“In my heart, in my heart, the truth will always be.”
The flowing melody leaves me. I touch a hand to my cheek to wipe it dry, forgetting about the light bruise in its linger. In a flash, Luciana’s face as she slapped me after I overcharged her boyfriend for his repairs at the garage. She was right, it was stupid – petty, but it still made me happy for a moment.
I roll over to turn on my bedside lamp. It feels too early. Immediately, a thundering at my door, “Esther, Esther, will you help me with my tie?”
I get up with a sigh. Alexander, aged eight. Has an obsession with looking professional and invading my personal space.
Downstairs, Ms. Gregory smokes her morning cigarette at the kitchen table, still in her bathrobe. She thumbs through yesterday’s newspaper, “Morning my Esther.”
“Good morning G,” I respond, patting her back as I rush for the coffee pot.
“I swear to Pete, Alexander, you’ll be running that school soon,” she laughs, taking in his loose thrift store suit. “But those boots, kid. What gives?”
“Glacier Day!” His enthusiasm reverberates throughout the kitchen.
She turns to me, expectant “You’re taking him, right?” I nod, gulping down my stale coffee. “Just make sure to watch where you’re walking out there.” She looks me over, an edge of new concern, “And the shop’s okay with you taking time off?”
“I’m not scheduled for today.”
“You didn’t work yesterday either. Something I need to know? March is just around the corner.”
My stomach knots. “You’ll get your rent on time,” I assure her, closing the dishwasher.
“Famous last words, kiddo.”
Alexander and I wait in the parking lot outside his elementary school. A low fog hovers, leaving us shivering through our winter wears. The other kids in his class stand in a group with their chaperones, feet away from us.
A graying middle-aged man approaches, “Sure is cold, isn’t it?”
“Yep,” I nod, shivering through my Carhartts. He waits for me to chime back, a word or two to merit his efforts.
“And you, young man, quite the getup,” he points to the suitcoat peeking out under his bright turquois puffy jacket. “I bet your mom’s proud of your snappy dressing.”
I notice Alexander kicking the snow a little, anxious whenever someone expects information about his parents. The hollow ache of their nonexistence. I know it all too well, both of us fostered by Ms. Gregory since we were little.
“Oh, he gets that from his father,” I say, full of smile and show.
Alexander turns his cold pink face up to look at me, grateful for the lie.
“Right,” the man stares at me, a change in his demeanor, “I wondered if I might have a private word with you, Ms. Sutton.”
My pulse quickens at the mention of my mother’s name. I only ever use it when I’m trying to hock.
“Alexander, stay right here, okay?”
I lead the man several feet out of earshot.
The bus crawls down the snowy dirt road. The glacier rests forty-minutes outside our sleepy town. I visited it once as a kid – a school field trip, just like this one. Right after my mom left. When I try to think back on it, I can’t remember more than the scared faces of my classmates staring at me. Something about me having an emotional breakdown. Didn’t have many friends after that. Still don’t.
The potholes jostle me awake. Alexander reads a comic next to me. I grab my aching neck, already feeling the rough and tumble of the ride. My fingers religiously play with the gold chain I’ve never taken off. The heart-shaped pendant my mother left me.
I replay my conversation from the parking lot over in my head.
“How do you know that name?”
“I work at Ebo’s. You came in there a few weeks ago,” he says softly, “about an antique necklace.”
I take a deep breath, relieved. Sometimes at the garage when I’m working on a nice car – a car that belongs to someone with money, I pocket anything small I find left behind and take it to Ebo’s to hock. I was afraid it had finally caught up with me.
“Why do you care?” I ask, the adrenalin slowing.
“I wouldn’t normally, but a woman tried to purchase it while I was working acquisitions.”
“Lucille, or Luc…”
“Luciana,” I interrupt.
“That’s it. She said a friend might have sold something she didn’t mean to, asked to buy it back for you.”
The thought weakens me – she said she was done with me. The slap should have been reason enough. It’s dangerous to want for her love.
“But you didn’t sell it,” he says with a strange smile.
I nod, disgusted with myself. I’d almost sold the only thing my mother ever gave me.
“What was it?”
He howls – bends over to support the force of his laughter.
The class turn to us, some amused, others annoyed. I see Alexander eager to approach. I hold up a finger to signal ‘just a minute.’
The gray-haired man comes to, straightens himself out, “$20,000.”
He stares, his blue eyes piercing, “I will give you $20,000 for that necklace.”
“We’re here Esther!” Alexander shakes me from my thoughts, my hand still clasping the heart pendant around my neck. Who was she, that she ever owned something this expensive? And who was he, to try so desperately to buy it from me?
I could move out with that money. Move away. Find a place that feels like home for once. I look down at Alexander guiltily – his earnest face taking in the arctic landscape outside the window. The bus comes to a halt.
We join the others in a huddle around the teacher and park ranger as they perform their safety spiel.
