art by Seth Alan Bareiss
by Michael Haynes
Kelly signs for possession of the fireproof box and wonders what her mother had felt the need to protect. No jewelry, that all would have been hocked years ago--cigarette money. Back when they still talked, Kelly always told her mom the cigarettes would kill her.
She hadn't imagined it happening so suddenly.
She is tired from the overnight drive and stares at the only legacy left to her. Of course there's no key. It seems a perfect coda to her mother's life, until the helpful officer tells her how easy it is to pop the lock.
She thanks him and leaves the station, carrying what had been transformed from a little mystery into something mundane. Just another problem with a half-assed solution.
In her motel room she fiddles with the box until it springs open. Her stomach clenches when she sees the scrapbook, the only thing in the box. She wishes the damned thing had burned up, too.
One finger traces the spiral wire binding the book together. There are dogs on the cover. Happy, frolicking dogs completely at odds with the memories she associates with the scrapbook.
Kelly remembers that Christmas. She'd been fifteen and saved up money that year by recycling cans so she could buy her mother a new purse. When her mother opened the package she didn't look excited, like Kelly had hoped. She looked stunned. Kelly asked if she liked it, and her mother said it was beautiful. But the words were flat. She must have known what was coming.
Kelly unwrapped her own present, easing open the green paper with silver snowflakes, knowing it was the only gift she would be opening that year.
What she had revealed was this cheap dollar store scrapbook.
The memories of the rest of that Christmas embarrass her. She'd torn into her mother like only a teenager can, thrown the scrapbook on the ground and stormed out of the house. When she came home, almost at midnight, the scrapbook was gone. Her mother was dead asleep on the couch. An empty beer and a full ashtray sat on the end table.
They never discussed that Christmas. Kelly would have bet the scrapbook was moldering in a landfill, but now, here it sits on the wobbly table of a cheap motel room. And she can't find the courage to open the cover.