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 returned to the shovel. It actually felt helpful to blow off energy. But after a few minutes, another strange thing happened, the second of the morning, right after she plunged the shovel tip into the pit and let go and watched the handle vibrating in front of her. She grabbed it and felt something—or thought she did. It was a pulsing, as though coming up from the earth, right there in the wooden handle. Ba-bump, ba-bump, ba-bump… Then it faded away. I must be going crazy, Maya thought, sure she was imagining it.
She took up the shovel again and lifted out more of the rich Maryland soil, pouring all of her energy into it, which felt a lot like anxiety. It was that same discomfort that had been gnawing at her since she graduated from Towson University back in May. It was about Plainfield, mostly. Why was she still here? Was she so incompetent she couldn’t find a way out of a dead-end town, like most of her friends already had? She had graduated with a degree all right, but without much of a plan. Well, she had no plan. And now it was the end of September and still she was languishing at her mother’s house. And Livingston … Poor Livingston. Maya lifted the shovel up over her head and struck it down into the dirt as hard as she could, like a harpoon, as if to kill her own confusion and distress in one lightning move.
At least she had this going for her: the endorphin rush that comes with physical exertion. She knew the feeling well. She loved that feeling. It had gotten her through so much.
She paused to wipe the sweat from her brow. She pulled her long auburn hair back into a ponytail and tied it off with the scrunchie she had on her wrist. Then she got back to the job, fully focused—except, every so often, when she would glance nervously toward the driveway in search of her mother’s Lexus. If Muriel pulled in now… Maya could almost hear the words coming at her: How could you! Do you have any idea how much I pay the gardener? Unbelievable! But that probably wouldn’t happen. Muriel was working again, showing houses most every day right up until Happy Hour and then, after that, well, anything was possible.
Maya stomped her boot on the blade and felt the shovel cut into the earth.
What was this? She tapped around with the tip, probing.
She dropped the shovel, got down on her knees and looked into the hole, seeing a small glimmer down at the bottom. Huh. She reached down to brush away the dirt, revealing a rectangular metal surface like the side of a cereal box. Intrigued, she dug around its edges and wedged her fingertips under it and pulled. Out popped a metal box. The lid was covered in ornate engravings of the sun, moon and stars.
What was this? Buried treasure?
She found a clean patch of lawn and sat down and placed the box ceremoniously before her. Holding her breath, she opened the lid. She stared at what she saw inside: a leather-bound journal, chestnut-brown, its binding rough and distressed. She took it out and set it on her lap 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 that 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 violently.
To Maya, with love from your father
Her gaze flew to the bottom of the page. “Ben Ambrose,” she read. She stared, unable to breathe. 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 flow. Maya recalled all the years she’d spent wondering, hoping, wanting to know about him, and the pain of that unfulfilled desire. She remembered as a child when she had imagined herself as a detective intent on solving the mystery. For days 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.
Then, she succeeded, once. It was a photograph pressed into the pages of an old map book. Him. His face looked somehow familiar. Beaming, Maya had proudly presented the prize to her mother, hungry to understand, and hopeful. Muriel stared at the image for a second. Turning, without a word, she slid it into her purse. It had always been that way. It was so hurtful, the pain seared deeply into her like a scar. Maya 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 that held Livingston. She tilted it so that his paw went back in and secured the lid and picked it up, jolted back to reality by the weight—nine pounds that had never been so still—and again the tears flowed.
Maya had found him yesterday on the front porch covered in blood, softly moaning. He’d probably been 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 great care, she placed the box at the bottom of the grave, then glanced at the metal box on the grass a few feet away. One into the earth, one out of it. Was life like that? she wondered. An even exchange through a revolving door?
Standing over the grave, she searched for the right words. “Thank you, Love,” somehow escaped her lips, which was odd. Maya had never called anyone that before.
She 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 had she dug here?
A half-hour earlier she had emerged from the back of the house finding herself unable to settle on a resting place that felt right. It irked her. Then quickly she changed her mind. Instead of continuing to labor in vain, she would try something different. Let go. Look outside yourself. What happened next surprised her. She found herself asking for guidance—from the universe, the beyond, the out-there. Anything that was not-Maya.
Listening within, seeking for the space between her thoughts where an answer might be found, 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, a tiny pull at the sleeve of her T-shirt. It was impossible and yet it happened. Unnerved, she had frozen in place. She felt another tug.
I understand. She nodded. The universe was answering 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 old, bench-style swing far in the back of the yard near the woods. 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, almost identical to hers.
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 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 through it. She recalled Mrs. Booth, her third-grade teacher, whose cheeks were always bright red with rouge, announcing to the class that Maya’s papers looked like relief maps. “You should consider a career in engraving,” the old witch laughed. Engraving! What was wrong with her? Maya had been doing her best. It wasn’t until the following year, when she’d gotten her hands 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. Her 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 reading and set the book down, her heart racing. Whoa. She grabbed tightly onto one of the swing’s support poles, seeking the comfort of solidity. His words, to me.
What he’d written was indeed true. This place had once been a farm. In fact, Maya loved those years as much as she loved anything. She remembered them with a nostalgia shot through with grief. She recalled all those summer afternoons she’d spent ranging over the fields in search of Indian arrowheads; warm evenings running 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 had passed away, leaving Muriel the property. She immediately sold most of the land to a condominium developer. The earth movers and workmen arrived. So what if the farm had been in the Burke family for a hundred and fifty years? Muriel didn’t care. It was prime real estate in the prized woodlands of the county. Making a buck was all she cared about.
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 Burke farmhouse demolished and a tract mansion built in its place. It was “upscale.” It was “nice.” Maya hated its bland soullessness.
The only artifact that remained from the old days was a small section of picket fence that lingered beyond the new fence at the foot of the woods, like an ancient 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, and made 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 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 dynamics 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 shift is in the offing of such magnitude that every human system—every nation, government and culture—will be transformed. Everything will change. Societies will be rocked and altered.
We are poised at the dawn of a change 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, feeling even more anxious than before. She placed it back in its box and shut the lid. She looked over at the woods. She rocked on the swing, thinking. 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 always changing 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 and tapping the toe of her book 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; hadn’t the most incredible one 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 took the journal out of the box, 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 artifact in her hand. I must read this. 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 hers, too. But she couldn’t just send Josh off. Especially not today, not after the way he had insisted they go out.
She forced a smile and shouted, “Hey! Be right back!”
She took the box and dashed for the house. She placed the box far under her bed, sending a legion of little dust balls 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. She stopped, bent down low and peered under her bed. “Later, Dad,” she whispered, noting the strange feel of that word on her lips