WILD APPLE TREES
When I got the text, I was 42 years old, staying at home with the twins while my wife worked as the CEO of her own company.
It read, Do you want your grandmother’s chest?
I didn’t recognize the number, so I texted back, Who are you? And what chest?
This is Cloud, she answered.
I hadn’t see her since our 20s.
I’m moving and can’t take it with me, she continued.
I didn’t remember the chest, so I called Cloud’s number.
She answered. Yes?
Your grandmother left it, she said. She kept a lot of sentimental things in it, but nothing of real value. You told me your family gave it to you after she died.
I didn’t remember the chest, but, in fact, I didn’t remember much from that time. Cloud and I loved to get into our car and drive to a new city, find a place to stay, and just live there until it was time to go somewhere else. We used to talk about the ideal place to live, and we decided it would have a cold stream running through it, the banks lined by wild apple trees.
The last city in which we lived together was San Francisco. I don’t remember much about our place, only that it was a couple of blocks from Golden Gate Park, in the Sunset District. I remember we had a neighbor who had an ugly, rat-looking dog, and he used to drag the beast by the leash down the stairs to take it for a walk. You could tell the dog hated the old man, and the old man hated the dog, mumbling piece of shit and good for nothing as he pulled it down the stairs, the dog’s little body whacking as it fell on each step,
After I parted with Cloud, I moved to Sacramento, where I started teaching high school English, and where I met my wife. My income as a public school teacher meant little when added to my wife’s income, so after we got married and had the twins, we decided it might be best for me to stay home with the twins.
Do you want it or not? Cloud asked.
I didn’t remember it, I said. What’s it look like?
I’m not going to describe it. You either want it or I trash it.
Yes, I want it.
You need to Venmo me 50 bucks.
It’s a big chest and I’m not paying for shipping.
Fine. Whatever. Just send it.
I will. After the money’s transferred, she said.
All I could do no was trust that she would send it, that she hadn’t become some drug addict desperate for money, and this was her way of getting some “stuff.” I figured it was worth the risk, because I kept imagining the things my grandmother could have kept inside of that chest.
I didn’t remember anything, but I imagined I could see it full of her personal letters, Christmas and birthday cards; love poems to her, written by boy she knew; birth certificates and baptism announcements. I couldn’t wait to go through it.
In the meantime, I was, teaching the twins math and science, writing, and art.
My wife traveled a lot, so she was gone sometimes for days, and at night I would lie by myself in bed in the dark and remember all I could about what was inside grandma’s chest.
I pictured a letter she had written, maybe right before she died, and she had never sent it. It was for one of her grandchildren. I unfold it and see that it’s addressed to me.
It’s written for me, to me!
As a young man, when Cloud and I were wild and free, I didn’t care much about family, or what my antepasados had to teach me, but now, I needed to hear what my long dead grandmother had to say to me.
One afternoon, when I was explaining the uncertainty principle to the twins, I concluded the lecture with a joke:
Heisenberg was pulled over for speeding.
The cop asks, Do you know how fast you were going?
Heisenberg says, No, but I know where I am.
Natalia laughed, but the boy didn’t get it.
Think about it, stupid, she said.
The boy thought about it.
The doorbell rang.
I stood up and went to get it.
Natalia shook her head at her brother. What an idiot!
Screw you, he snapped back.
I walked to the door, which was made of glass, and I peeked through. A young brown woman was standing on the porch like a hero, brown smock, baggy brown shorts, and at her feet was a large package.
I opened the door.
UPS, she said. Where do you want it?
The twins got up to see what was going on.
It was a box big enough to fit a person inside, if they curled up, and I pictured my grandmother in there.
What’s that? asked Natalia.
It belonged to your great grandma, I said.
What’s is it?
The boy touched his own chest with the two palms of his hands. That makes no sense, he said.
Not that kind of chest, menso, Natalia said.
The UPS woman picked up the box like it was full of pillows, and she brought it into the house. She had a tattoo on her arm that looked like some sort of goddess. Her name tag read Carolina.
Where should I put it? she asked, like she was carrying a body she had saved from the battlefield.
Right there, I said, and she put it down in the middle of the living room.
I didn’t want to open it, as if too many memories might rush out of it like demons and grab me by the throat. So the first night, even though the twins whined to see it, I left it in the box, in the middle of the floor.
As I tried to sleep that night, I could feel the box’s desire move through the house like slow-moving gas, and I fell asleep and dreamed about something, but I forgot what it was the moment I woke up.
It was six a.m, the twins still sleeping, and I felt I was ready to open it.
Once I got it out of the box, I was disappointed by how the chest looked, cheap and wanna-be modern, like something you would buy at Sears in the 1950s.
I had pictured an old chest like from a pirate ship, or an antique wardrobe with a lock and key, and when I opened it the smell of centuries would rush out at me and reveal all my grandmother’s treasures and dreams.
But this was a cheap suitcase-looking chest.
It had a modern design with red and blue triangles, like a Mondrian only not as sleek-looking.
There were two metal buckles, like on an old suitcase, and I slid the little metal disks next to them, and they locks snapped open.
I opened the lid.
It was so bright inside, I could feel warm light on my face.
I opened it all the way.
It was empty.
There was a little debris inside, a paperclip, a matchstick, a green rubber band, but otherwise, completely empty.
I called my ex. What the fuck, Cloud?
What are you talking about?
Where’s the stuff?
In the chest! The letters? The love poems?
Are you really that stupid? she asked.
Where is it?
There’s nothing in it, genius. You used to keep newspapers and magazines in it.
That’s bullshit! I protested. You specifically told me my grandmother put her personal things in there.
When it was hers. At least that’s what you told me. That was why you said you wanted to keep that hideous chest. Because it belonged to your grandma.
I still didn’t remember any of it, but I tried hard to recall anything from that time, to fire at least one neuron that hadn’t been fired in years, so it might send a charge to other dormant neurons, and that time of my life would come back to me.
Cloud? I asked her. Do you remember that old man with the dog that lived in our building? He hated his dog, yelled at it, kicked it, dragged it downstairs for a walk. What was the dog’s name?
There was no man with a dog in our building, she said.
Come on! You remember.
Pets weren’t allowed, she said.
But, there was a man with a dog! They hated each other.
Oh, god! What has become of you?
What do you mean?
That’s a scene from The Stranger.
That can’t be, I said. What about…?
But she hung up.
There I was looking down on the ugliest chest I had ever seen, and then the a neuron fired and the memory sparked in my brain.
This never belonged to my grandmother.
It was something I picked up in a dumpster when I was a student, and for years I put my stuff into it when I moved from place to place. When Cloud wanted to throw it out, I told her no. I lied to her and said that it had belonged to my grandmother, not because I liked it so much and wanted to keep it, but because I didn’t like the way she told me to get rid of it, like she was better than me.