The letter was thick and covered in postage. I opened it on my way in the door, before my other important mail. I wouldn’t normally pass over bills and updates about my stock portfolio, but this piece of correspondence held my curiosity, so I didn’t even stop at my desk to use the letter opener and instead tore the envelope with my hands. I unfolded the contents as I dropped my briefcase on the floor by the door, and entered the kitchen as my eyes found the first line.
Dear Mr. Johnson,
This letter is to inform you of the passing of Mrs. Snodgrass of 64 Upper Park Lane, Sayne, ND. She has left you a bequest in her will, as a result of the arrangement that she entered into with you and your sister on October 30th, 1992. You will find enclosed the directions to the island which is now the dual property of yourself and Miss Johnson; the only other stipulations included in this bequest is, at the behest of Mrs. Snodgrass, you will need, sometime during your life, to bequeath your newly acquired possession to another in the same way as Mrs. Snodgrass has entrusted it to you. If you or Miss Johnson has any questions, feel free to contact my office.
The signature at the bottom was unreadable, and the address at the top of the page was completely smudged, as though it had encountered some moisture as it made its way to me. I checked the envelope, but there was no return address. How exactly am I supposed to contact the office? I thought.
I called my sister. I had no memory of Mrs. Snodgrass, or the island that the letter talked about, or even any bargain I made just after my ninth birthday. I had no idea what was going on.
“Sorry I didn’t call you on your birthday,” was how she answered the phone.
I smiled. “It’s okay; the text was enough.” The text had arrived shortly after midnight, had woken me up, and ‘birthday’ had been spelled wrong, but it’s the thought that counts.
“So, what’s up?” she asked. “Did Mom tell you to call me?”
“Oh, she’s trying to get me to…” she paused. “Never mind. What do you need?”
“Uhh…” I was momentarily distracted by deciding whether to insert myself into whatever struggle my mother and sister were engaged in this time, and having determined to ignore it as my sister had, I continued. “Did you get a letter in the mail from a lawyer’s office recently?” I asked.
“Nope,” she responded. “I’m guessing you did?”
I read her the whole thing, from start to finish, concluding with, “and there’s some pages attached that look like navigation maps from the early 1800s. The paper is thick and wrinkly and feels like it’s going to fall apart if I handle it too much.”
My sister was laughing. "I can't believe that!" She said. "After all these years!"
"Can't believe what?" I asked. "Do you know what this is about?"
"You don't?" She sounded surprised.
"I, uh..." I began, wondering more than ever what it was all about. "Should I?"
"I can't believe you don't remember!" she exclaimed. "We worked so hard and did a whole bunch of chores that one year when that old gypsy lady across the street said she'd sell us an island in the clouds at a discounted rate."
I suddenly had a vivid memory of pulling the vines that had grown across the side of the garage off of the building and out to the street to burn them, and the urgent feeling that accompanied them on asking our father for payment for the task, allowance early, lest we miss the deadline to buy a longed-for thing. This island must have been it.
"Or maybe she wasn't actually a gypsy," my sister continued, interrupting my thoughts. "Now that I think about it, I'm pretty sure that it was just her Halloween costume."
I frowned. "Do you remember how much...?" I ventured.
"Five dollars," my sister replied promptly. "She said she would sell it to us for five dollars. I remember thinking how it was a huge ton of money and that we'd never get it in time, but I spent the week doing the dishes without being asked and you dug holes in the backyard or whatever for Dad, and we went over there and forked it over. I remember being so mad when she moved away a couple weeks later, like she'd swindled all our hard work." My sister stopped to laugh, then asked, "you really don't remember any of that?"
I looked at the paperwork in my hands. “Whether I do or not,” I said, “there’s evidence here to the contrary. What are you doing next week?”