Good things come in small packages ran through Anna’s mind as she held the small box, about 5 ½ x 6 inches, wrapped in brown paper with rows of six cent stamps, so many that the rows hung over the edge. Boy, she hadn’t seen those in a long time. Even with all the postage, she had to go to the post office to retrieve it and pay an extra five dollars and thirty-five cents. Curiously, the sender had addressed the package to her in Silver Springs, the small town where she had grown up in New York State. Even more curious, it bore her maiden name, a name she hadn’t used in many long years. The package had a forwarding label to her current address in California. There was no return address and who had sent it mystified her. So what was the “good” wrapped inside? Money first came to her mind – a million dollars, all in cash. No, her mind balked, the package was too small to have a million dollars in cash inside even if it was in one-hundred dollar bills. Maybe a check. No, she thought again, while it would be nice to have lots of money, she really didn’t need it. It would lead to a bigger house, a bigger car, a bigger hassle. Did she really need bigger? She had a comfortable house, well cared for and to her liking after living there for over twenty, no thirty…her mind counted….or forty years. Was that possible? God, how time flies by…all those precious years gone.
The house was broken in; memories of her three children growing up there filled the house. Her husband had made a good living all those years even on a police officer’s salary. Anna would hate to leave this house; it would be like leaving a good friend who had taken care of you all those soaring-by years. It would be like a slap in the face to someone you loved. No, she couldn't leave this house just because she came into money.Anna sat down at the table in her kitchen. The morning sunlight streamed in setting aglow the sheer curtains on the window. She set the package down carefully, gently on the polished table, a table she always thought of as the “picnic” table, made more so by the blue checkered plastic tablecloth on it. The table had benches on either side and certainly served the family well as the children hurriedly ate their breakfast during those busy, crazy school years. That was long over now. The children were grown now. It seemed impossible but it was true, all too true. Ellie was 28 years-old and had a daughter of her own. Anna’s sons, the twins, Brody and Brady were 26 years-old.She still regretted going along with her husband to give the twins rhyming-like names. The boys might be twins but they were also individuals. She should have insisted on dissimilar names like George and Benjamin or Alexander and Stanley….well maybe not Stanley. What did that have to do with anything, she asked herself. The point was…what was the point? She scanned the package again.The stamps!The picture of a jovial-looking and smiling Dwight D. Eisenhower sitting in front of a partially seen American flag repeated in black and white graphics on the numerous stamps. He wore a suit and tie. Didn’t every man wear a suit back then? She noticed the postmark, the package had been recently mailed, yet the stamps were not current. When was Eisenhower the president? God, he looked so old on the stamp. He had always looked old to her…maybe it was his balding hair. He was president in the 1950’s she recalled. “I like Ike” Anna mouthed…that was his campaign slogan. People trusted the general who had navigated the country through World War II; people liked him. How far away that time appeared to her and yet she was part of it, a baby boomer, part of that great explosion of lovemaking as the troops came home to celebrate their victory. She had a vague thought that someone honored with a stamp had to be dead. That was a grim thought and a grim qualification. The Post Office must have issued the stamps after the president passed. Oh, you have to die first and then we’ll honor you with a stamp! Anna picked up her cell resting on the cheerful tablecloth and punched in a Google search. President Dwight D. Eisenhower passed away into history on March 28, 1969. The 6-cent stamp honoring “I like Ike” was first placed on sale in October of that year. Why was she making such a big deal about the stamps? Maybe because she was a relic of the past like the stamps. How old was she in 1969? Anna tried to do the math in her head. Math was never her strong suit, even simple subtraction. She was in her twenties back then was the best she could come up with. Her children were not much older now than she was when these postage stamps were in use.She only had a pleasing memory of what she looked like back then…long hair, dark and lustrous with red highlights and big brown eyes. Well, the eye color was the same but the hair color had certainly changed…gray now streaked with white and clipped just shy of shoulder-length. And the skin around the eyes, sagging and the jowls sagging. Anna shook off the thought. She didn’t want to think about her advancing age now. The question was why hadn’t she opened the package? Why hadn’t