I recently entered a story in a writing contest held at the blog, The Write Practice. It didn't win but it was runner up! I thought just for fun I would share it with you here:
Stella's grandmother had passed away last week after a sudden heart attack. She had died on the one year anniversary of Grandpa's death; unwilling to live without him any longer. Stella had agreed to help her mother sort through the remnants of her grandparent's sixty eight year marriage. Wanting to say one last goodbye while the house was undisturbed, she had come alone today.
Honoring the stillness of the house Stella softly climbed the old wooden staircase to the master bedroom. Touching the jewelry and odds and ends on the dressing table, thumbing through the worn Bible, enjoying the smell of Windsong and baby powder that lingered in the air made her grandma's absence seem unreal. In the top drawer of the bedside table she found an intriguing key. It was old fashioned and covered in a rich patina. What did it belong to? Rolling it over in her fingers she slipped it into her pocket, maybe she would find it's counterpart.
She moved on through the house and found herself outside the spare bedroom. Her hand paused, hesitating just a moment, on the heavy brass door nob. As she silently swung the door open the smell of warm cedar and lavender sachets met her nose, bringing back childhood memories. Dust glittered, dancing in the air across a stream of sunlight. How many nights had she spent counting the tiny bouquets of pink wallpaper roses before she fell asleep?
The spare room's closet beckoned, all sorts of treasures she'd loved to play with as a girl lay hidden there. Tenderly Stella opened the door and flipped the switch to illuminate the dark corners of the small space. Stepping inside she could smell the layer of dust that covered everything.
With a sentimental smile her fingertips brushed the lace of her grandmothers tiny wedding dress. Even if Stella had wanted to use it she couldn't, at 5 foot 6 she stood half a foot taller than her diminutive grandmother had. Remembering the contrast of her grandparent's stature she chuckled under her breath. People had always noted their sizes, her grandfather's 6 foot 3 frame had dwarfed his wife's much smaller one. Grandma had said she was 5 feet, but Stella doubted it.
Looking up at the assortment of boxes on a shelf above the dress her eye fell on an old mahogany chest, about the size of a shoe box, closed with a lock. Her heart jumped, maybe the key would fit. She slipped the key from her pocket and into the key hole. A sharp click answered her question. Lifting the box to the floor, she sat cross legged before it.
Inside was an assortment of papers, mostly old letters but also the occasional handbill or invitation. With a delicious shiver of mystery, Stella lifted the first of the letters out. Should she read them, they were her grandmother's private papers and had been locked away? Curiosity got the better of her and Stella pushed the doubt aside as she unfolded the yellowed paper.
The letter was written in her grandmother's familiar hand and signed with her nickname, May, short for Margaret. Dated November,1942, Stella quickly calculated, it would have been two months after her grandma's wedding, making her a girl of just 19. She turned her eyes back to the fine script, “My darling Edward...” Edward, grandpa's name was John! Who was this darling Edward?
With her heart racing, Stella quickly read her grandmother's words; a swirl of jumbled emotions chased across the page. She finished reading and quickly snatched up another and then another letter, reading words penned by a girl she'd never met but who had turned into the grown up woman she'd always loved. Tears blurred her vision as she read the anguish and longing. Mixed throughout her grandmother's letters were Edward's responses. After reading a handful of the correspondence she had pieced the story together.
May and Edward were high school sweethearts. After graduation Edward had joined the navy, but the couple planned to marry the next year, following May's graduation. Before they could carry out their plans the unthinkable happened. Pearl Harbor was bombed and Edward was listed among the killed. May grieved along with many of the nations other heartbroken women. She also went to work and set her jaw bravely toward the future.
John had been part of the couple's circle of friends; a farm boy, sweet and steady, he provided stability and comfort for May. Within several months the couple was married. John was unable to join the military due to deafness in his left ear caused by a childhood infection. Shockingly six weeks after their wedding May learned Edward was still alive. A serious head injury, the confusion of war, and a mix up in paperwork had kept Edward lost all that time.
Tortured by the discovery and her situation, May had written Edward, begging him to tell her what to do. Not wanting to hurt John but in love with Edward she left the decision to him. It was an impossible situation. They wrote for several weeks and apparently even met once. In the end Edward wrote, “I must be a man true to my conviction, or I'm no man at all. How could I honor a woman not rightfully mine and be true to vows I'm not free to make. I'll love you best by loving you not at all. You are no longer mine to love, though it rips the very heart out of my chest to say so.”
There were only a few more letters, spaced months and even a couple of years apart. The last letter was written by May, four years after she had first written to Edward. It was clear she had come to terms with her life and was finally letting go. In it she requested all of her letters be returned. She closed saying, “A heart never forgets the first bloom of love, opening adoringly to the sun, and I shall never forget you. But love is funny and I've learned there are many kinds. I'm contented, my life is full and satisfied. I release you, and know you release me as well, with good will and a heart full of prayer for a happy life.”
Edward had obviously sent her the letters. Perhaps, even though she had said goodbye, the memory was too precious to completely destroy, and so they had been tucked away. In the bottom of the box was a picture of May and Edward standing on her front porch. Her dark head rested on his shoulder; she beamed a smile that enveloped her entire face. Edward's golden hair shone and his broad shoulders filled out his dress uniform. He was handsome and his fresh face looked proud.
Stella leaned her head back against the closet wall and let out a heavy sigh. The secret she had discovered was sad but it wasn't heavy and dark, it painted the memory of her grandparent's love with beauty. She had seen the way her grandparent's looked at each other, with a twinkle of affection. She remembered the hundreds of little ways she had observed her grandma express her love. Words spoken by her grandma the week her grandfather died floated to her mind, “I loved that man Stella, he won my heart and paid for it in tenderness. No woman has ever had a better husband, he was a gift I didn't deserve.”