There they were, underneath my t-shirts. Three little glass bottles, thick and just large enough to fit comfortably in my hand, labeled in my sister's fancy print: Soul Sparks, Angel Hair, Pearls of Wisdom.
I hadn't seen them in almost seven years. I remember packing them away, thinking a child would like them someday, how clever they were. I know I wasn't even pregnant with the little angel when Blondie gave them to me -- they were for me, because I love a little mystery, because I spent my youth rewinding The Never-Ending Story and reading the complete guide to unicorns. Because I still look out over moonlit, snowy fields and imagine there are hobbits hiding there.
So I kept them, and somehow I moved them from The Old House to Chateau Travolta without disturbing their nest there, under my college t-shirts.
When I found them, I held them in my hand again and remembered finishing a chapter with the little angel in Harry Potter the night before, and I immediately took them to her. She asked what a soul was, and I told her. The truth about the soul, at least as much truth as there is to tell without being dead and really knowing for sure.
She asked if they were real, and I spun a tale that they were. Maybe I wanted them to be real, to have tangible pearls of wisdom that I could touch. Her eyes widened with the same glee inspired by Santa and the Tooth Fairy.
I thought nothing of it until she stood beside my bed at 4 a.m. "Mommy," she said, "I can't stop thinking about those bottles."
"Are you scared of them?" I asked, barely awake but already kicking myself.
"Do you want me to get rid of them?"
Beloved took her back to her own bed, but I couldn't stop berating myself in my head. I imagined her waking up, seeing them silhouetted by the nightlight, wondering whose soul was stuck in the bottle. Stupid Mommy!
I crawled out of bed and walked into her room. She was still wide awake.
"They're not real," I whispered in her ear.
"No?" That's all she said. Then she smiled.
I went back to bed and couldn't fall asleep for an hour.
This morning I found her in her closet, pretending to try on her cowboy boots. After she left, I wanted to take a photo of the bottles for this post, but when I arrived in her room, they were nowhere to be found. Remembering the boots, I checked a box in the closet where she keeps her treasures.
And there they were, carefully lined up. I don't know if this means she loves them or hates them.
And I kind of feel like shit.