Five Years

Katherine sat on the foot of her bed with a beat-up shoebox in her lap. She looked down at it, at the worn corners and edges, the packing tape that sealed it shut, the polar bear brand logo. It had been her father’s favorite brand of slippers. She’d bought the very first pair for him as a Christmas gift when she was nine. Her mother had helped her pick them out. He wore them every night after that, said they were the most comfortable shoes he’d ever worn. She had bought him a new pair every Christmas since.

And now he was gone. Now she held a sealed shoebox from him in her lap and didn’t know what was in it. When her mother gave it to her last month, it came with instructions from her father not to open it. “How long?” she had asked. She was told he’d wanted her to wait five years. Why? Her mother didn’t know. Maybe closure?

Katherine had tried shaking the box, but nothing moved inside. It made sense, her father had had plenty of practice disguising her gifts as she was growing up. She used to try to guess all of her presents, and at first she had been pretty successful, much to the dismay of her parents. In order to combat her ways, her father started using multiple boxes, soft stuffing, sometimes even going so far as to wrap a brick up along with the real present to throw her off. There was no brick in this shoebox though, it was light, felt almost empty. She couldn’t figure it out, and she wanted to know. Why did he want her to wait so long?

She and her father had been close when she was young. They’d tried to stay close as she grew up and went to college, went through law school and began her career as a lawyer, but she was always so busy. She came home for the holidays when she could, and her parents always extended an invitation, but her trips home became fewer and farther between as time went on. When she found out he had cancer, she made an effort to see him more often and they started to reconnect. But then her case went to court, and she had to leave him. He had died soon after, and she hadn’t been there. Instead, what she had was a shoebox. Just a beat-up old shoebox.

She would wait. It was her father’s last wish. She stood up, placed the shoebox back in her closet, and climbed into bed. She laid there, thinking about it. She tossed, turned, her body refusing to be comfortable, her eyes refusing to stay closed.

And then Katherine threw the covers off, turned the light back on and jumped down in front of the closet. She pulled out the shoebox and tore the tape off. She pulled out wad after wad of cotton. Too much cotton. The whole box was nothing but cotton.

And there, laying on the bottom, was a piece of paper.

I knew you couldn’t wait five years.

That was it? That was what she had been supposed, or not supposed, to wait five years for? That was what her father had to say? She stared down at it and her eyes watered. She blinked the tears away. He did know her well, even after so many years. She picked up the paper, held it on her fingers. And then she noticed there was writing on the back as well. She flipped it over.

And that’s okay. I love you. - Dad