The Basket – Good Friday

letter with red wax seal
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This is a work of fiction.
The Basket
Good Friday

Laine found the body.
We always visited Grandma at Easter. At Christmas she came to our parents’ house, and at other times of the year we visited her, but Easter was special. We normally went on Thursday and stayed three nights. I’m sure it started as a way for our parents to get some time to themselves, but we loved going to Grandma’s.
We always bought small presents for Grandma. Laine would wrap them because she said I’d do a bad job, and then we’d saunter down the street like all the other young people who thought they were immortal. Death was for old people, but not for Grandma, and certainly never for us.
When we got there, Grandma would be ready for us, with a huge meal prepared, no matter if it was breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
“Cole,” she’d say to me, “you need to eat more.”
She never said that to Laine, even though my big sister was quite thin and I wasn’t.
Grandma would tell Laine how pretty her hair was, even if it was in disarray, but she didn’t tell me my hair was pretty, even when I was thirteen and decided I wanted long hair for a change.
Mom asked me why I wanted to look like that, Dad told me not to do it because other kids would make fun of me and maybe even beat me up, Laine said I looked cool but also maybe kind of weird, but Grandma just kept quiet.
I decided I preferred my hair to be short, and that was the end of it, but I never did find out what Grandma thought.
We never knew Grandpa. He died just before Mom got pregnant with Laine. Dad said his father had been a quiet, rugged man who liked fishing, hiking, sports, and politics, but I couldn’t picture it. Grandma liked knitting, sewing, and cooking.
Grandma may not have said that Laine was too thin, but she offered her as much food as she put before me. The problem was, Laine barely touched most of it. While I’d devour the feast, Laine would sit and eat a little bit, and then excuse herself. I’d hear her going into the living room and flipping through one of the magazines she’d brought.
Once we’d finished eating, we’d walk into the living room, and Laine would put the magazine away as if she didn’t want us to see it. Grandma would ask if Laine would like to read one of her knitting or sewing magazines, but my sister would make faces and shake her head. Grandma never asked me if I wanted to read a sewing or a knitting magazine, and I never dared to pick one up, even though I was kind of curious; I was afraid she’d laugh at me.
We’d sit on Grandma’s couch and talk. When we were little kids, Mom and Dad would be there, and we’d talk about school, games, and activities.
As we got older, school became college, at least for me.
Mom and Dad wanted Laine to go, but she refused.
There were a lot of arguments. I thought she should go, but I was only fifteen at the time, and I didn’t want to get between my sister and my parents, so I kept my mouth shut.
So while Laine washed dishes at a restaurant, I bent my head over my books, finished school, and went to college.
Originally, I thought I wanted to be an accountant, but I fell in love with poetry in first-year English.
“Poetry?” Mom said, looking utterly baffled. “How can you make money reciting poems?”
She wasn’t making fun of the idea; she really wanted to know.
“I can become a professor.”
“Well, if it’s really what you want to do, then your dad and I are happy.”
“It is and thanks.”
Talking about the games we liked became talking about dating. Grandma had lots of opinions on the subject.
“Cole,” she said one day in her clear, confident voice that never cracked with age, “have you found a nice girl yet?”
I felt, as I always did when the subject came up, a little shy talking about this in front of my sister, but Grandma never seemed to be aware of this.
“Um, er, no I haven’t found anybody.”
“What are you waiting for? You’re twenty-one, aren’t you?”
“So what’s the hold up? Get yourself to a bar on Friday night after work. Don’t take a girl home if she’s drunk, but do take her home if she’s a little tipsy. There’s nothing to be afraid of. Girls want to be taken home.”
“I’m not afraid of girls,” I said, which was the truth. What I was afraid of were the bouncers, drunks, and gangsters I was sure I’d meet instead of the love of my life.
After she was finished with me, she turned to Laine and asked her if she’d met any nice young men yet.
Laine squirmed around a little and then shook her head.
“Why not? You’re how old now? Twenty-three?”
“My gosh, you really aren’t getting any younger, you know. So why haven’t you found yourself a nice young man yet?”
“They’re all um, you know, a little like Cole. I don’t want to date my brother.” She laughed, but the sound was sort of jagged and didn’t make me want to laugh with her. Grandma never seemed to pick up on how uncomfortable she could make Laine and me, nor did she seem to realize that her comments about Laine not getting any younger were mean.
