Fiction | Short Story

See You Soon

Conversations have a way of turning on you, especially those conducted over dinner with a friend you haven’t seen in a while. There is so much to cover and, anxious to get to it all, you rush to come up with the next question, the next topic of conversation. In that rush you find yourself […]

Conversations have a way of turning
on you, especially those conducted over dinner with a friend you haven’t seen
in a while. There is so much to cover and, anxious to get to it all, you rush
to come up with the next question, the next topic of conversation. In that rush
you find yourself saying something you hadn’t really meant to say, an idea you
hadn’t fully worked through. You might even introduce a passing thought you had
on the cab ride to the restaurant, a random flight of the imagination that had no
real significance at the time but which in the context of a dinner conversation
takes on new meaning, illuminated by the need to make it worth telling.

This is what
happened when Eve mentioned her mother’s trip to Egypt over dinner with Mimi.
They were comfortably seated at the fondue restaurant they both adored, sleeves
rolled away from the steaming pot between them as they dipped. It was too warm
an October night for fondue, but they had gone anyway. Sweat glistened above
their lips, between their eyebrows.

Eve didn’t just
mention the trip. She told Mimi about a suspicion that had begun to form in her
mind: that her mother had another reason for going to Egypt than simply to take
her boyfriend, Gregory, on an exotic vacation.

It was a paranoid
thought, yes, but one that surfaced because, looking out the cab window at a
woman’s face on a passing billboard, she remembered a note she had found in her
mother’s apartment a few days earlier, a scribble she almost missed on her way to
the door. It looked like it had been written very quickly on the top sheet of a
yellow notepad conveniently placed on the foyer table next to a picture of Aunt
Linda, her mother’s younger sister.

The note read:
“See you soon.”

the door to the apartment, Eve had mused over her mother’s haphazard jolts of
affection, how she would never take the time to sit down and write her daughter
a letter or tell her over the phone that she loved or missed her. These
emotions eked out after long intervals through tiny signs, tiny acts of
sweetness, like this note, which she at once took to be addressed to her, her
mother’s only child. Who else could it have been written to? Not Linda, because
Linda had died the year before, at the age of fifty-two. Too young, too tragic
to comprehend. Her mother never spoke about it. Eve couldn’t tell where her
mother stood in the trajectory of grief, whether she was making progress,
“healing,” as the counselors called it, or whether she was still in the denial
stage, stuck in disbelief that her sister was gone, that she would never see
her again as long as she lived.

so, the thought had not come immediately. It had come in the cab as she was
rushing to meet Mimi, who she hadn’t seen since early summer and of course she
was late, not following the time closely enough as usual. From the window, Eve
caught the eyes of a woman’s face passing by on a billboard and the image of
her mother’s note appeared in her mind, accompanied by the thought: She meant Linda. The thought jolted forward,
then whirred in fuller dimension. She
thinks she’ll see Linda in Egypt, waving from the shore as they slip down the
Nile. This is why she signed up for the trip so suddenly. To see Linda again. To
bring her back somehow.

picture of Linda was recent, only about two years old. In it she leaned her
chin into her palm, her slightly bony elbow angled on a tabletop. Her blue eyes
looked tired but light-filled, her cheeks a faint rose pink. No sign of the
yellow that would set in days before her death, no sign of sickness at all.

know, I had this strange idea on the way here,” said Eve as she dipped her fork
into the miniature cauldron of melted cheese. “My mom’s in Egypt with her
boyfriend, but I think she’s there because of Linda.”

knew about Aunt Linda’s cancer, the year-long, impossible fight, the shock of
the end coming into view, then hitting all at once. Still Mimi tilted her head,
not understanding.

mean,” Eve faltered, pear piece smothered, quivering, “I don’t think she went on
vacation. I saw this note she left by her door”¾now her argument was
beginning to crumble, she still didn’t know what the note meant exactly¾“and
I got a postcard from her today”—this only just came to her, what the postcard
said. “Seemed a little strange, now that I think about it—”

on a minute,” Mimi interrupted, chewing. Mimi’s father was Swedish and the
sun-colored hair she inherited accentuated the dark freckles that rose to her
heated cheeks. “You think your mom went to Egypt to do what?”

