Opened Secrets

O2020

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“People’s personalities, like buildings, have various facades, some pleasant to view, some not.” ~Francois de La Rochefoucauld

“For a fleeting moment, I entertained the notion of being an actor,” Ashley said. “It started after we had gone to Ashland for the Shakespeare Festival. Even though it wasn’t the real Globe Theatre, I could imagine what it would be like, to recreate a world, a time, a persona… Not that I would have been any good at it mind you.”

Christina sighed. “I didn’t even know the whole truth about that particular Fall. I had my guesses, but you were good…no, great at hiding what you didn’t want to be known. That’s why I envy Evan -it must be a guy thing.”

“Not really. I suspected there were times when Mrs. Gordon asked that he try to find something during track practice. However, I had my own tricks to dodge that in the locker room. To be fair, he did catch me unawares with the original postcards.

“He discerned when I was writing to impress them with a false sense of bravery versus expressing my truth. Between Evan, his parents, and more importantly, Mama, I guess it was only a matter of time before I truly wrote for myself. And then, there was the  piercing pain when Uncle Jerry made his confession.”

“Why do you think the Ashland clue involves your uncle?”

Ashley shrugged. “It could be anything. Maybe there’s more to his own facade, too.”

New Found Soul

N2020

New Zealand

“Being true to yourself really means being true to all the complexities of the human spirit.” ~ Rita Dove

Christina gave Ashley a milkshake as she sat down beside him on the patio, her own drink in hand. “That year in high school,” she started, looking at him out of the corner of her eye, “what exactly happened that fall?”

He looked off into the distance, silent and still. After a moment, he spoke in almost a whisper. “Do you mean how did I know whom to introduce her to and why?”

Christina faced him properly and waited for him to do the same. “I’m sorry. Didn’t mean to finally find the line not to cr-.”

He kept his focus afar but raised his voice ever so slightly. “You ever read Janet Frame’s works? Vivian Gates introduced me to them. Brought up a lot of memories I thought I buried. I know why I write, why I love it. I’m talking forward and you’re asking past.

“The unofficial counseling sessions were what helped keep me somewhat sane. Of course, they were never called that; benefit of finding a hero with an alter ego of violin teacher. Anyhow, after… If Stringfellow was safe for me, then it would be safe for…”

Ashley turned to look Christina in the eye. “I haven’t for-.”

“You have nothing to forgive yourself for. What happened wasn’t your fault.”

“I haven’t forgotten her,” he finished. “She’s there, in that treasured place of memory alongside my grandparents. And one of these days, I’m going to make it to New Zealand, just like she wanted to go. Still have the map and itinerary, too.”

Christina’s eyes widened. “You’re serious?”

He nodded. “I was going to say, if you have a current passport, or few, we could make it quite a family adventure.”

She smiled. “Exploring someplace new could be fun, and healthy. You set the date, I’ll get the reservations.”

Mapping of the Heart

M2020

Minnesota

“A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.” ~ Jackie Robinson

Ashley realized, with each new visit, that these various people made up the veins of his grandparents’ heart. He learned more about Grandma and Grandpa Grant than what his Uncle Jerry could provide.

It was more than their youth, their school years, their early years. Ashley saw a glimpse of what ‘could be.’ The connection between Grandma Grant and the Gordon family almost seemed to be Fate confirmed. Octavia’s stories reminded him of the closeness he had with Evan’s family.

‘You may have taken a few more years to get here, but here you are and our door is always open,’ she told him, embracing him with both her arms and her words.

Labyrinth of the Mind

L2020

Library of Congress

Library of Congress

“I always imagined that Paradise would be a kind of library.” ~Jorge Luis Borges

Ashley laughed again. All of the years of owning the small clock, how had he not known Bompa and Bomma Grant wouldn’t have hidden something there? He shuffled the seven catalog cards again, determined to find the last combinations. The first two were in different languages: Catalan and Latvian.

A knock on the back door pulled him away from the puzzle. “Evan, I had lunch prepared for you guys. You didn’t have to-.”

The svelte man before him shook his head. “I dare you to walk back and tell Mama that-.”

“Never mind! Christina running late?”

Evan shook his head again. “The kids have back-to-back soccer games, so you’re stuck with me. Be aware that I’ll probably be expected to give her a report, therefore, you’re not off the hook.”

The feast spread out on the counter and plates filled, they returned to the puzzle at hand.

“So, what’s the challenge this time,” Evan asked as he picked up the catalog cards from the murder mystery game board, noting that these books existed somewhere in the library. He stopped referring to it as a house, given that space was given to more books than basics.

“Trying to find the last two seven-letter words. So far, I have ‘llibres’ and ‘gramata.'”

Evan shook his head as he set the cards back on the gameboard. “Did your grandparents have something against plain English, or maybe Latin? Where’s your Scrabble game?”

Ashley nodded towards the game shelf in the other room. “To be fair, all of them encouraged me to learn as many languages as I could. Grandpa Grant said ‘the more languages you know, the more keys in your hand to unlock literary wonders.'” He shuffled the cards again.

“What letters am I pulling out,” Evan asked, tile bag in hand. Ashley told him. “I’ll make you a wager. If I figure out my word before you do, you’re going to the con with me next weekend.”

“You just got here. What makes you think-?”

“Either you offer evidence that you’re as wordy as you think you are or pack the whole game up now,” he taunted. “Deal or no deal?”

Ashley smiled, narrowing down which languages to try with the cards he had. “Deal.”