“Well, keep looking. I’m sure you’ll find him. Do you go to bars? I hope so. The men at the gym are all addicted to drugs, and you wouldn’t want any of them.”
Grandma knew perfectly well that Dad and me went to the gym and neither of us used drugs.
To this day, I have no idea why she talked to us like she did; as if the world was a cartoon show and people were animated figures, moving through fantasy worlds that existed no more than elves or dragons.
On most other subjects, Grandma was normal. If Laine or I ever asked to talk to her in private, she’d make sure nobody else heard the conversation and she never blabbed a secret as far as I know.
That Easter weekend started out badly.
It was Thursday morning, and I was packing my overnight bag when Laine called.
“I have to work tonight.”
“Didn’t you take it off?”
“Don’t snap at me like that. I tried to, but Arnie wants the night off too, and I’m the lowest creature in the food chain, so I’m the one who will be making sure that all the dishes are spotless tonight.”
Why didn’t she just quit that crappy job?
She’d been working there for about ten years, had never gotten promoted, never taken off the late shift, and now she was being refused days off because some guy who’d probably only been there for maybe a month wanted time off.
“Is this Arnie a good guy?”
She laughed.
“Hardly. He’s younger than you and has been in jail about fifty times.”
“Why don’t you quit that job?”
It was the first time I’d ever suggested this to her and I was met with dead silence.
After a few seconds, I said, “Laine, why don’t you just quit that job?”
“I gotta go. See you tomorrow morning.”
The line went dead.
She must not have wanted my advice.
I spent the day cleaning my apartment. Laine still lived with our parents, but they were away that weekend. It was the first time they’d gone somewhere without us since before we were born. Even when we went to visit Grandma, they’d stay home, but they’d gone to Florida to visit Mom’s family. They’d been gone for three weeks and were coming back on Saturday. I wondered if there had been any bickering about Mom not staying for Easter.
On Friday morning, Laine called me at seven.
“Did you buy the presents for Grandma?”
“Um, no.”
“You had all day. I didn’t even get a dinner break.”
“I’m sorry. We never talked about it.”
“Yes we did. I asked you to buy her some of that air freshener she likes.”
“I’m sorry. I don’t remember talking about it.”
“You’re so lazy you know? You should quit your so-called job and get a real one. Maybe that’d teach you some useful life skills.”
We didn’t usually fight. I made a mental note never to try and give her advice, apologized again for forgetting, even though I was sure we’d never talked about it, and said I’d meet her at Grandma’s house at nine.
At nine, we stood on Grandma’s porch and I pressed the bell.
Ding dong.
We waited, but Grandma didn’t come to the door.
“She must have gone to the store,” I said.
Laine shivered and nodded.
I noticed she was wearing a winter coat, even though it was fairly warm that day. Maybe she was getting a cold.
We waited for an hour. With every passing minute, we got more and more worried. At one point, I suggested we go home and get the key, but Laine shook her head and told me not to be so impatient.
Finally, she turned to me and said, “Okay, you stay here and I’ll go and get the key.”
“Just a sec,” I said and tried the door.
It was unlocked.
“Hey, that’s breaking and entering.”
“Grandma!” I called loudly as I opened the door, “It’s Cole and Laine. Are you okay? If you can hear me, please make some noise.”
There was no reply.
“You’re committing a crime,” Laine said from behind me.
“No I’m not. Grandma! Can you hear me? It’s Cole and Laine.”
“She’s gonna come back and find you snooping around her house and think I had anything to do with it.”
“Please help me.”
“Help you what? Search through her drawers and paw through her underwear?”
“Laine! No, of course not. Help me look for Grandma. I don’t want to go into her bedroom.”
I looked around the living room. Everything was where it usually was, except there was a pink basket on the coffee table. I thought I saw some papers in it, but I didn’t have time to be curious.
“She’s not in the living room.”
“All right. Go outside and I’ll look for her. I’m sure she’s gone for a quart of milk.”
I stepped outside and Laine went into the house.
Thirty seconds later, she said, “Grandma.”
If Grandma replied, I didn’t hear anything, so I went in.
I found Laine in the kitchen.
Grandma was on the floor in front of the fridge.
“I told you to stay outside.”
“I know, but—”
“No buts, get back out there.”
Laine was standing about four feet away from where Grandma lay.
I went over and knealt beside her body.
“What are you doing?!” Laine screamed as I picked up Grandma’s arm and put my fingers on her wrist. I couldn’t feel anything and her chest wasn’t moving.
“I’m feeling for a pulse.”
I leaned close to her face but couldn’t feel her breath.
“This is a crime scene!”
“You don’t think she died here like this on her own, do you? I’m going to call the police and I’m going to make it absolutely clear that you were the one who found her, disturbed evidence, and even touched her! I’m sure they’ll be very interested in your . . . your . . . your student loan balance!”
