I got there first. I had to unlock the door I’d only knocked on before, an act that made me a presumptuous invader in my mother’s apartment. Sun fell through the kitchen windows while I sat to wait, careful not to interrupt the house’s secret silence. It knew.
Mother left three orphans. My sister Kathy drove in from Wisconsin the night before and John flew up from Tennessee. Both came too late, but then Mom had surprised us all. Her heart had broken many times andas our only parent, she had often suffered the damage at our hands, but this time, it broke for good. That afternoon, we would all go to the funeral home to see what her spirit left behind, but we had something to do before then, and we must do it together.
I couldn’t remember that she’d ever told us to do this. She never gave instructions.
--Now, kids, when I go…
Nothing like that. There was only the box, the gray steel box with a red plastic handle and simple snap lock, that she kept on the floor under her dressing table. Whatever she hid in there deserved special consideration. Its contents did not fit in any of her well-organized drawers, not even in her velvet jewel case. We all knew where Mother kept her secrets and, as their storehouse, the box commanded respect.
Once, when I was nine or ten, I crawled under Mother’s satin-padded chair to pierce the veil of the box’s hidden treasures. It weighed more than I expected, and the contents shifted with enticing promise when I pulled it toward me, but they disappointed: only bundles of papers. No gold or scented lace handkerchiefs. Not even stained love letters tied in blue ribbons. I had no idea what we would find that day.
We three hadn’t sat down together for nearly five years, but no one smiled at our reunion. As the oldest, John bent down to draw the box out of its place. Mom never locked it. Transcendent parental authority had always kept it closed. Now, under our hands, authority exposed its favors.
She smiled at us from the top of the pile, Mother as she looked only weeks before, in her blue wool dress and pearls, sedate in her customary Mona Lisa smile. Three identical photographs, with nothing written on the backs. She expected us.
Of the papers, only her will remained, and below it, four packages, three of them labeled. John unwrapped his first—her recipe box, the treasures of a thousand Sunday afternoons he spent at her floured elbow. Grandmas’ meatloaf, Thanksgiving yams, Red Velvet cake. Kathy pulled the string of her red velvet bag, spilling years of shattered marriage dreams into her palm. Mother’s diamond rings, slim baguettes and one icy emerald cut, heavy in platinum settings, burned with new youth against Kathy’s olive skin. I didn’t have to look inside the black satin folder bearing my name. I knew it held a creamy string of pearls, the same ones Mom wore in the photo. I’d lost count of the number of times I’d handled them just to feel their smooth warmth. Tenuous connections, all. Threads strung not together, but toward her only, set to snap at a wrong whisper.
The fourth package birthed three new Bibles, each of which fell open to a marked passage near the end.
“Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of the Son into your hearts, the Spirit who calls out, Abba, Father. So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, you are also an heir.”
Her heart burst, and our own hearts yawned and tore for the broken bond. Nothing on earth could ever repair the damage. Mother’s last gift, however, exceeded her first. Mother had, at last, exposed a way for us to find our Father.
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