lj idol season nine | week 31 | 1336 words
“The future outwits all our certitudes”
Before the age of eight, Danny Ruthers was forbidden to go into the attic. Once he was older, his mother let him come along with her as long as he promised not to touch the things on the shelf at the back. They didn't look very interesting anyway, Danny thought, and they were all out of reach. But when he was nine, his curiosity got the better of him. He moved a box over and climbed on it to get a better look, and discovered that there was more on that shelf than dusty knick-knacks and an old, broken clock. There was a small chest the size of a shoebox hidden at the very back, and it was not the least bit dusty.
The chest was also locked.
That chest turned Danny into a detective and a sneak. He poked in and around the other things on the shelf, but saw no sign of the key. Then he searched the various bags and boxes around the attic, quiet as a mouse and carefully putting everything back exactly as he'd found it. He figured his mother must open the chest from time to time, since it was so much cleaner than everything around it, and he didn't think she would keep the key somewhere that took a lot of digging. But he didn't find the key in the attic, so it had to be somewhere else, perhaps his mother's bedroom or the kitchen or his father's old desk?
He sighed. To search those places, he would have to wait until the right moment came along.
Danny's mother left the house more often than most mothers, on account of Danny's father being gone and her having to work to support the two of them. She'd never said where Danny's father went, just that he was gone, although she'd promised he wasn't dead. But if that was so, Danny thought, then why hadn't his father ever come back?
On Tuesday, Danny's mother went to the butcher shop, so he looked all through the desk. Nothing. Thursday night was spent rifling through the kitchen while his mother played canasta at Mrs. Bentley's. On Saturdays, his mother had her hair done at the beauty parlor, and was away for hours. Saturday morning, Danny was up off the living room floor and into her bedroom as soon as he heard the back door close.
The nightstands held lozenges and a bible, but no key. The bureau drawers contained sweaters and undergarments and even a paper bag filled with money, but it wasn't until Danny opened his mother's jewelry box on the vanity that he saw something promising. The small, golden key lying under her bracelets seemed just the right size. Danny took it and closed the jewelry box, then dashed up the stairs with the key in his hand.
He pulled a worn-out armchair over to the forbidden shelf, climbed up, and lifted the chest down and sat on the floor with it. Then he put the key in the lock, and turned it. It worked!
Danny opened the chest and peered inside. It seemed to be a collection of photographs. Why on earth would his mother make such an effort to hide them? He looked at each of them in turn, but they were just pictures of streets and people. His parents were in a few of them, and he recognized the Eiffel Tower from geography lessons at school. The pictures must have been from his parents' honeymoon in Paris.
At the very bottom of the pile was a postcard, also of the Eiffel Tower. It had no stamp or writing on it, and it gave off a strange golden, shimmering light. "Wow," Danny said. He fingered the edges of it, his skin going pins-and-needles with every touch. Then he looked closer at the actual picture, where there was a man facing him—a man who looked just like his father. Oh, how Danny missed him. His father had been gone for five years, now.
"I wish I could see you again," Danny whispered. His head suddenly felt fluttery, and then there was music and so many people talking that he couldn't think straight. When his head cleared, the man in the picture was right in front of him.
"Daddy?" he said.
"Danny, is that you?" His father squeezed the boy's shoulders. "You've gotten so big…"
Danny's mother arrived home just after noon. "Danny?" she called from the kitchen. "Have you had lunch?" There was no reply.
She went into the living room, where she found a collection of toy cars and army men, but no Danny. "Sweetheart?" She climbed the stairs to check his room, and noticed that the door at the end of the hall leading to the attic was open.
Her heart pounded as she darted up the attic stairs and found exactly what she'd been afraid of all these years. The chest of hidden photographs lay open on the floor, and Danny was nowhere to be seen.
"Oh no, please no!" she cried, approaching the spilled photos and hoping she might somehow be mistaken.
The postcard from Paris was there, still glowing as mysteriously as it had ever since she'd found it next to Earl's favorite chair the day he'd disappeared. Earl had been part of the postcard's picture after that, but he wasn't there anymore. One of the other photographs was glowing now too, though, the one showing the carousel adjacent to the Eiffel Tower. A man and a boy stood in front of it, grinning at each other and waiting for their turn to take a ride.
They looked exactly like Earl and Danny.
Danny's mother hand went to her mouth. She'd been so careful, so very careful all these years to keep Danny away from those pictures, but now he was gone, too.
She sat down in a heap on the attic floor, tearfully surveying her surroundings. Junk and memories, those were all she had left. None of it was as important as what she'd lost.
She brushed her fingers softly over the photograph. Earl and Danny would not come back, she knew that after so many years of waiting for Earl to do so. Maybe they simply couldn't.
The world inside the postcard and photograph seemed real enough. Perhaps it wasn't, not the way life was truly meant to be, but Earl looked happy for the first time since he'd vanished, and he and Danny were together again. She was the only part of the picture still missing.
It might not be life in the real sense, but she supposed that didn't matter anymore. Any future in this world without her family would be sad and lonely, she had no doubt. She'd already lived it once before, when she'd longed to follow Earl but knew she had to stay and look after Danny.
She picked up the postcard, and held it next to the picture of the carousel. I want to be in that photograph, she thought, desperately hoping that the postcard's magic would work for her, too. Her fingers began to tingle, and then she felt so dizzy she no longer knew which way was up. She heard music, and smelled sugar and the aftermath of rain, and she squeezed her eyes shut and wished so fiercely that it made her head hurt. Please, she thought, oh please, take me too.
Everything stopped spinning, and she slowly opened her eyes. The carousel stood in front of her.
She turned, and there was Danny, with Earl right behind him. They rushed over and held her so tightly she could hardly breathe. At last, she thought. At last, after all these years!
They looked as giddy as she felt, and who knew how it had all happened? But the how and why would not change the truth of what really mattered.
Whatever time and place this might prove to be, her family would find a way to make it their home.
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