The following is my first installment of Magpie Tales stories, based on (or, more accurately, inspired by) a picture posted weekly at magpietales.blogspot.com.
The last thing I need is another blog to keep up. But this is an opportunity to post some creative writing samples. Who knows where it will lead!
In this story the mystery is never solved. Perhaps that is as it should be sometimes.
“Give me a hand with this,” Jack said.
I looked up from my book at the man who had been my husband for sixteen years and sighed. His arms were laden with a box of memories collected over his life time; a life time that was wasted on memories. Jack lived in the good old days and had a penchant for adding to them as time went on. The future was a foreign concept to him and the present was merely a point in time from which to look back and remember when...
“What are you doing with it?” It was a dangerous and stupid question, but I asked it anyway.
“I’m going to sort it out.”
“And you need me to...?”
“Go through it with me.”
Unfazed by my obvious reluctance to relive his past, Jack plunked the box on the kitchen table and opened it. The cardboard flaps, worn from many previous openings and closings, allowed themselves to be folded back like the mystical shrouds Jack thought they were. They hung willingly by their scored hinges, four flower pedals blossoming in the light of day.
In spite of myself, I peeked over the edge of the open box. It looked just like it looked last time I looked, like a gathering of bits and pieces of a life that thought a cracked distributor cap from a ’57 Chevy (not even one Jack had owed) was precious. Some old photographs, a few report cards (the ones with A’s on them), every boutonniere from every wedding since 1960, a couple of love letters from the girls that got away, a dog collar (his first dog’s), ticket stubs from every concert since 1974, a pair of baby booties (just like the ones he had when he was a baby), one of those dashboard hula girls (spring broken), a remote control from the first TV he had with a remote control, an empty rum bottle, two ashtrays stolen from hotel rooms, six shot glasses stolen from bars, a few old 45s, eleven LP covers (kept for the artwork), an eight-track cassette, three rocks, some mini liquor bottles from past flights, a T-Rex t-shirt with a brooding Mark Bolan in a top hat, a patch pocket from a pair of striped bell bottoms, a black light, the first dollar Jack had earned (or a reasonable facsimile thereof), a set of coins from Canada’ centennial, his parent’s wedding picture along with various other bits and pieces came out of the box one by one. Thankfully, the stories behind them remained silent inside.
My book, my glasses and my tea had been dispatched to the counter to make room for all the junk. I stubbornly remained in my chair, keeping my hands to myself. I knew better than to show an interest by actually touching anything. I had seen all of these items dozens of times; had been there when many of them became exalted and worthy of the box. I knew all the stories behind each and every thing that now graced my kitchen table top.
There was one thing that I didn’t recognize. Nestled in the centre of the table between the broken snow globe and the worn-out, leather wallet was a pair of Selbuvoter gloves, navy on white, with an intricate snowflake pattern on the back. They were old, very old. And big. They must have been made for a giant of a man.
“Jack,” I said, reaching for the gloves, “what are these?”
“Hmmm?” he said by answer as if he wasn’t really paying attention.
“These gloves? Where did they come from?”
“Oh, those,” he said in mock disinterest. “They were my great grandfather’s. My great grandmother made them for him as a wedding present. It was traditional, you know.”
I looked up at my memory-collecting husband and with sudden clarity knew what he was doing. He had just got the gloves, no doubt, and this was his way of introducing them to me. Any excuse to bring out the box!
“They’re enormous!” I said as I examined the perfect knitting.
“Apparently, so was my great grandfather. According to legend he stood nearly seven feet tall and wore a size 18 shoe.” The pride he injected into all of his memories was seven-fold its usual magnitude. “It’s a minor miracle that I have them at all. He was buried wearing them, you see.”
I dropped the gloves, recoiling in minor revulsion at the thought. Jack laughed.
“You’ve heard about those bodies that they dig up even now and then that are perfectly preserved. Usually, it’s women, but every now and then one of lesser human beings,” I rolled my eyes at this self-deprecation, “turns out to be worthy of sainthood.”
This was going to be a doozey, I thought. “Your great grandfather is a saint?” There was no hiding my scepticism.
“Not exactly. At least not officially as far as I know. But it seems that the church is ‘investigating’ the possibility.”
I gave Jack my best you’re-full-of-it look.
“Seriously,” Jack said. “There’s a bunch of cardinals or something pouring over his remains even as we speak, trying to decide what his status should be. He’s not just mummified, Clare. He’s absolutely perfect. He looks just like the day he died.”
“I didn’t know your family was Catholic.”
“So what is the church’s interest in this?”
“It’s not every day that a hundred-year-old body comes out of the ground looking like it just went down for a nap an hour ago.”
“Okay, there’s more to this story than you’re letting on. Give.”
Jack smiled. He had me just where he wanted me.
“I don’t know all the details,” Jack began. “I don’t know much about my great grandparents at all. All I know is that the cemetery where they were buried was recently moved. All the bodies – about sixty, I’m told – were dug up to be moved to a new plot. Something about the residents nearby complaining about hauntings or some such nonsense. Anyway, a new plot was found that everybody approved and the exhumations began. My great grandfather was among the last to be buried in the cemetery and, as it turned out, the last to be dug up.
“When they pulled his coffin out of the ground, it tumbled over, broke open and he rolled out. Caused quite a stir, I’m told. The grave diggers were stunned and called in the authorities. The body was taken to a university in Prague, I believe. Somehow, and this is sketchy, the church got wind of it and now they are fighting with the university for the right to have the body to determine if this is a bona fide case of divine intervention.”
“That’s bizarre,” I said. “But how did you end up with the gloves?”
“They arrived in the mail the other day.”
“Just like that?”
“Pretty much. Yep.”
“I don’t understand.”
“I don’t either.”
“It is a little.”
“It is a lot!” I said. “How on earth did these things end up being mailed to you? Why didn’t they stay with the body?”
“I don’t know.”
“So how do you know all this other stuff?”
“I called my mother.”
“Does she know how the gloves got here?”
“She says she doesn’t.” He said. “But she knew they were missing.”
“What are you going to do?”
“The gloves.” Wasn’t it obvious?
“Someone wanted me to have them.”
“Don’t you want to know?”
“Because the mystery is more fun and makes a better story.”
Jack didn’t answer.
The idea that a pair of gloves that had been buried with their owner for a hundred years and then mysteriously arriving by mail was disconcerting to say the least. As I cooked our supper, I told myself that Jack made the whole thing up. Maybe the gloves did belong to his great grandfather, but my mind would not believe that they had spent the last century in his grave with his pristine body. That was just ridiculous. The story was too vague, too much was missing.
It wasn’t like Jack to tell half a story; he was a detail man. His good-old-days stories were painfully specific. Right down to the colour of underwear sometimes. I just could not accept that Jack would accept such a bizarre and unconfirmed account any more than I could accept the macabre yet fuzzy facets of a tale so outlandish as this one was. I decided to put the whole thing out of my mind.
And somehow I managed to do that. Until, that is, a package arrived a few days later from Jack’s mother. In it was a note, in her shaky, eighty-year-old script:
I thought you might like this to go with your great grandfather’s gloves. What a grand story this will make for you.
Along with the note was a photograph of a giant of a man with neatly parted silver hair and equally giant handle-bar moustaches. He was laying on a slab in a morgue and was dressed in a black suit that looked like something a farmer would wear in the early 20th century. And on his hands was a pair of navy on white Selbuvoter gloves. Next to him stood a priest and a doctor. On the back was written: Jacob Anderson Born 1853. Died 1910. It was dated Jun/09.
He looked like he was sleeping.