"Mama, Mama, Mama! The mail is here!"
Sarah Phillips looked up at her five-year old stepdaughter Olivia's cry, and then watched as Olivia ran to the mailbox, her green dress fluttering behind her in the Maryland breeze. Assured that Olivia wasn't about to do something dangerous, Sarah closed her eyes. Since she was close to the end of the second trimester, she was feeling more exhausted as the days went on.
"Mama? I can't pick it up!"
She opened her eyes again to find Olivia struggling with a box, her short, five-year old arms too small to encompass the wide parcel. "All right sweetie, wait right there," she said before pulling herself out of the porch chair.
As she stretched her back before walking, Sarah briefly contemplated the irony of the mailing situation. The year was 2015, and paper mail, save for packages (such as the one that Olivia was fluttering around), had become obsolete.
Well, I suppose it keeps the deliveryman's job if he can still deliver packages.
"All right Olivia, stand back so Mommy can get it," she said, and Olivia obediently stepped back to give Sarah enough room to awkwardly kneel down. A quick read of the package label told Sarah that it was a package for her husband, Michael.
There was no return address.
"Who is it for Mama? Is it for me?"
"No sweetie, it's for Daddy." Sarah couldn't figure out what on earth Michael ordered this time. Last week, it had been spare parts for the antique motorcycle he tinkered on in his spare time. Next week, she knew it was going to be the replacement engine for the hover-van, the vehicle he kept meaning to fix for the last six weeks.
But Michael never said he was expecting something this week.
Sarah hesitantly tested the box's weight, and found that it was surprisingly light despite the box's size. "Watch out sweetie, let Mama through," Sarah warned as Olivia moved aside even more before finally darting away to the front lawn. Olivia squealed with delight as Sarah walked toward the front door, and then she ran ahead of Sarah onto the porch and into the house. When she was standing on the threshold, Sarah noticed Olivia waiting patiently near the staircase. "Olivia, why don't you go tell Daddy that his box is here?"
"Okay Mama!" Olivia chirped before Olivia turned around and ran up the stairs.
Sarah carefully put the box down on the dining room table and then collapsed into the nearest chair. Briefly holding her breath, she listened to Olivia running around upstairs. Then, when the footsteps stopped, Sarah smiled and silently counted to five as little feet came pattering down the stairs.
It was an unofficial ritual of theirs whenever Olivia went looking for her father.
Sarah resisted the urge to smile. Right on time. "Yes sweetheart?"
"Where is Daddy?"
"Probably in the garage sweetie."
Sarah's smile faded as she heard Olivia's footsteps dart away and around the corner and down the steps leading to her father's work area. Technically, Olivia wasn't permitted down there to begin with unless she had parental permission. Michael wasn't neglectful of his own child per se, but he still occasionally shied away from the little girl. From what Sarah managed to learn, the reason Michael shied from his daughter was because Olivia reminded Michael too much of her mother and Michael's first wife, Monica Phillips.
Sarah rested her hands on her belly as she remembered more. Monica had died not too long after Olivia was born. The wife had been something of a steady force in Michael's life, the steady rock when Michael's work left him stressed at the end of the day. Sarah could see it in the way he moved around on the long days, when Michael would stare at the photograph hours on end. The lonely photograph on the mantelpiece of Monica and Olivia showed a woman with blue eyes and dark hair as well as a bright smile as she held the infant up to the camera. It was a smile that was now frozen in time.
Sarah suspected that, after Monica died, Michael was at a complete loss for what to do; the estrangement from his own family left him with no relatives to fall back on for help or advice. The very old scribbled post-it notes in odd drawers in Olivia's rooms still carried traces of old reminders, the graphite smudged beyond comprehension. Sarah knew he tried though; even years later she still found childcare books in odd places around the house. The most memorable moment would have been when she was cleaning the kitchen and found a potty-training book tucked in between boxes of cereal.
He only noticed Sarah because she had a quiet, steady presence that calmed the colicky baby. Sarah herself had been in town for several job interviews and sightseeing, and just happened to walk by Michael and Olivia in the park. As she usually did with smaller children, she'd stopped to say hello to Olivia before talking to Michael. Michael had admitted that he was single and had no idea how to raise a child. She helped him out a little at first, over the telephone, noting to herself that despite his claimed inexperience, he still tried to be on his own. Phone calls soon included emails, and then he and Olivia came out to visit her as a 'surprise'; her parents had been in on the planning for the visit.
