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What is to give light must endure burning

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She waits until midnight and then she goes to her aunt's room. She removes the sheaf of papers from its hiding spot, studying each piece for a moment. She does not read them, just looks long enough to ascertain what it is—a poem, a love letter, an angry admonition, a plea for absolution. So many repeated. Each in that hand she recognizes as her aunt's once-beloved Jeffrey Aspern.

Her aunt would have commanded her to destroy these documents, had she been able. Such things are private, between a man and a woman, between a poet and his muse. Not for the eyes of everyone, for public view.

But she would have given them to him, that scoundrel who killed her aunt. Had he said yes, agreed to her hinted proposal—she would have handed over the last hidden part of her aunt's privacy for grudgingly-given, false affection.

Her aunt is dead. Tina feared her, but never doubted her love. Now, after a long life, Tina is alone. Every decision from here-on-out is her own. No demands, no commands. Her choices, her actions.

She holds in her hand papers a man would steal in the night, would lie and cheat to possess, would frighten an old woman to death for the possibility of touching them.

Her aunt would have said to destroy them, the last link to the poet she loved. Tina takes the bundle to the kitchen and separates the papers on the counter by type: love letter, angry note, poem, plea for pardon. Over two dozen, precious and unique, each addressed to Juliana. Poems for her eyes alone, sonnets, free-verse. Priceless.

One by one, Tina holds them over a candle till they catch fire and then lets them fall into an empty basin.

She does not burn them for her aunt, or out of anger or grief or despair. She burns them simply because they are a private matter and their intended audience can no longer read them.

(And if she feels a small burst of vindictive joy at the dumbstruck, horror-filled look on his face—well, that is a private matter, too.)