EvermoreBy: Modean Moon
1 January 1925
My Dear Friend Stephen,
I write to you after all these years to entreat of you one final request. I can turn to no other; I can trust no other. It is rumored that I am an embittered, half-crazed old man. Yes, even in my isolation, I hear these things. Only you know the truth behind my bitterness. Only you know the deep sense of failure I feel toward the one person whom I could have helped. And only you know that my mind is still clear, although now dedicated to one cause.
I have done much searching, much reading, and, when I was again able, much praying. The spiritualists and Madame Blavatsky have given me no clear-cut answers, but they have given me hope—hope that is strengthened by the words Eliza spoke to me when she was but a child and again in the hour before she so needlessly left me.
My preparations are now complete. There is no guarantee this will work, but I have done all that is humanly possible. And if there is a just God, if there is a loving God, Eliza and I will be together again. Here. In the home I built for her. In the home she grew to love in the few short months I was privileged to have her with me.
I ask—I plead—that you defend my estate, my wishes, and the Will that I have written. Some will say these are the demands of a deranged man. You have the strength and the position to counter those accusations, to preserve what I have so painstakingly and deliberately established until, God willing, we return.
Before the coming of the white man’s religion, our people believed that the spirits of the departed lingered—near their bodies, our people said, but could it not be near persons or places they loved? When once again I felt, other than pain, I became aware of Eliza’s gentle touch, of her gentle presence. She is no longer with me, and I am bereft. But I must believe that our separation is temporary. I await only your answer before I, too, can begin the adventure that lies before us.
Farewell, my dear friend.
I found the metal box on the top shelf of my grandmother’s closet a month after her funeral, hidden by hats that she had not worn for twenty years and old ladies’ orthopedic shoes with black laces.
The influenza that had run rampant through the section of Columbus, Ohio, where we lived, the disease that Gran had refused to give in to until just before it claimed her life, had left me still curiously weak. Other than that—unless the return of the dreams that had troubled me as a child was a result of the illness, of the high fever that had disoriented me, keeping me lost in time and space and unable to differentiate between drams and reality for almost two days—it might never have touched me.
I pushed back feelings of guilt as I went through my grandmother’s things; she no longer needed them, and I had never been happy surrounded by the faded remnants of her past.
There was no key to the box, at least none that I could find, and as I knelt on the floor, prying at the lock with a rust-pocked screwdriver, I wondered about the secrets of Grandmother’s life that she had found necessary to hide from me. It wasn’t her secrets I found, but mine.
Beneath a one-page will leaving anything she might own to me, two small insurance policies, yellowed receipts and tax returns, and long-expired warranties, I found the book I had bought when I was twelve, a moldy old history that I had found in the basement of a used book store and brought home because of a compelling picture it contained.
“Am I related to him?” I had asked my grandmother, hungry for any family, and especially hungry for any tie to the man portrayed, and I showed her the picture of David Richards, a copy of a painting done by the now-famous artist Stephen Ward before the Civil War.
“Richards is a common name, Elizabeth,” she told me in the always slightly disapproving tone she used when I questioned her about my parents or when I did something of which she didn’t approve. “Don’t go borrowing trouble.”
The book had disappeared the next day; it just wasn’t where I left it when I returned home from school, and Gran denied any knowledge of it. Now, ten years later, I held it in my hands. I rocked back on my heels in front of the closet door in the middle of the jumble of the contents of the box and opened brittle pages, surrendering to the smell of age and history that wafted around me.