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An Unexpected Discovery

A rocking chair with chipped paint sat eloquently in the corner of the dusty attic. It was shoved so far back, blocked by all the other junk littering the sweltering hot, dust-ridden cramped space, that I hadn’t noticed its presence the first few times I’d ventured up here. But as I made my way farther back, peeling back dilapidated sheets, unveiling deserted artifacts––a discolored wedding dress, an enormous trunk stuffed with threadbare boots, a crumpled cardboard box packed with old tools like wrought iron calipers––that’s when I noticed the relic huddled in the corner.

Being an antique collector and wanting to get a closer look, I scooted the mangled box of tools to the side with my white canvas sneaker, creating a safe path between me and that intriguing chair. Hunched over, careful not to bang my head on the rafters above me or scrape my back on the rusty nails poking out from the new roof that had been recently installed, I shuffled tentatively over the wood beam, not wanting to meet my demise by slipping off, landing on the insulation, and crashing through the ceiling. I aimed my flashlight at the chair, noticing how the layers of dust camouflaged its true color.

Gingerly, I trudged along, placing my left foot next to my right, sliding sideways, stirring up decades of dirt, clouding my once clean sneakers, now a light shade of gray covered in what looked like soot. I coughed in response to the tiny specks drifting up, tickling my nose and throat. I placed the crook of my elbow over my mouth as I teetered on the beam, practically falling over in half.

Regaining my composure, I swiped the sweat off the back of my neck with my free hand, leaving a dirt trail in its wake. A few more steps and I’d be there, but with my next step, something bumped up against my leg. I stopped. Frozen in place. Afraid to look down. To see what softness had just brushed my exposed shin.

“Oh God!” I squealed, shutting my eyes tight. I silently cursed myself and said into the darkness surrounding me, “I should’ve worn my jeans.” But knowing the high temperatures up here, especially in the middle of July, I had thought better of it, opting for a pair of capri leggings, which I was now regretting.

I held my breath, listening for any sounds of movement, for any creature that might be scurrying around. Clenching my teeth, I slowly pointed the flashlight down and the first thing I saw, was a small clump of brown fur. Frightened by this discovery, I quickly shuffled back to my left, closing my eyes. “Come on,” I encouraged myself, “be brave.” I inhaled deeply, more dust rushing into my nostrils, prompting another coughing spurt.

When it subsided, arms as stiff as an overly starched shirt, I flicked the light down again at the spot where I had just been standing, knowing good and well, if it was a creature, we’d need to find a way to cohabitate for the time being. As the light descended, illuminating the fuzzy offender, I peeled one eye open, squinting. Realizing what it was, I let out a laugh; a full-bellied, hearty laugh. It was a long, thin, brown, feathery, boa.

With that mystery solved, I continued slowly like a sloth. Only a few more steps until I reached what had caught my attention: that magnificent, antique rocking chair.

Unsteady on the slim wood, I outstretched my hand and laid it in the middle of the seat, feeling the warmth from the sun shining through the narrow slats of the louvered vent hanging just above it. Drinking in the craftsmanship, I gasped. I could tell that this striking chair was old. Very old; the mahogany wood a clue. It must’ve been built in the early 1800’s because that was the popular wood choice back then. Furthermore, the shellac finish confirmed its possible age since varnish didn’t come along until much later.

I ran my fingers over the curves and lines, feeling the splintered wood bleeding through the shellac, grazing my smooth palm, sure I’d find slivers under my lucid skin days later. And as I skimmed underneath the seat, my fingers were met by a piece of paper. I tried to yank it, but it wouldn’t budge. With my heart pounding against my ribs, I knelt down, craning my neck to get a better look. I angled the flashlight up under there and saw the words “For My Love” scribbled in crimson red ink across the yellowed envelope. I peered over my shoulder as if I were expecting the author of this letter to be standing behind me.

