For the next few weeks, Calliope went through the motions of finally selling off most of her mother’s possessions, only keeping very few things that had sentimental value. She could not shake off her feelings of dislocation, loss and a gnashing feeling of wanting to fill in the gaps of her own past. So much emotion had been triggered by that necklace, and Calliope had been catching herself looking in any reflective surface. She was not looking at her own vanity, but was trying to figure out which of her features were given to her by ghostly relatives that she did not know. Who had helped form this person named Calliope Greene? Where had she come from and what genes did she possess?
As if listening for her thoughts, Beth called.
“I’ve been thinking about you, Callie. It must have been hard sorting through Mora’s stuff and everything. I wish I could have helped. I think it would have been easier for you to have someone there.”
Calliope rolled her eyes, smiling faintly at her best friend’s over-dramatic tone of voice.
“You’re right, Beth, but I needed to this on my own. You’re busy with your students and your own kids. It’s definitely been a little…strange.”
Beth could hear the tremor in her friend’s voice. “Nick has been asking how you’ve been holding up. He’s been trying to give you time to cope and hoping you were doing alright.”
“I am doing fine. You know me. It’s just…” Calliope tried to say, but her voice trailed off on a faint note.
“What, Cal? You don’t miss the old bat do you? As long as I’ve know you which has been years, she was there, but she wasn’t there.”
“Beth, she was my mother. I can’t help but wonder who she was…where she was from. About her and her life,” Calliope said. She looked toward the ceiling listening to Beth take a long, frustrated breath over the phone.
“You don’t know much about her, do you?” Beth’s voice was brittle. “I think it was unfair of her, to keep everything to herself. Whenever I knew you asked about the family, she would always say you didn’t need to know, but I know you need to know.” Beth’s voice was trembling. “It’s all a part of you, and it’s like she took away your family, wiped them all out. And there’s only you, a bunch of letters and old photographs of people you know nothing about. What are you supposed to tell your children someday? That their past was a ghost?”
“Beth, breathe, and don’t be so dramatic,” Calliope laughed softly as she curled up on the couch. “You’re right. That’s why I’m feeling so down and out, for just those reasons. I feel like I’m letting someone I don’t know down…”
“Oh no, Callie. Don’t feel bad,” Beth interrupted. “Maybe I can help you piece together your past and trace your family tree when you have more time between this and you. Please don’t feel bad. Do you want me to drive up?”
“No, it’s just going to take time. Keep your head with your family. Maybe we can do something special and take a girls’ vacation, if you don’t have plans.”
“I’d love that. Let’s make it a date. You know I love you girl.”
“Love you too, Beth. Take care, and give Maddie and Aidan my love.”
Calliope hung up, grateful to Beth for her thoughtfulness and feeling worse for it. For an odd reason, she felt history was repeating itself. While deep in her thoughts, she had packed the photos and letters back into the chest but kept out the framed photo of Wade thinking that she might go back through all of them and read the letters and the names and dates. For the past few weeks, she had been going to sleep, naked each night but for the necklace. It had become a talisman to her, a link to a mysterious past that needed to solve.
She fingered the pearls feeling as if they were alive and warm against her skin and once, waking in the moonlight that night, she looked at the onyx and thought its black pool was alive, for its luster had an almost otherworldly glow.
By the end of that week, she had made up her mind. She would take a half year’s sabbatical from the college where she worked as a literature professor, for she was owed a long leave of absence. She would go to Mississippi and start the search for her mother’s family. She owed to herself to do this one thing.
The more she thought about Mora’s attitude, the more convinced Calliope was that there were dark secrets that her mother felt were best buried and forgotten.
It surprised her how easily a person could make things happen. In a matter of two weeks, she had rearranged her life to do what needed to be done.
Nick, her lover and best friend, was initially surprised but what could he do when he was thousands of miles away in the Arctic Circle doing research?
“Why didn’t you do this before? Why didn’t you force your mother to tell you?” he had asked. “What problem is finding out about your family going to solve?”
His questioning made her try to find the answers in her heart. Several times in her young life she had felt the need to trace her family. She had always intended to sit her mother down with a bottle of Chardonnay and ask all the questions, but never got around to it. When at college, when girls talked about family stuff and shared secrets, Calliope had little to offer and let them think she was holding something back rather than tell them how little she knew about her family.
Maybe it was the emotional roller coast of her life, but Calliope knew she owed it to herself to do this. She knew the time had come to look at her life—the past, present and future.
Strangely, she felt renewed when she spoke aloud, “Mama, I hope you’re happy and at peace at last, but I have unfinished business. Family business. I’m going east.”
Calliope pulled the necklace from around her neck and kissed the pendant. For the first time in weeks, she laughed allowed.