Perhaps it was the pandemic, because I do have a lot of time on my hands, but my search for furnace filters more likely explains how I happened upon the long-forgotten small black lacquered cabinet. It had been carefully tucked away in the corner of the attic, along with a few other items we brought back from Katie’s New York apartment the week after she died.
The cabinet was curious, something others might consider an antique of some value or perhaps even a work of art. Age and travel had given it a few dents and bruises, but it seemed to have survived intact from a journey that must have been quite far.
It was not exceptionally large, little more than fourteen inches tall, sixteen inches wide, and twelve inches deep. The face and sides were inlaid with various symbols, intricate designs trimmed with silver and gold. Behind two beautifully decorated doors were seven small shallow drawers, three pairs of two with a larger single beneath.
As I recall, neither of us had any idea why Katie had kept it, where it came from, or what its use may have been. The drawers were empty when we retrieved it from her apartment, and we had no recollection of her ever speaking of the cabinet’s existence. At the time, our only observation was that it was out of place. Her furniture tended to be more in the art deco style, not of Oriental origin, as the cabinet appeared. And to be perfectly honest, I am unable to remember why we saved it and didn’t consider consigning it to a reputable auction house where, despite its wear, it might have fetched a good price.
When we returned from New York, it went to the attic because, like many things, there was no other place to put it and we didn’t have the heart to give it away. I imagine our attic was no different from most, out of sight, out of mind, where we stored assorted things of questionable worth, objects of little use but too sentimental to part with, saved from the past with the unfounded hope that the next generation might claim them.
That afternoon, almost absentmindedly, I decided to dust it off. I must have tugged a little too hard on the bottom drawer or done something to cause its release because, when I pulled it open, the drawer slid out of the cabinet frame. That’s when I was surprised to discover the hidden compartment located below the drawer and was even more amazed by its contents. Inside were batches of letters wrapped in ribbons, a small leather-bound notebook with gilded pages, and a sheaf of pages tied together with a piece of brown string.
Most stories start at the beginning. But as you can see, this one begins at its end. I was given no choice. The answers were found in that order.