Linda, somehow. I know it’s crazy, but it—it was terrible. I mean, it destroyed
my mom.”

remember. So sad.” Mimi wagged her head, resting her fork respectfully. With
the utensil poised against the rim, she leaned a bit closer. “And so, what do
you think your mom is doing?”

blushed. “I got this postcard today. It said something like ‘might be out of
touch for a little while . . . want to explore these caves,’ or maybe it was ‘tombs.’
Something pretty cryptic. On the way over here I suddenly had this idea that
there’s more to her trip than she’s telling me. I just think¾

didn’t have an end to the sentence and so let it die on the table as Mimi took
up her fork again. Nothing but a random thought conjured on a cab ride, warm wind
rushing in from the street. But it had come and somehow it had planted a seed,
however tiny and insufficient. And Eve had been in the mood to entertain it,
even to give it words.


seed grew in Eve’s mind in the days that followed. Her task was to stop by her
mother’s apartment every few days to water the plants and collect the mail,
check the answering machine for anything important. She liked lingering in the
spacious rooms with creaky floors, something she never did when her mother was
at home. The building had at one time been a factory and was since converted
into artists’ lofts. A fresh skin of white paint coated its dirty, pocked past
life. Her mother was not an artist but an interior decorator who bought into
the building early and watched her property value skyrocket in recent years.
She also bought and sold antiques, which is how she met Gregory, a dealer, and
the antiques she owned were really worth something, “A lot” as she would say, which Eve knew to mean a whole lot more
than anyone, except maybe Gregory, suspected. Her mother had an eye for secret

night after work Eve lingered for a few hours. The light in the windows fell
from amber to hot pink to gray to black and she found herself shivering where
she stood in the kitchen torn between ordering take-out and starting the trek
home before it got late. Her mother was always complaining about the heat in
the building, although it was nearly impossible to have the look and feel of a
turn-of-the-century factory turned luxury loft without the occasional draft stealing
through the multi-paned windows or tunnels of old, scarred wood. Eve opened
every radiator, telling herself she would close them before leaving that night.
Only a mild amount of heat bled in.

decided on Chinese. After ordering she wandered into the living room, which
faced tall windows overlooking the street and consisted of a number of white
pieces of furniture, a white shag rug, and three darkened standing masks from
Africa, or was it Brazil? Eve rarely paid attention when her mother went on and
on about her objects. She tried sometimes but even when she tried something
prevented her from retaining the specifics of what her mother said. Long ago
she came to the realization that she just didn’t share her mother’s interest in
old things. Her father hadn’t shared it either.

             As she glanced along the bookshelves her
mother had designed herself, a particular spine caught her eye. She waited a
moment before moving—could she be imagining it?—then decided she had to see whether
it was real. Sure enough, wedged between The
History of Interior Design
and Mid-Century
was a thick, leather spine embossed in chipped gold. The Book of the Dead.

tugged it down from the shelf and held it open. Maybe because it had been
flattened between neighboring volumes, it looked surprisingly new for a book
with its title, showing no signs of dust or misuse. Though the casing was worn,
the pages were crisp and shiny. They even smelled good.

the pages between her fingers her eyes picked up flutters, like wings, then
bright jabs of color, black lines thickly inked. Eye shapes, profiles, gold headdresses
could be found on nearly every page. Her thumb inserted itself on one in
particular showing a detail of a wall painting found inside a pharaoh’s tomb. In
the painting a woman—“the deceased,” as the caption called her—stood before a
giant balance. A figure seated on a throne faced her from the right.

