The steps groaned underneath her feet as she maneuvered the ascent to the attic. The last box of Christmas decorations was finally making its way to its home, only two months late. She always kept one box in the corner of the living room until all the miscellaneous decorations were collected. There was always an angel on the bookshelf or a few ornaments rolled behind the couch or a set of candle lights in the one window she forgot to check. It was her way of prolonging the Christmas season. It helped when everyone left after the holidays.
Her right foot missed the edge of the last step and landed on the one previous, the sudden change in momentum slamming her jaws together and sending her scrambling to right herself. The box she had been clutching left her hands to skitter Ė miraculously upright Ė toward the left corner of the room, accompanied by the sickening sound of glass rattling against glass. After she recovered from the jarring of her teeth, she straightened to retrieve it, taking the final step with more care now that she could see her feet.
She rarely visited this side of the attic. The pile of Christmas decorations was on the other side and she seldom had cause to make the trip up unless it was Christmas season. If she would be perfectly honest with herself, the main reason was she didnít want to have to face the clutter. It was bad enough downstairs.
The word was scrawled in bold strokes across the box next to the one she was retrieving. She stopped, her hand snatching back as if she was afraid the box would burn her. The shock was racing along her nerves and pounding in her temples. Her heart cowered, rolling back the years to the day he left.
The change was almost physical. She could feel the brittle shield encasing her heart again. Her eyes burned. How could he? She had stopped asking that question after the second year with no word and started accepting: he did. The only answer she had been able to come up with was no answer. She simply had to accept that her love had not been enough.
"I thought we were past this, Lord. I thought I was ready to move on."
The prayer was desperate, but somehow didnít feel sincere. She wanted to be angry. The bitterness suddenly welling up inside was surprising in its intensity, perhaps, but not in its presence. The iron taste of defeat was in her mouth. She could only imagine what it would be like if she opened the box and went through the contents.
The command surprised her into acknowledging the thought had not come from her. She had come this far only by removing herself from any hint that he had once been in her life. That was the deal she had worked out with herself and God. It would be too painful. Too many wounds would be reopened. Only this exile of the memories would suffice.
She hesitated again, then obeyed.
The box was covered in dust. Opening it released a grey cloud into the air that settled on her shirt and in her lungs. Once the coughing fit was past, she steeled herself and peered inside. It was full of photos and other items thrown haphazardly inside Ė her packing abilities were even worse under stress. Her heart twisted in a familiar pain. This cup was hard to drink, and its dregs were no less potent than the initial gulps. She moved things around inside the box, not willing to draw anything out until her fingers hit smooth leather.
His baseball glove. She remembered being surprised that he hadnít taken it. He loved baseball so much it bordered on obsession. She waited for the rush of anger to come, waited for her heart to retreat into its cave. It didnít happen. The pain was there, but the muted, residual pain of a healing bruise, not the red-hot knife thrust that had been her companion. She picked the glove up and noticed a picture had fallen into the palm. It was a snapshot of them at one of Kevinís games. She remembered well its prime location on the refrigerator door Ė just at eye level.
It was a good picture. Kevin was wearing those crazy mismatched socks he claimed were his secret weapon. They were close, happy.
For the first time without pain, she laughed.
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