In the trunk, the mahogany trunk, a sister full of grief, busy with her own busy life, placed all the papers, books, records, notes, journals, drawings that she, the busy sister, collected from all the friends and all the lovers and family and people all over the place, all over the world, where the beautiful dead sister, who loved to travel and give her friends things, money, her work, kisses, her body, left them, forgot them, gave them away or said, “Have a look at this for me, won’t you?” or “Here, I made this for you, please, please keep it!” or “I am going away and won’t you please store this for me until I get back? Bless you!”
Letters, contracts, love notes, photos, bills, passports, receipts, and everything else, sketches, wills, envelopes with doodles, that she, the busy and grieving sister, could find and then could fit, that her sister, the creative one made, thought, invented, in a trunk, a mahogany trunk after that sister, that poor, dear creative sister, just died, with no warning, just like that, in a foreign country, France to be exact. She died. The artist. All her life, her ideas, her art left behind spread all over New York City, at Cobble Court, on the Upper East Side, at her apartment, her great green apartment, at Maine in One House, at friends’ apartments, studios, offices, tucked under the bed, everywhere. All her creations, half creations, things.
The famous and beautiful sister’s papers and work, and things, small things. The beautiful and famous artist sister who died too young and in love finally or rather engaged to be married, at last, to a nice, nice man, a handsome man, much younger than her, from a good family, a rich family. A man who sailed the world on his sailboat and who laughed and was handsome.
The busy sister with her own life, the only one left, also beautiful, but different, more reserved, who lived with her dogs and cats and in Vermont, took all this evidence, all these stories, all these not-done projects and put them in the trunk, the brown trunk, and took the trunk and up the stairs to the attic. The dark attic. Dry, but dark. She forgot, the busy sister with her own life. She then forgot about the trunk. She was tired. She had things to do. She went on with her own busy life.
The when day a little boy, once little, now grown, came and said, “Who was my mother? Who was the lady that left me too much money to bear life?” No one answered or would answer or could answer and he set out on the journey up the stairs, up the stairs to the dark attic, the dry, dark attic, to learn, to learn who his mother was and why she loved him enough to give him a bank of money but not enough to keep him. Why she loved him enough to make him so rich but not enough to not make him so sad for all his life. The little boy, once little, but now grown, made the journey up the stairs to the attic, the dark attic. Dark and dry and opened the mahogany trunk. “I want to know,” he said, the little boy now grown, said, “who was this sister, this woman, this beautiful and creative woman who people say is my mother?”
The maybe mother with the busy sister, the beautiful famous sister who wrote books for babies and for little boys who grow up. Books that sounded comfortable and made them sleep or eat or stop crying or go to school without tears or get dressed and tie their own shoes. The beautiful famous, creative sister who was loved by men and by women. Who loved men and women. Who loved a poet with a made-up name, Michael Strange. And Michael, the woman with the man’s name who was married and was beautiful too, loved the artist sister and so did Michael’s husband, John. John Barrymore. He loved the sister who wrote the books for babies and for little boys that do grow up.
And there was other actors and poets and writers and artists and teachers and radicals, and Communists, and everyone in between, who believed children were human and deserved their own stories, just for them, and people with political agendas and all that, who loved her and desired her, the creative sister, and were her friends in New York City in the 1930s and 40s during the Great Depression and then World War Two and then all that was over and she, the famous, beautiful, creative sister, who may have been the little boy who grew up’s mother, went to Paris and died suddenly there in a foreign land, alone, all alone, while The House UnAmerican Activities had her on their list and so did the FBI. Because, then, in those days, treating children as if they were human, people who deserved their own stories, just for them, was subversive, suspect, unpatriotic.
The lady who wrote for children and loved women and men and drank too much and spent too much money and carpeted the walls at Cobble Court, in between two giant skyscrapers, with fur but had no electricity at One House in Maine, beautiful Maine, died suddenly and no one could catch her anymore. She ran away. She didn’t mean to but she did. She did. Good-bye.
She had no children, this beautiful famous artistic sister. People said. Or did she? The little boy came looking for answers. He came to the beautiful but busy sister at her house in Vermont, with her own busy life who collected all the work and put it in the mahogany trunk, up the stairs in the dark but, dry attic.
The grown little boy went up the stairs to the attic, the dark attic looking for answers. His nose was bloody. All the time. He drank. All the time. He fought people. All the time. Got women pregnant. Kidnapped his own child. Moved from house to house to house. She, the beautiful, famous, artistic sister, left him, the little boy, now grown, all her money. All her money. Which was a lot. A lot. But, he, the little boy, now grown, was sad. So sad. The money couldn’t cure him. The money made him sadder. He thought he needed an answer. He came to get one.
The room was dark and he was scared. There was no light. There was no phone. There was no cow jumping over the moon. There was no red balloon or an old lady whispering, “shhhhh . . .” There was only a trunk, a mahogany trunk, full of things and papers and things and stories and notes and records and things.
The little boy now grown wanted to know, who is my mother? Are you my mother? The answer was in the trunk. Would the beautiful but busy sister who collected all the beautiful and artistic sister’s treasures let him look through the trunk and see if the answer was there? Would she let him life the lid? Or would she whisper, “shhhh . . . “ close the door, and turn off the light?