Mother sips tea in her garden. A consummate puppet master, she waves her checkbook, the knot on the apron strings binding her children. “Bring me some pretties.”
And we’re off, like geriatric six-year-olds seeking treasures for mommy in the family competition. The prize being the size of our annuity checks from the family foundation.
I cut around the rose hedge, thorns gouge divots from my arm, a man of sixty-three playing a child’s game he never won once.
Today’s game will be different.
I slip through the east gate into the old fields, a rule violation, but children cheat, because returning empty-handed and losing are the only sins.
Today, I will loot my childhood secrets and win.
The foundation stones of an old house rose above the grass in the field. My childhood sanctum where I hid the treasures of my youth. In the past, I had resisted the temptation to plunder them. I tire of aching poverty, skimping for dimes when my siblings thrive in graceful servitude.
Forgetting my age, I jump the wall. My calcified Achilles tendon collapses. Sprawling in decades-old leaves, windblown branches, and whiskey bottles, I ignore my pain, and scramble under the detritus with beetles, centipedes, and spiders, finding by touch the cake tin where I hid my treasures.
Three fingernails ripped free before the lid surrendered exposing a dozen toy soldiers, a yellowed Hardy Boys mystery, and an antique glass medicine bottle with a girl trapped inside.
I had found it on my eighth birthday, while playing archeologist with my only friend, Julie. We dug fierce holes in the dirt, finding in our imaginations the secrets of the Nile. Julie found the antique medicine bottle with a glass stopper in her test pit. A tiny old man stood inside the bottle and pounded its sides. “Let me out.”
I tried to stop her. Fearless, Julie pulled out the stopper. The old man vanished, the bottle sucked her inside, with a snake’s hiss.
“You promised to let me out, William.” She said through the glass.
“That’s why I came back.”
“God punishes children who lie.”
A half-truth is not a lie.
I limp to mother. My brother and sister huddled with their treasures, waiting. I ignore them and hand Mother the bottle.
For the first and only time, she says “William” without the bitter twist of disappointment.
“Where did you get this?”
“Childhood secret, Mother. It’s yours for the win.”
Her brows knit a frown, “I know her.”
“Will you let me out of the bottle?”
“You’re Julie Meacham.”
“Please, Mrs. Granville. It’s been so long.”
Mother twists open the bottle. I hear, again, the remembered hiss.
I sip tea in my garden. A consummate puppet master, and wave my checkbook, the knot on the apron strings binding my siblings.
Mother pounds her fists on the inside of the medicine bottle. “Let me out!”
“Bring Mother some pretties.”
And they run.