What's in the Box?
What follows is a short excerpt from the sequel to Flying Solo, a story I’ve given a working title of Born to Fly. In this brief segment from what I’ve written of the story so far, Chris, the main character, is in the attic of the house where he rents a room looking for a box of documents his landlady has asked him to locate for her. What do you think it was that Chris found in the last bit of this segment?
After changing into work clothes, he grabbed a flashlight, pulled down the attic ladder in the hallway and climbed into the dark and dingy space. Shining the flashlight around, he finally found a string attached to a fixture with a naked light bulb. Pulling the string, sure enough, the light bulb lit, providing enough light for him to be able to see what he was faced with. It also highlighted spider webs lacing back and forth between the rafters, which caused him to shudder as he thought about a recent news report that black widow spiders had been found inside houses in Northwest Oregon. He had to keep brushing the webs out of his face, hoping he wasn’t getting spiders on him in the process.
The roofline was low, keeping him in a stooped-over position in the cramped space. Assessing the situation, he saw that the boxes were stacked two and three high and about half of them had Home Depot printed on them. This could take a while, he thought. Kneeling, he grabbed a box, brushed off the dust and opened it. Feeling around inside the box, he couldn’t find anything but old clothing or some kind of fabric. Refolding the flaps of the lid so they interlocked, he shoved the box to the side and grabbed the next one. It was much heavier and when opened, he discovered it contained old encyclopedia volumes. He pulled out enough of them to be able to make sure the metal box wasn’t in there too. Refilling it and shoving it aside, he grabbed the next box.
His knees began to ache, so he grabbed the first box again and pulling out some of the fabric, wadded it up to make a cushion for his knees.
“Chris, are you all right up there?” he heard Ms. Freiwald ask from the bottom of the ladder.
“Yeah, I’m doing fine. It’s just going to take some time to locate the box that has your metal box in it, but I’ll eventually find it.”
“Can I get you some water or something?” he heard her ask.
“No. If I don’t find it soon, I’ll come down and take a quick break.”
“Okay. I’m going to go sit down then,” she said.
A few minutes later, Chris hit paydirt. It was one of the heaviest boxes he had checked. Opening it, he saw that it contained several photo albums. Pulling out the albums so he could check to see if the metal box was also there, one of the albums hit on the edge of the box and came open as it fell. He couldn’t help but look at some of the photos. One picture was of two early-teenage-looking girls with names written under each of them. He turned on the flashlight so he could see clearer. The names were Patricia Jones and Maria Jones. He was certain that his landlady was Patricia. When he had first met her, he asked if he could call her by her first name and she declined, saying it would be better for him to call her by her formal name. But he was certain the girl in the picture was her.
Thumbing forward in the album he saw lots more pictures with Patricia and Maria in them. Soon there was one with Patricia and a young man, and they were holding hands. A few pages of photos further on, there was a picture of them on a beach at the ocean. He thought he recognized Haystack Rock in the background, in the ocean, just beyond the sandy beach.
Dragging the box of encyclopedias back over, he got off his knees and sat down on it, then pulled another album out of the open box. More pictures of Patricia, but obviously several years later than the other photos—her hair was much darker. No dates were written on the pictures, but he could tell by her changed appearance that there had been significant time lapse between the two albums. Flipping through the pictures, he finally found a page that contained some more pictures with writing under them. Shining the flashlight on the page, he read “Paul and Patricia Freiwald.” She had been married at one time?
He quickly grabbed another album, an older, tattered looking one that in crude lettering written on the dark blue cover said “Early Photos of the Jones Family.” Being fully hooked now on looking at photos of his landlady’s earlier life, he eagerly opened the album. The first page of photos contained a family photo with “Jones Family—1954” written under it. Two adults—he guessed the mother and father—and three kids; two young girls, maybe six and eight years old, and one boy he guessed to be about eleven or twelve. The boy had bib overalls on, something Chris had only seen in really old photos and in a movie or two about olden times. He examined the photo to see if it identified any of the kids, but he couldn’t see any writing on it. He turned the page and there was another photo of just the three kids; the boy had his hand behind the head of one of the girls, signaling a “V” sign. Chris grinned, remembering that he had once done the same thing when he and his brother Brad had been posing for a photo.
Intrigued, he turned the page. Faded and tattered, there was a photo glued to the paper page, a photo of the younger of the two girls in the photo he’d just looked at. Based on the pictures in the first album, he guessed it was Ms. Freiwald, or Patricia, as she was identified in the first album he’d opened. In the current photo she looked to be sixteen or seventeen, and she wasn’t alone; there was a young guy with her. No names included. He quickly turned the page looking for more pictures that would show him who the guy was, but was disappointed to find that there weren’t any more photos in the album.
Feeling around in the box again, there weren’t any more photo albums to be found. At the bottom of the box he touched something that felt like metal. Pulling out all of the other old books in the box, he finally reached the metal object. Lifting it, it appeared to indeed be the container Ms. Freiwald was wanting to examine. Just to be certain, he opened the lid and pulled out the top envelope—“Marriage Certificate” was written on it. Chris couldn’t resist opening the envelope to see what was actually in it. The sheet of paper he extracted was yellowed, but still displayed an ornately printed ink border. Shining the flashlight on it he first saw “Marriage License” printed at the top with “State of Oregon” below that. The first typing he saw said “Paul Carroll Freiwald” followed by the county typed in below and then “Patricia Mae Jones.” If I’m following this correctly, Ms. Freiwald was once Mrs. Freiwald, married to a Paul Freiwald. Why is she hiding this? Or am I assuming too much by thinking she’s hiding something?
“Chris, are you alright? You’ve been up there for over a half hour?” he heard her ask from the bottom of the ladder.
“Yes, I’m doing fine. It’s just taking a bit longer than I thought it would. I’ll be down soon—just need to look a little more.”
“Okay. Be careful up there. I’ll make you a sandwich to take to work with you, since I’ve taken up your time this morning.”
“Thank you Ms. Freiwald. That’ll be great!”
He put back the marriage license and took out the next envelope. “Birth certificate: Christopher Freiwald” was written on the outside. Opening it, his fingers fumbled. A smaller but more ornate document came out, with “Notification of Birth Registration” printed at the top. Below that was typed “Christopher Allen Freiwald” followed by “Paul Carroll Freiwald” and “Patricia Mae Freiwald,” father and mother. It was dated June 8, 1970. So, if I’m correct that Ms. Freiwald is indeed Patricia Jones who became Patricia Freiwald, then she has or had a son. Interesting. A son who would be, what, forty years old now if still alive?
He had to take the metal box down to Ms. Freiwald, but he couldn’t resist the urge to see what else was in it. Grabbing the next envelope he saw written on it “Legal Records of Christopher’s DUI/Death Trial.” Now his hands were really trembling as he opened the thick manila envelope.