Noel T. Cumberland has been writing for decades but has finally gotten “serious” about it. He’s pursuing a BFA in Creative Writing with Full Sail University to formalize his skills and get his stories out into the world. This is his first published work since 1990, but he hopes it will not be his last. He lives in Tucson with his wife, two sons, a cat and some fish.
A Letter From Mommy
“Gina, you need to eat your peas,” I said. “That is a simple statement of fact, and not a request.”
If it was Wednesday, it was vegetable night, or “Veggie Vednesday” as my beautiful Carmen had called it. Veggie Vednesday simply meant everything we ate had to include a vegetable. Carmen had been a wizard at this, but I was still a rookie, so my veggie contributions tended to be steamed or boiled vegetables with butter, rather than elaborate Food Network-worthy affairs. Still, I was trying.
“Daddy, this is gross! Why can’t I eat ketchup for my veggie, like last week?”
“Chica, Daddy made a mistake last week,” I explained. “Ketchup is not officially a vegetable! Now eat your peas, please!”
Gina was just winding up for a good old-fashioned, country tantrum when there was a knock at the door.
“Hold that thought, Pumpkin!” I said getting up and heading into the hall.
“Don’t call me ‘Pumpkin,’ Daddy!” she yelled. But the ghost of a smile crept across her face, so I chalked it up as a win.
Opening the door, I bent down to retrieve the package. It had no return address, but the handwriting was unmistakably Carmen’s. I felt my knees weaken and my breath stop. The cancer had taken her so quickly. Living without my wife of fourteen years was hard enough, but being a single parent to her doppelgänger, aged eight, was almost unbearable. I didn’t really know what to do for a moment.
“Daddy, what is it?” Gina said, sneaking up behind me. “Is it for me?”
“I don’t know, sweetheart,” I whispered.
I held the box just a little closer and a little tighter than I needed to and stumbled back into the living room. Gina shut the door behind us and followed me, confused.
“Daddy!” Gina pestered, “Open it! Openitopenitopenit!”
I pulled out my wood-handled pocket knife, a fifth anniversary gift from Carmen, and slid it beneath the tape, careful not to violate the label with her precious handwriting on it. The tape cut easily, and I opened it up, revealing a tiny, tissue-wrapped something.
“Daddy,” Gina whined. “This is booooring! I want to watch TV!”
“No baby girl, not right now,” I said. “I think this is important.”
I took the tiny something in my hand, and slowly unwrapped it. As I pulled the paper apart a small key emerged which was at once foreign and familiar to me. Although I had not seen it in years, I knew it as the key for the drawer in Carmen’s vanity. After she died, it had never even occurred to me to open the drawer, so I had not even known the key was missing.
“What is it, Daddy? I want to see!” Gina said.
“I still don’t know, sweetie,” I replied. “Let’s go see together.”
We headed up the stairs and into my bedroom. One look would tell you that I hardly ventured to the far side of the room anymore. There was a thin film of dust on Carmen’s vanity which was only slightly disturbed when I sat down. I looked at the tiny key in my hand with real fear. I couldn’t imagine finding anything in that drawer besides pain. Her perfume, or her hairbrush. Her makeup, or any of a hundred other things that would simply rip off my developing emotional scabs and poke at the soft flesh underneath. And what about Gina? What would happen to her?
I opened my hand as I realized I had been squeezing the key so hard, it nearly drew blood. As frightened as I was, I reached out and shakily unlocked the drawer.
Gina was suddenly, uncharacteristically silent. We looked inside the tiny drawer together and saw an immaculately labeled envelope addressed to Gina. She took it quietly, reverently, and slipped out the neatly written letter from her mother.
I love you more than any words could ever say. The greatest day of my life was the day you were born, and every day after was a gift from God! I know I left you too soon, and I know you may be mad. Please understand that I’m with God now, looking after you all the time.
Since I don’t have time to tell you and teach you everything you will need to know as you grow up, I want to give you the next best thing. When I was a little girl, just about your age, I started writing a journal. I wrote in it almost every week from the time I was eight until just tonight, and I started a new book every year. The books have been with my mother all this time, but they are yours now. They will tell you the story of how I grew up and I hope they can teach you some things you will need to know as you grow up yourself. Gramma will send you one on your birthday every year. I know they aren’t much, but I pray they can make up a little bit for what I can no longer give you. I love you, Gina-bug! And I’ll always be with you!
Gina and I sat, speechless. It was as if Carmen was in the room with us right now and we looked at each other with tears in our eyes. And we smiled.