It’s a beautiful package. Large and rectangular in shape.. wrapped in expensive paper the color of a lovely robin’s egg. And there’s inch wide ribbon around it.. dark blue with white polka dots. Festive. And a little card placed under the ribbon at the center on top. Celeste peers through the peep hole in her front door. It’s a pretty parcel, but it startles her. It’s so beautiful, but who would send it? Packages like this are illegal. Except for birthdays. One can send a package for someone’s birthday. Celeste’s birthday isn’t for another four months. September 9th. How did this one get by the police? Well, instead of standing here looking at it, she should at least bring it in. And bring it in quickly, before any of the neighbors see it.. if someone hasn’t seen it already. No one can be trusted. She brings it in and sets it on the dining room table. Michael will be at work for another three hours. She wonders if she should open it or dispose of it somehow. This shouldn’t be a big decision, but she feels like all decisions are enormous now. Celeste second guesses nearly every move she makes. Someone might be watching. She’s not the only one who feels this. Everyone in the town of Spruce feels the same. Things have been this same awful way for going on three years. That’s when the new Leader took over. Everyone is exhausted by the way things are, but no one knows what to do to change anything.
So she sits for at least a half hour on her couch debating what to do. And she looks around. She and her first husband, Alan, had such a beautiful home. A colonial.. with three bedrooms, two baths, and a gorgeous deck out back.. surrounded by tall Douglas Firs. But that house was torn down; the trees, all two dozen of them chopped into pieces. There was too much money to be had for others for the trees to be left standing. Celeste and Alan were forced to move into this four room house… one of hundreds specially built for all the families in town. They were allowed to have a small television set, a bed, two chairs, a couch and a dining room table. Other than those things, just the basic kitchen appliances. A microwave and dishwasher.. unnecessary. They could have a washing machine, but no dryer. And, what left Celeste devastated more than anything, is that every book she owned was taken away and burned. Books are thought to be unhealthy.. well except for math books. It’s as if the Leadership doesn’t want anyone to feel joy and happiness.
Then two months after all this, Alan disappeared. Celeste waited a year for him to return, but he vanished. So she married Michael. Michael is safe, and she feels safe being married to him. Lately though, he’s beginning to act strange, and Celeste wonders if she trusts him after all. And here comes the panic. She never had trouble with panic until she and Alan were forced to move. She decides to open the package. Uncontrollable shaking and a wave of nausea. She opens the package, and breaks down in sobs when she sees its contents. Two heavy hardcover books. The Complete Works of William Shakespeare and Bleak House, by Charles Dickens. But on the bottom, underneath the books is the most beautiful shirt Celeste has ever seen. A lavender linen and eyelet summer shirt. Both the books and the shirt.. illegal. Only math textbooks are allowed.. and the basic blue jeans and khaki shirts that everyone of both sexes is required to wear. And she decides to keep the books and the shirt.. to not bury or burn them. She thinks of the secret hiding place she created in the kitchen right after Alan disappeared and before she married Michael. A false back to one of the kitchen cabinets. A two foot by two foot space to put just such things as these. She knows she can’t wear the shirt.. but someday there might come a time.. and she will need to use extreme caution when reading the books. Never when Michael is home, and definitely at night. Then she remembers the note.. the tiny card tucked in the ribbon. A little card painted with tiny robins. It says.. Hold on, darling. I’m all right, and i’m coming for you soon. The smallest handwriting she’s ever seen, but it’s definitely Alan’s. But could this really be him? She decides it is. Because thinking it’s Alan will get her through. Still two hours before Michael gets home. Time to hide these things. Celeste reaches into the cabinet, moves the bag of potatoes.. legal potatoes, and slides the hidden door to the right. She places the shirt and books inside and pulls out a magnificent bottle of Bombay Sapphire. Definitely contraband. Oh yes.. there’s still time…
By M. Raynes