I never realized it, but the school day only revealed a small portion of the Abigail’s quirks. There were small things she did, things so innocuous that they went unnoticed until one day they became far too obvious. Like the way she climbed the stairs. It was as if she held a weight, and each step was a struggle. Or how she ate far more than should have been healthy for her age. Or her obsession with anything old.
The adoption process went smoothly, especially since the end of the year had arrived and she was no longer in my class. By the end of the week we returned to her house to collect her things.
The local authorities had removed the body of her mother. The videotape was all the evidence they required for her cause of death. There was no funeral since Abigail was her last living relative.
As I brought boxes from my car, Abigail rushed to her room, sliding out a chest from underneath her bed and throwing it open. A dozen objects rattled about the inside and she touched each to to make sure it was there. There was a picture, so faded that I couldn’t make it out, a shoelace, a ring, and a bottle cap among her treasures.
And there, among the trash, shined Bridget’s locket.
“Abigail, what are these?” I asked, picking up the ring.
“Don’t touch that Miss Mary! It’ll make you sad.” Said Abigail, pushing my hand down.
“Why’s that, Abigail? I think it’s pretty.”
“Pretty things can be sad too Miss Mary. And that one there,” She pointed to the bottle cap, “Makes me feel happy. But the baseball, the ball makes me angry. So angry.” She clenched a fist.
“Why would you hold it then?”
“For their stories. Sometimes I like feeling angry. Bridget likes feeling angry.”
“Who did these belong to?”
“I don’t know all of them. But they’re gone now. This is all that’s left, just the pieces they left behind.”
“Abigail, how does the locket make you feel?” I asked.
“The locket puts me to sleep Miss Mary. Bridget loves it when I wear it, but I think it makes me sleep too much sometimes.”
She took the box to my car and put it in the backseat. When she wasn’t looking, I took it back to the kitchen and hid it in the cupboard. She needed real toys to play with, and I had made up my mind to stamp out some of Abigail’s stranger habits.
But when we finished packing up, and I returned to the car, the box was on the dashboard. Abigail had not left my sight the entire trip.
As we pulled into the parking space at my apartment, Hank my Border Collie scrambled out the doggie door to meet her. Abigail outstretched a hand to pet him and his ears folded as his tail tucked between his legs. When her fingers brushed against his fur he growled, baring his teeth and backing into the house.
After we finished unpacking, Abigail helped me cook dinner. I decided upon
Chicken Parmesan and gave her the task of picking basil and oregano from my windowsill herb garden. I minced them and combined them in the sauce, and Abigail said it was the best meal that she had eaten in weeks. Compared to gummy worm sandwiches, I’m sure that it was.
After dinner, we listened to the tinkling of a piano from the apartment upstairs. An old lady lived up there, Ms. Hawthorne, and she taught lessons in the evening to pay for rent.
“Can’t I learn?” Asked Abigail, and immediately I agreed. This was just the hobby she needed.
I introduced her to Ms. Hawthorne the next day, and the old lady smiled, pinching Abigail’s cheek.
“She looks just like my own Gabby.” She commented, and after we negotiated prices, walked away on her cane. Ms. Hawthorne constantly made comments about the past, and often I wondered if she was developing dementia, or should have been placed in an old folks home.
For dinner that night, we cooked homemade pizza. When Abigail brought in the herbs, they were already brown, instead of green and healthy.
“Abigail, you have to pick from the living parts of the plant, not the bits that have fallen off.”
“I did Miss Mary. “
“Here, let me show you how.”
I walked out onto the balcony, but the parsley and oregano plants were dead. Frowning, I chose thyme instead.
Abigail was quick to learn piano. I listened to her from below, and heard her notes progress from fumbling to staccato to fluid. After two weeks, I signed the $80 check made out to Ms. Hawthorne, and slipped it through the mail slit. The next time she saw me in the hall, she stopped me.
“Mary, your check the for lessons came up a little short.”
“No, it didn’t.” I said, hoping not to embarrass her, “We agreed upon $20 per lesson, on Tuesdays and Thursdays.”
“Why yes, Mary. But I don’t do package deals. That’s only one person. Lessons for two are $30 each. And that one girl wears me out like no other.”
I scrutinized Ms. Hawthorne. The wrinkles on her forehead looked deeper than usual, and she leaned heavier on her cane. Perhaps Alzheimer’s really was setting in.
“There was only one.” I said.
“Oh Mary, I’m old, but I’m not that old.” She wagged a finger at me and continued walking, coughing as she turned the corner.
“Abigail,” I asked that night, “Have you been going to piano lessons with anyone else?”
“Just me and Bridget Miss Mary.”
I paused, a creeping suspicion tingling.
“What made you want to start taking lessons Abigail?”
“I like the way it sounds,” She said, “And Bridget said she wanted to meet Ms. Hawthorne.”
“Why is that?”
“She said Ms. Hawthorne had a gift for her.”
Abigail refused to disclose any further details. At night I could hear her rummaging around in her treasure box. During the day, I could hear her play piano. Over the weeks, I saw the brunette streak of hair continue to grow among the blonde, as if it were taking territory. And I saw Ms. Hawthorne’s hair change from grey to white, her skin pale, and her movements become shakier.
Perhaps it was the shock of her dead mother finally setting in, but Abigail’s attention span was shrinking. Sometimes I would see her do her chores twice, as if she had forgotten, and I found myself repeating things to her multiple times before she would hear them.
Unless I was right next to her, I’d catch her staring deep off into space, or murmuring to herself. And even when I held her hand, she was always fidgeting and wringing out her dress. Sometimes she would sleep with me, saying, “I don’t want to go away tonight Miss Mary. I want to stay here.”
“Go away where?” I’d ask, already knowing the answer.
“With Bridget. Mommy’s there, and grandpa. But sometimes it’s hard coming back. Sometimes I want to stay there forever, but if I stay too long I’ll never come back.”
“Shhh. You’re here now with me.”
“Bridget says she can take you there too. You just have to put on her locket.”
“No. I’ll stay here, Abigail. I’ll stay here with you.”
There was no way in Hell I was putting on that locket.
“Ms. Hawthorne’s there sometimes,” She would mumble as her eyes drooped.
And then we would fall asleep, and my dreams would be troubled, and her fidgeting combined with the coldness of her small body would wake me deep into the night.
Ms. Hawthorne died in her sleep on a Thursday night. Her caretaker, who had met Abigail several times by now, found her during a morning checkup. The caretaker knocked on my door as the funeral home removed the body, holding out a silver chained object.
“I believe this belongs to your daughter, Mary. Ms. Hawthorne had it around her wrist this morning- I’m sure Abigail must have left it at her lesson.” She said.
“Put it on the counter.” I responded, refusing to hold out my hand. Bridget’s locket clanked as it came in contact with the cold granite and the caretaker left.
I almost called for Abigail, but there was something I had to know first.
I logged into my computer and opened up a mapping website. It was easy to find Abigail’s house, and I enlarged it, viewing the satellite image. A time stamp of revealed the image to have been taken two months before I had adopted Abigail.
Everything looked the same, except for the dead Oak tree in her front yard. Verdant green leaves covered every branch.
I called Abigail in from the next room.
“Abigail, where did you get your sister’s locket from?”
“Who did your mother get it from?”
“From grandpa, after he died. He kept it after the crash.”
“Abigail, what gift did you say that Ms. Hawthorne give your sister?” I asked.
“Her years, Miss Mary.” Whispered Abigail.
Outside, in my windowsill garden, my other herbs were already brown. Just like the streak in Abigail’s hair.