I chose not to ponder on Shani’s proposal. It was entirely irrational, and there was no way I could possibly agree to it, I reasoned. Perhaps I chose not to think about it because I was scared that I might convince myself ill of my previous decision to disregard the whole conversation. Me all over: stubborn and opinionated.
When I got home that Friday the first thing I did was to raid one of the utility cupboards, and I amused myself by mopping the kitchen floor with a blank mind.
And it was so peaceful! So quiet and still! Just me and the floor – me, mopping.
And I just wished that I had done this wonderful thing more times in my youth. I wished that I could have been blessed with the revelation of such a simple act. But by my own tenacious decision to mope and be depressed, I had denied myself this easy pleasure: mopping a floor.
That’s what thawed me at first – that, and a discovery.
“Den, won’t you help me unpack the spare room this weekend?”
“Okay,” I replied to my father’s coarse yell from upstairs.
We still had a few boxes sealed with brown tape, sitting lonely and unused in the spare room. We had discarded many of our old possessions back in England, bringing the bare minimum of a few suitcases. Here, Dad took us on the biggest shopping trip I have ever been on, and hired a van to take back our multitude of purchases. Where did he get the money from? I don’t know. All I know is that I vowed that from that day onwards, I would never again have cold bare ankles.
As I took the stairs three at a time, the Delaware atmosphere giving me fresh vitality where I would once have trudged with dismal reflection, I felt a fluttering of excitement. Unpacking relics of the past life…what would that do to me? I confess that I was very curious. I had been away so long. What would it take to bring it all back?
The boxes were mostly full of old family china. My parents both hated china, and saw no use in keeping old cups and saucers when nobody drank tea from anything but a Mickey Mouse mug any more. Though they had kept the lot for the sake of the history of O’Derrons, Dad was now indisposed to hold onto it any longer. And yet I found myself fascinated by the flaring shape of one particular vase, and saw in the rose-bespattered teapot below it a valuable painting subject.
Dad waved me away with my boxes of china, and I carted them to my airy bedroom to unpack properly.
I unwrapped each piece from each box, setting them against the walls, which were rather bare, as we had not bought quite enough furniture to fill the wide rooms, and surveyed each finding from every angle. It would make an interesting project.
But the china was not my master discovery.
At the bottom of the very last box, beneath a thick layer of tough brown paper, was a book. I was surprised to see the object at first, so foreign in its hardbacked glory was it – our family was not closely akin to reading, and all we had now was our big Chambers dictionary and thesaurus.
Vere liked reading. I don’t know what happened to her library. She used to have shelves and shelves. Now she has nothing. Nothing but her burial shroud. Or even that? I don’t remember her funeral. Mum and Dad were so distraught they scarcely remembered that she needed one.
Taking the book from the box and holding it to the window, the first thing I saw, naturally, was its cover. It was a beautiful book, bound in smooth brown leather, decorated with a single maroon satin ribbon. And it was entitled, gold letters set deep in the spine –
THE HOLY BIBLE.
I took a moment to catch my breath, and glanced down to see that my hand was shaking. What was this? A sign? was my first thought. Where had it come from? Who had placed it here in this box, for me to find?
I peeled back the cover. On the first page, written in pencil, pale, but easily distinguishable from the thin creamy page, were the words –
To my dearly beloved sister Aileen Juliet Macpherson,
On her fifth birthday,
From your ever-devoted elder sister, Deanna,
With love forever,
Whatever awaits us in the years to come.
How long before her death? I didn’t know. It was so poignant, I didn’t want to know.
My fingertips caressed the pages and I felt my eyes turn to water. My link to Deanna, and my love for Aileen, a girl I had never known. But she was dead, like Vere, and so they, too, were linked. Memories of Vere. Sweet childhood. Salvation! Redemption! – in the Holy Bible.
Later that evening, all I had to say to Shani was a simple word, one word – “Yes.”
It meant, ‘I will come.’ It meant, ‘I will come with you to church tomorrow morning.’
She just smiled.
And that, that simple smile, was enough reward for me to feel peace, though I looked forward to my fate the following day with the nervous trepidation of one who is about to be judged, and so very much wishes for the verdict to be positive.