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by Derek Hurst

By Derek HurstPublished 2 months ago 3 min read

My grandmother came to this country at the end of the second world war, and she brought nothing with her aside from the clothes on her back and her precious Matryoshka dolls. Life was not easy for her when she first arrived, and money was always in short supply. No one wanted to hire someone who had never held a higher position than a window cleaner and who could barely speak English. The thing I found fascinating is that she could have easily sold those nesting dolls for a very pretty penny. She could have given herself a solid ground on which to stand. At least enough to get her footing while she learned the language. It could have saved her—from the degrading work she was forced into, from starvation. She never did.

“One day, you will understand,” she told me when I was a child. “One day, you too will receive a gift you cannot part with.”

For years I thought her words nothing more than the clichéd musings of an old woman. Slowly, however, I began to realize what she meant. Old photographs, presents from childhood friends, gifts from ex-lovers—they all meant something to me, something more than the sum of their parts. Something I strained to rid myself of. Negative baggage notwithstanding.

Then, it arrived.

That rainy April day, just as I was about to shut my eyes for the night, I heard it: that distinctive buzzing that had become all too commonplace over the past few years. Why so late? I wondered. What the hell was a drone doing outside my rural Vermont house at 11 at night? I grumbled as a threw off the covers and put on my slippers and tripped down the stairs as if the wine I had enjoyed earlier in the evening was still heavy in my blood.

Being a 6’ 1”, two hundred thirty-pound amateur MMA fighter had its advantages I suppose, so I didn’t worry about appearing at my front door in naught but my pajamas, but honestly I probably should have at least checked out the window to see if anyone was there. Even in rural Vermont. I was still a woman, after all. But I looked outside. There was no one. Only a single box stood before my door, placed as neatly and carefully as if it had been delivered by a white-gloved chauffeur. There were no discernable markings on the strange box, and it seemed to be made from oak or some other kind of hardwood, not the typical cardboard I was used to. I looked around convinced this package was the work of some of the local kids, most likely for some ridiculous TikTok challenge. I'd open it up and would be sprayed with shaving cream, and suddenly three boys would fall out of my hedge in stitches while they captured the spectacle on their phones. But, something about it didn't add up. It was too late. The box—too handsome.

Against my better judgement I hefted the thing up, and it was strangely light. Far less weighty than I was expecting given its size. I took it inside and flipped on my sitting room light, illuminating the wood grain of the box. Yet again, against my better judgement I unclasped the side of the box and opened the lid. I squinted as I saw what was within and rubbed my eyes with the back of my hand. There, in that box, was my Grandmothers nesting dolls. The exact ones she had brought with her to America all those years ago. I lifted the small wooden dolls up and saw a single slip of paper flutter out from the bottom. I unfolded it and took a pair of glasses from my coffee table.

"Dearest Michelle, I hope you understand now. Love Baba."

My grandmother had died twenty years ago, so I could not understand what I was seeing. It was her handwriting. The paper was fresh. I could even smell her perfume on it. I read the letter over again several times before placing it down and resting back in my chair. My eyes fell to the dolls. I grabbed them and carefully opened them, one by one, layers of a wooden onion coming apart. I came finally to the smallest of the dolls, the final one. I opened it. I could not believe what I saw. I would not believe it. It was simply impossible. Yet, there it was.

Your words are clear now, Baba. I understand them perfectly. They speak to me. How could they not? I will always remember you. I will always love you. And I will see you again before too long.

fact or fiction

About the Creator

Derek Hurst

“Not all who wander are lost.” – J.R.R. TOLKIEN

I am an explorer. I have lived in many places. I stand ready for what is to come.

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