Her father’s death had been sudden. Her raw grief had subsided. Her curiosity was now strong enough to explore the books in the cabinet in his study.
Rachel went to the cabinet where her father had kept his most precious books. She knew there was at least one book there which he had never shown her. She had stared at the book’s unusual spine many times. The metallic folds were an eye-catching contrast to the rough leather bands crossing them.
Rachel pulled out the massive volume and took it to the chair by the window. She sat in the chair and put the book on her lap. She ran her hand over the decorated cover.
Rachel felt tears come to her eyes. She let out a long sigh. She blinked, took a deep breath, and folded back the thick, heavy cover. Inside lay a pale blue envelope with her name printed on it. Rachel opened the envelope and unfolded the papers inside. At once, she recognized her father’s handwriting.
At last you are reading this letter which I prepared 10, 11, 12, 13, and 14 years ago for you. I never showed you this book. I can’t honestly say why.
Please go and sit in the black wing chair by the window, if you are not already sitting there. I’ve always pictured you sitting in that chair as you would open the book and as you would read this letter.
Rachel smiled slightly. She was sitting in the large black leather-upholstered wing chair, with the book balanced on her lap and, now, she was reading her father’s letter.
I didn’t share this book because, in some way, I didn’t want you to make the discoveries I did, I suppose. The book meant so much to me and I’m confident it will to you, as well.
I’ve rewritten this letter many times. It’s hard to tell you about the book. I’m sure it is quite ancient. It belonged to my mother’s family–my mother and her mother and her mother—perhaps mothers before that. I don’t know. I only could tell you of my experience of the book. I believe you’ll find my experience etched there in some way. My mother didn’t tell me hers—at least not directly. As you know, she was very sad to be predeceased by her daughter, your aunt. Your aunt, of course, would have been the rightful heir to the book as my mother’s only daughter and the eldest female descendant of my mother. Since your aunt had no children, I, as her elder brother and you, as her only niece, are the keepers now. You are, that is.
As far as I know, I have been the only male keeper of the book, keeping it for you. I seem to have left an impression on the book which I expect you will find—although I can’t be sure.
I wish for you to discover your grandmothers, as many as possible, here, but you may find only me. I found only my mother.
My mother also left me a box which you will find locked and in the bottom drawer of my desk. The key is in the envelope with this letter. There is nothing else but her wooden box in that desk drawer. I hope you haven’t hunted all over the house for the key. I thought you would look at the books first, the ones in this cabinet and then worry about the desk. Am I right?
Rachel spoke to her father, silently, “Of course, you’re right. You knew I would look at the books that I have never seen. You knew I’d be curious. You always took the ones you chose to share with me out of this cabinet. Why the secrecy about this one? You seem to have shown me everything else in that cabinet but this one. And a box? Why did I never see it?” She returned to reading.
The box, like the cabinet in which I kept this book and some of my other book treasures, belonged to your grandmother, my mother. I spent the first year after your grandmother died, the year before I first drafted this letter, trying to understand the contents of the box, the assortment of things it contains. I know you have my unpublished poems—that’s where you’ll find the only extra clues I can provide. It is a feminine inheritance, I believe. I believe it also was passed on to my mother by her mother and so on back up the maternal line. My mother left no useful (to me) information about it or its contents. I’ve added to the box those seemingly relevant papers and things which she did leave.
Don’t be afraid of its contents. The worst I experienced was frustration. I’m sure that if you can understand the items in the box, they, together with the book you are holding, will provide you with a great treasure.
I have come to feel it would be wrong to say more about the book. You will encounter the book’s unusual qualities immediately. It is yours now to study and experience.
Rachel, honey, I want you to discover the person you will find in the book. My best writing was done after I studied this book. Its power, I hope and trust, is to do the same for you.
Godspeed on your journey of discovery.
Love you, forever,
Rachel folded the blue onionskin paper her father had loved to use for writing and placed the letter back in its envelope. The small key had fallen out when she had taken the letter out of its envelope and she was still holding the key in the palm of her hand. She laid the envelope down on the book’s cover. She held up the warm brass key and stared at it, as if to question it. She forgot, momentarily, the weight of the book on her lap.
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The Series of stories related to the Opening of the Old Wooden box appear here.