The Alabaster Turnip
When my husband, Frederick, passed on last year, well, all right, first I should say that I was sad. Let's clear the air about that straight away. We were married for thirty-seven years, and it was a strong marriage forged between two quiet people who built a life out of shared solitude. And who had an impressive amount of money and land and things.
Frederick's death was no surprise - he'd been in hospital for months and months, and his labored breathing and discharges of various colors of goo from every orifice pretty much told the tale - but the passing itself was terribly emotional. Now, Frederick was not a "spontaneous" individual. It was fitting that he died on the day his physicians predicted. He was a timetable man, and that was a great comfort to me and to the children. (We have five.) He was not "devil may care".
But Frederick did something quite extraordinary before he passed. He composed a note to me and taped it to the underside of a portmanteau we kept in the guest bedroom. This portmanteau was an odd wedding present that we kept around out of bored obligation. I found this note six days after his passing; I was in the guest bedroom eating raisins off the wedding china (a little ritual of mine during summer solstice), and I dropped a particularly plump one, and it rolled under the portmanteau, and I dug underneath to retrieve it, and lo! I felt the rough paper, the smooth tape.
Needless to say, I read the note at once. Frederick had described a sort of treasure map for me, albeit missing directions and the obligatory "X" marking the destined spot. I won't bore you with the details of the letter's posthumous preface - in brief, they were phrases of love, which drew tears from me - but then there was the kicker, as they say in the film trade. Here follows said kicker:
"If our love is strong enough, do this one thing for me, dearest Violet. Find The Alabaster Turnip. If it means stealing it, be a proper thief and true. If it means purchasing it, exhaust our savings. If it means killing for it, hire a brigand of thugs, the grislier the better, and wait in the shadows until their dread business is complete. But find the Turnip, Violet. Find it. Then, deliver it to Vanessa Siddlebasin, who lives in Toronto, Canada. Once Ms. Siddlebasin has the Turnip in her possession, you will be treated to the most wonderful chain of events, you will be witness to the most wonderful happenings, I am certain. If you care to do me any honor now that I rot in my grave, then let it be the performance of this task. Find the Alabaster Turnip, Violet. God Speed and All my Love, Frederick."
I was stunned. Alabaster Turnip? What was such a thing? I had never seen one on the premises. And what had Frederick to do with things composed of alabaster? He made his riches in the gorse industry.
It was not at all like Frederick to traffic in espionage, either. I was in a quandary. I wept a bit - I am a woman who weeps when she learns that her husband was not fully revealed to her, but hid parcels of himself away - but, when the weeping was done, I sprang into action.
First, I enlisted help. I immediately phoned six of the most prominent antique dealers in the county proper and invited them over for sandwiches, a performance by some singers I taxied in from the nearby opera house, and a stroll of the grounds. It was a lovely afternoon for meandering in the greenery. The antique dealers, their heads full of Puccini, their noses of lilacs, their bellies of cheese and basil, seemed pleased to spend this time with me. We had a brief respite near my tomato garden and, slyly, taking advantage of the good will, I posed the question.
"Do any of you know of an Alabaster Turnip?" I asked, with a sublimely rendered mock innocence. "And, if so, may I retrieve it from you for a reasonable rate?"
Five of the dealers professed ignorance. But the sixth, a smallish, heavyset gentleman with a rather sparse effort at a moustache on his upper lip, went positively white. He emitted a squeal not unlike that of a wounded raccoon (how I became familiar with this baroque sound is another story for another time). And before you could say "pass the capers, Reverend" he turned on one heel and he dashed away! With admirable speed, mind you, for none of us could catch him. He went so far as to leave his automobile in my driveway, which was a fair decision on his part, for his foot speed was, as I said, Olympian. I knew at once that this man had the answer I sought. I sent away the other antique shop dealers and retired to my late husband's study for a strategy session with myself.
Our study is a fine place for formulating plans - the leather-encased complete works of various authors hang above one's head on shelf after shelf. Voltaire, Horace, Proust. Great thinkers encourage great thoughts, yes? I curled up on the floor of this "room of knowledge" and made myself a conduit for inspiration. And inspiration came.
I hurried over to the mustachioed vendor's antiques shop. I was primed to make a stern case of it all. I would confront him - grandly - and promise to involve the authorities if he did not reveal the contents of his dark and secretive heart. But the man was not in his office; in fact, according to one very curt sales representative at the store (named "Manny's Taste of Victorian Treasures"), he was not in the store at all, but was on vacation, in Sweden, visiting relatives. I asked several of the other employees if they had any turnip figurines in stock, withholding the alabaster composition for fear of starting a panic - but no one could provide any aid.
I exited Manny's dingy store, crestfallen. My thoughts ran along the following lines: "Dear Frederick, what am I to do? My invention is bankrupt!" However, my luck changed in an instant. An aged woman who walked with not one but two canes dragged her lifeless legs over to me. With a closer view I could discern the wisdom of age and experience on her creased face. I must say, I found her quite beautiful, for is not the eye that has seen and taken note of an evolving world more beautiful than the innocent eye or even the cosmetically sculpted eye? I should think so. The upshot is, I was unafraid.
The woman, after some minutes of labored walking, reached my side. She smiled impishly. And in a low, cigarette-scarred voice, she said, "I know where you can find a turnip. If it's an alabaster one you're after." My heart leapt. As if on cue, a powerful wind drew leaves and dust from the ground and swirled them around our heads. The sun passed behind several jagged meringue clouds, and a shadow of warning melted over us. The old woman peered at me with a gypsy eye. I did not turn away. I knew my next move. I knew it to my marrow.
"I'm bored," I said. "Good bye." And I went home.
Let's be reasonable. I'm criminally rich and I finally have the house to myself. Troll the globe for a turnip? Not for me. Boring. Good night.
About the author:
Christopher Hickman is a Brooklyn-based freelance writer who, at age five, didn't stop making the face, and, as his mother predicted, it froze that way.