“There’s something I should have told you.”
I stood next to Kristi on the grass, nervously clutching my beer. We had been standing together in silence for a few minutes, watching the kids play soccer with an ancient and balding ball. The chatter of the others filled the warm summer air around us as people laughed and ate. Kristi and I were representative of an age demographic that was in the minority; younger than most, older than the kids, old enough to have kids but didn’t. Olive and Paul were the only others of our group, and they were nowhere to be seen. I suspected they had gone off together somewhere.
Kristi lifted her own beer up to her mouth and kept her eyes on the kids.
I floundered, suddenly regretting my decision to share the secret I had been keeping.
She turned toward me, an eyebrow lifted.
“Remember when we buried that box under the bridge? Over by the factory?” I blurted out the questions as though their speed would distract from their meaning.
Kristi merely watched me impassively and didn’t reply.
“Well, uh, you know how I said I put the locket in there? The one from your grandma?”
I swallowed, took a deep drink from my bottle, cleared my throat.
Kristi’s expression didn’t change.
Her voice betrayed nothing of how she was feeling. I was beginning to sweat.
“Uh, yeah. I…um, I sold it. To pay for…well, I just, I still feel bad about it. That’s all.”
Kristi turned away from me, her eyes returning to the playing kids. She took another sip from her beer. Her continued silence was making me skittish. Finally, she shrugged.
“It was going in the box anyway. It’s not like I was planning to ever see it again.”
I stared at her, feeling both relieved and somehow disappointed. All the guilt I had been carrying for so long…it was all for nothing? It was worthless? I shook my head, took another sip, turned back to watch the kids. I guess that was easier than I had thought, despite feeling somewhat unsatisfied by her response.
When Kristi turned back to face me, she had a small smile on her lips and a strange glint in her eyes I couldn’t comprehend.
“Let’s go get it.”
She nodded, her smile deepening.
“Let’s go dig it up.”
I glanced around the gathering, at all those who were enjoying themselves and not paying attention to us at all.
She nodded again, finished her beer, and deposited the bottle in the recycling bag. She began to walk away. Feeling lost, and feeling a need to earn some kind of forgiveness, I drained my bottle, dumped it, and followed her out of the park.
It was late afternoon by the time we reached the bridge. The factory had already been closed for many years when we were kids, and now nature was reclaiming the property. The chain link fence was almost completely obscured by vines, and the road hadn’t been maintained. The bridge itself led nowhere.
I had never seen anyone other than Kristi out here. We used to come and drink, or talk, or just sit on the bridge, dangling our legs above a dirty river. There was no romance to the place. It was just old, and it was not our homes.
Now it seemed to hold a tantalizing dread as we approached. The setting sun was finding its way through the trees in golden slivers, and there was a continual sound of rustling branches and birdsong. It would be beautiful if it didn’t hold so many memories.
Kristi led the way down the embankment of the river into the cool shadow of the bridge. There was the sour smell of stagnant water and the air was musty. She led me to the spot, at the base of one of the bridge’s supports. The ground had sunken in a bit after years of changes in the riverbed.
Kristi snapped open the collapsible shovel she apparently kept in her car at all times. I chose not to question her about it. I don’t think I had cleaned out my car in all the years I owned it, so I was sure there was something in there others would find questionable. She looked silently down at the spot where we had buried our treasure so long ago, then without looking at me held out the shovel.
I stared at her for a moment, but she didn’t look at me, so I sighed and took the shovel. I shoved it into the soft ground. The handle was short and I had to bend awkwardly to get any leverage. Kristi stepped out of my way, watching, thankfully not offering any helpful commentary.
She was mad at me, for sure, but to what extent I wasn’t clear. Hopefully when we unearthed the box she would remember why she hung out with me.
Then again, she didn’t have to like me to hang out with me. Maybe she just didn’t have anyone else to spend time with. Sounded familiar.
I was preparing for another thrust of the shovel when she said my name, and I nearly lost my balance as my momentum carried me forward. But I was rewarded with a sharp metallic clonk as the shovel hit the box. I knelt and used the shovel as a trowel until I had unearthed all its edges. Excited, I handed the shovel back to Kristi as I used my hands to pry the box out of the cool earth.
I continued to kneel as I fumbled with the catch. We hadn’t locked it, assuming either no one would find it or no one would care about the random trinkets we had placed inside. I felt a nervous excitement as I flipped the lid back.
I stared down at the box resting on my knees, bits of different feelings running through me, like the various twigs and leaves slipping by on the river. Longing. Exhilaration. Agitation. Confusion.
I looked up at Kristi.
She looked down at the empty metal box, its emptiness bleak and exigent.
I saw her raise the shovel, but before I could compel my body to move, she brought it down, and everything went black.