A big blob of oil dripped from the car suspended above me in the double bay garage. It splatted onto my arm, trickling around it, then plopped to the cement floor. I groaned and pushed a curl of red hair out of my face with the back of my hand. It was possible I was the grimiest girl in town, but that would be my life if I remained a mechanic.
I glanced at my watch. It was already an hour past closing— again. Why was I forced to do every last-minute repair? Constant gunk under my nails, overworked, a house filled with belongings to sort through… Gramma’s belongings. A week off would help. But my boss hadn’t relented yet and I wasn’t getting my hopes up.
A forceful twist of the wrench settled the stubborn nut into place. I wiped my hands on the cloth hanging from my pocket.
“Surely there are cleaner machines out there,” I mumbled. “And kinder bosses.” Quitting my job was the most logical course of action. Gramma had wanted me to return to my studies when she was gone. A pang of sorrow dropped into my stomach. Would quitting be a mistake? I needed money. I already had this job and a place to live—Gramma’s now lonely house.
I stepped out from under the car and lowered it, glancing out the bay doors. People were strolling down the road going about their evening, but no more vehicles had pulled in.
“Good. I can deal with Duke and go home.” I sighed.
At the sink at the back of the garage I scrubbed and scrubbed until the skin of my arms stung. Still black stains lingered. I removed my coveralls, glancing regularly at the parking lot. I walked into the lobby, determination swelling in me.
My boss, Duke, was sitting behind the counter. “Copper Rose. Is that sedan fixed yet?” His flabby bulk spilled over the sides of his stool. I buried a cringe. He was always at the garage, looming over his worker bees, hardly ever lifting so much as an oil cap, yet filth coated his sweaty flesh.
“Yes. It’s in bay one.” I hesitated. “Duke? About that week off…”
Duke narrowed his eyes at me, his fat cheeks drooping. He tapped a pen on the counter nearly as fast as my heart was beating. “I can’t do without ya.”
“I’ll work late the whole month after. I just have so much to do now that Gramma…”
“You’ll work late anyway,” he growled.
I steeled myself. Losing my temper would not help. “I have to pack up her things. Then—then I won’t miss work anymore.” I cringed internally. When had I been reduced to begging in order to keep that lousy job?
“Fine.” Duke spat. “But only one week. I don’t wanna lose business just ‘cause yer grandma kicked the bucket.”
I clenched my teeth. It’s your smell that will drive off business, you uncouth… I bit back the sharp retort. I had to keep this job until I knew what to do next, until I decided… “Thank you.”
The bell on the lobby door jingled and someone entered. “Miss Locke, I was headed home from work and noticed the garage door was still open. Could you…” a woman from the other side of town said.
I grabbed my bag and coat from under the counter before the woman could finish what she was saying.
“Not so fast, Copper Rose.” Duke’s stool squealed as he leaned forward. “Yer takin’ this one.”
My nostrils flared. “I…” Count… breathe… stay calm… I had to stay in control. My skills were valuable to other people. I just needed time to mourn… I needed to be ready.
He grunted. “And I’m rethinkin’ that time off.” Spit flew from his mouth as he shook his finger at me.
I glanced at the woman paused at the door, concern painting her face. I turned slowly, grinding my teeth back and forth. Duke glared at me, his arms folded tightly over his chest.
No more. I smiled. “No problem, Duke. I quit!”
His jowls quivered. “You can’t do that. No one else will hire you.”
“What do you care? Forget the week off. I’m going back to college.” I felt a mix of relief and fear palpating in my chest. Was deciding really this easy? Maybe living in the city wouldn’t be so awful this time… since no one needed me at home.
“You? Why would they take back a trumped up drop-out like you? You’ll come crawlin’ back here in no time.”
I flung my purse over my shoulder and strode to the door. The woman held it open, gaping at me as I stormed out. Duke threw scathing words at me. Words I refused to believe. I could make machines from scratch and fix anything made of metal. I hurried past on-lookers who’d paused to watch the action. Their gazes followed my long strides down the several town blocks and out into rolling farm country.
My anger drained away as I passed the spring green of the country. Aging asphalt slipped under me. Maybe quitting was a bad idea, but it was too late to change that now. The only thing I could think to do was go back to school. Hopefully the Dean would keep his word to hold my scholarship. But what would I live on? Maybe I had enough to get by until I found a job at school. If I packed up the house quickly I could even make it to the coming semester. I kicked a rock. It skipped along the dirt and settled in the grass on the shoulder of the road. I had the beginnings of a plan.