“The deceased
waits while her heart (shown on the left-hand scale) is weighed against a
feather (shown on the right), as Osiris, King of the Underworld, looks on. From
the way the scale is tipped, it appears that the deceased will indeed be
allowed to pass on to the afterlife, her heart lighter than a feather.”

Eve turned back to
the introduction and skimmed down the page until she found an explanation for
what she held in her hands, keeping her finger wedged where the detail was.

The Book of the
is the name given by Egyptologists
to a group of mortuary spells inscribed on sheets of papyrus and placed with
the dead in order to help them pass through the dangers of the underworld and
attain a blissful afterlife. Some of the texts and accompanying illustrations
are also found on the walls of tombs and on coffins. In ancient times The Book of the Dead was called The Book of Coming Forth by Day,
expressing the freedom granted to the spirit forms to come and go as they
pleased in the afterlife.”

Eve turned back to
the page her finger had found, with the image of the woman standing before a
balance. This time she noticed its title. “Spell 125. The Judgment of the

couldn’t imagine her mother sitting down and reading something like this, much
less buying a book called The Book of the
. Although she dealt in antiques, her mother preferred the beautiful,
the decorative, those things that celebrated life or that symbolized a life
opulently lived. An elaborately carved chest of drawers she remembers took a
turn in her mother’s house, a chest of drawers worth thousands of dollars and
which centuries earlier had sat in the palace of a prince somewhere in Europe.
Likewise, the three tall, sinuous masks propped on stands on the living room
floor—like brown tusks each carved with a different face—came from somewhere
south of the equator—Africa, or South America—and were once used in tribal
ceremonies hundreds of years older than the country they now found themselves
in. Gregory had mentioned something about them being used in funeral
processions, but Eve remembered her mother’s dismissive tone after he said
this. “I just think they’re gorgeous,” her mother interjected. “Whether they
used them in funerals or whatever it doesn’t matter. It’s the beauty of the
carving, the simplicity of the forms. That’s why I have them.”

masks were among the few pieces her mother had hung on to for so long. Most of
her supply moved quickly, some items staying around for less than a day. There
were countless pieces her mother bought and sold that Eve never even saw a
picture of. And so maybe she had missed something. Maybe there was an entire
Egyptian portion of her mother’s inventory that she had never been exposed to.
The thought disturbed her. It made her wonder whether her mother kept a hidden
room, locked to everyone but herself and filled with antiquities darker than
the rest.

Eve shivered.
After several weeks of too-warm weather, the coolness should have been welcome.
She was tired of sweating through her fall clothes. But in this moment she
wanted the feeling to change, to turn back into sunset warmth and light. She
had entered nighttime and didn’t want it.

            Rrrriiiiinnggg. The doorbell sent a shockwave
through her body. Right. Dinner. She closed the book and slid it into the
missing-tooth space on the bookshelf. For someone who proclaimed to be totally
uninterested in the dead and only in the beauty of the things they left behind,
her mother had placed the tome in a particularly prominent spot on her
self-designed wall of shelves.


book haunted her. She had dreams about the Egyptian figures on its pages coming
to life and walking about her mother’s living room. Even the giant balance
pounced onto the shag rug, alive and tipping. She awoke clutching the comforter
she had recently added to her bed, and since she was single and there was no
reliable presence other than herself in her apartment, she would have to turn
on the light and read from whatever magazine she had on her nightstand in order
to make herself sleepy again.

days after she found the book in her mother’s apartment, she received a second
postcard. It had been two weeks since her mother and Gregory left for Egypt.

are back in civilization, though only for a few days. Cairo is wonderful but
completely different from where we’ve been all week, which is UNDERGROUND.
We’ve been exploring the tombs! And they are incredible. Absolutely gorgeous
stuff. We are going back day after tomorrow because there is still so much to
see. Haven’t bought anything yet. Still circling. Give the plants a kiss for
me. Hope you are well too, dear. Love, Mom.”

