve heard you like swiss rolls. I’m a good baker, I’ll make you some.”
The old man slowly walked out of the backroom scratching his head.
“If I ever hear that you heard this from me, you will wish you never came to my store ever again. Are we clear?” She nodded. This was the closest thing she had been to know her mother.
“Your mother’s name was…” there was a moment’s hesitation, “Margarite Atlas.”
“What was her last name?”
Brutus rolled his eyes, “Atlas was her last name.”
“You mean, she named me her last name? Why would she do that?” She shook her head in confusion.
He shrugged, “Why do most women do what they do? Ask her yourself.”
“Ask her myself? She….she’s alive?”
He nodded, “Yes, she’s alive.”
Atlas was in shock. All these years, she dreamed and hoped that this was true. But here and now, everything was happening so fast.
“Where can I find her? Where can I meet her?”
Brutus slapped his forehead, “Too many questions, too many questions.”
It took a dozen for him to answer her.
“She lives in your house.”
A shudder went through her body. “She’s trapped in my house?” He laughed. “No, what is the one person you know that lives there?”
Atlas looked up, “My aunt?”
Brutus shrugged, “Ask her yourself.”