‘Supernova’ by Nicholas Rombes
From Lowestoft Chronicle:
I am close enough to Katherine to be burned by her radiant sorrow the summer her brother dies, the summer I save her from . . . from what? In the end, it wasn’t her who needed saving. After his death she disappears. For two whole months. As if grief could be locked away.
How are we connected? Had her brother not been brought down by gravity, would she have wanted me? I can only imagine. Despite being near her hours each day at the library, and despite the fourth of July night when we ventured out too far and had to find our way back in the dark along the old railroad tracks, warped into uselessness, they say, after a blazing heat wave summers ago, I never once set foot inside her apartment. Nor she in mine, painted black and furnitureless except for a mattress, a kitchen table, a bookshelf stuffed with everything but books, and a locked metal box with two vials of battery acid inside. Some would say we always met in public places—outside the library, in the freshly painted lobby of a movie theater, even at the post office—because, in a secret spot in her heart, she feared me. But it wasn’t fear of me that kept her distant. And there is something else to ponder: she never told me anything private about her—where was she born? Where were her parents? Did she live alone? Oh I knew the answer to these questions, but not because she told me.
The facts don’t mean anything now: how Katherine’s work as a graduate student in history led her to the university library’s Black Abolitionist Periodical Archive where, in a little room on the top floor with zero humidity and a steady cool temperature, she sorted through acid-free files of the so-called rare black abolitionist newspapers of the north, published during the 1830s and 40s. The Boston Clarion. The Vine. The Free Gazette. When she began her research at the archive, I, an administrative assistant to so-and-so in the library, was the first to show her around, she with her flapper jet-black hair, her long fingers with silver rings, her sandals, her faded jeans, her blood-red tattoo that I saw once twisted around her hip when she leaned over.