By Nicholas Sparks
Copyright © 1996
All right reserved.
Who am I? And how, I wonder, will this story end?
The sun has come up and I am sitting by a window that is foggy with
the breath of a life gone by. I'm a sight this morning: two shirts,
heavy pants, a scarf wrapped twice around my neck and tucked into a
thick sweater knitted by my daughter thirty birthdays ago. The
thermostat in my room is set as high as it will go, and a smaller
space heater sits directly behind me. It clicks and groans and spews
hot air like a fairytale dragon, and still my body shivers with a
cold that will never go away, a cold that has been eighty years in
the making. Eighty years, I think sometimes, and despite my own
acceptance of my age, it still amazes me that I haven't been warm
since George Bush was president. I wonder if this is how it is for
everyone my age.
My life? It isn't easy to explain. It has not been the rip-roaring
spectacular I fancied it would be, but neither have I burrowed
around with the gophers. I suppose it has most resembled a bluechip
stock: fairly stable, more ups than downs, and gradually trending
upward over time. A good buy, a lucky buy, and I've learned that not
everyone can say this about his life. But do not be misled. I am
nothing special; of this I am sure. I am a common man with common
thoughts, and I've led a common life. There are no monuments
dedicated to me and my name will soon be forgotten, but I've loved
another with all my heart and soul, and to me, this has always been
The romantics would call this a love story, the cynics would call it
a tragedy. In my mind it's a little bit of both, and no matter how
you choose to view it in the end, it does not change the fact that
it involves a great deal of my life and the path I've chosen to
follow. I have no complaints about my path and the places it has
taken me; enough complaints to fill a circus tent about other
things, maybe, but the path I've chosen has always been the right
one, and I wouldn't have had it any other way.
Time, unfortunately, doesn't make it easy to stay on course. The
path is straight as ever, but now it is strewn with the rocks and
gravel that accumulate over a lifetime. Until three years ago it
would have been easy to ignore, but it's impossible now. There is a
sickness rolling through my body; I'm neither strong nor healthy,
and my days are spent like an old party balloon: listless, spongy,
and growing softer over time.
I cough, and through squinted eyes I check my watch. I realize it is
time to go. I stand from my seat by the window and shuffle across
the room, stopping at the desk to pick up the notebook I have read a
hundred times. I do not glance through it. Instead I slip it beneath
my arm and continue on my way to the place I must go.
I walk on tiled floors, white in color and speckled with gray. Like
my hair and the hair of most people here, though I'm the only one in
the hallway this morning. They are in their rooms, alone except for
television, but they, like me, are used to it. A person can get used
to anything, if given enough time.
I hear the muffled sounds of crying in the distance and know exactly
who is making those sounds. Then the nurses see me and we smile at
each other and exchange greetings. They are my friends and we talk
often, but I am sure they wonder about me and the things that I go
through every day. I listen as they begin to whisper among
themselves as I pass. "There he goes again," I hear, "I hope it
turns out well." But they say nothing directly to me about it. I'm
sure they think it would hurt me to talk about it so early in the
morning, and knowing myself as I do, I think they're probably right.
A minute later, I reach the room. The door has been propped open for
me, as it usually is. There are two others in the room, and they too
smile at me as I enter. "Good morning," they say with cheery voices,
and I take a moment to ask about the kids and the schools and
upcoming vacations. We talk above the crying for a minute or so.
They do not seem to notice; they have become numb to it, but then
again, so have I.
Afterward I sit in the chair that has come to be shaped like me.
They are finishing up now; her clothes are on, but still she is
crying. It will become quieter after they leave, I know. The
excitement of the morning always upsets her, and today is no
exception. Finally the shade is opened and the nurses walk out. Both
of them touch me and smile as they walk by. I wonder what this
I sit for just a second and stare at her, but she doesn't return the
look. I understand, for she doesn't know who I am. I'm a stranger to
her. Then, turning away, I bow my head and pray silently for the
strength I know I will need. I have always been a firm believer in
God and the power of prayer, though to be honest, my faith has made
for a list of questions I definitely want answered after I'm gone.
Ready now. On go the glasses, out of my pocket comes a magnifier. I
put it on the table for a moment while I open the notebook. It takes
two licks on my gnarled finger to get the wellworn cover open to the
first page. Then I put the magnifier in place.
There is always a moment right before I begin to read the story when
my mind churns, and I wonder, Will it happen today? I don't know,
for I never know beforehand, and deep down it really doesn't matter.
It's the possibility that keeps me going, not the guarantee, a sort
of wager on my part. And though you may call me a dreamer or fool or
any other thing, I believe that anything is possible.
I realize the odds, and science, are against me. But science is not
the total answer; this I know, this I have learned in my lifetime.
And that leaves me with the belief that miracles, no matter how
inexplicable or unbelievable, are real and can occur without regard
to the natural order of things. So once again, just as I do every
day, I begin to read the notebook aloud, so that she can hear it, in
the hope that the miracle that has come to dominate my life will
once again prevail.
