Author’s Note: This is the continuation of a previously published story. If you would like to read the first part, please visit Submission.
The scenery of Jess’ life changed on an otherwise ordinary day. Of course, that’s how it always seems to work. Change arrives on our doorstep when we least expect it. Seated at her customary kitchen table position, Jess’ attention shifted from the space inside her head to the rumbling diesel engine applying its air brakes outside.
Pulling the kitchen drapes aside, just enough to catch a glimpse of the activity outside, the moving truck came to rest in front of the abandoned house next door. Arriving behind the truck a few seconds later was a small blue sedan. A young girl, about six or seven years old, bounced out of the back seat with the energy of a firecracker. She ran towards the front door, peeking behind every few steps to make sure that her mom was following. “C’mon mom, hurry up! I wanna see my new room,” exclaimed the exuberant child. Mom was indeed following behind with almost as much excitement as her daughter.
Jess let the drapes fall back to their closed position. She sat back down at the table to resume her daily session of contemplation, but her flow had been disrupted. There was no going back to her past today, maybe tomorrow. She may as well move forward with the list of chores needing to be completed before the evening schedule commenced. It was a crisp, fall day, zero humidity. The smell of autumn was in the air. It was a perfect opportunity to hang the laundry outside – more like a perfect excuse to get outdoors where Jess knew she belonged.
Clipping shirts on to the clothesline, one sleeve at a time, Jess was greeted by the young voice she already recognized. “Hi,” came the voice from the little girl’s head just peeking over the fence. Jess smiled, but before she could respond, a taller figure emerged behind the child. “I’m sorry,” she offered apologetically, “My daughter is quite the little socialite. We didn’t mean to bother you.”
“Oh, it’s no problem. I’m Jess. I guess I’ll be your new neighbor. Welcome to the neighborhood,” replied Jess.
“Thank you, I’m Claire and this is my daughter, Ella,” she replied placing a hand on her daughter’s head as she bounced up and down to get a better view.
Jess was never one to do what she did next, but something inside nudged her towards the words that came out of her mouth. “I know you’re new to the area and I’m really a complete stranger at this point, but would you and Ella like to come over for lunch later? I can make some sandwiches and we can have a little picnic on the back porch.”
“That is so very kind of you, but we wouldn’t want to inconvenience you,” said Claire. “Can we mommy, can we, can we, please?” exclaimed Ella.
“It’s really no inconvenience at all. I’d love it if you two could come over. I know how difficult and stressful it can be to move into a new place,” replied Jess.
“Well,” smiled Claire as she looked down at her human pogo stick, “let us get a few things in place and we would be delighted to accept your invitation. You are very kind, Jess. Thank you very much.” And with that simple decision, a new relationship was born – one that would prove to be rejuvenating for Jess, both personally and professionally.
Jess came to learn that Claire was a single mom. She and Ella had moved here looking for a fresh start. Running a home business online, Claire could choose to live anywhere. The schools were supposed to be top notch in this area. All thoughts were on Ella and her future as she was preparing to enter first grade.
Jess was an only child. Perhaps that is why she was so prone to solitary confinement. There was always a part of her, however – despite her genetic predisposition – that longed for the companionship of a sibling. Over the course of the weeks that followed, she felt as though she had discovered, in Claire, the long lost sister that she never had beside her.
Jess came to welcome the warm, compassionate, and honest connection that had been sown between these two sisters living in parallel universes. It became part of her daily routine to have a cup of coffee with Claire after both their houses emptied in the morning. Sometimes at Claire’s place, other times at Jess’ home, her coffee never got cold anymore. She conversed with ease about anything and everything – from the best crepe recipes to the dreams buried deep inside. It was ironic that the two individuals living next door to Jess felt more like her family than the three other people living under her own roof.
“You know,” said Claire one morning over a cup of coffee and her latest baking endeavor, chocolate coconut crepes, “I have an idea.” Smiling, she continued on, “You need to find a way to rekindle your professional pursuits. Not like it’s necessarily my cup of tea, but I can tell you are tormented by the lack of dirt under your fingernails.”
Jess gave a lazy, knowing smile. Of course Claire could sense this, but why didn’t her own husband? Claire continued, “Ella’s class is doing a unit on dinosaurs and prehistoric animals in science class. I know it’s not the prestigious and high profile research that you are used to, but I bet they would love to hear about what it’s like to be a real-life paleontologist.”
When two like-minded individuals put their heads together, the ideas that emerge become greater than the sum of their thoughts. That is how it came to be that Ella’s first grade class would be visiting her own backyard on a field trip. Transformed into a prehistoric dig site, twenty young seven year old boys and girls would learn just what it was like to be a paleontologist firsthand.
Jess was going to let her husband know about her plans, but it never came to pass. The robotic sequence of events once he returned home didn’t leave a single spare cycle to hold a meaningful conversation. It was dinner, homework with the boys, television, late night sync-up call with his customers in Asia, a glass of scotch, and snoring from the bedroom that soon followed.
That was alright. Jess had a much more willing and engaged companion to assist her. On the morning before the “Big Dig” as they were coining it, Jess met Claire at her back door. Work gloves on, shovel in hand, Jess felt like a kid in a candy store. She felt more energized than she thought she would. She hadn’t realized just how big the void created by her lack of a professional life had become.
Eager to get started, Claire began taping off the dig area while Jess put shovel to dirt. The assortment of turkey and chicken bones would constitute a majority of the planned finds beneath the surface. Jess had pulled out a few of her own special specimens collected over the years as special treats for the young paleontologists. She remembered the day she cracked open that rock along the riverbed to reveal a three hundred million year old fossil. She would do everything in her power to recreate a similar feeling in the malleable minds of these young children.
One after another, holes were dug. Would be dinosaur bones were planted and covered back up. Near the end of the morning, as Jess was digging one of the final holes, the shovel pierced the earth and hit something solid.
“Oh, no,” grimaced Jess as she turned towards Claire, “Do you have an irrigation system installed in your yard?”
“I’m not really sure,” replied Claire, “but I don’t think so.”
“Well, if you do,” said Jess, “I think I just severed one of your pipes.”
As she got down on her hands and knees, she grabbed a trowel and carefully navigated around the point of interest. She was surprised how easily it all came back to her, delicately working around an object to unearth it while still preserving its integrity. Removing the gloves from her hand, she began to use her fingers to clear out the space around the object taking shape. It wasn’t an irrigation pipe after all. It looked like it was a box, almost like an old style ammunition container.
With her curiosity winning out over a desire to preserve its integrity, she began to move the dirt more quickly, less carefully, in an effort to bring this curious exhibit above ground. “What is that?” inquired Claire.
Running her hands over the metal top, brushing the dirt away, Jess replied, “I don’t know.”
Jess was hesitant to take the next step. This wasn’t her property after all, finding it in Claire’s back yard. “Well, why don’t you open it?” suggested Claire. Having been given permission to learn more about an artifact excavated from the ground, natural or man-made – Jess didn’t need to be asked twice.
She unlatched the metal clasp on the front and lifted the lid. As the metal hinges creaked upon opening, the words on the leather journal piqued her interest as much as any specimen she had recovered in her past – Mes secrets – Chapitre cinq.