The grief was still fresh, her eyes glassy with the threat of emotion. She’d thought she was ready but nothing could have prepared her for this — for the vast emptiness which had filled her. It was if she’d been wrenched from a daydream only to find the world had taken on a different shape, everything obscured, intangible — like she’d drifted out to sea while dozing. Yet a part of her had remained onshore, to shake the strangers’ hands, to thank them for coming, to smile — a facade she’d raised to absorb the brunt of the condolences, to shield her from the out-pours of strangers: “He’d be so proud of you.” The trivial words did little to console. She knew they were said from a place of kindness, she’d said similar things in their position, and meant them, but now she saw them for what they were: hollow vessels of custom, more comfort to them than her. She carried on smiling, wearing the expression like a mask. Thankfully the ceremony was factory efficient, successfully packaging death into a neat little box. The human assembly line worked their way past her, saying their part, then clocked out at the exit. Only she remained, her shift unfinished.
Alone and at the house again, the words echoed back: “…would have been proud.” How could they know how he would have felt? And what did it matter? He’d never see her reach her potential now. Or maybe he already had. He gazed at her from atop the mantle; she’d never been able to read that expression, as though he were looking past her into the distance. Her mind drifted back to their last reunion, when they’d said goodbye — when she’d said goodbye — he was already gone, his heaving shell kept functional as a token of civility. She’d almost felt relief that she wouldn’t have to endure a final encounter, but now she yearned for closure. Back in the present she gravitated towards the liquor cabinet.
* * *
She woke in a sweat. The liquor had betrayed her while she slept, unlocking her mind to the anxieties which now ran rampant. Her eyes stayed shut as she willed herself back into the safety of a dream, but defeated, she opened them to the familiar room. Her father’s study was a snapshot of another age; a simpler time of paper and ink, the walls lined with books on everything from ancient history to modern technology. She ran her her fingers across a row, stirring a memory from childhood: her father rearranging the volumes to adhere to an ever-changing set of parameters, his task never complete. She considered the small library; so much knowledge in one room, all of it passed down to her. She felt the weight of the tomes, burdening her with a responsibility to discover their contents — the weight of her father’s expectations. Pulling one at random she felt a brief connection to him; he’d held this book, flicked through the pages just as she was doing now. She slid it back in to place and took another, hoping to further stir the past. As she pulled a third she noticed something jutting out from the wall behind it, a piece of metal. She removed the surrounding books to expose a steel deadbolt contraption, locking the shelf in place. She drifted further out to sea.
The heavy shelf swung open to reveal a set of steps leading down into blackness. She stared at the abyss for a long time, uncertain of whether to acknowledge it, though it could not have been more apparent. Looking back, she caught her father’s distant gaze: what was he hiding? A cold sweat formed on her brow as torrid speculations began to sear her brain; did she even want to know? But she was only entertaining the illusion of choice, she’d inherited his secrets along with everything else. She entered the black.
The stairs creaked as she descended below ground, alerting the shadows of her intrusion. Groping the wall she felt a switch — flicking it revealed a sparse, cement-floored basement. The only notable feature was a leather sofa facing a looming black television, encased in shelving. She approached the apparatus cautiously and saw that the shelves were filled with videotapes, their antiquity adding to the mystery. She slid one out from the shelf, and turning it over in her hands, discovered a label: #45. She replaced it quickly as though it had grown suddenly hot. They were all labelled, from #1 to #135, neatly arranged in numerical order, as was to be expected from her father. But what was on them? She took a step back. If she watched one she knew there would be no turning back, her memory of her father would be forever changed. But that was already true, actualised the instant she’d found the door. And maybe it was nothing to worry about. She reasoned that it was better to know. Closing her eyes she reached forward — #51. With shaking hands she pushed the tape into the VHS player prompting it to whirr ominously, as if uttering a final warning to turn back.
The tracking on the tape dotted the screen in a light fuzz before cutting to black for a few seconds — then it began: a saturated image of two women, one in her teens, the other in her mid thirties, walking wearily through the bustle of a small, picturesque town. The older woman spoke, her voice distorted by the worn tape:
“Mmkay, still walking, all’s good.” She stopped momentarily.
