Ohmygosh! I have a headscratcher. Okay, so this is what just happened. After we completed my son’s soccer sign up, my husband asked me to drive him—he hates driving, so I’m often his personal chauffer, except for when we go on a date, during which he drives me around like Miss Daisy and does the whole opening-the-doors-gentleman-kind-of-thing and about which my daughter says that it’s soooo stupid because we’ve been married for soooo many years already, why do we have to go on a date?—but I’m totally off track now, so let me get back and focus.
Anyway, I drove him to his favorite tool store: Harbor Freight. You cannot truly comprehend how happy he gets in this store until you’ve seen one of those Geico commercials in which one guy says, “How happy are folks who save money by switching to Geico?” and the other guy replies, “Happier than a Pillsbury Doughboy going to a baking convention,” for example. There are many commercials, but all of them basically show extremely happy people/things. The only time I’ve seen my husband happier than this was when, after much nagging on his part, I went to a swap-meet with him. In case you were wondering, yes, he is a HOARDER!
Okay, so the kids, he, and I got to the tool store in which every single product had been made in China and reeked of lead. Fine, I don’t know if lead has an odor, but the store does. It was so strong that my nose felt like it was being drilled into by an invisible piercing tool that multiplied my nostrils by a hundred, and the mixed smell of sulfate, cheap paint, and sweaty armpits had a party in them. I had to get out of there. I told my husband that the kids and I would wait outside in the car to which he graciously agreed, surely not because he was concerned about my oncoming headache but because he would have the freedom to hang around the isles and make sweet love to each and every tool without my nasty glares.
While I was breathing in the stench-free but hot (it was 100F yet again today) evening air, my daughter started whining from the back seat, “Close the windows! Look at those people, what if they steal us?” (My daughter has a serious anxiety about being abducted. Damn you, media!)
“Who? Them?” I shouted back at her as I pointed out three hippie-looking women in their fifties.
“Stop yelling,” my daughter said, “they’ll hear us!”
But hear us they wouldn’t. I noticed that instead of laughter, awkward noises were coming out of their mouths and they were signing to one another.
“How ingenious!” I told my daughter. “Their house must be so nice and quiet. And they can talk to each other from across the street! We could never do that without shouting.”
So we watched the women’s conversation as they walked a little ways from our car toward a street lamp. Then, something unimaginable happened. They lifted the metal box into which the lamp was fastened, slid it upward, and pulled something out. They opened the something, giggled for a bit; then I saw a piece of paper fluttering in one of the women’s hands as she examined it closely. Then, they packed everything up and hid that something back in its secret spot. They passed by our car, and my kids and I sat in a stupefying silence, worried they would hear us and know that we’ve been watching them this whole time.
As my husband was still inside the tool store, my kids and I had quite a lot of time to brainstorm about what the something could have been. I, of course, immediately thought that we’d just witnessed a drug exchange and that a drug dealer would soon jump out of the bushes, collect whatever was inside that something, and murderlize us for having witnessed everything. My daughter, who always suspects the worst case scenario, I’m sure thought of something similar. But my son, the innocent, gullible, and often naïve boy, wanted to go and see what treasure was hiding under the metal box.
At last, my hoarder came out of the store. Why not have him go and check? We pulled up next to the lamp; he slid up the metal box, pulled out the something, and jumped into the car with it.
“Don’t take it,” I said, “just see what it is.”
“Well, it’s this,” he said.
It was a small box, the size of a compact. As he slowly opened it, I was bracing myself for the worst—syringes, bloody needles, heroin…and now it had my dear hoarder’s fingerprints all over it! But instead, there were nick-knacks there: a small golden hook, an eagle rub-on tattoo, a blue heart-shaped hair clip, a rubber band, and a note inside a plastic Ziploc baggy.
“What does this mean?” I wondered.
“Oh, I know,” my husband said. “It’s one of those National Geography things.”
“You know; it’s like a national scavenger hunt. You can order it online, and they’ll send you a kit and tell you where the clues are and where to go next.”
Oh, bless my dear hoarder’s heart. His mind is so creative. Suddenly, a feeling of guilt overcame me. If this, in fact, was a “scavenger hunt” it was an effort of deaf/dumb ladies who would never get a chance to scream at me for uncovering their secret. They could flip me off—that sort of sign language is pretty universal, I think.
“Put it back,” I said. “We’re so mean, digging into things that are not ours.”
Ironically, I always teach my kids: If it’s not yours, don’t touch it.
“At least put something in,” my husband replied.
“Like what? You’re gonna screw up their game.”
“Nah, they’ll like it.” He looked around the car, grabbed a small heart-shaped rock (he collects those for me—read my short story “Husband (a Wife’s Tale)”), a very small pencil from IKEA, which we’d visited not too long ago, and a penny, because apparently everything at IKEA is worth just that. He closed the small box, put it back in its no-longer-so-secret place, and we drove off.
Halfway home, my son announces from the backseat, “We never got to read the note. Turn around!”
I didn’t. Now we have something left for our imaginations, don’t you think? Aren’t the best stories told through omissions? But even as I’m writing this, my children are begging me to return tomorrow and read the note. We are indeed a curious family.
What would you do?