Maddie leaned back and stared out the window at the trees at the edge of the yard. They seemed further away than usual, she thought, squinting at them in curiosity. It must be a trick of the light.
She had been bed-bound for some days now, and she knew her time on this earth was drawing to a close. Selena had brought Tom and Madeline to see their Grandma almost every day, and talked about all the things they would do once Grandma was better; but Maddie knew in her bones that she wasn’t going to get any better. She wasn’t really sick. She was just … done.
Maddie glanced around the room that had been her bedroom for nearly fifty years. It was filled with seventy years of accumulated stuff – stuff she had taken great comfort in, but which now seemed completely meaningless. No wonder George would sigh, she thought, having to carve out his little niches on the dresser and in the closet while Maddie’s things took up all the rest of the space. Maddie chuckled, and spoke softly to her late husband, “Sorry, George. I didn’t understand until now.” She chuckled again, and laid her head back into the pillows. Selena and Don would be here soon; she would be glad to see them one more time, but something told her she wouldn’t really get to say goodbye.
Her thoughts turned to her particular possessions – the ones in the locked keepsake box, the ones her mother had given her and her mother before her, back eight generations. Those possessions were different from the rest. They needed to be hidden away and guarded, so that they couldn’t hurt anyone. Maddie’s family had been the guardians of these items for so very long, and the responsibility of guarding them had been so deeply impressed upon her … yet somehow she had never shared this with her daughter, with her only child. For some reason she didn’t want Selena to have to deal with it, for Selena’s life to be overshadowed with it as her own had been. Maddie had only ever been told that the items were dangerous, after all – she had never even laid eyes on them, actually, and had long since lost the key to the box.
Why have I held onto them, she asked herself, shaking her head. Why did I let Mama convince me, when I always thought she was a little crazy to believe it? But she had made a promise to her Mama to guard the box, and she had kept that promise. She didn’t even know what sort of danger the items posed, because Mama had always been so vague about it, but the box and the key and the promise had all been laid at Maddie’s feet with an air of urgent – almost paranoid – importance.
She had kept that promise, but she hadn’t wanted Selena to carry it forward, and it was certainly too late to talk to her about it now. Maddie sighed, long and cleansing, and felt her body shudder into a state that was at once disconcerting and fundamentally familiar. She understood now why people referred to death as “going home”, because whatever was happening to her body, the rest of her was heading for somewhere that she knew she had been to before.
She reached out to her bedside table, and her hand as it wavered in front of her seemed transparent. She didn’t have much time at all, she realized. She took up her crossword pencil in stiff, tingling fingers, and scratched it across the get-well-soon card her friend Marian had sent her.
“Just get rid of all this stuff, Selena,” she wrote – or at least she hoped she had written that, because her eyes were no longer seeing things quite as they had seen them a moment ago – “None of it matters. I love you and Don and the kids. I’m proud of you. Mom.”
The last arc of the final “m” trailed terribly to the right, and Maddie hoped Selena would be able to read it. She couldn’t hold the pencil anymore; it clattered onto the bedside table. She couldn’t really see anymore either, except a patch of light that must be the window. Her body felt … it felt … well, she couldn’t really feel it.
Her breath left her then, and she found that she couldn’t take another. It didn’t frighten her, though, because apparently she didn’t need to breathe. She floated up from the bed, and her vision suddenly cleared – the window, the mountains of stuff, the note she had just written, her own self on the bed. What a strange thing to experience, she thought, gazing down at her white, motionless body.
She looked into the closet, into the keepsake box – she didn’t need a key now, or hands, or anything. The “dangerous” items were as clear to her as the trees at the edge of the yard. She laughed, or imagined that she did, as she examined the items.
They weren’t evil, she realized. They were … competing with the living world, like angry neighbours quarreling over a shared well. What a relief. If Selena did find them, they probably wouldn’t be so bad to deal with as Maddie’s Mama had always feared. But the items weren’t welcome in the living world either, and Maddie knew now that she had been right not to tell Selena this strange part of her family history. It would be better for the items to be dispersed, so that their power could dissipate and eventually be forgotten.
I hope Selena listens to that note, Maddie thought. She marveled at how blissful love felt now that she was free of all other sensations.
Deciding that she wanted to fly, Maddie turned to the window and passed through it, on to whatever awaited her beyond the trees.