Maya stopped digging and stepped away from the hole, her gaze drawn to the Doc Martens boot box on the grass a few feet away. It was impossible not to look at it. Livingston was in there. It was awful. And to make matters worse, she could see the tip of his paw peeking out from under the lid, as if the old cat was trying to wave his last goodbye. She winced. Just keep going, she told herself.
She dug harder. It felt good to blow off the extra energy. But after a few minutes a strange thing happened, the second of the morning—right after she plunged the shovel tip into the pit and let go of the handle. She watched it vibrating and then grabbed it, and felt something. A pulsing, as though coming up from the earth right into the wooden handle. Ba-bump, ba-bump, ba-bump… It faded away. I must be going crazy, Maya thought, sure she had imagined it.
She took up the shovel again and dug out more of the rich Maryland soil, pouring all of her energy into it. Mostly, it was anger she was feeling, that same gnawing discomfort that had been growing in her since May, when she had graduated from Towson University. It was about Plainfield, mostly. Why was she still here? Most of her friends were already gone. She had graduated with a degree all right, but without much of a plan. Actually, she had no plan.
And now it was the end of September and still she was languishing at her mother’s house. And Livingston… She shook her head, sadly, then lifted the shovel up high and struck it down into the dirt as hard as she could, like a harpoon, as if to try to kill her own confusion and distress in one lightning stroke. She dug out dirt for some time.
After a while, she paused to pull her long auburn hair into a ponytail and tied it off with the scrunchie she had on her wrist. She glanced nervously toward the driveway in search of her mother’s Lexus. If Muriel pulled in now, well, that would be bad. Maya could almost hear her mother’s words: How could you! Do you have any idea how much I pay the gardener? Unbelievable! But that probably wouldn’t happen since she was working again, showing houses just about every day right up until Happy Hour and then, after that, anything was possible.
Maya stomped her boot down on the blade and felt the shovel slide into the earth.
What was this? She tapped around with the tip, probing.
She got down on her knees and peered into the hole, catching a glimmer down at the bottom. Huh. Her curiosity aroused, she reached down to brush away the dirt, revealing a rectangular metal surface about the size of the size of a cereal box. She scraped a gully around its edges and wedged her fingertips under it and pulled, and out popped a metal box. She stared at it, stunned. Its lid was covered in engravings of the sun, moon and stars.
Maya sat down on a clean patch of lawn and placed the box ceremoniously before her. Holding her breath, she opened the lid and stared at what was inside: a leather-bound journal. Its cover was chestnut-brown, its binding rough and distressed. She took it and opened it.
“Oh, my God,” Maya said aloud, staring wide-eyed at the first page. “This is impossible. This can’t be.”
Yet there it was—the answer to a riddle Maya had tried to solve for as long as she could remember. Written on the worn, yellowed page was a single sentence, seven words that reached forward from the past as if to grab and shake her.
To Maya, with love from your father
She breathed, or tried to. Her gaze flew to the bottom of the page. “Ben Ambrose,” she read. She stared at it. His name, in his hand. Carefully, she flipped through a few of the brittle pages, skimmed the text, and realized what she was holding: his story, beginning around the time of her birth. What had happened, why he left.
Memories flooded in, unbidden. The book had opened a spigot. The past began to gush out. Maya recalled all the years she’d spent wondering, hoping, and wanting, and the pain of all that unfulfilled desire. The fact that her mother would say nothing about him. She remembered, as a child, when she had imagined herself a detective determined to solve the mystery. She had pored over every corner of the house in search of evidence—a sheet of paper with his signature on it, an ID card, a wallet, a baseball glove. Anything.
And then, once, she succeeded. It was a photograph pressed into the pages of an old map book. His face looked somehow familiar. Beaming, jumpy with excitement, Maya had proudly presented the prize to her mother. Muriel stared at the image for a few seconds, and without a word, slid it into her purse. It had always been that way. It was so hurtful, the pain seared deeply into Maya. But she had never forgotten the blurry image: Her mother and, yes, her father, Ben, sitting on a bench, the tall buildings of a city behind them.
