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In Another Life

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One thing Emily Prentiss loves about this apartment is the ridiculously large bedroom closet, with its smattering of boxes and her safe tucked away in its depths. Behind the neat rows of leather boots, strappy sandals, classic heels, and a battered pair of Doc Martins, she has neatly stacked and labeled crates likeChildhood Mementos and Presents to Give. Even Religious Paraphernalia has its lid and packing slip: "Matthew's Bible." "Lourdes Water." "Icons." Next to these files is a little fire-proof safe, just the size for keeping banking documents and bills, though she knows better than to keep anything truly sensitive in the house.

But it's not the document safe she reaches for tonight; instead, she hauls out a smallish box, not so much bigger than the one her new boots came in. This one is blank, no printed label, no detailed list of contents. Easing off the lid reveals a set of manilla envelopes, again blank and unlabeled, though their contents sometimes bulge. Emily rifles through to the the bottommost one, undoes the clasp, dumps its insides onto the carpet. Out tumbles a photograph of a boy with tousled brown hair, maybe nineteen years old. A rosary. A penknife, crusted at the hinge with rust, or maybe blood. A scrap of paper, reading "I promise...", the conclusion torn away. Carefully, gently, she gathers the items back into their home.

The next envelope she opens has another photograph, this time a handsome, mustached twenty-something standing on a wall, the Moscow skyline behind him. Out slides a violin string, a few ruble coins, and a sketch on the back of a napkin—Emily herself, perhaps twenty years ago. The drawing earns a smile before it's tucked back inside the envelope.

Her third photo shows a full-lipped, grinning woman blowing kisses from the back of a motorcycle, twin helmets dangling from the handlebars. From the envelope she pulls out and returns a tube of lipstick, a plain silver ring, and a pile of tattoo drawings, all vivid colors and black lines.

Another man grins broadly from the photo, hands behind his head as he lounges against a wall, chair tipped back, feet up on the counter. There's a teeny tiny baggie of sand, a palm leaf, and the do-not-disturb sign from a hotel door. She shakes the baggie until the small seashells drift to the surface, matching pink scallops.

As she goes through envelopes, the picture subjects grow older; this man is perhaps forty-five. He has a stethoscope around his neck and clipboard in hand, a twist of a smile directed back at the camera. From the bulging envelope comes the label from a bottle of champagne, then a small jewelery box, empty now. The snap echoes through the silent house as Emily opens, then closes the case.

One file contains only a clover blossom: four leaves, pressed and sealed in contact paper.

Then comes a signed photograph of an muscled beefcake, no shirt, tight pants. The signature is such a scrawl that the only legible letters are the initial T (J? F?) and a final y. Emily slips a cocktail napkin back inside the packet and hefts the accompanying poker chips.

Closing up the envelopes and redoing the little metal clasps, she sets the packets back inside the box and draws out a new, empty envelope. Inside this goes the picture of a teenage girl with long, dark hair, forcing a smile for the camera. Emily adds two bobby pins and a hair tie, all wayward strands carefully removed. On the edge of a piece of notebook paper, someone has written, "There are happy families." She adds this to the stash, then does up the top of the envelope, slides it in the box, and returns the lot to the furthest corner of her closet.