by Yaasha Moriah
Aunt Velma was a finder.
I clearly remember the day when Uncle Edgar pulled his fishing boat ashore, his posture strangely stiff even while attempting nonchalance. He slumped into a lawn chair next to Uncle Don, popped the cap off a bottle of beer, and muttered, “I lost my wedding ring.”
Uncle Don glanced from Uncle Edgar to the glimmering waters that already danced with borrowed sky-fire. “Out there? How’d that happen?”
“It’s always been a little loose,” Uncle Edgar pulled in a deep swig, as though to steady him. “My hands were shrunken with cold–the wind’s nippy out there–and I just leaned over to pull up this lake trout and…”
He shrugged again and glanced hastily at his wife, whose attention had been snagged by a brewing altercation between her young son and one of his cousins. Uncle Edgar and his wife had nearly divorced a year ago, despite the family’s unspoken rule that divorce was the unforgivable sin. My grandparents, aunts, and uncles were of the generation of Catholics who believed firmly in marriage “until death do us part,” a sacrament to be protected at all costs. The entire family had rallied to support Uncle Edgar and his wife, to find strength for them that they could not find for themselves. And, bit by trembling bit, their marriage had rediscovered something that they had lost a long time ago, something they thought they would never see again.
I was only nine, but I knew what that wedding ring meant to everyone.
“I will find it.”
The words were spoken softly, guttural with a French accent. Uncle Edgar and Uncle Don turned toward Aunt Velma, observed the bright eyes behind the oversized glasses, the gray hairline at the edge of her nun’s wimple, the quick hands that still held the knitting needles poised.
“I will find it,” Aunt Velma repeated. “Take me out in dat boat dere and show me where it is.”
She placed her knitting on her seat, rose, and her simple dark dress swept the grass where she passed. My uncles followed, flagging down one of the cousins who was still wearing his swimming trunks.
I watched from the shore as they pulled out into the lake, rippling the surface until the sun-colors of ripe mango and light rose mingled with the deep blue of the stiller waters. Then the boat stopped, drifted, and Uncle Edgar gestured to the general area helplessly.
Aunt Velma sat quietly in the boat, leaned forward, and pointed to a position about twenty feet from their current location. My uncles stroked the oars to the place and she leaned over the edge, peered into the water, and nodded. Uncle Edgar’s exclamation flickered over the water to the shore.
“I can see it! Look, it’s shining right there on the bottom!”
Five minutes later, my cousin emerged from the water with the ring clasped in his fist.
It was the first time I saw my Uncle Edgar choked with tears–but not the last.
That was the first time I witnessed for myself that it was true, what the family always said about Aunt Velma: She was a finder.
“How do you do it?” I asked Aunt Velma when she came to my parents’ home to watch my two sisters and I while my parents went to the hospital to welcome my next sister into the world.
“How do I do what?” Aunt Velma asked, her lips pursed in concentration as her nimble fingers knit at a pace that left me cross-eyed.
“How do you find things? Uncle Edgar’s ring? Aunt Grace’s glasses? My cousin Ross when he got lost in the woods?”
“Well, Marie,” she said, and her French pronunciation of my name made it musical. “I pray to God and believe He listens.”
“Does He always listen?”
“But He doesn’t listen when I pray.” I glanced down at my mud-stained shoes and rumpled dress. “I think you must be more holy.”
Aunt Velma poked me with the point of one knitting needle, half-laughing, half-sober. “I am not holy; I am just loved. And so are you. You pray, God listens. And, sometimes, He answers. You will see.” She paused, then added dryly, “No, you want to purl dat row to get the stockinette stitch.”
I struggled through the next row with fingers that felt like wood and burst out, exasperated, “Maybe if I become a nun someday like you…”
Aunt Velma chuckled and those star-point eyes glittered kindly at me from behind her glasses. “You are not meant to be a nun.”
“How do you know?”
“I know. You will have lots of babies someday. You will see.”
But Aunt Velma never saw my babies.
In the summer that I turned thirteen, I watched her transformation. It was as though her skin became thinner and thinner and some inner glow brightened as the walls of her body became more transparent. Even as she was dying, her breath a brittle thing and those bright eyes dimming, I saw the soul within her quicken. In my childish fancy, I believed that God was growing too big inside her for her mortal body to bear.
I visited her in the hospital the week before she died. Her every breath was a fight for air, but her smile spoke for her. She took my hand in her two withering ones–those knob-knuckled hands that had knit so many sweaters and socks and hats–and she looked into my eyes. Then, clutching my hands tightly in hers, she closed her eyes and her lips moved. She remained this way for what seemed a long time and I dared not withdraw my hands. Then she opened her eyes, patted my hand, and smiled again, as though she had done something wonderful for me.
Aunt Velma’s funeral was the second and last time that I saw my Uncle Edgar weep, his fingers twirling the wedding ring on his left hand as the tears unraveled down his sun-parched cheeks.
It was a month later, while we were camping in Maine, that my father called for my mother, his lips pale. “Ann! The three hundred dollars cash I had in my pocket… I can’t find it. That hole in my shorts, I forgot all about it…”
My parents searched frantically in the tent, along the path to the campground bathroom, amongst the blueberry patch where we had picked small, tart berries that morning. But I stood removed and a powerful sense of assurance, of a Presence, pressed upon me.
“God,” I whispered. “Help me find the money.”
Then I took ten steps forward, stooped, and there, half-buried in pine needles and a tangle of Maine blueberry bushes, I saw the roll of green bills.
And I knew–I knew–that Aunt Velma’s gift of belief had become mine.
Yaasha Moriah is the author of several science fiction and fantasy works, and blogs at YaashaMoriah.com. In 2015, she earned Silver Honorable Mention in the L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future contest for her short story “Wings Beneath Water,” which has now been expanded and is available as a book. She enjoys all things chocolate, researching her most recent random obsession (from swords to metric time), and hiking with her husband.