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Boxes and Lockets and Clocks

Tia’s mother’s truth is kept in a wooden box on the mantel above the fireplace.

It’s a plain box, not ornate at all. Sometimes they are carved and intricate, like the delicate jewelry box Tia has seen next to her aunt’s bed. A few people wear theirs around their necks, a wooden locket nestling at the base of their throat. Always wood – rosewood, mahogany, black cherry. A truth would not stay in steel or gold.

Her mother’s box is a simple pale creamy beech. Tia cannot remember it not being there. She never used to notice it–just another familiar part of the house she was growing up in. These days, though, at nearly-thirteen, Tia finds her eyes drawn to it whenever she is in the room. When her mother isn’t nearby, Tia often goes and runs her fingers over the cool smoothness of the lid. She puts her ear up to it and imagines she can hear a faint swish-swooshing sound, although she can’t, not really.

“It’s no business of yours,” her mother replied curtly when Tia asked her, many months ago, what was inside. “Don’t touch it.”

“They don’t know what’s inside,” her friend Casey tells her, with the gentle superiority that comes from being born nine months earlier than Tia, and having older sisters. “They can guess, but they don’t know.” She tells Tia how her eldest sister’s truth was making bumpy nodules on her chest for two days before it seeped out of her like a coiled mist and her sister caught it and put it in her bedroom drawer while she went to buy a locket for it. Her sister is pretty young to have her truth already, Casey says. Tia doesn’t always know whether to believe Casey, although it is hard not to–she is always so certain and convincing, and her eyes are very direct.

Tia suspects that inside her mother’s box is the truth that she is adopted. She looks nothing like her mother, her eyes and hair are brown while her mother is very fair. Perhaps the truth is that her father was the one who had wanted her, and her mother never did. It would explain why she was so very strict with Tia, why she yelled, why nothing Tia ever did was good enough and should be better than that.

When her mother screeches at her for staying out too late with Casey, and for not being disciplined enough, not being motivated enough, Tia wonders, not for the first time, what would happen if she opened the lid and let her mother’s truth out. Casey says that if you let a truth out then it is not true anymore, but Tia doesn’t think this can be right. She doesn’t open her mother’s box though, just in case. I want to be adopted, she thinks. I don’t want to be related to you.

* * *

She sees them sometimes, at the shops or on the street; the grown-ups who drift around with something unsure, searching and desperate about their eyes. Like they’ve lost something. They never have lockets and Tia doesn’t think that they have a truth at home safe in a wooden box either. They scare her a little, and she shies away from them.

* * *

It is not till she is thirty years old that some small hard lumps form in Tia’s neck near her lymph nodes. They get more swollen and painful as the day progresses and move around if she presses on them. Eventually, that evening when she pushes down hard to try and relieve the ache, something gives with a wheeze and loosens. It pours out of her like smoke, but heavier, denser, more undulating, and Tia sees that finally, she has a truth of her own. She cups it between her two hands, then puts it in the little drawer at the base of her wooden clock. She has a box upstairs, purchased many years ago, with a little rose inlay, but she decides to leave it in the clock.

She feels strangely peaceful. She doesn’t know exactly what the truth is – although she suspects it may have something to do with the hard things she is learning about her own nature by being in a long-term relationship–but she is content enough not knowing what her life will be about just yet. It is enough to know that her life will have been about something. She doesn’t tell her mother that she has a truth at last. Her mother does not approve of her lifestyle choices. Tia can feel the judgment in the narrowing of her mother’s gaze, the tightening of the lips, every word not said.

* * *

When Tia’s mother dies, Tia has not seen her for nearly eight months. She walks through the old house–feeling like everything is coated with a fine dust of memory, of history. She is arrested by the sight of her mother’s box on the mantel–exactly where it has always been, not budged an inch.

She puts her hand on the lid and pauses. It doesn’t matter now, she thinks. It doesn’t matter anymore.

The lid has a weight to it that Tia isn’t expecting. It opens slowly, and her mother’s truth comes out, like a little puff of air from bellows, like an exhaled breath, like a sigh.

A truth her mother was gripped and terrified by. Love. Her mother loves her. Loved her. Always did. Always, always did.

Perhaps her mother never even knew how much.

Tia feels a lump in her throat and presses there with her fingers, but it is not her truth, going forth unfurling, it can’t be. It is something she can’t keep in a box, something softer and quieter, like regret, like sorrow.

And Tia stands there, till twilight falls outside the window, making it hard to see the edges of things, in her mother’s house, an empty box full of nothing on the mantel.

Samantha Murray

Samantha Murray is a writer, mathematician, and mother. Not particularly in that order. Her fiction has been seen in places such as Clarkesworld, Lightspeed, Escape Pod, Daily Science Fiction, Writers of the Future Vol 31, Nature Magazine and Beneath Ceaseless Skies. She is the winner of the 2016 Aurealis Award for best SF short story. You can follow her at www.mailbysea.wordpress.com or on Twitter as @SamanthaNMurray. Samantha lives in Western Australia in a household of unruly boys.

 

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