she torn the grocery bag-like wrapping apart like a rabid dog and opened the box? Any normal person would do that. Maybe she wasn’t normal. Anna took a deep breath in defiance to that thought. What is normal anyway? Some people like to take their time about things, that’s all. She was perfectly normal. SHE JUST LIKED TO TAKE HER TIME.Anna knew that wasn’t true even as the thought wormed its way into her mind. The package was bringing up disturbing memories. Oh, not some gruesome murder or anything like that…but a certain sadness, a certain feeling of loss. Why she didn’t know. No, that was a lie too. This package, with its 1969 stamps, had reached out to her through time, a time capsule from a distant land called her youth.Anna picked up the mug that said, I “heart” Grandma, a gift from her four-year-old granddaughter, Lark. Anna loved that name, a name she had suggested to her daughter when the girl was born. The name resonated with Anna, the freedom of flight…a lithe bird soaring in the clouds, soaring in a riotously vibrant blue sky. Ellie had thought the name too fanciful when she considered it. Her husband had shrugged. He was a wise man to allow his wife to decide. Anna’s husband, John, should have known that. Ellie came up with the usual suspects, those names in vogue at the time…Isabella, Emma, Madison, Mia, Olivia. That was why, when Ellie announced the day of the girl’s birth that her name would be Lark, Anna nearly fell off the chair she was sitting in. Anna had reined in her jubilant reaction to hop, skip and jump around the hospital room and replied with a restrained, “that’s lovely dear.”It totally amazed Anna that her daughter had listened to her and taken her suggestion to heart. Was it possible that through all those years of mother-daughter disputes, firm rules on doing homework and strict guidelines on what boys Ellie could date had paid off? Had Anna’s values and those common sense American ideals somehow gotten imbedded in Ellie’s DNA? A mother can only hope…and pray. To say Anna was secretly pleased Ellie had chosen a name she had picked was an understatement, she was ecstatic.Maybe there was a diamond ring inside. That would be good. A huge diamond like the Hope diamond, although she had no idea how big the gemstone was karat-wise. She thought the Hope diamond was in a museum or was it the ring Richard Burton had had bought for his wife, Elizabeth Taylor? That diamond had cost him a god-awful amount of money…in the millions. Some kind of record for the purchase of a diamond. Anna recalled seeing a picture of “The Burtons” on a cover of some magazine…maybe Life…or Look if that mag was still in business then. Both actors were looking straight at the camera in a posed picture, neither smiling but still friendly looking. The pose was waist up as if they were leaning over a covered table. Liz’s arm was poised in front of her with the huge diamond ring on her finger. Anna laughed to herself. The diamond was so big it covered half of her finger, a rather pudgy finger Anna had thought at the time and still thought. A diamond like that belonged on a long, slender, impeccably nail polished hand of a tall, elegant women to swish gracefully while talking about the French Riviera between sips of a champagne cocktail. Oh, well, Anna didn’t have any use for a big diamond and there weren’t any jet-setting cocktail parties in her future…that much she knew for sure. And look what happened to the Burtons, drinking binges and roaring fights. All that money and fame had not brought them happiness. They were both gone now…sad but true, the reality of life. It happens to famous actors, to kings and queens even to a semi-retired teacher sitting quietly at a picnic table staring at a package.Why all this reminiscing she asked herself, as she took another sip of coffee, the caramel flavor lingering in her mouth before she swallowed. Anna ran her eyes over the address, written in neat block handwriting, addressed to Anna Romero, a name from the past. She was Anna O’Hara now, wife of Officer John Houston O’Hara of the Los Angeles Police Department. They lived out of the Los Angeles area, in the next county over as many police officers did. Thirty miles out of L.A., she supposed was considered the suburbs. It was a city unto itself, but the quiet, open town, nestled in a valley certainly seemed like the burbs. How long had they been married…how many years? Anna’s mind refused to count. Too many. Too many years. The marriage had had its up and downs, as the saying goes, but she didn’t want to think about that now, either.The trill of a bird outside caught her attention. She wondered if it was a lark. She really didn’t know if there were any larks in California, where she had lived for the past thirty-plus years. She didn’t know what a lark sounded like. Whatever bird it was, it made a delightful sound and somehow filled her heart with joy. Maybe it was that bird thing again…flight and freedom.The package was addressed to Robinson Street. (There was another bird she suddenly realized. A robin this time. Strange how she had never thought of