THE BURDEN OF ABBY’S FATHER
Illustration by Carlos Uribe
Abby sat there staring in amazement. Finally she said, “I can see what a burden that must be! What a loss! Your grandfather never had the chance to explain the mapstick. And it’s so… detailed, and so irregular, not like a plain design.”
“Yes,” replied her father. “I have memories and ideas about it. There was supposed to be a special ceremony when the mapstick was passed on, but the children were rushed to safety with no warning. Many links to the past were lost. But the main thing is that I promised my father I’d safely pass it on to my child, and over the past few months that promise has become more than I can bear. I wasn’t sure when… or even whether, I would see you again.”
Abby hung her head. “I’ve been foolish and selfish. How can I make it up to you?” Silent tears were on her cheeks.
“Your mother and I were foolish too, letting our lives be ruled by fear. But we have respect for the path you’ve taken, so let’s begin a new chapter. I want to pass the mapstick on to you today. I promised myself I would give it to you at the first opportunity.”
“What’s the matter, Dad? Why so fast, right at this moment?”
“I’ve been worried about this for years, feeling that I’ve let everyone down by having the staff without knowing it’s purpose. And now… I suppose you know I’ve had heart trouble. I have to set my life in order. But don’t worry! I’m much better. I know you’re the gardener for the church, and I’m already planning to visit and revive that ancient row of apple trees.”
“I’d love that. Please, anytime you want.”
Abby noticed Sonny with his glasses on, examining the stick inch by inch. Finally he looked up at Dennis and said, “Of course you’re right, much was lost in the Disaster. But I do recall them saying that your grandfather and great-grandfather had a special function in ceremonies…”
“Yes, an office or responsibility was passed down for generations.”
“I’m curious,” Sonny said, “when you and your wife moved recently to the trailer park, and then when Junior drove you here, how did you pack the mapstick? I mean, did you carry it out in the open, or hide it in some way?”
“I wrapped it just as you saw it,” Dennis replied, “but with more material. Then I surrounded it with garden tools, a few rakes and spades. Then I tied the bundle with rope and carried it like a long suitcase.”
Sonny nodded. “Well done! I understand.” He turned to Abby. “Let me ask you to guard this very carefully. Keep it secret in the safest place you can think of. It is a tremendous stroke of luck that it should appear now, at this moment, after all these years.”
“But… but…” Abby raised her hands for emphasis. “I’m the last person who should be keeping this! My cottage at the church will probably be searched tonight. I gave my seeds to Reverend Tuck so they wouldn’t be stolen. Men keep a watch on the churchyard night and day, and follow me everywhere they can!”
“Why?” cried Dennis. “What reason could there be?” He looked at Abby and Sonny in alarm.
“Be calm,” Sonny said quietly. “Abby is more important than you realize, and I’ll explain when we have time. But right now we have to make a plan for the mapstick. You’re quite right to be passing it forward to Abby.”
“But I have enough problems already!” Abby was almost shouting. “Why don’t you keep it? I’m sure you’ve got safe places. You’ll do a better job of discovering what it means than I will… Or give it to Wendy! She probably knows what it means already!”
“Keep your voice down,” said Sonny in a low tone. “That’s it… just slow down. No need to attract attention. For now we’ll lock it in my seed room, and you can stay there with it tonight. We’ll have time to think this through together. Okay?”
Abby took a deep breath and nodded reluctantly.