“My student loan balance?” I said with an incredulous laugh.
She couldn’t really think I had done this, could she?
“So you think this is funny?”
I put Grandma’s arm down and took out my phone.
“Who are you calling?”
“An ambulance. I don’t think there’s anything they can do, but I can hope.”
Laine grabbed my phone.
“I’ll do it.”
She punched at the screen.
She swore.
I took my phone back and dialed 911.
A woman answered.
“My grandma’s lying on the floor not moving and I don’t think she’s breathing. I can’t find her pulse.”
Laine shoved her elbow into my side and leaned toward the phone.
“We need the police here. She’s on the floor in the kitchen. She’s not in bed like if it were natural.”
“Not everybody dies in bed,” I said.
“Shut up,” Laine said. “There doesn’t appear to be anything else on the floor, but Cole walked on the floor and touched her, supposedly checking for a pulse. Any fool can see she’s dead and was pushed.”
“She looks comfortable,” I said.
“Comfortable?! She’s dead, you stupid idiot!”
“I know, but she looks like she lay down and fell asleep.”
“On the kitchen floor? Nuh unh. He’s so deep in debt I’m sure he was planning to sell all her jewelry but there’s no way I’m letting him get away with that.”
“Please stay calm,” the woman said. “What is the address?”
I recited it.
“Thank you. An ambulance and the police are on the way. Please stay on the line.”
Laine gave me a triumphant look.
What was my sister thinking?
I was too stunned to be mad at her.
“How old is your grandma?” the woman asked.
“I’m not quite sure. Laine, do you know?”
“What difference does it make? She was strong and healthy.”
“Does she have any medical problems?”
“No. I just told you she was strong and healthy.”
“So she’s not taking any medication?”
“NO!” Laine shouted.
“Please calm down.”
“I think she took aspirin,” I said.
“Everybody takes aspirin,” Laine said. “He’s trying to lead you so you won’t question him.”
I wasn’t looking forward to talking to the cops, but I wanted to get away from Laine.
The ambulance was very quick and the police car was right behind it.
Two paramedics and two cops came into the house.
I was relieved to see that the officers didn’t have their guns out.
Laine made eye contact with the male officer, a big guy in his forties, and said, “I’m Laine. I’m afraid my brother, Cole, disturbed the crime scene.”
“I was checking for a pulse,” I said. “I think she got tired and lay down here and passed away peacefully.”
“Yes,” the female officer, who looked about thirty, said, “I think that is most likely what happened.”
“But she was strong and healthy,” Laine said.
The female paramedic said, “We’ll take her to the hospital, and one of you is welcome to ride with us.”
“Or one or both of you can ride with us,” the male officer said.
Laine gave me a frightened look.
I thought now that she was actually seeing the cops, she wasn’t so sure if she wanted them poking around in our lives.
“I’d like to ride with Grandma,” I said.
“Can I go home?” Laine asked.
Both cops nodded.
The ride to the hospital was quiet.
The emergency room was kind of busy, but a doctor took one look at Grandma and prnounced her dead.
“What did she die of?” I asked him as he typed on a computer.
“I’m not sure,” he said. “We’ll contact her internist and find out if she had any medical problems. Are you aware of any?”
“No. Um, who tells the rest of our family?”
“If you can do that, that would be helpful. They don’t know me.”
I nodded, shook his hand, and thanked him for his time.
I got a taxi back to Grandma’s house.
On the way, I remembered the basket I’d seen on the coffee table. I’m a curious person by nature, and although I stop short of snooping, the basket had been in plain view.
The door was locked.
I called Laine.
There was no answer.
I walked around to the back, but that was locked, too.
I rang the bell on the off-chance that Laine was still there, but she didn’t come to the door.
“Cole, is that you?”
I turned around.
Mrs. Jorgens, an elderly neighbor, was standing on the sidewalk, looking up at me through her thick glasses.
“Hi Mrs. Jorgens. Grandma, uh, um . . .”
“I saw the ambulance. She was such a sweet lady. I would have come sooner, but my old bones wouldn’t let me.”
She groaned.
“Are you all right?”
“Yes dear. I’m just a bit old and creaky today. Would you like the key? Your grandma gave me one just in case, but now . . .”
“Yes please.”
She opened her purse and took out a key.
I thanked her and offered to walk back with her to her house, but she told me she’d be fine.
As I unlocked the door, I had a terrible feeling that the basket would be gone.
My heart started to race.
This was ridiculous.
Why would it be gone?
Who could have taken it?
As I stepped into the house, my sister’s name rang through my mind.
Laine could have taken it.
The basket was right there on the coffee table.
My heart did a happy dance as I walked over to it.
How could I have thought Laine would take it?
It was filled with letters.
Each one was sealed with red wax.
Below the recipient’s name, there was this:

If you should open,
A letter not meant for you,
God above will know.

I looked at all the names.
There was a letter each for Mom, Dad, my dad’s three sisters, his two brothers, a whole stack of cousins, all the people in Mom’s family, some friends, some people I didn’t know, Laine, and me.
I took mine out and left the others alone.
The envelope was thick and cream-colored.
As carefully as I could, I opened it and then sat down on the couch.

Dear Cole,
I’ve known since before Christmas that I didn’t have long. The doctor is a nice man, but I just couldn’t accept the thought of meeting my maker in a hospital bed, so I insisted on staying at home, taking no pills except for good old aspirin, and living as I’ve always done until the hour God chooses for me.
I’ve thought about what to do for Easter if I’m not still here by then.
Spending Easter with you, Laine, and your parents has always been one of my greatest joys and occupies one of the fondest places in my heart.
I’ve bought the candy. It’s in the storage room in the basement. Some of it isn’t Easter candy, but I started buying it early to make sure there would be plenty to go around.
I’m also asking Laine to help hide some of it so you’ll have fun, too.
I’m asking your mom and Laine to prepare the meal, and for your dad to hang decorations, set the table, carry the food, and wash the dishes. No, he won’t object to any of those chores; he’s a good boy!
I love everyone I spend my time with and I can’t say any one person is my favorite, but Cole, you are high up there. Your curiosity has always been a light in a dark room, a landscape on a bare wall, or water in the desert. Please pardon my poor attempt at being poetic. I admire you for going to college and doing what you love.
I don’t know if your interest in new things extends to sewing and knitting, but if so, please feel free to look through the cupboard in my living room. The magazines on the end table are full of beautiful pictures, but the book on the bottom shelf of my cupboard is a book for beginner knitters. I’m afraid it’s rather old and doesn’t contain a lot of pictures, but it’s clear and well-written. If it’s sewing that fascinates you, I’ve left a small book in my sewing basket, which is under the end table that holds all my magazines.
I hope to see you some day, but before that, may you live a long, happy life with somebody who loves you without restraint.
Yours truly,

I went over to the cupboard, opened it, picked up the old book, and took it to the couch.
I opened the book to the first chapter.
I spent the next hour reading the book and searching the cupboard for what I needed.
I had two rows of stitches on my needles and was just reading the instructions to make sure I knew what I was doing, when the door opened, and Laine came in.
“I was right.”
“About what?”
“You didn’t answer at your apartment so I came to make sure you hadn’t gotten back in.”
She stared at the knitting needles in my hands.
“How did you get in here? What are you doing with Grandma’s knitting things? She made stuff for poor people with those.”
“Mrs. Jorgens gave me the key. I’m learning how to knit.”
“And that’s my book. Grandma gave it to me for my birth . . .”
The rest of the word “birthday” came out in a strange cry, and then Laine was falling to the floor.

Easter Weekend





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