that before.) The house where she had grown up was small, a two-story house with a unique feature…a gable. That had been her bedroom. It looked to her…always like a castle tower where inside there dwelled a princess. The house was quite modest really, living room, dining room, kitchen, reasonably spacious but certainly not large. Anna was certain the “open concept” designers she watched on the home improvement shows would have approved that the kitchen was open to the dining room, although the dining room was barely large enough to accommodate a modest size table. Off the dining room was a small room, used when she was growing up, as the music room. Well there was a piano in it, one of those old upright things. Anna wasn’t certain they even made that style of piano anymore. Her mother had wanted her to take piano lessons. Anna complied but hated the repetitive scales. Her creativity, as she would gradually find out, wasn’t music, it was in art. Anna sighed; she wasn’t destined to be a great artist. Oh, in her college years, she made a stab at painting and drawing, really tried to be uniquely creative. She could copy just about anything she looked at…a Christmas scene or lovely lake or a field with fluffy clouds hanging over, but originality eluded her. The truth was she had no burning desire to paint. Not like the burning desire that Vincent van Gogh must have had to endure all he had for his art. He was unique you see. Back then, in the late 1800’s in Paris, she thought, a new art form emerged… Impressionism. No more life-like portraits like in the past. Van Gogh and the artists of his time painted an impression of a person or landscape using bold colors and thick brush strokes. Those artists had their own visual point of view. They painted people as they saw them, the world as they experienced it and life as they lived it. How sad it was that van Gogh never knew how brilliant, innovative, and creative he really was. He died long before his work was “discovered” by the elite that heretofore had so brutally shot him down.Anna gasped. My God, what was she ranting about? She was talking gibberish to herself all because she had gotten a stupid, annoying package through the mail. Annoying because it was stirring up things…things she had nicely stored away under “forgotten dreams.” And it was a mystery, not only what was in it…but who had sent it and, on top of that, who had forwarded it? She must admit she was open to a mystery. Her life of late was rather dull…routine, one might say. The only bright spot was seeing her granddaughter. However, that was only now and then. Her daughter lived in Berkeley…yes, that Berkeley…hippieville. Anna laughed. She had been a hippie herself back in the day. She never wanted Ellie to know what antics she had pulled back then. The smoking of pot and five…yes…five! trips on LSD. All that strict mother stuff would go out the window along with the baby and the bath water. The world was certainly different now than it was back then. For all its innovations and high tech achievements, today’s world just didn’t seem as much fun. Anna got up from the table, walked to the Formica counter, and poured herself another cup of coffee. Good grief these counter tops could use an update. So could you, said a nasty voice in her mind. As she contemplated a kitchen redo, she wished she smoked. This would be the time for a cigarette…a taxing habit to be sure but it did look so cool in those black and white classic movies of the 1930’s and 1940’s she watched. The cigarette seductively inhaled through the lusty red lips of a dame. The smoke exhaled and lingering in the air as the dame looked into the green eyes of that certain detective, black hair slicked back, firm jaw, an eyebrow lifted slightly in manly reassurance that she would his before the night was out. What was she doing? What was with all the imagination? She should get on with her work. She had things to do. She had a house to clean, garbage to take out. She had an art class to teach at Sycamore Elementary at 2 p.m. and here she was smoking and looking into the green eyes of an imaginary lover, all because she received a stupid package through the mail.Tabby, her ginger colored cat, rubbed against her leg.“I suppose you’re hungry,” she said with a smile looking down at the cat.Tabby meowed.Tabby was a less than imaginative name for a cat but Ellie had named the cat as a kitten, so Tabby it was. Tabby was getting on in years now. Anna didn’t want to contemplate how long cats lived or how long people lived. It was too nice a day to think about such cheerless things. She turned to the cupboard, pulled out a bag of kibble and filled Tabby’s bowl, white ceramic and pink interior on which was etched a cutesy cat with “meow” under it. Anna filled a matching bowl with fresh water. Tabby responded to the treat, daintily chewing the kibble as if she didn’t have a care in the world. Well, the cat didn’t! Anna was suddenly annoyed with the cat. No worries, no cares, everything in her life taken care of! Anna quickly chastised herself for any ungenerous feelings toward her