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As of 28 February 2016, due to decline in my health and chronic illness

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

January 2, 2012: Short Story Challenge_1180 wc

January 2, 2013 Writing Prompt:

A father tells his daughter a family secret that prompts her to tear up her college applications and purchase a one-way plane ticket."

"My Last Discovery"
        I needed a break from writing essay after essay ad infinitum for applications to prestigious (and less so) Universities, so I decided to spend an hour sorting through the contents of my secondary closet, the one I used for storage and out-of-sight, out-of-mind items. After my mom had passed when I was fifteen, Dad had moved out of the master bedroom suite and into one of the guest rooms, offering me the suite because he had the idea (gleaned from television, most likely) that adolescent girls needed lots of room and lots of closet space. He even paid to let me redecorate, and couldn’t understand why I preferred wallpaper in green and white stripes and plain white bed linens to something frilly, like roses or violets, and all-purple d├ęcor.

          The benefit for me was to have the whole upstairs floor to myself, a walk-in closet for my clothes (which still only took up about half), and a second, smaller, closet, to store off-season gear, and once-treasured items I’d outgrown, like my old unused tennis racket, and my once-prized (when I was eight) Raggedy Ann collection. Dad had moved his clothes out when he transferred to the guest room, and I had packed away Mom’s for him to donate to Goodwill. By the time that was finished, I was too exhausted with grief to clean out her smaller closet, so I just piled my stuff in at the front. Now I decided, hey, I’m going away to college (surely some university somewhere will accept me!), I’m not going to want to transfer all this outworn nonsense—so let’s spend a couple of hours hauling it out of the closet and off to the curb. Who knows? I might find some forgotten books or other treasures, I smiled to myself.

          I got a can of root beer out of the apartment-size fridge I kept in the huge master bathroom, and settled in at the closet. After a good half hour and two separate piles—one for discards, one for donations—I’d finished the soda and was energized rather than exhausted, so I decided to persevere until I’d completed the self-assigned task. Soon I had pulled out all of my storage—the Raggedy Anns, all six of them, would go to the local hospital’s pediatric ward, if they would take them—and the closet seemed empty, till I pushed my way back past a couple of heavy old winter coats I hadn’t worn, nor thought of-in years. Then way in the front corner of the far side wall, I saw something—when I moved closer, I could see it was a matte black cabinet, about as high as my thigh, with a flat top and a front door. Not a filing cabinet, but more like a tall nightstand or end table; I’d never seen it before, anywhere in the house. It certainly wasn’t mine, but it was in my closet, which I was determined to finish cleaning, to the max.

          I kneeled before it, and reached for the knob, which wouldn’t budge. Dust lay thick along the top, so clearly it hadn’t been disturbed for years. I ran my hand down each side, hoping to find a latch, but none resulted. Finally after a few moment’s thought, I pulled a Kleenex from my pocket and wrapped my fingers in it (cobwebs and dust balls were obvious in the space underneath) and felt the underside of the cabinet. Sure enough, my fingertips touched a raised section, firm and about the length of a key; and so it was. I dropped the Kleenex so I could better maneuver my grip, and pulled the key loose from the electrical tape which had held it. A quick push inserted it, I turned it, and the door opened from the left, exposing a tall bottom section, stacked with boxes of cancelled checks, and a higher top shelf, with a black-covered ledger and a manila envelope, tied with string, about 11 inches by 14 inches. I pulled these out, and stood up to return to the bedroom, for this narrow space had no light fixture, and by late afternoon, as it was now, the sky had become overcast and the closet space very dim.

          I started to sit down on my white comforter, but thought better of it as the dust lay thick on the ledger and envelope, so I went to my armchair by the window and settled in to discover. Opening the ledger, I saw on the first page “Diary of Mariana Marten,” my late mother, who had leapt from a railroad trestle one night when I was fifteen. It was dated in her fifteenth year. I put it aside on my night stand to read later, possibly on sleepless nights, and I turned to the manila envelope, unraveling the string. By the fading on the envelope and the condition of the twine closing it, the material was rather old, probably decades so. Inside were papers, loose; not checks, not a diary, not a mortgage deed. Oh no: a birth certificate, testifying to the offspring of one Corinne Chalmers, mother of a baby daughter named Jenna Elaine. No father’s name; but the birth date was my own, and the birth location was East Hollow, Maine. We lived in Wisconsin—Lancaster.  I had never been to Maine, and I had always been told neither of my parents had ever been farther than Chicago and Minneapolis/St. Paul (and the latter was on their honeymoon four years before my birth). Intuition impelled me to stop here, but that pesky imp of recklessness urged me on. Hands shaking, I reached for the stapled papers just below the birth certificate, and pulled them out of the envelope.

          “Order of Adoption,” I read, and parsing the legalese, I saw that one Jenna Elaine Chalmers, age one month, had legally been adopted by Wilson Daniel Marten—my father-the man I thought of as my father, the man who along with his wife Mariana Marten, had raised me-led me to believe I was their child, their natural child. All the guilt that I had felt because of my mother’s death—Mariana’s death; all the fears I harboured because of her suicide, fears that her mental illness was inheritable; all for naught, because apparently I was NOT even her child! Or his!

          I leaped from the chair, ripped the birth certificate from the nightstand where I had tossed it, and raced downstairs to the rear of the house and into the den, which my father had converted to his home office ten years earlier (he was an architect). He must either have heard my pounding footsteps, or intuited my anger, for as I rounded the corner into the den, he was already half to his feet at his desk, puzzlement—and yes, fear—clearly routed on his face.


          I stomped toward him, took a deep cleansing breath, and threw the birth certificate and the adoption record in his face.

          “Goodbye—Wilson! I’m flying to Maine! I will find her; and I will NEVER return!”

See original prompt at:

1 comment:

  1. Hiya

    I'm also doing the prompt challenge and it's been great. I love the detail of your piece and the ending is great.