an innocent bystander this postcard would have appeared to be perfectly
ordinary. To Eve it wasn’t ordinary at all. First, this was by far the longest
piece of writing she had ever received from her mother. Second, her mother gave
no indication of coming home anytime soon, when she had told Eve they would be
gone no longer than two weeks, “Tops.”
And “still so much to see”—what was she going back for? The card made it sound
as though they abandoned the original itinerary and were heading out on their

Which led to Eve’s
next thought: She’s going back for Aunt
. But how could she know where to look, or believe that Linda’s
“location” had anything to do with one of her—most likely momentary—passions? Aunt
Linda had been an accountant. For a design firm, yes, but still she had been a
numbers person, expressing zero interest in visiting the galleries and museums
her older sister loved so much. Eve and Linda would taunt Eve’s mother from
time to time, imitating the fake accent she used when speaking to clients on
the phone or talking about so-and-so’s “smash” opening the night before. Often
it felt as though her mother slipped out of this other privileged existence to
correspond with her sister and daughter, only to turn around and slip right
back in. Meanwhile her sister and daughter grew to be good friends.

            Oh, Aunt Linda. Still standing in the
narrow entry hall of her apartment building, mailbox door swung open, Eve’s
throat suddenly closed. Her eyes stung and her lip trembled. Cheeks wet, she
bounded up the stairs to reach the other side of her door before one of her
neighbors stepped out.


e-mail came the following day. Eve was at work, standing at her desk about to
go to lunch, when the boldfaced message scooted onto the screen. A copy editor
at a fairly prominent magazine, Eve worked in the middle of a vast sprawl of
desks, all somewhat divided by thin gray walls yet totally exposed to the
hovering fluorescent lights of the galactic ceiling, the ebb and flow of the
aisles. The subject of the message, “From Aunt Linda,” was why Eve had the
immediate reflex to block it from view. She quickly seated herself, rolling the
chair close so that her head and shoulders would cover the screen, and


Eve. Aunt Linda here. I know you weren’t
expecting me, for obvious reasons, but I felt it imperative that I write to
you. It has been a while since we have e-mailed, so please bear with me. What I
am about to write is hard for me.

First of all, I love you. I didn’t have a
chance to say this to you before I died. For whatever reason, the time flew by
too quickly and I didn’t get to say half the things I wanted to say before it
all went black. I regret this because, more than you may know, I really
appreciated your friendship. I know we were aunt and niece, but beyond that you
truly were a good friend to me. Our dinners together pretty much saved me. I
had few friends I could trust in the end, you see. And your mother and I were
going through another cold phase. I know she regrets this as much as I do. We
never did have a chance to repair things while I was alive. I never did have a
chance to tell her what I am telling you now. Which is, I love you, Eve. I
really love you.

            Now for the strange part. I am with
your mother now, in Egypt. She came to find me and here I am—in what some call
“spirit form,” some call “purgatory,” some call “limbo.” I prefer the latter
although none quite describes what I am going through. I have been living in
tunnels, in caves. I have finally found the tombs. And their walls are lined
with the most gorgeous paintings I have ever seen. So much color, so much life.
Though faded, some of them, they still hold far more brilliance than any
painting OUT THERE, in the daylight. It is just breathtaking to see these
things up close. They are a gateway, I think, to another world. The afterlife?
I hope so. I haven’t made it there yet. I’m still waiting to be judged. I felt
at first that my heart was too heavy. There was so much I never said, so much I
needed to give so that I could be lighter, clearer, ready. I never told you how
much you meant to me, how you were the only daughter I ever knew. My only
child. I feel much lighter now, just writing this.

