It’s 100 years or so from now.
A young girl pulls an ancient box out from under a bed.
Its clear body is blemished with age.
A cloud of dust stirs around her as she pulls it across the floor and sits down beside it. The girl glances quickly at the door. She’s being secret, doesn’t want to be discovered.
The morning sun pours in through the window behind her as she carefully lifts the cracked lid off the box. Its fragility is almost unbelievable as it flexes slightly. She looks at the word on it: Rubbermaid.
Plastic. She’s been told this is plastic.
Inside she finds more plastic, only it’s different.
She lifts a black box. It’s marvellously smooth with precise, rounded edges. The small, silver label on the back reads “Western Digital”.
She holds it up to the sun as if that might change the box’s state. Then she brings it close to her eye and peers into one of the small metal sockets.
“Your grandmother told me there are pictures in there.”
The girls startles when she hears her mother at the door. She turns to look at her.
“You know you’re not supposed to be in here,” her mother says, then smiles. “But you want to know about your family, don’t you?”
The girl smiles a bit, guiltily.
“Yes. What were they like?”
The mother sits down beside her daughter.
“I don’t know,” she says.
As the girl caresses the black box, the woman lifts another artifact. It has a smooth, glass face blemished by a single, hairline crack that runs its entire length.
The other side is white and features a silver inlay the shape of an apple.
“That’s the iPhone, right, mom?”
The girl carefully takes the item from her mom.
“That’s what it says.”
“Tell me what it does, again?”
The woman points to a small circle of glass.
“That’s the camera. Pictures went in there.”
She turns the artifact over in her daughter’s hand and runs her fingers carefully across the smooth glass surface.
“You could see them here.”
“And you could talk to people on it, right? Anywhere in the world?”
The mother smiles a bit, amused by the tone of belief in her daughter’s voice.
“That what I was told,” she replies. “But I don’t believe in the old magic.”
Her daughter’s head drops a bit and she casts a sideways glance at her mother.
Stroking hair away from her daughter’s face, the mother sighs.
“I know you do.”
“Minister Smith at the church said the old devices would come alive again one day, when Steve returns.”
“Oh, baby. Our ancestors did what they did. They alone are responsible for what happened. We can’t change that.”
“Minister Smith says it was Retribution.”
“I know. Blaming the supernatural makes it seem okay.”
“Oh, mom. Steve was real.”
The mother lifts a few more black boxes out and places them on the wooden floor.
She picks up some thick books – photo albums – and opens them.
“This is what it was like before the devices.”
The girls pulls in close beside her mother to look. The images are fading a bit. Some are ripped, others are water-stained.
Pointing at the opaque black boxes on the floor, the girl asks, “Why did they do that?”
Her mother sighs before she answers. “I don’t know. It’s as though they were hiding something, isn’t it?”
The girl takes a photo from the album.
Counting generations on her fingers, her mother says, “That’s your great-great-great-grandfather.”
The girl strokes the man’s face gently. He’s smiling. The sun is on his face, just as it warms the girl’s cheek now.
“I know him. He’s part of us, our family.”
She looks over at the black boxes.
“But who’s on there?”
“I don’t know. I’ve only heard stories.”
Her mother picks up a black box.
“These are just gaps. Gaps in our history.”
The girl’s face is a mix of awe and disappointment as she looks at the box in her mother’s hand.
Her mother sighs and gets up.
“Come, let’s clean up. You father will be in from the harvest soon and he’ll be hungry.”
Together they fill the Rubbermaid box and slide it back under the bed.
As her mother leaves the room, the girl stops.
“Wait, mom. How will my children know you?”
Her mother smiles and tilts her head slightly. She takes up a stick of charcoal and paper from a shelf and gives it to her daughter.
The two sit down at the kitchen table across from one another.
The girl puts the charcoal against the page and begins to draw her mother.
Originally published in the Yukon News on Friday, November 20, 2009.