“How are you?” the teenager asked drowsily, seemingly half asleep.
“Huh. Mmkay. I should probably keep moving,” the woman sighed, resuming her limp.
The teen shuffled slowly beside her, “God, my feet have never been in this much pain before.”
“Oh yeah? What about that time?”
“The time when I did the thing and your feet were… Gotta stop.”
They both stopped dead in their tracks, as though they’d finally reached their threshold.
“Gotta sit,” the teen conceded. They collapsed on a nearby bale of hay. The townspeople continued around them, paying no heed as they sat in silence. It wasn’t long before she renewed her ramble, “Ugh, what were you saying?”
“About my feet,” she reminded her.
“What about your feet?”
“I don’t know. You were talking about the thing you did to my feet.”
“What thing?” Their rapid fire dialogue was hard to follow, even for them, it seemed.
“The thing that you… You and… Huh?” the teen drifted off into a dazed silence.
“I don’t know.” She’d given up.
“Just an observation: you and I do not function well on a funky sleeping pattern,” the woman observed, as if to excuse their babbling.
“I feel jet-lagged,” the teen acknowledged.
“You’ve been up twenty-four hours straight.”
“Yes, why did I do that?”
“Because I asked you to.”
“And that worked?”
“At the time. I don’t expect it to again.”
“A realist, I like that,” though it was clear the teen didn’t like anything right at that moment.
The woman looked around, as if newly aware of her surroundings, “How far is Luke’s?”
“It’s right over there,” the teen pointed to a nearby diner.
“It looks far.”
“Very far,” she agreed.
“Maybe if we concentrate really hard, our combined psychic powers will move it closer.”
They both stared intently at the diner.
“I don’t think it’s working.”
The woman shook her head, “It’s my fault, I’m not focusing.”
“Yes, that must be why we can’t move a half a city block closer to us.”
Suddenly something sparked in the woman’s eyes, a look of determination, “All right then, let’s go. On the count of three.”
Three seconds passed — neither of them moved. Then a song started to play, followed by a title appearing on-screen: The Gilmore Girls.
She paused the footage, trying to make sense of it all. Who the hell were the Gilmore Girls? And why would her father have recorded them? She watched the rest of the footage without pausing again. It was oddly compelling, like watching a burning building — she couldn’t stop. When it was over she inserted another tape, then another; they were all recordings of the same show — the story of a single mother and her daughter’s escapades in a small American town. At first she hadn’t spotted their relationship, but soon she saw all the ways they were alike, their inherited burdens. After a few random selections she reached for the tape marked #1 and inserted it purposefully into the player, then made herself comfortable on the sofa.
* * *
She locked the shelf back into place, slumping against it in exhaustion. She wasn’t sure how long she’d been down there — time had become muddled somewhere between the 3rd and the 153rd episodes. She stared blearily around her father’s study — her study — It was just as she’d left it, though it felt different, more familiar somehow. Her eyes finally rested back on her father’s portrait. For the first time he returned her gaze fully, as though he were finally seeing her. In that moment she felt a connection that she’d never experienced during their time together on earth; a shared secret, a fundamental kinship. She knew now why he’d kept it hidden, no one could know that a show like this existed, let alone that anyone actually enjoyed watching it — that she’d enjoyed watching it. She hadn’t wanted to, she’d tried to resist, but it was useless, it was in her blood. Worn out, she climbed the stairs to her childhood room. Before falling into bed she caught her reflection in the mirror, it was her father’s eyes staring back at her yet again. She thought of all that she’d inherited, the inevitability of it all. No matter how hard she ran she would never escape his legacy. It was her legacy now.
As she drifted off she thought of the Gilmore girls and everything that bound them. Their strengths, their flaws, their ups and downs. Her mind wandered back to the last episode and how it had ended — something about it that had stuck with her, a nagging sense that it wasn’t over… Then sleep submerged her in its soothing waters. She dreamt she were on a sail boat en route to distant shores; the ocean spray gently kissing her face, the wind combing her hair, whispering that it would all be okay.
All four 90-minute “chapters” of Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life will premiere on Netflix at midnight pacific time on Friday, November 25th.