Lifting my jug a few more times I reach for my delivered package. The burlap is rough in my hands and feels as if it has seen better days. Setting the thing in my lap, I open its unsewn end and reach in, the smoothness of paper wrapping is cold to my fingertips as I get a grip on the box inside and pull it out. The brown paper bag wrapping absorbs the light of the fire and is tied with some worn rope string. There is nothing written on any of it sides except for one single word on what I suppose is its top side. In scratched lettering, the word Joseph is written. From its state of rubbing it seems to have been placed there a long time ago, withered like a dry leaf at the end of fall still grasping with all its might to an unforgiving limb. Sitting here I hold the package with both hands as my mind fills with a thousand different possibilities of what could be inside and of why it now is in my possession.
Never has a package been given or sent to me before. Why would one now be sent my way? There is a strange curiosity that accompanies any gift. What is the intention of the giver? What are the expectations of the receiver? Does the act of giving bring the two closer or does it push them apart? I rub my questioning fingers around the edges of the box and wonder what could be worth giving to me. The mystery is an endless journey of the mind, a journey that my mind is all too familiar with.
Slowly pulling on the strings tip the old knot frees itself from its entanglement. The cool brown paper is soon relieved of its duty as well and balled up and tossed into the burning flames. I watch as it heats up and begins to uncrumple itself as if to make one last attempt at preventing the inevitable. First, the edges begin to glow red, and then a few blackened circles appear here and there—the end is near and is coming on quick — finally one last fluttering attempt before it is forever swallowed into the fiery oblivion. The whole is gone yet fluttering up and out a few shards escape and now ride the turbulent heat upwards and soon disappear into the darkness — such a fitting end to what was just shortly before a solid divide between purpose and intended reason.
What remains in my lap is a withered cigar box of yellows and browns. I don’t recognize the brand; it’s nothing Mrs. Beatina carries in her store. Running my fingers along its edges and letting my mind settle in its chaos of possibilities I reach for my 88 and down some more before the grand revealing takes center stage. I want to ready my mind before the mystery is revealed to my inquisitive eyes. Faded memories of a long-gone time sweep across my mind. A particular Christmas comes into focus. A picture of my mother and father sitting together as they watch me unwrap the last gift still covered in colorful and joyful paper. My little hands fumble to reveal what lies inside. The smile across my lips is almost unbearable. With the prize now firmly grasped, I leap with excitement and run to my parents to show them what is now mine. The imitation rifle rouses thoughts being just like my father. A hunter out in the wild and a new life begins to show itself in my young imagination.
Pulling open the withered box top it seems to contain nothing at all, and then I see them. Flashing like gold in the fires glow are my father’s glasses. Opening the box to its full capacity there also lays his wedding band nestled in the lower left corner. If I had any doubts about the glasses, they were quickly shattered by the ring itself because I know even without looking that on the inside of that ring reads the name, Mary. Sitting stunned and staring directly into the heart of my fire, I feel the warmth of a tear running down my right cheek, curling over my cheek and into the comfort of my beard.
Why? Who is doing this?
I don’t know how much more I can take of this torture—even if somebody out there is truly trying to help me find out what happened to my father, I can’t help but feel I’m being tortured little by little and expertly. Gently closing the box top I cannot bring myself to look at the inside of the ring. For now, for a little while longer, I will have my sanity. Laying the box back on top of the burlap sack, I reach for my jug and stand and grab my poking stick to stir and taunt the gates of hell with my very soul and daring them to open wide and pull me in for no less than eternity.
Stirring the embers and watching as small flames jump here and there, I see that the tip of my poking stick has joined in on the fiery dance. Removing my fiery tool and jabbing the earth to extinguish its pain I leave it standing with its own devices and grab some fuel from my stack and pile log upon log until the fire grows to a height that stands as tall as me. If sanity is leaving then, the gates of hell will be opened to their full extent. Taking another swig and another I spray the last mouthful into the blazing whips of fire, and a fireball ensues that catches even the dogs off guard. As the sphere of fire collapses in upon itself as quickly as it grew I tilt my head back and let out a howl that gives my skin a clammy feel and makes my palms sweat. I hold the howl as long as I can and let it fade easily and naturally. Just as mine has stopped the dogs let loose one after the other with their singular and personal howl as if to say ‘I agree.’ Turning to watch them I let loose again with my own howl, and soon we are all in a chorus of animalistic purity that I’m sure reaches for miles and miles across the hilltops and down through the valleys of Jacob’s pass and beyond for all to hear and for all to wonder at.
I wonder what a person would think if they were in earshot of this earthly choir. The slow rumbling of man and beast would surely send thoughts of fear and wonder across their skin. But why? Shouldn’t these ancient emotions be welcomed as a bridge connecting the present with the distant past of our ancestors? A connection few ever contemplate, but a connection that lives on its own lonely plane of existence nonetheless.
With the merciless chorus now silent and restful I return to my stump and finish off my jug and pick up the box and release the top from the rest of the box and toss it into the welcoming fire and watch, for just a moment, as it tries to fight off its extinction. Grabbing the spectacles from the box, I place them across my nose and wrap each stem around the back of my ears. Opening my eyes, I see the world for the first time as my father did—a world of clarity, a world of hope.
His last image before being separated from these spectacles was, hopefully, a pleasant one. Does the fact that his glasses are now in my possession mean that my father is no longer among the living? God, I hope not. My hope of finding him alive is bending over this very thought. Bend as it may, I will never let it break. How could I? How, after all these years could I give up without any firsthand evidence? These new items that have now become a weight upon my shoulders do not constitute anything that could be considered a fact about my father’s fate.
Looking back at the box I grab the ring and hold it up to my eyes. Turning to let the fires blaze light the inside of the ring I see it clearer than anything I’ve seen before ‘Mary.’ One single word that brings together so many things connects so many thoughts and encircles every ambition.
With my mother’s name slicing across my brain like freshly cut steel, I place the ring in my shirt pocket and giving the dogs one last quiet howl I head for my bed. Placing the empty jug on the floor, I crawl out of my shoes and sliver out of my clothes. Placing my father’s hat on an empty peg next to my hat, I crawl into my bed; the roughness of my blanket brings to mind all the dreams that make me feel better. Hopefully, tonight those dreams will return. Hopefully.
A long slow moan begins my morning. Lasting forever and never reaching the level of aggravation it feels more comforting than the blanket that now cocoons my withered frame. I open my eyes as the howl recedes into a light yelp slash growl, and the ceiling greets me with its splintered calm. The hue in the cabin lets me know the time, no later than six. Should I go into town and meet the surreptitious Elizabeth?
My feet are cold, colder than usual. Strange.
What should I do? What would I say to her?
In an instant, I’m sitting up, and it is decided. Whatever I learn, whatever I find out, I will know more than I know now, and that could be a disastrous thing or gracefully enlightening. My hands rise to rub my face only to find my father’s glasses resting there. With shocking quickness, they’re off my nose and thrown to the end of my bed. Landing in a position where they are looking back at me with reflected stillness, a calm that does not set easily into my head.
Another howl, this time three or four in agreement, accord, and laughing. Not at me but the world, and nothing can stop their pleasure of seeing another morning laugh.
When right is right what more can you say? When comfort stills the mind, the world falls into place, a place for everything and everyone to take on their roles and act out their lot in life in slow but deliberate movements.
You can say whatever you want, what you want to say, but it still doesn’t change the difference from right and wrong. I understand that what is right can and will change from one person to another, and the same goes for wrong. However, when the difference is small, the difference means everything.
I let out a small howl of my own, silently and physically relaxing, a true gift from the universe.