beloved cat. Her life was taken care of as well. She had no worries, well not big ones…not like having no money to pay the rent or some horrible disease. A lump she had found on her breast two years ago had turned out benign. Nothing lump-wise had appeared since then to give her any worries. It was, at the time, a scare, not knowing but then, in a curious way, it had lighted a fire within her. If it was serious…it could end her life. With such a prospect, life itself heightened. Each day, each minute received renewed appreciation. Every sight…from a cloud to a flower to a grasshopper to the small wart on the right side of her husband’s nose suddenly took on new wonder. Appreciated. Studied. Revered. Then it was over with the doctor’s announcement that the lump was nothing, easily removed.Curious thought Anna, why was she in such a funk now? She should be overjoyed and doing cartwheels. Instead, she felt deflated and sad…yes, sad.Her mind reeled in a tug-of-war between the proper state of mind she should embrace…joy or sadness. At her age, she should be overjoyed that she was in good health. Overjoyed! At her age…at her age…was that it? Her age?Was the answer to her boredom, to her non-enjoyment of life, inside that package? It could contain something pretty amazing. She had a sudden horrible thought that it was a bomb. Well, with all this terrorist stuff going on lately…who knew? Did she have any enemies? Anna went quickly through a list of people she knew, acquaintances and such. It wasn’t that long a list. She couldn’t think of everyone off the cuff who would like to harm her. That didn’t mean that someone unknown to her had ill intentions. Had she done some horrible thing to someone? Once she had called the campus police on a quarreling boyfriend and girlfriend; a heated argument of mostly four letter words. However, that was a long time ago, and hardly warranted a bomb in retaliation. Maybe she had said something to someone and, at the time, thought nothing of it, but her words cut to the quick. Had she rendered some horrible slight that this person stewed over for years? Revenge! Best served cold. She never understood that saying. Is revenge supposed to be served warm? Her mind digressed. OKAY, SHE WAS GOING OUT OF HER MIND. The only one she had issues with was Brody. He was a minute older than Brady. She had always thought of Brody as her first-born son and Brady as her baby. Did Brody resent that? Ridiculous. Then again, mothers worried about ridiculous things. Brody had been a hard case in his teens into drinking and drugs. He had a dumbass job now working for some company that sold weapons online. However, the weapons were hunting and ornamental knives, not bombs. Brody might want to blow her up. Then again, he was her son. She couldn’t believe her family was that dysfunctional. Really, the job was only dumbass because it involved weapons. She was proud of him that he was sticking with the job, getting up at 4 a.m. sometimes for an early call. Brady was an engineer. He could conceivably construct a bomb, but he was too involved with his high-end job and had recently become engaged. They really hadn’t butted heads since his teenage years. Could Brody and Brady be in it together like the Menendez brothers? Revenge for those similar names that really wasn’t her fault.Anna shook off the thought. She was being melodramatic and stupid. Brody was a good kid, a good man with some “issues.” Actually, he was happy just going to work and playing video games, maybe someday he would grow up, get a wife and produce a grandchild. Sparrow? Bluejay? Robin? she mused in name mode.From the counter, Anna took a few swift strides to the table and tore open the brown wrapping in a violent protest. Let it blow! It was better than living the mundane, pointless life she was living now. The wrapping fell away, shredded into pieces. Sorry President Ike for ripping apart your face. She suddenly wondered if the stamps were valuable. She didn’t know anything about collecting stamps. If a micro-dot was on the stamp like in that spy movie with Audrey Hepburn who looked so chic in all those designer clothes, well then, she had mostly likely destroyed it with her ripping. No, she was thinking of the wrong movie. She was thinking of a movie that teamed Hepburn with Peter O’Toole, about a forged art switcheroo. She couldn’t think of the right title, so many titles and movie plots muddled in her brain, the result of too many lonely nights when John was on patrol with only a movie and Tabby for company. Anna stared at a square white box. Maybe there was nothing of value inside…a stack of postcards or old socks or toilet paper. Well, the latter would be odd. Of course, it wasn’t any of those dumb things, she knew. Then why was she hesitating to open the box? Anna looked around her, although she knew perfectly well she was alone. Even Tabby had deserted her through the dog door. She knew the answer for the hesitation. A keen sense told her that whatever was inside would change her life forever. Was she up to the challenge? Was she ready to exit her gilded cage, well