There is a secret my mother keeps in the back of her closet; a box she opens whenever my father leaves for his numerous business meetings that we all know—even my ten-year-old brother—are about. I watched her open it the last year I waited in their bed for daddy to come home. I didn’t get a glimpse of its content, she was quick to shut it when she realized I wasn’t actually asleep on their bed; the groan of the bed-springs beneath me giving me away. There was no mention of that day or her secret since. And I’ve never asked; Lord knows I have my own secrets hidden in my closet.
We all do—depending if we have closets.
I hear the floorboards creak upstairs, my mother’s hurried feet as she dashes to and fro her bedroom and the closet full of linens down the hall. I count the steps she takes. Fourteen forward. Fifteen back. And then all is still.
That is before she stomps down the stairs with the suitcase my father takes on his business trips and the duffel bag she uses when going to the gym in both hands. At the bottom, she lugs the bag onto her shoulder and glances at my brother and I, who are bystanders, witnesses, or maybe accomplices in her abrupt departure. Well, in my opinion, it was long awaited.
But I imagined that she would take either of her children or at least me, her favorite.
She hugs my brother, kisses his temple, and says, ”I’ll still come to your soccer matches.” Then she moves onto me.
She rubs her hands up and down my arms, more for her sake than mine. I’ve always hated this distracting habit of hers. Perhaps this is why she does it: it distracts her.
“Remember no dating until you’re thirteen. I doubt your father will enforce it until you bring the boy home.” She rolls her eyes as heat fills my cheeks, warming her expression. “And we’ve had our conversation about where babies come from-“
My brother cuts in. “Where do they come from?”
“-but your brother hasn’t, so it’s your job to tell him when you think he’s ready. He’ll probably Google it, though.” My mother shoots a look at my brother’s smug smile. “Don’t know why he hasn’t,” she murmurs, standing up to only crush us in a group hug.
“I love you both and I’ll miss you and I’ll try to visit as often as I can.” With one last squeeze, she heaves her luggage and heads out the door, leaving my brother and me to stare as she drives off in her silver Subaru.
A wicked hope inside me propels me to race up the staircase to the master bedroom and check in the closet for the box she may have left. When I enter the room, I see that the bed is stripped, which would make my father furious. I laugh.
Only my mother would depart in such a way that it would leave my father peeved.
I lay my hand on the closet door and slowly open it. At first, all I see are my father’s many suits tailored to his exact measures, but as I drop to my knees and crawl farther in, I find what I remember as the box. The secret.
My mother must have wanted me to find it.
I rest my back on wall parallel to the door frame, too eager to retreat to the privacy of my room. I take a deep breath and lift the lid.
It is a jewelry box with three levels. The first for jewelry I’ve seen in wedding photos. Pearl earrings given to my mother for their anniversary. A necklace of a songbird that once belonged to my grandmother. And a bracelet I made for her in second grade for mother’s day.
The second for objects with sentimental value; photos, Christmas cards, and locks of hair. There are photos of my mother as a child with her divorced parents, of my mother and father kissing as a young couple, and of us as a family celebrating Christmas. The locks of hair are of brothers and mine. The third is the one that causes me to release a gasp.
It is entirely devoted to my father’s affair. Pictures of dark figures kissing in windows, him walking with pretty women, and a captured scene of a woman in his lap. A woman that is not my mother. There is even a memory card I could guess had more pictures and maybe recordings of intimate moments shared with mistresses. Maybe a video, too.
The image of my mother crying because of these pictures flashes before my eyes. There is a bit of red in my vision, a pain surging up my hand. I realize I have punched the wall to no avail. My anger doesn’t diminish and the thought my mother’s previous pain won’t disappear from my mind. There is only the sensation in my knuckles that forces me to close the box and curl up with it.
That is how my father finds me.
I don’t answer him when he asks why I’m there, if I’m alright, though I do when he asks where my mother is.
“She’s gone,” I say coldly.