Olivia was two and a half years old when Michael finally married Sarah. As for any more children, Michael just wanted to get the hang of raising one before considering another. He'd given her the impression that he wanted to wait until Olivia was at least going to elementary school before speaking to her about a second child, but that changed one night after she'd found him staring listlessly in the garage, staring off into space.
She'd gone down the stairs, looking for him because she didn't know where he kept the Olivia's cough medicine, and found him sitting in front of his workbench, an unfinished engine part sitting in front of him. She'd wrapped her arms around him from behind, and she'd asked him while he returned the hug. After he told her, she asked him what he'd been working on, and then listened as he detailed the inner workings of the engine in front of them. While Sarah honestly found it slightly boring, she humored him anyway and interrupted occasionally to ask questions.
But it wasn't until she was turning in for the night that things got interesting. Michael had made an offhand remark about his work, and she teased him for his 'complaints'. The teasing between the two of them turned into playful flirting, which led to more. Under any other circumstance, Sarah would have been 'prepared', but at the time she hadn't felt like killing the mood just to grab the small bottle.
However, once she found out she was pregnant, Michael had withdrawn within himself. As though he was afraid of something like history repeating itself, and he was only detaching himself to make the potential pain easier to bear.
As odd as it was, sometimes she could sense when he was pushing her away, yet a few moments later he would be pulling her close. All she wanted was the deep connection with him, to feel completely loved without the brick wall between the two of them. Sometimes she wondered if she kept reading him incorrectly. It made her a little nervous sometimes.
Sarah looked up, and instinctively smiled when she spotted Michael behind Olivia; he still had patches of motor grease on his clothes. He smiled tiredly when he made eye contact with her. "Livie said I got a package?" he asked, sitting down while Olivia continued bouncing around the dining room. "Who sent it? I wasn't expecting anything this week."
"There's no return address," Sarah explained while Michael stood up again to pull the box closer.
"Huh. That's strange." Michael pulled out his Swiss Army knife. "I wasn't expecting anything until next week." He glanced up, looking guilty as he opened the box. "You know, the replacement engine for the minivan?"
"Are you sure you're okay with replacing the engine by yourself?" Sarah patiently reminded him.
"Sarah, I'm a part time mechanic. I can handle the engine." He winked at her before reaching into the box and pulling out an old shoebox. "What the hell is this?" he asked, his voice trailing off in confusion. He looked back into the first box, frowned, and pulled out a folder and a sheaf of loose papers. He set the shoebox down before sitting back down with the sheaf of papers.
Sensing that her parents weren't interested in her dancing anymore, Olivia wandered over to Sarah's side as she reached for the shoebox. "What is in there, Mama?" she asked as Sarah looked up at Michael.
"Do you mind?" She gestured to the box when Michael looked up.
"No…no, go right ahead," he said, distracted as he returned to the letter.
Olivia stood on her tiptoes with her hands resting on Sarah's leg while Sarah gingerly eased the shoebox lid open. Dust flew everywhere, and only spread further when Olivia sneezed. Once it was open, Sarah placed the box lid on the table next to her before setting down on her lap so she could see inside.
There were four objects, all clothed in their own coats of dust. Sarah carefully pulled out the first object, which was a wooden toy that had faded painted letters along its little body. It took Sarah a few minutes to realize that it was actually something familiar to her.
"A plane?" she asked, her mental eye comparing the familiar streamlined body with that of the few airplanes she had seen as a young girl. The little wooden aircraft that she held in her hand reminded her of the airplanes used today.
She slowly moved the plane so that she could read the faded words on its body, which said Spirit of 1953 in what was probably supposed to be a dark red paint. Half of the right wing was missing, as though it had snapped off a long time ago; the edge of the wing had soft jagged edges, the sharpness worn away with time.
Setting the little toy plane down on the table, she reached down into the shoebox and pulled out a little cardboard jewelry box. Frowning, she opened it and was surprised to find an old bottle cork, with the words Vin des Dieux, Bordeaux, France faintly visible in the late morning sun behind Sarah. The year '1912' was printed underneath that. Thankfully, Sarah's limited French was enough to discern that the vineyard on the label said 'Wine of the Gods', was located in Bordeaux, and the cork had been inserted in the year 1912. The year the First World War started.
"Mama, what is that?"
"A bottle cork sweetie. Don't touch," Sarah warned as she placed the cork back into the jewelry box and set the box next to the toy plane.
Bored, Olivia wandered off to go play with her toys in the living room.
The next item Sarah pulled out of the shoebox was another little jewelry box, just like the first. This one was more puzzling. Instead of jewelry, or even another cork, it was something Sarah didn't recognize. "Michael, what is this?" she asked, looking up at him. When she saw his paled face, she straightened in her seat, she asked, "Michael? What is it? What is wrong?"