What could I do with the family farm? How can a person even have a family farm without a family? I would never wake to the smell of Gramma’s homemade pancakes again. No one would check on me and cheer me up on a tough day.
A hawk swooped over a field startling two horses. They thundered across the field throwing their heads. Shadows trembled as a slight wind drifted through the large maples along the road. A fragile quiet settled over me. I slowed my pace as the farmhouse came into view.
Birds flitted through the yard and butterflies kissed blossoms sprouting from the rich, though crowded flowerbeds. But the house seemed lifeless. The porch swing rocked in the breeze. I could almost see Gramma sitting there knitting, her frail wrinkled hand raising above her head to wave at me. I would miss her smile of pure delight when she saw me approaching.
Hesitating, I unlocked the door and entered. Cool air lay still in the hall. A slight mustiness tickled my nose. Gramma had been gone for only a week but the house seemed to have died with her.
A creak came from the living room. “Gramma?” I sometimes expected her to be rocking in her chair, knitting needles furiously clicking. I stepped around the corner, glancing at the empty chair. Gramma’s basket of yarn sat next to it, vaguely gray with dust. I grabbed the door-frame, leaning my forehead against the wood.
Will I ever get used to her being gone? I pounded a fist on the frame. Losing my only family? I wanted to scream and yell— Unfair!—but all I got was a pathetic, dull thud. I fought the tears burning up from the hole in my chest, and mumbled, “Oh, Gramma. I miss you.”
A beam of late New England sunlight touched my arm, warming, comforting.
Framed needle point samplers of dainty flowers hung on the wall beside sepia-toned photos. The sturdy fireplace lay cold, medication bottles trailing across the mantel. Hand- crafted shelves and cabinets lined the walls, holding the belongings of a woman who no longer needed them. Several empty boxes waited by the couch. I’d intended to fill them with Gramma’s belongings, but now I would gather up the pieces of my life as well.
I pulled down a picture of my mother to gaze at her green eyes and coppery red hair. It was like looking in a mirror. “You left me too,” I said pulling one springy curl out of my face. When had I quit waiting for her to come back? I couldn’t remember, but I knew it had been a long time ago. My Gramma would never tell me anything about her son, my father. Eventually I gave up asking.
I sniffled, putting down the photo. Dwelling on the past wouldn’t help. There were too many ghosts there, shadows of those who were no longer with me.
Bam, bam, bam.
I jumped at the noise from the front door. I hurried to answer it.
“Oh, Reverend Patterson. Good afternoon.” I sighed in relief at the sight of a man I knew well. He’d never stopped visiting Gramma during her illness. I invited him in. He wore jeans and a black shirt with a little white collar. His casual style put the local farmers at ease.
“I wanted to see if there is anything I can do for you,” the reverend said. “I heard about your job. Sorry. Small town rumors move fast.”
I chuckled. “Thank you. There might be something you could do.” My mind was racing with ideas and plans.
He moved into the dim hall. “I’m very sorry for your loss. I can hardly believe she’s gone.”
I rubbed one eye, hoping it was dust. I followed him to the living room where he stopped and turned to me.
The reverend slowly looked around the room, his eyes falling on the boxes. “You’re packing? I assume you will be leaving us.”
“I was going to box up anything of Gramma’s that I didn’t need, but now I’ve decided to go back to MIT.”
He nodded, a smile touching his mouth.
I waved for him to take a seat. “But I’m worried about the farm. The back forty is being used for hay by our neighbor, but there aren’t any animals anymore. I don’t want it to sit uncared for.” I busied myself pulling open the checkered curtains.
“What about Leatha—I mean, your mother?”
Glancing at my mother’s photo, I shrugged.
Reverend Patterson shifted in his seat. “Oh, sorry. I thought she might have at least let you know where she is.”
I shook my head. “No.”
He shifted his feet against the old brown carpet. “MIT is a good idea. You can do better than being a car mechanic. Your grandmother always said you were doing rather well. She talked about your talent for robotics and engineering. A true prodigy, she called you.”
I sat on the edge of a wooden chair near the cold fireplace. “Reverend—I’m not a prodigy. I’m just good at what I do.” I looked down at my worn sneakers. College felt a world away after spending a year caring for my ailing grandmother.