            Your mother says not to wait for
her. Read this message carefully, Eve. And do not wait.




was not sure what it was she was reading. It sounded like Linda. They had kept
up a fairly routine e-mail relationship before she died. Linda lived in the
suburbs and so they would meet for dinner in the city once a month. Now and
then Eve’s mother would announce that she planned on joining them but this
never happened. Eve and Linda felt that they were very much alike. And over the
course of eating good food and drinking a little too much wine they would
become something more like sisters than aunt and niece. Eve was sure that the
e-mail was in Linda’s voice, yet this was impossible.

last e-mail Eve received from her aunt came about six weeks before her death.
In it, Linda did not once mention her cancer. Instead, she wanted to hear from
Eve about her job, and whether or not she had been on any good dates. Eve never
talked to her mother about the romances that came and went in her life, but she
did talk to Aunt Linda about them. Linda had been engaged once, when Eve was
too young to remember. She never had children.

absence of her aunt’s e-mails after her death was much more profound than Eve
could have anticipated. The sensation that this person who she felt so
connected to did not exist anymore, that she would never receive another phone
call or e-mail from her, was at first too much to handle. She would avoid
checking her inbox, until work colleagues noticed she hadn’t gotten back to
them about this or that. For a long time she refused to believe that her aunt
was gone, and somewhere in the back of her mind she expected to see the subject
heading “From Aunt Linda” again.

year passed. Eve carried questions about Aunt Linda around with her. Who had
her fiancé been, really? Linda had dropped bits of information, that he was a
successful graphic designer, that she had met him in college, that they had
lived in a stylish apartment in the city and had thrown a lot of parties. But
she never heard the reason for the end, or what had happened to him. She had
the sense he moved away long ago but did not know this for sure.

her mother was the sole keeper of this information. However, in the year since
Linda’s death, her mother refused to bring her sister up in conversation. It
had begun to feel as though Eve would never learn the whole story, that it
along with her aunt were lost forever.

            What could she be talking about?Read this message carefully, Eve, and do not
Linda had not been one for secret messages, at least not when she
was alive. Maybe the dead became more secretive in the afterlife. But she
wasn’t in the afterlife yet. The image from the book flashed in Eve’s mind.
Waiting to be judged. Her heart lighter than a feather. Why would her heart be
heavy? Was she in danger?

She had always
believed her first memories of her aunt started when she was around eight. By
this time Linda was a single forty-year-old and Eve’s mother single and forty-three.
Eve’s father left when Eve was barely four. All her mother ever said was that
he’d had an affair, and that was that. But her father explained, when they
spent the occasional weekend or vacation together, that it was more complicated
than the other woman, who did not stick around for long anyway. He would
expound upon the impossibility of continuous relationships, the essential truth
that one is all alone, and Eve would start to tune him out. She didn’t have the
patience to find out more about her parents and so she pretended there was
nothing more to know. Her mother was the secretive one. Not Eve.

essential truth was: Eve hadn’t paid attention in years. She blindly drew connections
between diffuse shards of information, but in the end she used little that was concrete
about her family to draw her conclusions. They bloomed most frequently from her
imagination. All she had in this moment were scraps of memory and a new e-mail
from Aunt Linda. But it couldn’t be from Aunt Linda. Aunt Linda was dead.

shut down her computer and pushed away from the screen. Two officemates stood
by the elevator doors, waiting for her. Put it out of your mind, she told
herself. But the words remained. Read
this message carefully, Eve, and do not wait.


that have inhabited a room for years might disappear over time, if their
presence is taken for granted. Then all at once they reappear with just a look.
They step from the shadows, taking part in the room again. You notice them now
because you have unnoticed them too long. You haven’t paid attention.

