ABBY’S FATHER AND THE MAPSTICK
Illustration by Carlos Uribe
Her father held her by the shoulders and smiled. “You look beautiful!” he said. “Healthy, strong.” He was breathing hard after his climb up the hill.
“You look great too, Dad.” She studied his straight black hair, tan skin and clean face. “I’m so happy to see you!” But Abby was wondering why he was so out of breath. They stared at each other. ‘He’s lost weight,’ she thought. ‘His cheeks are hollow. And he probably thinks I’m too skinny. And could that be the mapstick he’s got?’
Chris stood on the side fussing with his new phone. “Hey,” he broke in, looking at Sonny. “It’s an email from the River City News! They’re asking you to comment on the bridge closing and Governor Palmer’s plan to relocate everyone.”
“Hmm,” Sonny muttered. “I’ve been expecting something like that. Invite them to send a reporter to visit us. Let someone tour the island, take pictures, and speak to me in person. In brief, state that we are fine the way we are. Let them come and see for themselves.”
“Got it,” said Chris, and walked into the shanty.
“And bring a pitcher of cider and mugs!” yelled Sonny, and turned to Abby and Dennis. “Take a seat,” he said, waving to the empty chairs. “Relax. Have a cup of cider with me.”
Abby and Sonny kept glancing at the faded green cloth wrapped around a thick pole that Dennis had leaned up against the table. “I recognize that old material,” Abby said. “At least I think I do. Is that the mapstick?”
Dennis untied a few pieces of twine and slowly unrolled a long strip of velvet-like fabric. A brown wooden staff appeared, over five feet high and six inches around. The wood looked smooth, almost polished. Intricate carving extended from top to bottom.
‘I haven’t seen it in years,’ thought Abby. ‘Very strange for it to be here.’
Sonny was deep in thought. Time went by… Dennis could not sit still. He shifted in his chair, clasped and unclasped his hands, leaned back and leaned forward. Chris set a tray with cider and mugs on the table. Abby poured and passed the mugs around.
“Junior wants me at the Open Gate,” Chris told them. “Something about tonight.”
“Go ahead,” returned Sonny. “We’ll meet you later.” Chris hurried off.
Sonny looked at Dennis. “So…” he asked, “can I take a look at that?”
Dennis stood up and carefully handed him the staff. “It’s very precious to me, an old heirloom of my family.”
Sonny held it in both hands, and leaned over it, staring intently. Abby could not resist reaching out and gently touching the end closest to her. The surface was slightly rough, like very fine sandpaper. Up close in the shadow of her body, it glowed with a faintly bluish sheen. The carvings were deep and complex, covering the staff from top to bottom. A flood of memories from her childhood poured into her mind. Time went by slowly. Abby finally leaned back and asked, “Why do you have it here today? I’ve never seen it out in public before.”
“I’m so glad we have a chance to talk,” her father burst out, like water overflowing a dam. “Sorry to overwhelm you with this right away, but I need to get it off my mind. It’s been a hard couple of months. I’ve been sick, unsure where my life was going, unsure where you were. Everything seemed up in the air. And I found this,” – he touched the dark wood – “becoming a burden, like a heavy load on my back. It haunts me every day. You see… I have a responsibility, a promise I made to my father.”
Abby and Sonny waited in silence.
“You may remember things I told you when you were a child…” Dennis stopped and looked at her.
“I do remember being very, very curious. That staff is like nothing else I ever saw. I asked you about it many times.”
“Do you remember what I said?”
“Well, your father gave it to you, and he got it from his father, and it’s very old. Ancient, you said.”
“Just that it’s called the mapstick. And you weren’t certain what the carving means. Was there anything more?”
“There are details I may not have told you. About seventy-five years ago, my grandfather gave my father this staff. He was only ten years old, and was one of many children fleeing to safety in Rivergate on the day of the Great Disaster. My father promised to care for it and pass it on to one of his children, should anything happen to my grandfather. And my grandfather died later that day.”
Abby was stunned into silence.