“You could rent out the farm until you’re ready to settle down. There’s nothing wrong with getting away from here. Even your grandmother left this town to explore the world for a while. Though what she did, other than marry and have a son, still remains a mystery. Did she ever tell you where she traveled to?” He smiled and rubbed a hand on one knee.
“No, but she said she never intended to return here. You know how she loved big trees?” I asked.
“Yes. The bigger the better.”
“She told me she loved them because my grandfather lived where the trees were bigger than skyscrapers. Of course she was exaggerating, but it made her happy to remember it that way,” I said. A pang of sadness hit me right in my chest. “It’s hard to believe she’s gone.”
“Of course.” He stood, glancing around again. He was quiet while I wiped tears from the corners of my eyes. The sudden silence permeated the room.
I stood up, ideas coming to me. “Uh, renting out the farm is a good idea. I could use the money to get by while I’m at school. But the furniture, I won’t need most of the stuff in the house.” Yes. I would put my belongings in the barn and find a renter. “I don’t have time to sell the all of it. I wouldn’t get much money anyway. Does anyone in the church need anything?”
“Maybe you could give me a quick tour and point out the items you intend to get rid of,” the reverend said, pulling his cellphone from his pocket.
“Yes.” I grabbed a box near Gramma’s chair then showed him to the kitchen. “The table and chairs, as well as the hutch, can go.”
He typed on the phone. “Lovely.”
I took Reverend Patterson through each room as he entered the list into his phone. He watched me place unusual mechanical tools and devices into my box next to books and photos that meant something to me.
In the laundry room, a grease-stained coverall was draped over the washing machine for a third time through. I tossed it into the garbage with a smile. I grabbed another one of my inventions from a shelf as I walked out.
“What exactly are those?” he asked.
“Oh.” I handed him a tea strainer that looked like a long legged bird. “This would pull the tea strainer out of the water when the tea had steeped long enough. I made it for Gramma before I moved back home. Most of my inventions were meant to help her as she got weaker.”
“Fascinating. They look old fashioned yet they’re functional and unique.” He tapped the tea strainer and it bobbed up and down, reaching for the cup it was meant to dip into. He placed it into my box.
I placed another machine in next to the tea strainer. “I used whatever I could find most of the time.”
We climbed the stairs. I set the full box inside my room and grabbed another empty one. The house didn’t seem so lonely with the reverend there to keep the conversation light. The idea of leaving was settling deeper into me. I didn’t have to know what I would do after college. There was time to figure that out later. I stepped up to the hallway wall, decorated with framed photos.
“Quite a lot of things on my list. You’re sure about all this?” he asked, tapping his finger on his chin. I looked at him from the hall where I was pulling a photo of my great-grandmother from the yellowed wallpaper.
“Yes. I won’t use the old furniture.” I pulled down an image of great uncle Henry and a distant cousin named Bertha, all long buried in the old graves next to Gramma’s freshly churned resting place. “There’s not much more. Only the beds in those three rooms and the dressers.”
He smiled, and peeked into the room across from mine.
“Sure.” I went back to pulling down photos. A creak came from the end of the hall.
Reverend Patterson was climbing the stairs to the attic. “What’s up here?”
I took two quick steps toward him and reached for his arm. “Oh, up there? It’s mostly broken junk, but I’ll pile anything of value on the porch for you. There are some family archives and a box of text books that I’ll need.”
He stepped back down.
I’d been holding my breath. Filling my lungs, I looked up at the closed door at the top of the stairs. As a child I’d thought treasure would be hidden in the attic’s cobwebby nooks and crannies, but there wasn’t actually anything special. I shook off the protective feeling.
“This seems to be a comprehensive list here.” The reverend tapped the side of his phone. “Some men can come by with trucks over the next few days, if that’s all right with you.”
“I might be in and out, but you know where the key is.” I put a picture into the box then led the way back downstairs and out the front door.
“She really was an incredible woman, always thinking of everyone else.” He looked out at the large maple in the center of the front yard.
I should say something, I thought, but no words came. New leaves peeked from the winter-weary branches. I gazed to the spot where I used to lie, looking up at the branches swaying like a giant’s arms over me.
“You take care of yourself, young lady. If you need anything else let us know.” He put a hand on my shoulder. The pang returned.
“Thank you,” I replied. He smiled gently and turned away. I watched him leave down the long, gravel driveway.