He didn't seem to hear her right away. "I…I have to get something to drink," he said finally, setting the papers down. He looked the box in her hand momentarily, as if just noticing it. "That… that is a bullet casing."
"Oh, okay." She frowned at him. "Michael, are you all right? What is wrong?"
He waved her off as he stood up. "It's… nothing. Absolutely nothing…I'll be right back." His voice trailed off as he wandered toward the kitchen, reminding Sarah of a lost and confused child.
She set the bullet casing aside, wondering who on earth would want to save that. Then she looked down and found that there was one more little jewelry box. Half-expecting something like a rusted nail, she mentally rolled her eyes before pulling off the little lid.
Her breath caught at the sight.
Two gold rings sat on a little bed of padding. Both were simple gold bands, except one of them had a leaves and vine pattern engraved along the middle of the side of the band facing out. Sarah looked up to ask Michael about it, but when she looked up, she saw his retreating footsteps going up the stairs.
Frowning now, she gently replaced the box lid before setting it next to the other three. Then she set the empty shoebox on the table before she stood up long enough to grab the pile of papers, including the folder that was sitting on the table nearby. Opening the folder, she was surprised to find a yellowed letter sitting there, the date near the letterhead reading March 14, 1964. The letter was addressed to someone named Ryan Phillips, and was from the United States Department of Defense. A quick skim of the accompanying text revealed the paper to be a draft letter, for the Vietnam War.
Sarah tried to remember if Michael ever mentioned anyone in his family named Ryan. Then she remembered that he was not on speaking terms with them, and hadn't been so for several years.
That was when she noticed the dark brown marks along the edges of the letter. It wasn't until she saw the marks splattered all over the bottom of the letter that she realized exactly what it was.
Trying not to cringe, she gingerly set the bloodstained letter back into the folder and closed the folder, trying not to think about how the blood got there in the first place and whose blood it was.
The stack of papers was what held her attention now. She reached for it and found that Michael had only read two pages before quitting. Glancing up the stairs to make sure he was still upstairs, she found the first page and looked down to find that instead of typed, as most letters were nowadays, this one was in wobbly cursive, as though the writer had had little to no experience with computers in general. The date was one week old.
May 6th, 2015
It's been almost fifteen, twenty years since we've spoken. It still saddens me that we could not reconcile all those years ago, before we lost what time we had left.
How are you? How is Miss Sarah? Miss Olivia? Don't act surprised that I know who they are, I will admit to having asked old family friends to keep an eye on you after you left the house that night.
After all, you were right. There should have been no secrets in our family, as it unfortunately cost you and me everything we held dear. I can only ask that you can somehow find the forgiveness for everything your mother and I put you through when you were growing up. I also hope that you can put aside your anger at your mother and me long enough to read this letter, and hopefully it can help you understand why we did what we did.
I regret that your mother is dead. I promised her that I would try to reach you again, and fix what was broken. Unfortunately I could not locate you as you dropped from the proverbial radar for some time. I only recently found you about a few weeks before your mother's death, when I ordered some parts from your business without realizing that you were in charge.
Unfortunately, I estimate that by the time this letter and the box finds their ways into your hands, I will have long left. Do you remember the old coot from Los Angeles? Doctor Montigo? Well, he tells me that I don't have long, and I remembered I still had a promise to fulfill.
Remember when you were six years old? And you saw that shoebox sitting on top of my dresser and then tried to get it down? I remember telling you that you would have to wait until you were older, that the stories inside the box were not for little ears.
Even when we argued, that fateful day when you stormed out of the house and never returned, the promise remained.
I know what you're thinking. You're wondering why I left you with a box of junk. Well Michael, the shoebox essentially represents my life. Everything in it has played a role in my life and therefore yours in some way. Hopefully this letter will explain everything, and maybe, just maybe, we can still heal our wounds from that night.
Everything your mother and I did when you were little, we did for a strong reason. Unfortunately, Amelia and I forgot that you were not as used to it as we, and moved constantly without thinking of the effects on you.
For that, I apologize.
That being said, here is the shoebox you wanted to see all those years ago. The rings weren't in there when you wanted to look all those years ago; I added those before sending this because I feel that you will have wanted them.
But stories have voices of their own. And hopefully, mine will shed some light on the erratic behavior Amelia and I most likely displayed. Please read with an open heart and mind, it will make the your journey into these secrets easier to bear…
A/N: Hello, welcome to Healing Rifts. I hope you enjoy it. :)