This is what
happened when Eve sat down on the white couch in her mother’s living room and
saw that the standing African-or-Brazilian masks were looking directly at her.
They had even gathered closer, it seemed, their heavy ebony bases rooted into
the shag carpet rather than the wood. Each face crooned in a different sinuous
way: the left almost black, eyes and nose stacked narrowly atop a tall, slit
mouth; the middle a rich brown but curved at the cheeks as though stretched by
wind; the right the blackest, with a mouth that circled around one silent, sad

It was late,
almost midnight. Eve had come as usual after work to water the plants, check
the messages, and had stayed to eat dinner and then to think. All she wanted
was to be in her mother’s apartment, alone, the lights on and the windows
black, to sit on her mother’s couch next to her mother’s bookshelves, next to
the book she had found the week before, and take it in. The masks seemed to
understand this. They looked back at her hollow-eyed, hollow-mouthed, as though
holding breath for her next move.

was getting up the courage to go into her mother’s bedroom. She had never been
in her mother’s bedroom. They didn’t have that kind of a relationship. But
tonight it was imperative that she go in. Her mother was gone and she did not
know whether she was coming back. The least she could do was to try to find
some kind of an answer, some tiny clue.

At last she stood
and moved toward the bedroom door, pushing it open just enough to slide in. She
reached to her right and turned on the large lamp resting on top of a long
wooden bureau.

bedroom had been carved out of the same space as the living room and kitchen
and so shared the same creaky floors and high-arched windows as the rest of the
loft. Only, to make it more intimate, her mother had draped the windows with
layers of gauzy white fabric, which must have glowed with sunlight in the
daytime but which, as Eve stood in the room that night, appeared more sheet-like,
lacking life.

than the bureau there was a king-size bed facing the door. The expanse had been
coated with a thick white satin duvet against which pillows in rich fabrics
were propped at the head. Nothing in the room looked as though it had been
growing dust for three weeks. Instead, fabrics appeared tight and still, the
few furnishings coming sharp into view.

the left of the bed froze a rocking chair, though not the ordinary
country-style rocking chair you imagine when you hear the word. By turning on
the lamp on the bedside table Eve could make out the elegantly carved wooden
arms and legs, the oval-shaped seat and backrest, like the frames on old
mirrors. The seat cushion was faded, the backrest embroidered with a bucolic
scene of a mother seated under a willow tree surrounded by her children. The
chair had at one time been painted a warm golden white, which had chipped
gracefully to give glimpses of pale wood.

first she didn’t want to sit in it, but then she did. Creaking into the seat
she knew for sure her mother would disapprove. This chair had not been sat in
since it had become an antique. Her mother probably draped her robe on it in
the mornings, but more certainly it was meant to be decorative, the right piece
for that corner of the room. Its colors were warm, feminine, yet childlike,
perfect for a bedroom. And their paleness matched the gauzy light, the
bedspread and curtains and floor painted white.

Slowly, Eve began
to rock back and forth, back and forth, and as she did this she began to see
the room in a different way. It no longer was her mother’s bedroom but a space
that felt undeniably familiar. It smelled familiar, too, though she couldn’t
say exactly what it smelled like. The more she rocked it just felt more and
more her own.

Back and forth,
back and forth. Her eyes fell upon a photograph perched in its frame on the far
end of the bureau. Black and white. Two figures. She stopped rocking, stood.
Approaching the photograph where it leaned among an assortment of neatly placed
odds and ends, Eve noticed two things right away. First, it was the only
photograph on the bureau. Second, it was a photograph of herself as a baby,
held in her mother’s arms. Her father must have taken the photo, since he did
not appear in it. The two of them swam in a pool of white sheets and pillows
and sunlight. It was a different bed from the one in this room. A bed that
existed years ago and that did not exist anymore. A bed her parents must have
shared, when they were young and in love and empty of secrets.

Eve peered into
her mother’s face, her big clear eyes and loud smile, and then she moved her
gaze to her own face, the way it looked only a few months out of the womb. She
picked up the photograph and brought it closer, as if to kiss it, but really
what she wanted was to get as close as possible to those faces, to those
people. She held them like that for several moments then lowered them back down
onto the bureau.

See you soon, she mouthed. She left the

On her way to the subway she called Mimi, because she
had promised weeks ago that she would.