Shaking my head at my ridiculousness, I rummaged under the seat, and pried the paper loose, surprised at its stickiness given the current heat and what I guessed to be the age of the rocker. I wedged the flashlight between my chin and chest, freeing up my hands to open the secretive envelope. I slowly slipped out the paper, unfolding the wrinkly sheath, my eyes darting back and forth, treasuring each and every word. While holding the letter with one hand, I covered my gaping mouth with the other, and by the time I’d reached the end, tears dampened my flushed cheeks, spilling onto the thin parchment, thankfully not smudging the hardened and cracked, faded curly letters.

My breaths came in short, quick bursts. What do I do now? Do I share my news? Invite the world to marvel at what I’ve found? Or do I keep it for myself? Find a special place in my own home for such an extraordinary artifact? I didn’t know what to do, overcome by my discovery. As questions filled my headspace, the one question that stood out above all others was how had no one else found this? How could I possibly be the first one to have stumbled upon it?

I lifted the letter again, rereading the swoops and loops of the black ink––the blood of the fountain pen––the tool that must’ve been used to craft this piece of art:

            Dearest Susan,

            Although you are my second born, I have handcrafted this chair especially for you. As you nested in your mother’s stomach, I had a strong premonition about you. I don’t know how or why, nor would I ever tell anyone because they’d look at me like I’m crazy, (and trust me, they have reason to think I’m crazy enough with me already marrying a non-Quaker and going against my congregation with my ideals about ending slavery), but I sensed your future greatness like the witches sensed Macbeth would be king. I see you changing the lives of so many around you. I see you standing up for what you believe in. I see you paving the way. As you came kicking and screaming into this world in the way that you did, I felt it. Your strength. Your determination. Your resolve.

            Since we’ve fallen on hard times, so I put my normally textile hands to wood carving, hoping it brings me work. When your mother rocks you to sleep or soothes you during colicky fits, I hope you feel the power of my love flowing through its solid material, bringing you comfort, settling you, returning you to a state of bliss. And as you nestle against your mother, swaddled in warmth against her bosom, may contentment overtake you.

            I know that strong spirits like us will be faced with many adversities in life, but with your pluckiness, you will overcome all of them, becoming greater than you can ever imagine. More than you dare dream. More than you will ever know. But I, your father, can see it in those bright blue eyes of yours. They burn bright, and they will set fire to untrodden paths, trailblazing the way for generations to come. I promise you, one day, the world will know who Susan Anthony is.

                                                            Your Loving Father,

                                                            Daniel Anthony

                                                             March 1, 1820

I folded the letter, tucking it safely in my side pocket. As I descended the ladder, rejoining the others milling about on the second floor of the house, I knew exactly what I was going to do. I just needed (or more aptly, wanted) a few more minutes alone with this spectacular discovery before the rest of the world feasted its eyes upon that rocking chair with the chipped paint, safeguarding such a precious treasure.

blogger, moms

The Lady on the Steps

She was always there, perched on the gray, uneven stone steps, the ones leading up to the city’s library. No matter the time of day, no matter the type of weather, she was always there, sitting.

The first time I noticed her, I was rushing by, late to a meeting with my most important client––the president of that famous cosmetic company, the one with the big billboard looming over tenth avenue, two blocks away from here.

What caught my attention wasn’t the oversized, floral, canvas bag situated at her feet, but it was the way she hunched over it, rummaging through its contents, her head halfway down its enormous opening like it could swallow her whole if she peeked in any further. What could she be possibly looking for? I thought to myself as I rushed by, readjusting my bright red, Coach umbrella to shield the pelting rain from my freshly coiffed hair. Had I stopped to observe her for more than the one second that I did, I would’ve been two minutes late to my meeting––completely unacceptable to Ms. Fancy Face.

The next time I noticed her, I was on my way to brunch with my latest flame, that guy who claimed to be an actor. But if I’m being totally honest, that man could not deliver a line to save his life. Sitting on the same step as before, the one midway between the sidewalk and the landing, she wore an electric blue, (like the showy tail feathers of a peacock) wide brim bowler hat with a small, dried-out, crusty flower that at one point or another, had most likely been a daisy.

