Midsummer, I found a child's coloring book in the bedside table of a beach house we were renting. The musty smell of the faded cover of "Animal Babies of the Woodlands" should have been a warning, but I flipped through it anyway. A few of the tanned-at-the-edges pages were partially colored in ancient crayons, but mostly the coloring book was unused, except that someone had written in cursive on the inside blank pages at the back. The first four sentences immediately made my stomach and heart ache. They were the words of a woman whose husband had been unfaithful to her, words of anger and confusion, words that belonged in a diary, locked with a key. So stunned by the unexpected anguish, I stopped reading and put it back underneath the extra pillowcases in the drawer. The words were not meant for me. The odd juxtaposition of them being scrawled in an old coloring book bothered me. We had rented this beach house before. Never had there been anything other than extra linens, a lone spare light bulb, and a few small safety pins in that drawer. Should I read the rest of it? Should I put it somewhere else? Going to sleep that night, I was all too aware of its presence just inches from my head.
My own experience of coloring books was rather mixed, usually given to me on school days when I had to stay home, sick, the expectation to color within the lines and to color the entire page, to keep me busy, to make me feel better, and to do it without one of my younger brothers or sisters wanting me to tear out a page for them to scribble on, usually one of the pages I liked best and was leaving uncolored.
So, I ended up reading it all, several times, then bringing it back home in one of my suitcases. Seen as an awful slice of someone else's life, the before and after missing, no ending, as if she had been interrupted while writing or the putting of pain into words on paper was too much and she simply stopped, mid-sentence.
Eventually, I threw it out, perhaps to ease some unrelated heartache of my own, perhaps to close a door I shouldn't have opened. I decided to write about the coloring book, perhaps to confess. I don't honestly know; when all else fails us, why do we write anything?