By Ekta R. Garg
Prompt: A woman is driving her car when she sees something unexpected in the middle of the road. She pulls over to get a closer look. What is in the road? What happens when she gets out of the car? How does the object in the road reflect something significant in her life?
Kendall heaved a sigh as she gripped the steering wheel and continued down the back road. The speed limit here always bugged her, but the stop signs made traffic move faster than on the parallel main road with stoplights at every block. When she pulled out of the garage it always sounded in her head like a good idea, but by the time she reached the road she wondered what made her take it. Again.
Suddenly something glinted in the sunlight on the street ahead, distracting her from her mental mapping of the grocery store. Steve had graciously agreed to take the kids to lunch and a movie, giving Kendall a minimum of three hours to shop and then just take it easy after. Spending some time beforehand to think through her route in the store would have maximized the take it easy time and minimized the shopping time, and under normal circumstances Kendall would have ignored the odds and ends that mysteriously found their way to the middle of the road. But something about the object drew her attention and held it.
Checking the road in both directions, she slowed down and then pulled to a stop. In front of her she saw a white jewelry box tipped on its side, the lid hanging off one hinge. The box straddled the double yellow line on the road as if someone had dropped it there to divide jewelry lovers of various types.
Kendall got out of the car and glanced up and down the road again. Crouching next to the jewelry box, she gingerly picked through the contents. A pair of pearl earrings that didn’t look all that real. A Timex watch. A couple of cubic zirconia rings.
I can’t believe I stopped for this crap. Now I’ve wasted ten minutes. What possessed me to—
The twisted gold chain threaded through the clasp on an oval locket. A pair of hearts on the locket entwined at the edges and contained initials. J.M., the first heart held. R.M., the second heart stated.
Kendall’s breath caught. This looks just like the locket that Aunt Trudy gave me…
Aunt Trudy. Kendall’s favorite aunt, who lived in the exotic city of London. Trudy had pampered and fawned all over Kendall in the early years of Kendall’s life. Always said Kendall was the daughter Trudy never had. Oh, her son—the cousin Kendall adored as an older brother—he was fine. But Trudy had always wanted a little girl, and Kendall filled that hole in her life.
When Kendall had moved from her small town to Los Angeles to get her master’s degree, Trudy had sent the locket. It holds all the love you need to get through this grand adventure, she’d said. The hearts on Kendall’s locket remained blank, however. Whenever Kendall found a special young man, Trudy said she’d ask for the locket back to have it engraved with the happy couple’s initials.
Kendall adored the locket Trudy had worn around her own neck, and she’d felt overjoyed that Aunt Trudy would remember that. When she was little Kendall would wait for Trudy to take off the locket at night and then hold it around her neck. Trudy would pretend not to notice, but she couldn’t hide her smiles.
But the smiles disappeared the day Trudy’s little sister, Annette, died from a brain aneurysm.
On a Friday Kendall had called her Aunt Annette to tell her about Steve’s proposal; on Saturday morning Kendall’s mother called to tell her about Annette. And Kendall, horrified, walked around for the rest of the weekend with head hanging, as though holding up her head would confirm that she now had to look at a world without her sweet Aunt Annette in it.
A week later when she and her cousins and other family members began exchanging stories about the last time they spoke to Annette, Kendall began sharing news of her engagement. She did so reluctantly, but nevertheless her family offered her good wishes. By the fourth or fifth round of congratulations, Kendall found it possible to accept them without wanting to scream in response that Aunt Annette had died and no one should say anything happy.
When Trudy heard about the engagement, Kendall got her wish.
“How dare you?” Trudy said on the phone when Kendall answered two weeks after Annette died. “I just lost my sister, and you’re selfish enough to talk about your own life? What right do you have?! I never thought you could be so self-centered, Kendall, that you would flaunt your engagement in front of everyone like this.”
“Aunt Trudy, honest, I didn’t do anything like that. It’s just that—”
“Don’t try to make excuses for yourself. As far as I’m concerned, Kendall, I don’t think I can participate in any of your festivities. Please don’t invite me to anything, and don’t expect me to send a gift either.”
As Kendall crouched there in the middle of the road, she could still feel the force of her own gasp when Aunt Trudy had said those words. True to her word, Trudy didn’t come to the wedding or send a gift. She didn’t call three years later when Kendall announced her pregnancy.
In fact, she hadn’t talked to Kendall since that terrible month.
Kendall felt something wet on her cheeks and dropped the locket as if it had burned her hand. She choked back another gasp as she got into the car, slowly turned the key in the ignition, and inched forward on the road.