And now this! Maya fell back into the grass and lay grinning up at the sky, hugging the slender volume tightly. She would savor it. She would consume its contents. She would read each line a hundred times. She would read between the lines.
But not yet. First, there was work to be done. She set the journal back in its box and walked over to the boot box. She tilted it so that Livingston’s paw went back in, and secured the lid. She was jolted back to reality by the recognition of the weight—nine pounds that had never been so still—and again the tears flowed.
Maya had found him on the front porch, covered in blood, softly moaning, probably hit by a car on Allenswood Road. She had laid him on a towel on the front seat of her Civic and driven him to the vet, speeding all the way, but by the time she arrived, he was gone.
With care, she placed the boot box at the bottom of the grave. She glanced at the metal box on the grass a few feet away. One into the earth, one out of it. Is life like that? she wondered. An even exchange through a revolving door?
Standing at the grave, she searched for the right words. “Thank you, Love,” somehow escaped her lips, which was odd. Maya had never called anyone that in her life.
She picked up the shovel and began to fill in the hole. As the dirt struck the box with ugly pattering sounds, Maya’s thoughts turned to the question, How? How had she found this magical spot with its incredible bounty in the entirety of a one-acre yard? Why dig here?
A half-hour earlier she had emerged from the back of the house only to find herself unable to settle on a resting place for him. It irked her. Of course it had to be right. Then she changed her mind. Instead of continuing to labor, she would try something different: let go. Then see what happens. And what happened next shocked her. She found herself asking for guidance—from the universe, the beyond, the out-there. Anything that was not-Maya.
Listening within, she had walked the lawn slowly, tracking along yesterday’s still-crisp lawnmower marks. When she reached the end of the yard where the fence met the woods, something happened that sent a shudder through her. She felt a tug at the sleeve of her T-shirt. It was impossible. No one was there. Unnerved, she froze in place. Then she felt another tug.
She managed to settle down. She nodded her understanding. The universe had answered her query. She felt a powerful urge to gaze upon a specific patch of lawn. Look! There, by the old oak tree, do you see it? She rushed over and began to dig.
Maya climbed aboard the rusty old, bench-style swing that had been in the back of the yard near the woods for as long as she could remember. It creaked softly in protest of each of her gentle pushes. Old friend. Maya loved old things.
She opened to the journal’s first pages, doing her best to focus in the midst of her excitement. Wonder quickly turned to delight. It was his handwriting, a crazy mix of cursive and printed letters just barely legible—and almost identical to her own.
She smiled, sensing the first hints of connection. She wondered if he’d had as difficult a history around penmanship as she. As a child, Maya could not write a single sentence from start to finish without all sorts of interference creeping in, as if her brain and hand weren’t properly synced up. Sometimes, she would press the pen so hard into the page she’d punch right through it. Her third-grade teacher, Mrs. Booth, whose cheeks were always bright red with rouge, announced to the class that Maya’s papers were like relief maps. “She should consider a career in engraving,” the old witch had laughed. Engraving! Maya had been doing her best. It wasn’t until the following year, when she’d gotten comfortable on a keyboard, that the clouds parted and she found she could write.
Now, for the first time, she viewed her labored penmanship not as a liability but as an inevitability. An inheritance—from a father. My father.
She grazed her fingertips lightly across the page, savoring all the little peaks and valleys, and she began to read.
Maya, I miss you already. And you are right in front of me. Whatever has happened or will happen, this much is true: I love you.
There is no easy way to explain why I must go. My reasons, which are—or I should say, were—compelling, cannot match the disappointment you must feel in not knowing me. It is my sincere hope that this can change.
It is early evening as I write to you in my study. My window looks out onto the farm—
Maya stopped right there and set the book down. Her heart was racing. Whoa. She grabbed one of the swing’s support poles and gripped it tightly, seeking comfort in its solidity.
His words, to me.
What he’d written indeed was true. This place had once been a farm. Maya loved those years as much as she loved anything, and remembered them with a nostalgia shot through with grief. She recalled the summer afternoons spent ranging over the fields in search of Indian arrowheads, and the warm evenings dashing around playing Capture the Flag in the tall grasses with the neighborhood kids. At dusk, she would stare out her bedroom window, awed by beauty of the waning light on the rolling hills.
