By Maryann Xue, age 15, Springfield, Virginia
I opened the door to the closet and there, sitting on the floor, was a locked chest. It was a dull old box, brown and covered in a thick coating of dust, with a single lock that kept it from dispersing its contents. I resisted the urge to cough as I inhaled the smell of decaying wood. Bending down in faint disappointment at the simplicity of the strange chest, I leaned forward and twiddled with the lock absentmindedly, curious as to what was inside. I soon grew puzzled when I found no spot for a keyhole or a combination.
The light in the closet flickered twice and turned off. I stood in what would’ve been pitch black darkness if gold trimming hadn’t suddenly appeared on the box, glowing in the dark and bathing the ceiling in light. A gasp escaped from my lips. The golden patterns slunk around the exterior of the box in imitation of a snake, ornate decorations that seemed to come to life the longer I stared at them. Curiosity getting the better of me, I dropped to the floor and attempted to pry open the box with my fingers, but my tips scraped the sides of the chest to no avail like nails on a chalkboard.
There was a knock on the door.
I froze, my hands still clinging to the edges of the chest.
The door opened and my mom’s face stuck out from behind the door. “Hurry and get changed, Margaret. It’s time for school.”
Relaxing, I let out the breath I hadn’t realized that I had been holding and smiled at her sweetly. “Sorry, mom. I found something cool.”
My mom narrowed her piercing green eyes at me suspiciously and entered the walk-in-closet, leaving the door hanging open behind her. “What did you find? I swear if you’re messing around with Dad’s old things again…”
Standing up, I wiped my hands on my pants and pointed to the chest on the floor excitedly. My mom squinted into the direction that I was pointing in.
“I don’t see anything,” she stated.
It was in that moment that I realized that the box was no longer glowing, and that it had returned to the dull old brown I had seen when I first entered. The only source of light came from the gap in the door that my mom had left open.
“Come closer,” I said desperately, guiding her through semi-darkness.
Finally seeing the chest that lay by my feet, she laughed. “What, this old thing? That’s the chest that your dad left behind from the war. All his belongings are inside it.”
I frowned, confused. That couldn’t be right.
“But just now it was glowing. And there isn’t a lock on the chest. I think you must’ve gotten mixed up. This can’t be Dad’s.”
My mom smiled at me patiently, and it was a smile I despised. It was a smile that said, Oh honey, you’re too young to understand. “This, glowing? You must’ve been dreaming again. Come on now, honey, let’s go. I’ll drive you to school today. You must be feeling a bit off.”
I grumbled incoherent gibberish under my breath before asking her to close the door so I could change. She did the “I’ve-got-my-eyes-on-you” finger motion but then, thankfully, stepped out and shut the door. Once the door shut, I sighed and stared at the clothes that surrounded me on all sides, hanging from poles. This was once my dad’s walk-in closet. There were barely any of his clothes in there anymore, save for a few pairs of identical looking black pants and polo shirts. Everything else was mine – T-shirts and dresses in shades of pink, purple, and blue. It was the clash between a world of color and a world of black and white.
In every breath I took, I could still sense his strong scent, the scent of shaving cream and sweat. I used to find it an off-putting odor, but my mom always said it smelled like “man”. Now that there were no more men in the house, I finally understood what she meant.
I didn’t hear it at first. I thought maybe it was my mom shouting something at me from downstairs.
This time, I knew I wasn’t hearing things wrong. A voice was coming from behind me. A sudden stream of bright light alerted me that the chest had begun to shine again, and this time, it was accompanied by a thumping sound that resembled a heartbeat. Turning around, I was just in time to see the lid of the chest pop open before an arm appeared from within and grabbed my right ankle, dragging me towards it. I screamed, struggling against its grasp but the fingers held on tight, nails digging into my flesh. I felt like my right leg’s socket was being pulled out. A thousand thoughts ran through my head, What is going on? Who is this? Help me! Mom?! I could hear hurried footsteps going up the stairs and my mom calling out, “Margaret?” in concern, but before I could respond, there was a sudden tug on my entire body, and I was sucked backwards, into the embrace of the arm, into the golden chest.
I awoke to a dull aching in my back, which I soon realized was from the rock that I had been dumped on. A pair of chocolate brown eyes stared intensely into my fluttering eyelids and I was immediately startled into motion, falling off the rock and onto a field of grass. The eyes belonged to a man, and there was something familiar about his warm gaze that I couldn’t quite place. It then hit me that I was in a strange, unfamiliar place, and I had no idea what was happening. Scrambling to my feet, I was prepared to break off into a run, but I was stopped by the man. He had a firm grip on my wrist and when I tried to move, he only gripped tighter.
“Margaret,” he spoke calmly, as I continued to struggle against his grasp.
“What?” I snarled, blinking away tears that I didn’t know were starting to form in my eyes. I didn’t know where I was and the thought frightened me.
“Margaret,” he said again, softer this time. The grip around my wrist loosened. “It’s me. Your father.”
I immediately froze. My arm fell loosely by my side. Tilting my chin upwards, I stared into his face and properly took in his facial features. A sob escaped my lips. He was unshaven, but the smell of sweat and father was warm and familiar. I traced the curve of his thick eyebrows unconsciously as I took in the face of a figure I hadn’t seen since his death five years ago.
“Dad? What are you doing here?” I whispered.
He smiled at me sadly. “I had to visit you one last time.”
Tears threatened to burst. “Why did you die and leave us? You’re the heart of the family.”
“Maybe that’s why you found me here. In my locked chest. Hearts are in the human chest, aren’t they? Isn’t that what you learned in science class?”
I was conflicted over whether to collapse into his arms and cry or to punch him in the arm for speaking such nonsense. But I couldn’t help but realize that he was right. I had found him through the chest. In fact, I was in the chest right now. I guess Dad was the heart. Just like he’d always be in my heart.
“Tell mom I’m okay, alright? I don’t want her to worry too much. She has to take care of herself better. I’ll watch over you both.”
I nodded. Placing my head in the crook of his neck, we lay together in the grass.
“Now that we’ve spoken, I’ll be leaving soon. I can’t stay here forever. I wonder what’s out there?” My dad stared into the horizon with a feeling of sentiment.
We spoke for a long time, just the two of us, without another care in the world. He offered me a nut. I looked up at him in confusion.
“It’s not any ordinary nut, it’s a chestnut,” he said with a wink.
I looked at it again. It still looked like an ordinary nut to me.
‘Get it, a CHESTnut?”
I looked at him in disbelief. The corners of my lips tilted up in a smirk.