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Friday, December 09, 2005

Something Lost

Write a story about an object that has been lost:

"What's this?" Colleen asks, pulling a keychain out of my jewelry box.

"It's from New Zealand. My uncle lives there. It's a Maori emblem," I reply.

She's about to toss it back into the box, unimpressed. I don't want her to be unimpressed. For starters, my New Zealand uncle, whom I have only seen twice in my twelve years of life, seems exotic and fascinating to me. I want her to grasp this.

He had been in the Coast Guard when he first travelled to new Zealand. While there, he'd met his now-wife, Claire. She is a dignified, icy-cool blonde English woman. I adore her accent. Though she isn't much older than my mother, if at all, she has old-world, European skills like needlework and knitting. My mother knits, but she makes gaudy afghans with acrylic yarn in ugly colors. Claire knits wool sweaters. The kind that handsome men who smoke pipes model in the knitting magazines she reads. She makes heirloom baby layettes for pregnant women. My mother stitches plastic canvas boxes and Kleenex-box covers. Claire embroiders linen pillowcases and sheets.

The last time I saw her, many years ago, she had sat me down and shown me how to embroider. She'd patiently taught me different stitches. I'd sat with her for hours, soaking up her gentle ways and her refined, lovely accent. It's hard to believe Uncle Ernie's story that he met her at "a three-day party, under the dining room table." I won't even begin to understand the concept of a party spanning three days for years to come. Let alone one where people are under tables. But this thrills me nonetheless, that people could have such different selves tucked away. Claire bends over her needlework and tries to hide a smile when Ernie tells us about their meeting, and I know that she has secrets. What about my mother? Does she have secrets? A private, younger side that I would be shocked to know about? I am sure that she does not.

But also, Colleen is exotic and fascinating to me. We've been friends since fourth grade, and now that we're in seventh it's becoming even more clear that she is going to be a star in life. She's beautiful, blonde, blue-eyed, and has perfectly straight white teeth that dazzle when she smiles. She wears strawberry lip gloss and the slight reddish tint of it complements her fair coloring perfectly. We all have our signature flavor, each one of us. Tracey's is Grape Jelly. Caryn's is Vanilla. Mine is Watermelon. I like it, but the slight greenish tint makes my lips look odd in certain light. My favorite flavor is Strawberry, but Colleen got it first. And I have to admit, it's perfect for her. She deserves it more than I do.

Colleen was the first in our group to slow dance with a boy. Then she was the first in our group to kiss a boy, the same boy, during the same slow dance. Then her mother found out and forbade her to have anything to do with the school dances again but we still hold her in awe. She has felt a boy's arms around her waist, and she has felt a boy's lips on hers. I'm not even sure I want to do either; the boys I like make my heart race and my palms clammy but since they never even look at me, my imagination has not progressed very far as to what I would do if one did. The Strawberry would be a total waste on me.

So I don't want Colleen to think I'm some stupid kid who keeps cheap plastic keychains in my jewelry box for no reason. "There's something... a little weird about that keychain," I tell her.

"Yeah?" She sits up straighter, still holding it in her hand. "What?"

"Well," I start, hesitating. No one knows this about me, but I am a pretty good liar. I'm considered a goody-goody by most because I get good grades and never get in trouble. But part of why I never get in trouble is because I'm a good liar. "I've had it since I was really little. Like, five."

"So? So it's old," she says, disappointed. She's about to toss it back in the box when I interrupt her.

"I have thrown it away a dozen times!"

"Thrown it away? Then how - "

"That's what I mean! I keep throwing it away and it always ends up back in the box. I can't get rid of it!"

"Your mom is probably finding it in the trash and pulling it out. My mom always looks through my trash."

"But I've thrown it away at school, too." I say. She looks at me, her big, blue eyes glittering.

"Are you serious? At school? And it still turned up here?"

My heart swells a little because I know I've hooked her. "Uh huh. And once I threw it away at the mall, and once I threw it down my grandma's trash chute at her apartment. It keeps coming back."

We look at each other and when our eyes we meet we both shiver. "That's spooky," she says. I'm at that point where I believe my lie. That's why I'm so good.

"Well, there's GOT to be a way we can make it go away for good," Colleen says, standing up with the keychain in her hand and casting her eyes frantically around my room. Her eyes alight on my window.

Now I'm scared. I had ben getting into it, but I suddenly remember that the whole thing was fake, and that if she throws that out my window, I'll probably never see it again. My parents call the side yard, the one directly outside my bedroom windows, "Neverneverland" because they never take care of it. The weeds are taller than I am. The whole area is fenced in and it's almost impossible to open the one gate that opens up to it because the dense growth impedes it. If a ball is thrown over the fence we buy a new ball. I never open my windows.

"Er - I dunno," I say, trying to stall. "The whole thing kinda creeps me out and I just want to leave it in my box," I say, reaching my hand out to get the chain back.

But Colleen's eyes are still glittering and she igonres my outstretched hand. "I'll bet if we threw out the window into that weed patch, it'd be lost forever!"

I really don't want it to be lost forever. I don't have very many things to remind me about my uncle and aunt. I still have the half-finished embroidery project tucked away somewhere in my closet. I will never finish it, but I don't know this yet. I think that one day I will take it out and become like Aunt Claire, classy and graceful and accomplished. Perhaps I will take on an English accent.

And my keychain reminds me that I have in my genes a tendency to wander, to explore. To take risks and live wherever I want to. I don't see this in any of my family members who live with me. We're all a timid, careful lot. We would never go to a three-day party. We would shrink from that much mayhem and chaos. I already know and fear this about myself, but I have hopes that when I grow up I will be like Uncle Ernie and have adventures. I know that Colleen will, and that she takes this for granted. It's not fair for her to jeopardize my chances for some silly story I told.

"Colleen, don't!" She has started for my window and is tugging at it. It sticks, so as she tugs I try to reason with her. "What if it doesn't come back? I've decided that I want to keep it now," I plead. "Because it kept coming back."

"Oh, it's just a plastic thing! Who cares?"

The window unsticks with one violent tug and as I gasp in horror, Colleen tosses the keychain out the window. She calmly closes the window and turns to face me. "There. Now let's see if it comes back!"

But I knew it wasn't coming back. And I tell myself it was just a stupid plastic keychain. And that I can at least think of it being just outside my window, somewhere, even if I can't see it. The important thing, I reassure myself, is that I'd seemed momentarily interesting to Colleen. I perk up.

Twenty-five years later my daughter's Girl Scout troop is studying New Zealand and she brings home a picture of the Maori symbol that had been on my keychain. My parents have just months before cleaned out Neverneverland so that they could put the house on the market. I wonder if they came across it but if they did, no one mentioned it. It would be long gone by now.

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