THE KEEPSAKE BOX
Though I had moved into the place in the winter, it was spring when I noticed the large wrinkle on the ground in the corner of the backyard. The earth had sunk a few inches over a good foot and a half length there; it gave the idea the dirt had been settling for a while. I guessed something might be buried there from before I had moved in this past fall. What I could not say, but I meant to know: as an enthusiastic, new property owner, I planned to improve the place. So, I went to shovel out the wrinkled spot the first mild day in spring.
My shovel went into the earth and dug easily. As I went at it, I considered if perhaps the Wilsons, the last owner of the house, had buried whatever it was there. I had spoken a little with the family before deciding to buy their place. Mr. Wilson, the owner, said he had to sell the home since the family had come to hard straits. He had been relying on a low-pay factory job to pay his bills for nearly two years and had not found better despite seeking hard. His mother, an old woman who had lived with him and his kids, died last summer after a long illness; he had decided then that the family had to move elsewhere if they were to keep up. His two girls whom I met with him--long haired, thin, and ungainly --seemed disheartened they had to go. They kept looking at the ground by their shoes rather than at me as we spoke. I had not heard from the Wilsons since that meeting. I considered now, as I shoveled, what they may have decided to bury on the land. Maybe little, I told myself: they had grown rather poor. They wouldn't have had much to dispose.
I dug, sending the earth aside with quick heaves. Little flat stones clacked together in each shovel load I cast on the ground. Black bugs scurried off the loose dirt. I smiled with my eager labor and considered, What is it that could be down here? Two shovelfuls more, I stopped. The beige top of some box showed under a loose spatter of dirt in the hole below me. I scooped away the earth from the box and around its sides carefully, then lifted it out. It was an old Talbot's shoebox, the brand printed in red and black on the lid. Inside it, I discovered a photo in a gilded picture frame. It showed an old woman with white hair, rolled back from the forehead, and a creased but not tired face. Her dark eyes glinted happily and with warmth. She wore a dress, deep blue as a cloudless sky. I figured she was Wilson's mother, the elder who had died. Beside the photo lay a string of imitation pearls. Each pearl was very round and white and showed no tarnish from lying in the box. Their string was broken but someone had tied each loose end so the pearls did not roll off. An item of the old woman's, I thought. The only thing else were two caramel candies wrapped in silver. The wrappers twinkled as I shifted the box; a faint whiff of the caramel in them reached my nose. The old woman's favorite candy it might have been.
The open box still in my hand, I wondered why the family had filled it with these mementos and buried it there in the yard. Wouldn't people want to hold onto such things? I remembered the girls who had disliked to be leaving the house, the two of them moping by their father who had to give up the place. They had been attached to the home and the land, I figured. They had lost their grandmother on the place. Perhaps the idea for the box, I thought, had been to leave something of themselves here. This way, they could feel bound to the place even when they were no longer on the spot. The home would still have part of them regardless of who moved in later. The family had never meant to let it go, after all. Bowing my head, I looked again on the contents of the box, the neatly framed photo, the pearls on their strand, the caramel. I thought it just might be so. Regret seized me suddenly. Who am I to have opened this box then?, I considered. These memories were of a family I hardly knew and never would again. I shifted sadly by the hole I had dug. Then, I put the lid back on the box and buried it again in the spot from where it had come.
I left the shoebox at peace in the earth as it had been meant. I certainly felt no right to take it. However, I planted a bulb by the spot, for I thought still of the mementos buried there and the family who had left them. The tulip that sprouted showed a vivid purple. I admired the flower fondly even as the heat made it wither.
Norbert Kovacs lives and writes in Hartford, Connecticut. He has published stories in Westview, Thin Air, STORGY, Corvus Review, and The Write Launch. His website is www.norbertkovacs.net.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.