Her eyes opened with a start. The ceiling above her bed seemed to move back and forth like some kind of reflection on the water. She drew a strange comfort from the familiarity of it and watched for a moment as the lights from the cars on the street below meandered in their usual fashion across the plaster above her.
Meadow was surprised to feel her heart beating heavily in her chest – so loud that she swore she could hear its pounding rhythm in her ears. She felt a slight perspiration on her upper lip and realized she must have been having a bad dream.
And then the memory of it returned. The tanned hand, crossed with deep and abiding veins, covered with sun-bleached hair that extended all the way up the arm until coming to an abrupt halt at the hem of a rolled-up long sleeve denim shirt. The hand held a strange enchantment of looking strong and refined at the same time. Her heart began pounding again as she realized that it was her father’s hand, as she remembered it from all those years ago.
But it was what the hand was doing that had jolted her awake, she realized. It was twisting, contorting, as if it was attempting to work something loose. And then a piece of wood suddenly gave way, permitting the hand to lift it out of place and put it gently on the floor.
“This is from me to you honey. It’s our secret, okay? Make me a promise that you’ll come back for it when you’re done high school.”
She recognized it instantly as her Dad’s voice – warm, sincere and with an appealing lilt enveloped beautifully within it that she so fondly recalled. She heard herself promise to return, as he took a piece of paper from his pocket, placed it in her hand, and then assisted her in putting it in the empty space he had just opened up. Then, together, they placed the piece of wood they had loosened back in its place so no one would ever know it had been disturbed. She realized now that she had never read what was on the paper.
And Meadow remembered one more thing – his voice quietly saying, “Someday, when you come back for this, you will understand just how much Mom and I love you. I can’t wait.”
But it was never to be. Meadow felt her eyes fill with tears at the sounds and sights of “the moment” – that instant when the scraping of steel against steel, the screams, the flashing lights, and then the ominous silence that became the quiet dirge that led to the rest of her life.
How many times had she woken to the terrible memory? It had to be in the hundreds. She dreaded it because of that one image that always lingered when she woke from the horror. It was of her Dad’s head, twisted at an odd angle and resting against the dashboard, and that same hand laying almost beautifully across the top of the steering wheel, as if caressing it.
Meadow shook her head to dispel the memory and wiped the tears from her eyes. She felt encumbered by some kind of heavy weight as she rose and moved quietly in the dark to the kitchen. It was at moments like these that she wished for some white wine – craved it, really – but fulfilled once again her promise to her mother that she would only partake out of happiness, not sadness, disappointment or depression. She had kept that promise for the past ten years since her Mom passed – the victim of the dementia that ultimately separated mother and daughter forever.
She made some green tea instead and wondered what it was about the dream tonight that felt so different. Meadow always woke at the same instant in time, with the car crash that killed her father. But that didn’t happen tonight. Instead, something else had shocked her to consciousness. What was it? They weren’t even in the car. What? What?
And then it came to her – the hand, her father’s seasoned hand. The reason for the sudden awakening was that the memory of that hand putting the piece of paper into the secret receptacle was something she hadn’t thought of for years – since the crash itself, really. Somehow, she had shut out such fond memories of her parents. The crash had been too horrific, violent – final – that it had remained in her memory bank without disturbing her life even more than it presently was.
The steaming kettle whistled its usual tune and she placed some loose tea leaves in their container and dropped it into the scalding water. She waited patiently at the small worn wooden table for the tea to steep, her mind racing over what had just happened. She was surprised to feel a certain sense of hope in the dream from which she had just escaped. It drew her deeper into the memory.
It wasn’t so much the hand but what had been in it. In her young active life, she had been too busy, overly distracted, to have retained the thought. And then the event that had so thoroughly changed her life had effectively buried it somewhere deep within her.
Until tonight, when it had returned as if pointing to something she needed to do. At least, that’s the way it felt in this moment. And she also had no idea what it was she was to pursue. But something was tugging at her instead of driving her. She sensed almost immediately that it was a force which should be respected, perhaps revered.
Meadow found herself wanting to know, needing to understand, what was on that piece of neatly folded paper that she had forgotten about for years, until tonight.
But where had the moment happened? She at least remembered that it had occurred in her first year of high school and that it had filled her with a sense of love and mystery. The more Meadow thought about it the more she wanted to linger in that moment. A growing crescendo of expectation was drawing her out of her weariness.
What was on the paper? Where was that place where it was hidden?