fed and trouble free? Maybe cats didn’t need a challenge but people certainly did. People think if they have enough money, they can quit their job and bask in the sun all day. Enough money might buy a yacht, villa or exotic island. Yes, that would be fabulous for a time but one day even that would turn boring. Human beings needed a challenge, a reason to exist. Animals don’t, they just are, but not people. A person, any person, needs to overcome, to learn, to feel they have accomplished something at day’s end. Anna leaned back on the bench, recalling an episode of Star Trek she had watched with her boys when they were kids. Her boys were Trekkies, and secretly, she was as well. She had watched spellbound the original series that had debuted in 1966 and aired for three seasons. The imaginative outer space escapades of Captain James T. Kirk and his crew had challenged the social norms of the day. She must have been living at home at the time in Silver Springs because she recalled rushing home, cutting short a date or attending a football game to watch it. One episode now stood out in her mind. A god-like alien, like Zeus, had captured Capt. Kirk and some of his crew. The god was benevolent and gave them all their needs…food, clothing, shelter, a virtual paradise. Zeus didn’t understand why the crew repeatedly tried to escape. “I’ve given you everything anyone could want,” he said.Kirk explained that comfort wasn’t enough, that a human being needs a challenge to be happy. Living in a gilded cage broke their spirit. No matter how small, a human being needed to fight, needed something to fight for; needed something to believe in. Kibble wasn’t enough; just existing wasn’t enough.Anna lifted the lid on the box. There was an ordinary business card resting on top of the crumbled brown paper inside. Written on the card in a sprawling script she read, “This was of no value to us. Since it had postage, we mailed it.” Embossed on the card was “Wintersmith Antiques and Treasures, Buffalo, New York.”Anna turned the card over. There was nothing on the back. She lightly set the card on the table. Her hand was shaking as she lifted the crumpled brown paper and placed it aside. Inside was a white cardboard jewelry box. Even so, she surmised (partly because of the note) fabulous jewels weren’t inside. She brought the box closer to her eyes and opened the lid, removing the cotton stuffing cradling an object. At first, she didn’t know what to make of it. She gently picked up the object and held it in the palm of her hand. It was metal, not precious metal, like gold or platinum but cheap metal, maybe tin or nickel, gray in color and dented like a cup cake wrapper, although smaller. It looked like someone had crushed the object, as one would crush a beer can. However, the object wasn’t a beer can or metal cupcake wrapper. She knew exactly what it was, if pressed flat. It was a heart.
As strange as it seemed, Anna knew exactly what the heart was. It was a most curious relic of her past. How it came to her now, she knew not, yet here it was, held in her hand. Her mind drifted back in time. She was that girl again in her early twenties, living still in the house where she had grown up, a house in that small town, a picturesque village worthy of a Norman Rockwell painting. The time might have been the summer between graduating from high school and taking off for college in the fall. The exact year was fuzzy in her mind. She had first attended college in of all places, Michigan. She had never been there; her parents (and Anna for that matter) barely knew anything about the state. Anna had applied to various colleges and the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor was one of them. Why there she asked herself? A young man at her high school had gone there and had recommended the place to her. His name was Carl. Anna recalled with a sad pang that, years later, after Carl had graduated college, married and had a family, he was killed in a car crash. All this had nothing to do with the crushed heart but memories are wild things like runaway mustangs. They were difficult to control. Anyway, she recalled with more discipline to her thoughts, on Carl’s recommendation, she had applied and was accepted. She had had good grades and a number of other colleges had accepted her too, including the State University of New York, a branch with a growing campus just 15 miles from her home. She had accepted the U-M offer, not because it was a superior college, not even because of Carl’s recommendation. She had accepted it because she had never flown on an airplane and she knew she would have to fly to get there. She remembered that flight…The powerful jet engines vibrantly humming as the plane rolled down the runway preparing for take-off. The turn of the plane as the pilot maneuvered it into position at the end of the long, concrete strip. The plane seemed so cumbersome at that point like a beached whale. However, that was only momentary. On the ground, the plane was like a whale out of its element. However, once in its environment a mighty whale swam in the ocean