I slowed my pace because truthfully, it’s not like I was dying to meet that clown waiting for me in the back booth of the Big City Diner. Carefully, walking heel to toe, not to look suspicious, I glanced sideways, taking in her outfit. Her oversized frock, with its frayed hemline, draped around her, swallowing up her bunched legs as she pretended to knit. No straight needles. No double needles. No circular needles. And certainly, no yarn existed in her empty hands. Despite that, she spooled that imaginary yarn around her fingers, yanking it inch by inch from the bright floral bag resting near her tattered, high ankle boots. She lifted her head, nodding her round chin in my direction. I immediately picked up my pace and scurried along, feeling like a peeping Tom.

Over time, I found myself walking out my way, purposely taking the longer route, just to see her, each time lingering longer, drinking in the tiniest details, like the way her wiry, gray curls settled by her ears, framing her face like a set of spirally shaped curtains.  Or how her long, dark lashes encased her brown eyes, golden like the afternoon sun shining through a glass of whiskey. I was a rubbernecker lurking in the shadows.

Whenever I walked by, I watched all kinds of people lumber up and down the stairs, never stopping, never paying her any attention. Instead, they went about their business as if she was just another fixture like the two oversized granite lions resting on their bellies by the grand entrance. I began to wonder how I hadn’t noticed her before. Had she been there all along, but with my hectic schedule I just hadn’t noticed her? Had I been too self-absorbed to see her? Or had she recently parked herself there?

Month after month, season after season, relationship after relationship, I passed by those stairs, watching, and like all the other people who had come and gone, I never bothered to stop and talk to her, never once acknowledging her presence. Rather, I observed her, wondering what could have happened to her. Wondering how she’d ended up here, on these uncomfortable steps. I wondered if she was missing anybody or more importantly, was anybody missing her. Was she a wife? A mother? A grandmother?

During the cold winter months, I noticed how the birds huddled at her feet for warmth, and how she bundled herself under a wool blanket, tucked up in the corner of the building, protecting herself from the biting wind. In the dog days of summer, she moved to the same spot, warding off the scorching rays from the midday sun. I wondered where she went at night. Did she stay there, or did she have a house to go home to? Did she spend the harsh winter nights in a shelter?

Something about her intrigued me. She was enchanting in an unexplainable way. I observed the way she smiled at the empty space around her like she was greeting a long-lost friend who had come to visit her after years of absence. I saw the faraway look in her eyes, as she stared straight ahead, looking right through me as if I were a ghost. Her sunken cheeks were hollowed out like her best memories had seeped from those once high cheek bones. Maybe she had been a showgirl back in the day. Or maybe she had been a glamorous actress. Perhaps she had been a well-loved teacher. No matter, whatever she’d been then, now, she was the lady from the library steps.

No one bothered her and she didn’t bother anybody in return. Every once in a while, someone would throw a dollar or two into her bag, the one that I assumed housed all her life’s belongings.

I don’t know why I never took the time to say hello, to sit by her, offer her up a moment of friendship. Perhaps it was my fear of the unknown––the fear of someone I didn’t understand, someone I couldn’t relate to. After all, I hadn’t been exposed to what my well-to-do parents would call, “her kind of people”. Maybe I was embarrassed by my Gucci pumps or my Prada purse, ashamed that I, somehow, had been lucky enough to win the wealthy lottery jackpot by being born into privilege while she sat exposed, in the elements, like an experiment in a petri dish for city folk to observe.

As much as my inner voice nagged at me, speaking directly to my heart, needling me to stop and interact, my logic overrode such emotion, my mother’s voice coaxing me to keep moving along. To mind my own business. But curiosity, or perhaps fascination kept me engaged, constantly walking by that woman, on that step, who perhaps was waiting for an old flame to return.

I wasn’t proud of myself or my behavior. Not at all. Sadly, I will never know who she was or why she was there. I’ll never learn of her life story or even her name. I will never have the chance to offer her a moment of companionship, a warm meal, or even a new blanket. And regretfully, I will have to live with that guilt, constantly wondering what that says about me as a person, because she was always there, until one day, she wasn’t.