“What did we learn, class?” The teacher prompts.
Their young voices chime in to complete the safety rhyme, “A crevasse is the last place to be!”
“That’s right!” Their teacher booms.
Alexander looks up at me, rolls his eyes. I smile back.
There is a sound ice makes under the weight of you. An empty echo in its liminal hold. You are standing upon the mystery of time itself. How long will it bear you? Alexander and I snake along the glacier at the back of the line, his classmates and their doting parents further ahead.
Suddenly, a thunderous clap. Alexander cries out. Before I can turn to find the source of the sound, I slide down a wall of ice. Further and further, my body falls. A plummet into darkness until it becomes nothingness. The black expanse of a place so deep, so quiet, the blood pumping in my body is a rhythmic roar. Then I hear it, two heartbeats. I feel a familiar small hand grip mine.
“Esther, where are we?” Alexander’s shaky voice asks.
Before I can answer, whatever ground we were standing on opens like a trap door. It’s suddenly bright again. Everything smashes together – sound, sight, smell, the tickling cool on my skin, and I feel like I’m gasping for air. Where am I?
My head spins as I look around. The ground is made of a glowing blue stone, like see-through slate. Walls of a similar material zig-zag different paths, lined with shops, like a market. People bustle around us, hardly noticing our intrusion. I crane my neck up – the sky looks like a sea of rolling gold.
“Whoa,” Alexander says, slowly coming to.
A burning sensation on my chest pulls at my attention. The necklace. Mystified, I unclasp it. As soon as it’s loose, the heart pendant pulls to the right like an eager dog on a leash.
Alexander and I look at each other. “We gotta follow it, Esther.”
I nod, taking a step in the necklace’s lead. My feet glide across the ground, as if the glowing slate beneath is doing the work instead of me. Both Alexander and I move so quickly we hardly notice the old woman standing in our path before crashing into her.
The three of us fall to the ground. “Sorry,” I say, dusting myself off.
As we make eye contact, she stops, studies me. “You,” she whispers, a look of horror on her face. “I won’t tell anyone you’re here, but she kept you out for a reason, you know – to save your life!”
She stares at the moving necklace still in my grip. Its force becomes impossible to fight. It pulls us forward.
“Who are you, Esther?” His young voice asks.
Before I can tell him that I don’t know, that I’ve never known, the necklace yanks us in front of a shop with a sign that reads “Memories Depot.”
We look at each other before entering through the stained-glass door.
A willowy man with a thick beard greets us at once.
“Oh,” he says, staring at the necklace in hand, “I see.” He swallows before disappearing to the back.
Alexander and I look around. The space houses endless shelves lined with rows and rows of the black hardcover notebooks.
The greeter reappears, the same book in hand.
“Your moleskin,” he says in a whisper, and holds out his other hand, empty and expectant.
“The necklace for the notebook.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Then why are you here, girl?”
“We fell down a crevasse,” Alexander blurts out. “It tore my suit,” he says, flashing a glimpse of his tattered coat pocket.
The greeter’s eyes dart towards me with alarm, “It brought you again, then? You may not seek this notebook, but it seeks you. Why else would her heart have led you here?”
I look down at the necklace in my hand. “This belonged to my mother.”
“Yes. And I have held onto her moleskin for all these years, with her promise that you would provide adequate payment with this pendant.”
I hear her soft song in my head, “In my heart, in my heart, the truth will always be.” A warmth runs through me. Somehow, I know that he’s telling the truth. Still, it feels impossible to part with the last of her that I have.
“Consider this girl, your past for your future.”
I stare at the black notebook, pained with indecision, “Fine.” I shove the necklace into his waiting palm.
“Your moleskin. May her words find you safe.” He retreats to the back with the necklace. Already I feel its absence and wonder if I’ve made a terrible mistake.
“You gonna open it, or what?” Alexander blurts out, growing impatient.
As soon as I crack open the notebook, I feel a rush of air, and a wobbly undoing inside my body. Everything is so cold and loud, and then I hear the screams of children.
“Class, class, what did I say about crevasses?”
“Whoa,” I feel Alexander grip my hand. I open my eyes and we’re on the edge of a deep and terrifying crack. I look down into its blackness and feel a familiar pull, like I belong down there, down in the land of golden skies, where my mother’s pendant led us.
“Come on, let’s keep up,” the teacher motions, charging ahead with the ranger. I frantically reach into my pocket and feel the moleskin, relieved something remains.
After the glacier has been exhaustingly explored, after the bumpy dirt-road has been retraced, after I go to Ebo’s and find out the gray-haired man never worked there, after I call Luciana and hear her boyfriend in the background, after I tell her her love was never real, because now I know the lengths real love goes to, after Alexander is asleep back in his bed at Ms. Gregory’s, I lay across the floor of my room and open the notebook my mother left me.
In scrawling black ink, “My love, this is your story.”