with assurance and joy; likewise the airplane soared unencumbered in the wild blue yonder. The moment before takeoff as the pilot waited for the go ahead from the tower was like holding one’s breath. The thrill of the engines revving up, such power, such infinite potential held at bay. Then the pilot released on the brake. The burst of energy; the airplane blasting free. She remembered looking out the window as the ground raced by, urging the plane in the mind to go faster and faster. And then, the moment, a second in time, as the airplane lifted off the ground like an soaring angel. The steady climb, higher and higher, and a graceful turn in the right direction and then, miraculously, suddenly surrounded by a brilliant blue sky and wispy white clouds. Anna hadn’t particularly liked the college when she got there. It was sprawling and confusing in what buildings were her classes. She was lonely, although she threw herself into all sorts of extracurricular activities…joined the chorus and drama club. The winters were cold in the Buffalo area where she had grown up but nothing like the winters in Michigan. She recalled a frigid winter’s day in her dormitory room on the third floor shared with two other girls. It had been snowing all day and the dean had canceled classes. A mountain of snow outside reached the second floor. A song came on the radio California Dreamin’. How far away California was to her then and the dream of a sunny climate. She had never been to the state; it seemed impossible that she would ever go there. Of course, it would mean another airplane ride! Now, years later, she was living in California where the weather was indeed sunny, too sunny sometimes, hot and dry. Life works in mysterious ways…that dream had come true without her realizing it. During that first year at college, Anna had some notion she wanted to be a painter and took art classes. Her practical mother had insisted she take practical classes. What would be a practical career that suited her wants and desires? There didn’t seem to be any. Eventually she would become an elementary school teacher. It was a good choice for her. She loved kids and the funny things they said always made her laugh. The problem was, as the years passed by, the students didn’t age. They were always third graders, 8 or 9 years old but each year she got older, thirty and then forty and then well…she shrugged…she had retired at age 65 when you’re supposed to retire. Where had the time gone? She supposed everyone on Earth asked that question and no one knew a good answer. She taught art classes with an after school program traveling to different schools but it was only one hour a day for each class and only when school was in session. Anna suddenly remembered that she didn’t have a class today. It was summer now. Really, she needed to pay more attention to what day it was, what season it was, even what year it was.The heart…why couldn’t she remember all the details about it. She rejected the notion that it was faulty memory. It was just so long ago that things naturally turn fuzzy. The boy…the young man who had given it to her. She couldn’t remember his name...or what he looked like really, just a vague notion. Blonde hair and maybe 5’10” or 5’11” in height. He was from a neighboring town that much she knew; a town closer to Buffalo…in Erie County, a town named Sloan. Buffalo always seemed a million miles away when she was growing up. We’re going to drive to Buffalo seemed like an excursion like some African safari or going to the moon. It was thirty miles away. Thirty miles! Anyone who lived near Buffalo, well, they were city folk. They probably had money, rich and a bit uppity. None of that was true she supposed but it certainly seemed like it at the time. So there she was in her twenties and would meet this boy somehow. How? Where? Why couldn’t she remember?Anna looked out the window at the bird perched in her pear tree. A partridge in a pear tree drifted through her mind. Tabby had come in, silently on cat’s paws and now sat on the windowsill eyeing the bluebird. Then as light as a dandelion puff, leaped to the floor and headed for the dog door.“Leave that bird alone,” Anna mildly admonished her. Tabby ignored her as any cat worth its salt would do and dashed outside. Anna followed the cat to the door and opened it to check on the would-be predator. It was a beautiful day…why wasn’t she happy? She should go for a walk. No, that would only make her sad. She didn’t want to go for a walk by herself. She always had a dog by her side and had such a companion for the past 14 years. Missy had died six months ago. Anna swore to herself when Missy grew ill that she wouldn’t put her down. It’s always a horrible decision for a pet mom to decide…to have the dog put down or not. She liked calling herself a “pet mom” instead of a “pet owner” as in the past. People didn’t own an animal…an animal had a life of its own given to it by Almighty God, regardless of people. If anything, a human was a caretaker of the animal, but so much more than that if you loved animals that, of course, she did.