She was standing on the porch of a sagging cabin with bright yellow leaves collecting around her feet. As the cold wind billowed her skirt, she shivered and wondered if the owner of the purse really lived here. She knocked timidly and the door quickly opened, revealing a tiny girl holding a hideous, bald doll…

(Entries must touch on the topic in some way to qualify.)

I suppose it is odd to consider myself orphaned at this age, but that is how I feel. Abandoned, betrayed, orphaned. Mom died when I was very young, and I guess something inside of me thought Dad would always be around. But he is gone and I am an orphan.

Dad was thirty-two when Mom died, the same age I am now. She had cancer and we watched her shrivel and shrink into nothingness until finally one day she was just gone. At least dad had the good taste to have a heart attack in his sleep. I overslept that morning because he didn’t come in to wake me. That had never happened before.

After a few weeks, I decided to sort through his things. It could have been worse, I guess. Dad wasn’t particularly sentimental about stuff and so there was not much to do. We had that in common, among many other things (Mom called us two peas in a pod). He hadn’t even kept any of Mom’s things, as far as I knew. There was very little to pack up: a meager wardrobe, three pairs of practical shoes and some stuff in the top of his closet.

In the back of that closet I found a box, the kind that copy paper comes in that he probably picked up at work. I couldn’t remember seeing it before now. Opening it, I saw the oddest assortment of trinkets: a silver hoop earring, a set of keys, a God-awful gaudy watch. There were at least twenty keepsakes in there. Maybe he did keep some of mom’s things after all.

At the very bottom of this strange pile was a small drawstring purse, bright blue satin and obviously homemade. I could not imagine my mother ever having anything like this. Why would dad have kept it? I opened it up, hoping for a clue, maybe a movie or concert ticket or a picture of the two of them. But the purse was empty. I was about to pack it back up when I noticed some lettering on the inside, a broad, looping, embroidered message: 2736 Mandrake Road, Mission Bell, Georgia.

I couldn’t remember every living in Mission Bell. It’s not too far, just about 45 minutes driving south over the county roads. Were there relatives there I didn’t know about, maybe some of Mom’s family? Or did Mom live there as a child? Or………oh, no. It had to be. Dad was having an affair. How could he have kept this from me? How could I have missed it?

Saturday, I decided to return the purse and meet this mystery woman. I got up early, hit Starbucks and started driving south. In about an hour, I was pulling into a dirt driveway marked 2736 Mandrake.

I stood on the porch of the sagging cabin, bright yellow leaves pooling around my feet, wondering if the owner of the purse really lived in this pitiful place. My knock on the door was answered by a tiny girl holding a hideous, mostly bald doll. It had a few tufts of dingy hair, one eye was missing, and it looked like a dog had been chewing on it. But the girl cradled it against her chest as if it were a real baby.

“Uh….is your mom home?” I asked. She stared at me wordlessly. “Or some grown up I could speak with?”

Just then an elderly lady came to the door. “Can I help you, young lady? And please excuse Britt. She’s very quiet.”

“I, uh, I have this purse and it has this address stitched in it.” I held the purse out to the old woman, who practically snatched it out of my hand.

“Where did you get this?”

“I found it in……under a bench in Rotary Park.” I don’t know why I lied. At that moment, I just felt that I should. “Do you know whose it is?

“I haven’t seen this in a long time. I made it for my daughter for her first prom because she wanted a purse that exactly matched her dress. It was her favorite for a long time after that.”

“Do you think I could meet your daughter and return it to her?” I did so want to meet the woman who could convince my dad to keep something so important from me.

Profound sadness swept over the old woman’s face. “Honey, I don’t know why I am telling you this. I certainly don’t like to talk about it. But my daughter is dead. She left here one night carrying that purse and she never came back. You ever hear of the Rage Killer? She was his latest victim.”

I was stunned. For over two decades the police had tried to find this serial killer. Every year in the fall they would find a female body, beaten to death by someone who used only his fists. The profiler said it was done in a blind fury, and so he was named the Rage Killer.

“Honey, you said you found this in the park? It sure is in good shape to have been outdoors all this time. Maybe it has some clues about the killer left on it. I better call the police.”

I rather like Dad’s old box. And I like where he kept it, too. All these trinkets have to go, though, except for the purse. I think I’ll leave it right here in the box, next to this hideous, bald-headed doll.