[The auction for this Significant Object, with story by Sarah Weinman, has ended. Original price: $1. Final price: $26.]
A week after the shiva, still not quite used to seeing my own reflection in the uncovered mirrors, I mustered up the nerve to sift through my aunt Holly’s belongings. Well, she wasn’t exactly my aunt; she’d married my mother’s younger brother Joey at the tail end of the disco era, and even though the union hadn’t even lasted two years — he’d had a chronic habit of snorting the cocaine he was supposed to sell — she and I had stayed close through two more marriages and peripatetic travels.
But I hadn’t talked to her in a couple of years, not since my own long-term living arrangements collapsed in financial and emotional disaster, and was in the process of slinking back to my parents’ house in disgrace when I heard Holly was dead. The news did not surprise me; finding out she’d owned her own home, and that she had bequeathed it to me, did.
Holly was the prototype for suitcase living, constantly admonishing me against accumulating crap “because if you get tied down, the rope burns will sting for the rest of your life.” How could I reconcile the anarchic wanderer and her endless stories of the semi-famous men she’d run around with after the Playboy Clubs closed for the night, the woman whose platonic ideal for living was a houseboat in Sausalito, with the never-ending collection of tchotchkes piled high in the living room? What use had Holly had for an emerald-encrusted turtle or twenty-seven kinds of acrylic plants?
A few disheartening hours later, I found the only object in the house that reminded me of the Holly I had loved: a unicorn figurine. It was on the nightstand next to her four-poster bed and the horn glistened like it had been polished just the other day. I picked it up and time-traveled in my mind back to the first time I met Holly, her dirty brown hair parted in the middle, six weeks before she married a man even I, at the age of eight, knew was the wrong one. Before saying hello, she’d burst into a song I’d never heard before:
There were green alligators and long-necked geese
Some humpty-backed camels and some chimpanzees
Some cats and rats and elephants, but sure as you’re born
The loveliest of all was the unicorn
Holly sang that song every year on my birthday in a tinny, off-pitch voice that seemed just right. Looking at the unicorn’s playful eyes and gold-flecked horn, the song’s last line sounded in my head just the way she and I would yell it out together.