There was a time in my life when I looked at the sky and cried tears of smallness. Tears of understanding how insignificant I am in the vastness of space. The bright blue gave me no comfort and the clouds, barely visible, seemed skeletal. In th I saw traces of my own mother, eyes gray with death, struggling to lift her arm enough to brush my hair out of my eyes and wipe the tears off my cheek.
Only memories remained once my relatives dropped seeds over the soil and the people burying my mother flattened the ground on top of her coffin. A bird sang in the trees nearby. A man put his hand on my shoulder and steered me towards a car. A woman offered me a glass of juice and a knowing smile. Another woman led me upstairs and made my bed. A little boy gave me a tight hug. An arm pulled my blankets over me and the soft belly of my Teddy soaked the tears coming out of my burning eyes.
The crying took over my whole being, waking moments were spent in physical pain and sleeping moments in dreamland agony.
On the third day since the funeral, my father knocked on my door.
"Ekaterina, I need to give you something."
I dragged myself to the door, my legs not my own, my body a broken doll and my movements mechanically sharp.
"She left this for you. It was for your eighteenth birthday, but she asked me to give it to you after the funeral. Life is not as long as we thought, she said, we can't wait."
I took the black box and looked into his red eyes hoping he'd understand what I mean. You'll be okay, father, we'll get through this, she is not completely gone. And he understood, a small smile in the corner of his mouth. My mother was an optimist that saw the light in the darkest corners of hell if necessary, stubbornly trying to make that attitude work on us.
Left alone, I stared at the box. It looked expensive, the wood unnaturally black, iron chains all around. However, there was a small opening in the chains where my mother's writing was faint, but legible.
"I open when your life force falls on my links" I read aloud. Memories of needles pricking fingers came to me, images of my mother wearing a black cloak and dragging me to the family crypt. It felt like muscle memory when I got up to find something sharp and let my blood, hot, drip on the chains. Slowly, as if against its will, the iron dissolved and the box opened with a puff of dust.
I reached for the lid and opened it all the way.
Inside, on money carefully stacked, a little black notebook.
I am, at times, slow to react. I need to process. I need to make sure what I saw is real and what I'm doing is right. Thus, it took me what felt like hours to reach in and take the notebook. A letter was hidden between the front cover and the first , addressed to me.
"My dearest Katerina" it started in my mother's handwriting, cursive elongated and almost falling on the line beneath. "I am probably dead now and you've probably been crying yourself to sleep and to wake. I'm sorry, I tried to hold out but your grandmother kept calling me to her side and that wasn't a call I could ignore. I didn't want to leave you so soon. It is done, so let's move on. You now have the box which was given to me when I was eighteen. It contains three things that will decide your life. Choose wisely."
I stopped reading because I couldn't see what the third thing was. I ran my fingers along the inner walls of the box and felt a bump. It was made by a key. So, the money, the notebook and the key.
"That doesn't mean you need to choose now. Our family is lucky, we get to try things out first, it's tradition. When I was young, I chose the key. But that was me, my little, you are different. I will give you the only guidance I was given. The money are for you to spend how you see fit, a quarter to try it out, the rest if you choose it. But be careful, what we give out comes back to us in ways untold."
I put the letter down and counted the money. 20000, in dollars.
"The notebook is different. You only get one page. If you choose it, the rest will appear and you must follow it to the letter."
I picked up the notebook, opened it and all the pages were blank until ink started bleeding from inside the paper, twisting and stretching into words. Step by step instructions and the title, "How to Avoid Your Death Tomorrow".
I felt frozen in time, but my mother's letter wasn't done.
"Lastly, the key. This one is simple, it opens everything. Doors, vaults and opportunities. Anything you can think of as locked, this key opens. I used it only once, on your father, and that was enough for me.
Choose wisely, but you must choose. Once that's done, save the box with the other items in, pass it on to your daughter when she turns eighteen. Be assured it'll be a daughter, it always is.
I love you. I wish I had more time to prepare you."
She signed and smudged the ink with tears. I added mine next to hers.