This story is by Toni Kief and was part of our 2016 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the Winter Writing Contest stories here.
I found a legal sized manila envelope leaning against my front door. The upper left corner read Crater, Earhart, and Cooper. There was no postage or return address, and I assumed it was a birthday card or possibly an advertisement. I tore it open to discover a single page, an official appearing letter on shiny paper. I was intrigued and decided to check it out, so I took it to work the next day and asked the tax attorney on the first floor. He said it appeared legitimate, and with nothing to lose I’d call the law firm. On my first break, I dialed the number, and they answered before it rang. When I gave my name, I was immediately connected to one of the VIPs from the letterhead. It sounded as if they expected my call.
Mr. Cooper was very professional and yet friendly as if we had met before. When I asked for additional information, he made it clear they would supply everything I needed at the appropriate time. Cooper stated the firm was contracted and would protect all their client’s wishes. He explained that a deed had been willed to me the day I was born, and I had reached the age of disbursement. He promised that everything was notarized and referred me to the original packet. Once we hung up, I retrieved what I thought was an empty envelope from the trash, and found it held more legal documents and a map.
The next morning the envelope held a ticket for a flight and a paid reservation for a car rental in Jamestown, Rhode Island. When I was about to put the new information in a folder with the deed, my phone beeped with a message. It was my boss, and she said my vacation days were approved starting today. I asked no questions and accepted the path laid before me. By early afternoon, I climbed aboard a small plane hauling my sleeping bag, ten pairs of underwear, and the demeanor of an explorer with an AAA travel guide.
Just after dawn the next morning, I checked out of the airport motel and hopped into my rental to follow the directions on the hand drawn map. The last turn was a little dirt road not found on the car guidance system or the backup map I bought at the Shell station.
After innumerable bumps and turns, I saw it. You couldn’t call it a cabin, or a house; cottage is the only term that applied. I spotted my name painted on the mailbox in front of a neat little garden with flowers on trellises. The cottage reminded me of gingerbread, frosted in white and blue with a small chimney on a peaked roof. I parked next to the gate and took a sandy path that led through the yard to a quiet windswept beach. It was perfect. I knew I could live in this isolated place and be eternally content. I found the key hidden behind a whitewashed brick, exactly where Mr. Cooper described. As the lock clicked, I felt I was home. The place was small but had the fresh smell of sea air flooding two rooms. It was dusty but neat and full of light. I carried my scant luggage inside and settled in to discover what I had inherited. Spreading the sleeping bag on a soft bed, I laid down just for a moment. As I gazed about, I noticed a small door in the ceiling. My sense of exploration was on full alert, and I arose to pull the rope. The attic door slid open, and a ladder fell into place. I climbed into a musty loft.
The space was small, and I couldn’t stand up. The area was flooded with a faded light and shadows. I inspected the space of unknown possibilities. It appeared empty except for a rear corner there was a large mound of socks. I crawled over and sat on the wooden floor. I don’t know what moved me, but I began to rummage through the pile. Oblivious of what I was looking for, I sorted. Black socks to the left and white socks on the right. Assorted colors and gloves tossed behind me. Within minutes I started to find little wonders, things that sparkled like old memories. The first discovery was a gold nugget necklace on a short, broken chain. It brought back the thought of a gift from my Great Grandfather the day I started kindergarten. I put it in the toe of a gray sock and stowed it in my pocket. I found five different sized mittens and remembered when my dad offered fifty cents to the child that could show him a matched set on the first day of spring. He never paid. Then there was a diamond necklace; I convinced myself it was similar to the one from Grandma Myrtle. I could hear her explain that of all the grandchildren I had earned it by giving up so much to help the family. It had disappeared in a house fire and I added it to the treasures in my pocket.
I laughed when I found my virginity. It wasn’t lost, but carelessly misplaced years ago. There was no need to revisit that tidbit, besides there was no sock that could hold it. From the corner of my eye, I noticed a glint and looking closely I found a single peridot earring. The match was still in my jewelry box at home. I had justified the loss with a story of the jewel being stolen by a one-eared pirate. I slipped it into the gray sock to join the other tiny valuables. I reached for a bundle of envelopes tied with a discolored velvet ribbon. I recognized the handwriting from the dearest lost love from decades ago. My father had told me he burned them. I mourned those letters, with a broken wish of my grandchildren someday finding them, to discover I was once young and had delicious secrets.
The hours slipped by as I explored the cache of socks, never finding an exact match. I sat in the warm glow in the attic from the Rhode Island sun. I realized the heap seemed to contain everything I ever lost, including thirty five pairs of sunglasses. There was a quarter and a dime twisted into a lace handkerchief, and the recollection of a hungry afternoon in second grade. A voter registration card dated 1982 with the last name I hoped to forget. Memories flooded the afternoon as I recounted family stories, successes, failures, and shed tears for lost loves. I gathered each prize and slipped them into pockets, ecstatic with discovery. Near the bottom of the pile, there was a certificate. It was beautiful with elaborate scrolls, calligraphy, and a golden seal. It was a titled, Faith in Humanity, and dated for my 60th birthday. I smoothed it carefully, trying not to damage the delicate paper and slipped it under my shirt, next to my heart.
Somehow the day fell away as I basked in the excitement of renewal. When I finally started down the ladder, I had a feeling of lightness and youth reluctant to return to the stress of everyday life. My aches and pains were gone, apparently cured by the day of discovery. When I reached the bottom of the steps, I looked around. The room was aglow with an early evening light shining through the slats of the walls. I notice the floor was sand and vines, and my sleeping bag was rolled up on the ground next to my backpack. All of the furnishings were gone.
I looked around, and my new home was nothing but a weathered shed about to be blown into the forgetfulness of the sea. As I walked to the car, the tended gardens of this morning had become a tangle of sea oats and sand. I looked back, and there were only two walls left to outline the recollection of my idyllic cottage. I gathered the last of my things knowing I couldn’t stay. As I loaded the car, I discovered the jewels, letters, and every toy was gone. They had disappeared like a morning fog. I looked back, and the cabin was a rotted foundation with no rooms, no attic, and no more promises. I dropped my head with an old familiar feeling of loss, and then I heard the crumple of paper. Inside my shirt, there was the certificate marked Faith in Humanity. It was discolored, tattered and torn, but the seal still shined. I realized that this was the truest reward of my life of lost treasures.