Then, one spring, all that came to an abrupt end. Grandpa Burke passed away, leaving the property to Muriel, who promptly sold most of it to a condominium developer. The earth movers and workmen arrived the following week. The noise and craziness ensued. At the end, the Burkes had an old farmhouse and a lawn. So what if the farm had been in the family for a hundred and fifty years? Muriel didn’t care.
In time, the neighboring farms were sold, too, and Plainfield gradually became a well-coiffed suburb, its rural character sliding into the forgotten past. Muriel had had the farmhouse demolished and a tract mansion built in its place. It was “upscale.” It was “nice.” Maya hated it.
One strange artifact that remained from the old days: a small section of picket fence that lingered between the new fence and the woods, like an old headstone. Why had Muriel left it? Maya imagined her father gazing at it from this same swing as he wrote in his journal.
She opened it again, making her way through a few passages in which he expressed guilt about leaving her. Maya had strong feelings about that—feelings she would set aside for the moment. Then she came upon something very interesting.
So let me get on with it. I am a researcher at the university and elsewhere, and this is where it begins. In my work, I have stumbled (and that is the right word) onto the discovery of phenomena having to do with the way that change comes about. I mean in all ways—from small to large, micro to macro, personal to societal.
In the course of my work I became aware of phenomena previously unknown. As I dove further and further in, examining the data from every possible angle, seeing the results confirmed in test after test, I came to understand that what I had found was truly extraordinary. I tell you this, Maya, after long consideration, because you must be warned. Everyone must be warned.
What’s become clear to me is this: A global change is in the offing of such magnitude that every human system—every nation, government and culture—will be completely transformed. Everything will change. Societies will be rocked and altered.
We are poised at the dawn of a shift unseen in centuries. Monumental forces churn, even now as I write to you. But this is not what you think, Maya. The change will be internal. It will come from the inside of man, not from without.
The old does not yield willingly to the new. Great discord always accompanies great change. You, dear daughter, must prepare. But take heart, for the storm will not last. As it strikes, look beyond its violence for the nourishment of the rain, for that is its greater purpose—
Again, Maya stopped reading and closed the journal. Now her whole body was shaking with emotion. She placed the journal back in its box and shut the lid. She looked over at the woods. She rocked, thinking, calming. Trying to comprehend what she’d read. It was a lot to take in. Fantastic is what it was.
No lightning strike had changed the world in the years since he had penned those words. No “storm” had hit. One could say the world was ever-changing and perpetually in flux but it was still the same world from one day to the next.
Maya frowned, disappointed. What kind of man was this wayward father of hers? Why would he write such things? Was this how he wanted to introduce himself to his daughter—as unhinged?
She sat quietly, swinging gently, tapping the heel of her boot on one of the poles, hoping to think of a way to make what he’d written all right with her.
An idea did come. She sat upright, her face brightening. Maybe, she thought. Just maybe. Because the truth was, there was validity to his predictions, for the most incredible one had already come true. I found your journal. His burying it in that place meant he thought she would find it.
But how could that be?
She reached for the journal again, eager to see if she could find the answers in its unread pages. But the honk of a car horn startled her. The journal almost fell from her hands. Josh’s Mustang was idling in the driveway. He waved at her.
Maya sat for a moment, thinking. She looked over at Josh and then at the invaluable artifact in her hand. Could she leave it now? Desperately she wanted to send him away and remain on the swing and take in more of this miracle, this catalog not only of her father’s life but of hers, too. But she couldn’t send Josh off. Not today, not after the way he had insisted they go out.
She forced a smile and shouted, “Heya! Be right back!”
She placed the journal in the box and picked it up and dashed for the house. In her room, she slid it far under her bed, sending the dust balls down there dancing like tumbleweeds across the hardwood floor.
Standing at the bathroom sink, she scrubbed the dirt smudges and tear stains from her face and ran a comb through her hair, pleased to be looking at an attractive young woman who had kept her tan through the long Indian summer. She grabbed her jean jacket from the back of the rocking chair and started for the door. But she stopped, bent down low and peered under her bed. “Later, Dad,” she whispered, noting the strange feel of that word on her lips.