“Izzy, go to your room, please.”
“Grandpa said, mom.”
They had moved to the kitchen, and the white box sat in the exact center of the table while they crowded around it like a Ouija board. Nobody had opened it.
Gret looked sharply at her father, who didn’t look away. He cleared his throat.
“We already decided,” he told her. “She has a right to know.”
She should have rounded on him and told him that this was about safety, goddammit. That’s her daughter they were talking about. She started to talk and he looked away, past her and at Izzy. She was walking upstairs. She turned around very calmly from the top step and looked over her family with a kind of austerity.
“Rule three,” she said. “I’ll be in my room if you need any help, okay?”
And she left without a word.
Jim smiled at Gret’s expression.
“She’s ready for this,” he said.
“I know!” Gret said. Maybe more loudly than was strictly necessary. She looked up at the ceiling and took a deep breath.
“We show her what’s in it after we make sure it’s safe,” she said.
Her father nodded in a very specific way he had, and it infuriated her. He had a way of nodding that meant he either got what he wanted all along or he was content to let everyone think he had.
She ignored it. Rilutek and antidepressant, she reminded herself. No more Pieter Bruegel. No more Dull Gret. Don’t be mad at him over this, of all things.
She picked up the box and wormed her way around the edge with a letter opener. She kept her thumb and other hand on the seam as she cut it, and loosened it just enough to look inside.
There was an old camera in the box, black with a stitched strap. She reached inside and took it out and held it carefully. She could tell from the weight that it was empty. She had helped her dad set up the camera when she was little so he could take reference photos for his paintings. She had begged him until he let her help, and wished she hadn’t for hours afterward. It was mean, painstaking work adjusting just right between each shot. When she was finally done her father had asked her if she wanted to help again next time, and she shook her head no because she would rather have jumped off a bridge.
And he had nodded in that very specific way he had, and he had gotten his way. He was left alone with his art. She didn’t bother him to help anymore.
She opened the back of the camera to confirm what she knew – the film had been removed, probably to be developed. She checked the lens and the strap and the casing, which had a tiny crack in it, and found nothing. She passed it to her dad and moved on to the box. 431 Clover Street.
“He wants us to go there,” she said.
“Or Greg and Mary do. The kid said they were alright when he dropped them off.”
She wanted so badly to scream at him, and she didn’t. Rilutek and antidepressant.
“Yeah,” she said.
Why would they send a camera? Why would they send them anything at all? Why anything?
“So you think it’s safe?” she asked him. She would lead him to it and make it think it was his idea. This was a trap. Glad I was so careful, he would say.
He shrugged. “I’ll see when I get there.”
She looked past the metal frame in which her father sat, and saw for maybe the first time that some part of it had wormed its way into him. Whether it was the disease or the medicine or just old age, she didn’t know. This was compensation for whatever he had lost. This was to show them that he still had it – that he could still make decisions and be the boss.
And still she didn’t say anything to contradict him. Rilutek and an antidepressant, but it was still dad. He still knew what he was doing. He wasn’t too far gone yet. He still knew what he was doing.