Evan shuffled the tiles thrice before spelling out ‘maktaba’ just as Ashley layered the corners of the cards to spell ‘leabhar.’

The younger man sighed. “I’ll still go to the con with you if you promise not to get me lost the moment we walk through the doors.”

Evan smiled. “I actually had a smaller nerdier conference in mind that might be more your speed. Not your fault you didn’t know the word for library in Swahili. Which word is yours?”

“Irish word for ‘book.’ The other words are ‘book,’ too. Three books and a library. Question is, which books for these last two?”

“Knowing you, it’s probably something already in your collection. Take a break from it and try to beat me at a game of chess,” Evan said.

Ashley scanned the notes before picking up the postcard from the Library of Congress. “Whatever you say.”

Open with Kindness

K2020

Kansas

“I am a writer perhaps because I am not a talker.” ~Gwendolyn Brooks

Ashley had a new notepad within reach as he stared at the postcard, a map, and a stack of five books. The conversation with Grandma Emery’s friend and former classmate led him to revisit the centermost state, which led back to the riddles.

Christina brought him back to the present. “Hope you’re getting more sleep than your current raccoon look suggests,” she said. “Hughes, Capote, Earhart, Brooks, and Baum – talk about an ecclectic collection you have there.”

“The Oz collection was part of the mailed book-of-the-month deal, along with the Earhart biography. Hughes and Brooks were gifts shortly after I declared my major.”

She held up the copy of ‘In Cold Blood.’ “Is this from your uncle Jerry?”

Ashley shook his head. “If he knew I had that one, he’d kill me. Too close to home, he’d say. Maybe.” He returned his attention to the riddles. “Lebanon! Great, another seven-step riddle to follow after this. Unless…”

Christina watched as he walked over to his poetry book collection in what most folks would have called a living room. “Two questions to add to your homework – what led you to write so many poems and why are you publishing them under a pen name?”

“I told you about Vivian Gates, right? Well, in between dance sessions and art lessons, she reconfirmed something Evan had joked about earlier. She read some of my stories – trying to red-pen-proof them before Wilder got them. Anyhow, she challenged me to try my hand at poetry. I liked it.

“Can you help me? I need the book that has the poem, Lebanon, in it.”

Christina grabbed a few of the books from his hands. “Are you going to kindly tell me what you hope to find?”

“The keys needed for the next puzzle, of course.”

 

Old is New

I2020

Italy

Ashley committed to memory one of the shortest poems his great-aunt Sharon had ever written. Even as the cardboard it was scribbled on was stained and heavily creased, it held up as well as the circular landmark sketched on it:

Remember, even

Odd, confusing

Memories

Are necessary

Habits

H2020

Hawaii 2

“Find ecstasy in life; the mere sense of living is joy enough.” ~ Emily Dickinson

Ashley read his great-aunt Sharon’s journal of her stay in Hawaii. Each day’s entry began with a list of things to do. The habits she had in her care-free youth brought a smile to his face. He frowned as he saw how more than half of them no longer lasted.

There was something in these pages that he was supposed to see, if he interpreted the sketch of the seashell correctly. Returning to the first page, he read through the book one more time.

Folding Solutions

F2020

Florida 2

“The moon looks upon many night flowers. But the night flowers see but one moon.” ~Jean Ingelow

“They included a puzzle card inside the dust jacket of the books mailed. When they were in Florida, there was a story about a NASA Physicist who became an origami champion. He helped solve a challenge later.” Ashley held up a paper flamingo. “That story inspired them to up the puzzle game.”

Evan watched, amused as the stacking of books brought back memories of a youth long gone and college. “Are you sure it would be worth a trip to Florida if the only thing you’re going to be drawn to is the stars?”

“You know me, Space Cadet and proud of it.” He rearranged some piles. “Constellations! The secondary code is in the stars! Now, which one in the menagerie gets to be untangled…?

Emerging Mystery

E2020

Edinburgh

“It is impossible to repent of love. The sin of love does not exist.”
~ Muriel Spark

Evan Gordon reviewed the first few shelves before he picked up a copy of Sherlock Holmes. “There’s a question I’ve been meaning to ask,” he said before joining Christina and Ashley at the puzzle table. “How in the world did you pass your geography tests with a deck of literature cards? It’s been ticking off my little sister for years.”

“It’s Papa Gordon’s doing,” he said. “Whenever we did the whole flashcard game when we were younger, he always framed my questions as ‘where in the world.’ Edinburgh was my favorite. Covered every genre.”

Christina shook her head. “No wonder your answers never made any sense to me. Which Nonni pair set you up for that, first?”

He shrugged. “Sharon had a hand in it, too. I stared at that sketch and every single one I could find in my collection. There’s another puzzle there and I can’t seem to find it.”

“You’re trying too hard, Ash. How do you think Watson would handle it?”

“Dig down into the facts, look for the hidden layers beyond the obvious and-.” He bolted up from the table, knocking edge pieces onto the floor. “It was right there. It was right there when she…”

He returned with a stack of the most recent letters from Grandma Emery. “Of course! Question is, what did I do with those cards?”

Christina glanced at the letters. “It’s all Greek to me.”

Evan picked up the letter, only to see the last line written in another language. He tossed it Christina’s way. “What are you up to, Ash?”

He returned with a couple of baggies filled with pieces of cardboard in them. “Her last line has been the same for the last… ‘Remember the cards. Remember the combos.’ She gave me these mind game pieces years ago. Then, Grandpa Emery gave me some more a few years later. Christina, what are the first numbers drawn in the margin?”