You Were: The Fiancee
July 24, 2010
The last time you were a child, you had a bad habit of disappearing. One moment you’d be shopping on Michigan Avenue with your mother—or strolling along the lake shore with one of you nannies—and the very next moment you’d be long gone. It was as if the wind had whisked you away. The first three times you vanished, the police were called and search parties formed. The fourth time you disappeared, no one panicked. Everyone knew where to find you.
On a side street not far from your home, there was a cluttered antique shop that sold mostly junk. Few people could bear the dusty air that reeked of mold, but the little store was your own personal wonderland. The wizened old man who ran it rarely looked up when you walked through the door. And unlike your rather mean-spirited grandparents, he never shouted at you for touching the treasures he’d collected throughout his long lifetime.
When your furious father arrived to haul you home, he would always find you gazing at the same little box that sat toward the back of a glass display case. The box had been carved out of mahogany in some distant century, and it must have belonged to dozens of well-off young ladies.
“It’s mine,” you would tell your father. “It shouldn’t be here.”
Your father was a wealthy man, and he offered the store’s owner a fortune for the box. But the man always refused to sell. The box was locked, the owner explained, and he was searching for a key that could open it. It appeared to be empty—nothing rattled inside when he shook it—but the old man couldn’t be sure. Once he knew what the little box held, it would finally be put up for sale. Until then, it couldn’t be purchased at any price.
Much to your parents’ displeasure, you continued to visit the box whenever the whim struck you. You left in the middle of Sunday School. You snuck out of your grammar school classes. Once, you jumped out of your mother’s carriage when it stopped to let some firemen pass.
Even you didn’t quite understand the box’s appeal. All you knew was that it had once belonged to you. You knew you were the one who had hidden the key. And you knew the box should have been given to someone named Gordon.
Then one day, you disappeared again. When your father arrived at your favorite shop he found it empty. The police were on the way to your house when a neighbor’s maid arrived with you in tow. You’d been caught wandering around upstairs in the neighbor’s mansion. Your mother was mortified, but she wasn’t surprised. Even as a toddler, you had always pointed to that house and said, “mine.”
You were lectured, spanked, and sent to bed without your dinner. When you got undressed for bed, you made sure no one saw the little key you’d hidden in your shoe—the key you’d found under a floorboard in your neighbor’s bedroom.
The next day, you paid your last visit your favorite shop. The owner laughed when you held out the key, and stopped laughing when the box opened. Inside was a ring. Just a cheap gold band with a tiny diamond—nothing special at all. When your father arrived, he purchased both the box and the ring for less than five dollars.
The final time you disappeared, your family never knew where you went. You walked to a neighborhood three miles from your own and knocked at the door of a house where a handsome bachelor lived all alone. Two decades earlier, the girl to whom he’d been secretly engaged had drowned in Lake Michigan. After that, he had decided never to marry.
You gave him the box with the ring inside, told him how much you missed him, and then you turned around walked all the way home.
A year later you’d forgotten everything.