Behind me, the silence in the house felt like a weight pulling me down. Maybe I was making a mistake. I didn’t know how to fit into the big city. But I was never going back to Duke’s Garage. I backed into the entry, resisting the need to shut the door, hating the oppression of enclosed space. Latching it, I dashed up the stairs, avoiding the living room and the empty rocker. I leaned my head against the worn attic stair rail and breathed deeply.
Looking up at the attic door, a shiver ran through me. “It’s just an attic.” But I put my foot on the first step. I might as well get to it. The quicker the sorting is done, the sooner I can move on. The old door creaked as I opened it. Musty air swooped over me, tickling my nose.
Cardboard boxes guarded the edges of the room and sat on sheet-covered furniture. A fancy bird-cage, curtained in cobwebs, decorated a tilting dresser near the octagonal window. “Oh, Gram. Did you keep everything?” I moaned. I grabbed a box and pulled it open. Aged photos looked up through films of haze. No books here. Still the photos drew me in and I carefully wiped the dust off each one as I reminisced. Faces familiar and friendly passed through my hands. Familiar and friendly, but gone.
I remembered sorting through these photos in my early teens searching for some sign of my father, my grandfather, anyone that might still be alive. But there was nothing.
The light was fading quickly and the small, dim bulb swinging from the ceiling cast eerie shadows. I looked around, wanting to find my books before daylight left entirely.
Tick, tick, tick…
I paused, straining to find the source of the ticking. Stepping past a box that bore my childhood scrawl on its side and then the near the window, I searched. The sound grew louder. It was coming from a leather steamer trunk jutting out from under an old desk.
Groaning at the solid weight of it, I heaved it into the walkway. I had never seen it before. It was beautiful. Even the tarnished latch was ornate. I opened it and a thrill shivered through me. The rusty hinges squealed. The ticking seemed to speed up as if excited by this game of hot and cold.
On the very top was a black and white photo of a young Gramma. She embraced a light haired man. Smiles of such joy and togetherness covered their faces. Had he died or left her? Why didn’t she go back? I squinted at the aged photo. They stood in front of a very large tree trunk. Or it appeared to be a tree. It would have to be bigger than even the sequoias. Where were they? It had to be a trick of the light.
Pulling out several lacy Victorian dresses, I looked gently through pieces of jewelry, photos and strange trinkets below them. Why had I never seen these things before? I had been in this attic constantly as a child, but never found such obvious reminders of a time and place Gramma wouldn’t talk about. Gramma’s missing life; the trunk was full of treasure.
A small photo slipped from the stack in my hand and landed on the floor by my knee. A baby looked back at me with deep, dark, soulful eyes—like Gramma’s. The face was round, the cheeks pudgy. Flipping it, I found the initials D. S. written in elegant script.
Hairs on my arm stood on end and my heart skipped a beat. Could it be Gramma’s baby? Could it be my father? There was something about the image that left me curious.
Sifting through Gramma’s lost life I felt like she was there beside me. It eased the ache a little. As the last light of day sliced through the dingy attic window, something glimmered at the bottom of the trunk. The noise was so clear this had to be the source. I scooped up a large pendant on an intricate chain. It dangled through my fingers, the links strong yet elegant. The pendant was round with filigree etching framing a window of glass. A series of small gears turned in rhythmic harmony, clink, clink, clinking inside. How could it be running after all this time? It didn’t have watch hands, but it did have a small clasp. A locket?
Such a work of mechanical genius intrigued me. My palm warmed as the turning gears seemed to beat in tandem with my heartbeat. The faint clink, clink, clink filled my ears. The filigree carvings seemed to glow. I flipped it over again and rubbed the surface, trying to figure it out. It wasn’t a watch so why did it have gears, and what source of power kept it running? Clack, clack, clack—Clunk, Clunk, Clunk… The volume ascended as I reached for the clasp and carefully flipped it open.
Inside, the teeth of little metal gears interlaced and glistened—turning, turning, turning in perfect rhythm. Awed, I looked closer… Clunk, clunk, clunk. Light dazzled my eyes, sparkling and shimmering. Wind whooshed around me, spinning hair into my face. The turning gears pounding, pounding, pounding. My stomach roller-coaster dropped as my hair blew about. Still the gears turned, clack, clack, clacking with the beat of my heart.
I plunged into darkness, my breath coming in gasps. Cold sweat covered my palms. The clunk and clack of the gears reverberated in my head. Eyes closed, I spun, lost in the vortex.
Continued in Chapter 2
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