And maybe, just maybe, it will.
It was early October 1946, and Noah Calhoun watched the fading sun
sink lower from the wraparound porch of his plantation-style home.
He liked to sit here in the evenings, especially after working hard
all day, and let his thoughts wander without conscious direction. It
was how he relaxed, a routine he'd learned from his father.
He especially liked to look at the trees and their reflections in
the river. North Carolina trees are beautiful in deep autumn:
greens, yellows, reds, oranges, every shade in between. Their
dazzling colors glow with the sun, and for the hundredth time, Noah
Calhoun wondered if the original owners of the house had spent their
evenings thinking the same things.
The house was built in 1772, making it one of the oldest, as well as
largest, homes in New Bern. Originally it was the main house on a
working plantation, and he had bought it right after the war ended
and had spent the last eleven months and a small fortune repairing
it. The reporter from the Raleigh paper had done an article on it a
few weeks ago and said it was one of the finest restorations he'd
ever seen. At least the house was. The remaining property was
another story, and that was where he'd spent most of the day. The
home sat on twelve acres adjacent to Brices Creek, and he'd worked
on the wooden fence that lined the other three sides of the
property, checking for dry rot or termites, replacing posts when he
had to. He still had more work to do on it, especially on the west
side, and as he'd put the tools away earlier he'd made a mental note
to call and have some more lumber delivered. He'd gone into the
house, drunk a glass of sweet tea, then showered. He always showered
at the end of the day, the water washing away both dirt and fatigue.
Afterward he'd combed his hair back, put on some faded jeans and a
long-sleeved blue shirt, poured himself another glass of sweet tea,
and gone to the porch, where he now sat, where he sat every day at
He stretched his arms above his head, then out to the sides, rolling
his shoulders as he completed the routine. He felt good and clean
now, fresh. His muscles were tired and he knew he'd be a little sore
tomorrow, but he was pleased that he had accomplished most of what
he had wanted to do.
Noah reached for his guitar, remembering his father as he did so,
thinking how much he missed him. He strummed once, adjusted the
tension on two strings, then strummed again. This time it sounded
about right, and he began to play. Soft music, quiet music. He
hummed for a little while at first, then began to sing as night came
down around him. He played and sang until the sun was gone and the
sky was black.
It was a little after seven when he quit, and he settled back into
his chair and began to rock. By habit, he looked upward and saw
Orion and the Big Dipper, Gemini and the Pole Star, twinkling in the
He started to run the numbers in his head, then stopped. He knew
he'd spent almost his entire savings on the house and would have to
find a job again soon, but he pushed the thought away and decided to
enjoy the remaining months of restoration without worrying about it.
It would work out for him, he knew; it always did. Besides, thinking
about money usually bored him. Early on, he'd learned to enjoy
simple things, things that couldn't be bought, and he had a hard
time understanding people who felt otherwise. It was another trait
he got from his father.
Clem, his hound dog, came up to him then and nuzzled his hand before
lying down at his feet. "Hey, girl, how're you doing?" he asked as
he patted her head, and she whined softly, her soft round eyes
peering upward. A car accident had taken her leg, but she still
moved well enough and kept him company on quiet nights like these.
He was thirty-one now, not too old, but old enough to be lonely. He
hadn't dated since he'd been back here, hadn't met anyone who
remotely interested him. It was his own fault, he knew. There was
something that kept a distance between him and any woman who started
to get close, something he wasn't sure he could change even if he
tried. And sometimes in the moments right before sleep came, he
wondered if he was destined to be alone forever.
The evening passed, staying warm, nice. Noah listened to the
crickets and the rustling leaves, thinking that the sound of nature
was more real and aroused more emotion than things like cars and
planes. Natural things gave back more than they took, and their
sounds always brought him back to the way man was supposed to be.
There were times during the war, especially after a major
engagement, when he had often thought about these simple sounds.
"It'll keep you from going crazy," his father had told him the day
he'd shipped out. "It's God's music and it'll take you home."
He finished his tea, went inside, found a book, then turned on the
porch light on his way back out. After sitting down again, he looked
at the book. It was old, the cover was torn, and the pages were
stained with mud and water. It was Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman,
and he had carried it with him throughout the war. It had even taken
a bullet for him once.
He rubbed the cover, dusting it off just a little. Then he let the
book open randomly and read the words in front of him:
This is thy hour O Soul, thy free flight into the wordless,
Away from books, away from art, the day erased, the lesson done,
Thee fully forth emerging, silent, gazing, pondering the themes
thou lovest best,
Night, sleep, death and the stars.
He smiled to himself. For some reason Whitman always reminded him of
New Bern, and he was glad he'd come back. Though he'd been away for
fourteen years, this was home and he knew a lot of people here, most
of them from his youth. It wasn't surprising. Like so many southern
towns, the people who lived here never changed, they just grew a bit
Excerpted from The Notebook
by Nicholas Sparks
Copyright © 1996 by Nicholas Sparks.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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