The Last Manuscript of Mark Twain (excerpt)

I came in with Halley’s Comet in 1835. It is coming again next year, and I expect to go out with it. It will be the greatest disappointment of my life if I don’t go out with Halley’s Comet. The Almighty has said, no doubt: ‘Now here are these two unaccountable freaks; they came in together, they must go out together.’ —Mark Twain

A year after my father died I was allowed to go through his belongings. A couple photo albums. Some National Geographic magazines. His old dress blues. I traced the brass buttons, the white gloves, and Mami glanced up from the boxes she was consolidating. “Not for you,” she rasped in Tagalog, and held out her hand to take the uniform.

I found a leather folder that smelled like dust and stale cigarette smoke, containing a desiccated sheath of old papers, all written in longhand. It was heavy. I held it up until she looked, and Mami squinted. Then nodded yes, okay.

The loping scrawl was so antiquated I could barely read it, let alone make out the signature. My older sister Daisy is the one who told me who Mark Twain was. “Shit, Chris,” she blew a big bubble with her gum until it popped. “He’s like in all the school books. Everybody know who he is. That shit’s prolly worth a million bucks.”

I doubted it. At twelve I lived with the virtual certainty that my sister was born with the brain of a Rhesus monkey. Besides, if those papers were worth a million bucks, why would Mark Twain leave them lying around in our attic? Daisy told me he was famous, that he wrote Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer, and that he was born on a comet. I decided I’d do my own investigating. I had never been in the school library before that. I saw this picture of him in a white suit with a cigar. Years later I would have dreams of a crazy old guy prancing around space on the back of a comet hooting and hollering. He was born in 1835, the year of Halley’s Comet, and died in 1910, the next time Halley’s Comet came around. It was 1986 when I found the papers in my attic. The year the Comet reappeared.

 

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