My car stutters as I turn into my grandparents’ apple orchard. It’s a crisp September day, but the trees lining the dirt path reach out with bony, leaf-less limbs. Rotting apple cores sit decomposing in piles beneath the trees, and I roll up my window to avoid the stench. Headlights flash in my rear view mirror as my aunt’s Sequoia rides my ass into the front yard of the property where the path turns into a concrete parking lot. My cousin’s silver convertible has already claimed the first spot. She puts her hard cider on the porch banister and meets me halfway.
I nod at the two story farm house complete with a wraparound porch and yellow porch swing. “It doesn’t look different.”
“My mom’s been taking care of it. They’ve only been gone four days, but she’s cleaned everything twice.” My cousin, Vanessa (Ness for short) brushes her orange, flat-ironed hair back off her shoulders. She usually wears cute sweaters and leggings all autumn, but today she’s opted for light-wash, mom jeans and an old, paint-splattered sorority t-shirt. Ness and I are the only cousins out of ten who volunteered to help sort through our grandparents’ things.
“Your mom’s here by the way.” My head’s up isn’t necessary as my aunt is already lugging a vacuum out her back seat.
“Mom, there’s a vacuum in the house. We’re just sorting through boxes, remember?” Ness rolls her eyes, but her voice is soft and cautious.
My aunt Meredith hauls the vacuum up the porch steps, nearly knocking Ness’s glass off. “While you girls sort, I’m going to get a bit of cleaning in.” Aunt Meredith’s face is more red and puffy than usual, and her jacket is inside out.
“Mom, it’s clean. Maybe you should go home and get some rest.”
“I slept a few hours this morning. It’ll only take a few minutes.”
Ness looks to me, and we let Aunt Meredith go in and start vacuuming the living room. The noise distracts from the heavy silence. I grab the red, plastic cookie jar out of the cupboard. There’s only one left. Ness and I split it. Then we start in the basement, knowing it’ll take the longest.
Five boxes of holiday decorations later, I come to the last box in the basement closet. It’s unmarked. At first it appears to be filled with loose ball ornaments in various colors, and then I spot a shiny, ovular object near the bottom. Initially I assume it’s a toy, but it’s heavy and made of brass. “Ness, can you come here?”
“If it’s a spider, kill it yourself,” she calls from the other end of the basement.
“It’s not a bug.”
She sighs. Her footsteps slow as she gets closer. “Is that–a genie lamp?”
Like this story? Read part two on September 26, or read more like it here: http://www.wedbushwrite.com/beautiful-mask/