Sometime late that summer evening, Lena found herself in her mother’s dusty garage, rummaging through old boxes that had been taped and stacked and stored away indefinitely. Nothing was labeled. And Lena couldn’t remember exactly why she was tearing all the boxes open. Her mother hadn’t asked her to do this. Lena was just pulled by a strong current of curiosity.
There wasn’t much to do in the summers. Her mom worked a demanding job that didn’t offer much in the way of vacation time. In fact, Lena couldn’t remember the last time her mother had taken a vacation, much less a sick day. It was one of those jobs with the unspoken rule: you work, you work, you work, and you don’t ask for anything in return.
So while Lena’s luckier friends were off to summer camps or visiting theme parks or going away to different places to visit out-of-state relatives, Lena was stuck at home with nothing to do to fill her time besides talking on the phone with her friends in the evenings and watching TV in the day. Lena wasn’t much of a reader; she wasn’t particularly interested in books; and her mom didn’t have the time (or the money) to take her to any kind of local community activity put on for kids like her.
Perhaps that is how Lena found herself in that dusty and cramped garage, going through her mom’s old boxes of stuff that were too precious to throw away but not important enough to look through or put on display. It was a change in pace in any case for bored-out-of-her-mind Lena who didn’t have the promise of an evening chat with a friend that particular day. But Lena filled that boredom with packets of old photos and trophies and clothing that her mom had tucked away. It was fun, looking through her mom’s old stuff and learning new things about her. Lena found out that her mom was quite the tennis player in high school and college with the plethora of medals and plaques she found honoring her mother’s competitive spirit.
Lena also learned that mom wasn’t always the uptight, stressed out worker bee that she was now. Pictures of her mom depicted a more open, flexible woman who liked to drink a cold beer (and who smoked weed??). She’d mulled over asking her mom about that new discovery, but she thought twice about starting that conversation before ultimately discarding it as a useless venture. Even with physical proof, her mother would deny tooth and nail that she’d ever done something as untoward as smoking a little pot with her friends. Plus, Lena wasn’t up for the Don’t Do Drugs soapbox preaching that was sure to happen immediately after her mom’s denial. Lena had looked through nearly every box by this point, and aside from discovering her mom didn’t always say no to drugs, there was nothing really of note in any of the boxes.
Lena almost missed something.
Covered in a moth-eaten, black cardigan was a device. It took Lena a few minutes to figure out what it was when she picked it up, but there it was: a bulky answering machine with an ugly, dark brown laminate wood covering stained in oily, smudgy dirt. Lena’s grandparents still used one, so it wasn’t hard for her to recall that this device was once an essential item. In the era of mobile phones, Lena’s mom had taught her parents enough about voicemails to be able to get rid of hers entirely. It was a welcomed change, since all Lena’s mom got on the answering machine were spam messages and telemarketers.
Suddenly, Lena remembered something.
The day her mom unplugged the answering machine, she’d seemed more on edge than normal. She was keyed up about something, nervous even. And relief seemed to settle in almost immediately following disconnecting that cheap, wooden-brown answering machine. Lena remembered. Mom unplugged it unceremoniously, almost tore it out and hastily took it to the garage where it ultimately ended up underneath a pile of old clothes and old documents. Afterwards, her mom poured a glass of red wine and went out to the back porch to light a cigarette. Lena’s mom rarely smoked or drank, so it was unusual that she had reacted this way after doing something that seemed almost too unimportant to even remember. But Lena remembered it, and she wondered why her mom had behaved so oddly.
There must be something here, Lena thought to herself, as she pulled out the old tape from the machine. She twisted one of the tape reels with her pinky finger. There must be a tape player somewhere in the house. Lena was sure of it. Mom still had a few mix tapes laying around in her room, sentimental things that she played while cooking a meal or reading a book in her downtime at home. Lena was determined to find it and see if anything was on this tape that mom didn’t want to hear but also didn’t want to throw away.
So Lena stuffed the tape in her pocket before she reorganized the boxes to make them look as if she hadn’t spent the better part of the evening rummaging through them. It didn’t matter much. Her mom rarely went into the garage. But it was better to be safe, especially now that Lena had a new secret to unravel sitting right there in her pocket and feeling more and more like a ten-pound bullet grazing against her sweaty thigh.