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Fiction Drama Happy

“Hey, Babe, look at this.”

I glance up, sweaty and flushed, to see my wife holding up a heart-shaped box, colored a sparkly red with some kind of fancy writing on it. It’s the sort of thing you find lining shelves during the build-up to Valentine’s Day. To me, it’s another distraction, and just what we don’t need.

“Could you maybe just toss it in the trash can?” I say, gesturing at the mess around us. “We’re kinda busy here.”

We’ve been at this for hours now, rummaging around in Grandpa’s attic, trying to sort out the junk from the stuff worth saving. It’s stifling hot up here, the space packed with old boxes and trunks, stacks and stacks of stuff, all of it coated in dust and cobwebs. It’s not how I saw myself spending a Saturday afternoon, and this is only the start. We still have to go through the rest of the house before we can even see about putting it up on the market.

“Come on,” Linda says, walking toward me, practically wading through all the garbage that’s collected up here over the many, many years my grandparents owned the place. “This is amazing. These are Valentine’s Day chocolates; I never in a million years would have pictured your grandfather as a romantic.”

As far as I know, he wasn’t. And neither am I. I don’t have a sentimental bone in my body, as she’s pointed out before. I suppose that’s part of the reason we’re here. Just last week I finalized the proceedings to have Grandpa moved to an elder-care facility, taking full power of attorney from him. Now it’s just a matter of rounding up his assets and putting the necessary funds into the bank. It’s not about the money; he didn’t have much, and I don’t need it. What it’s really about is getting him off my back and out of my mind. Well, now he gets to spend the rest of his life being someone else’s problem, and I can get on with my own life.

“Look, just pitch it,” I say. “Those things are probably a hundred years old, if there’s even anything in there.”

“‘Love Bites’,” Linda reads, holding the box up to a shaft of warm, golden light filtering through the dirty oriel window at the far end of the attic. The words are written in big, loopy letters, surrounded by little hearts. Sappy. “‘Chocolates to Always Keep Your Love in Mind.’ Sounds sweet, don’t you think?”

“Sounds like a bad marketing scheme.” I straighten, stretching a back gone stiff from being bent over too long. “Can we get back to work?”

“Just a minute,” she says, turning the box over in her hands. “Huh, there’s no store or manufacturer named. And no expiration date. Hmmm. Let’s see if there are any left.” She sets the box down on a battered old travelling trunk and starts to work the lid off. “Hey, it’s still sealed.”

“Oh, you are not thinking of eating them, are you? Who knows how long they’ve been up here gathering dust.”

There’s the faintest pop of a seal breaking as she opens the box. Inside, nestled in little cups of crisp, white paper, lies a collection of small, heart-shaped chocolates. Each one is different, decorated with strange little markings done in piped icing, elegantly curling script in a dozen varied colors. It’s not like anything I’ve ever seen on a novelty chocolate.

“That’s kinda odd,” Linda says, sharing my impression. “I’ve never seen markings like these before. Wonder what they’re supposed to mean.”

“Maybe it’s in another language,” I say, leaning closer, curious despite myself.

Linda lifts one of the paper cups out of the box, peering at it closely. “Look, the chocolate has a line in it, like it’s supposed to be divided.”

Before I can say anything more, she flexes her fingers, and the little heart breaks into two neat halves.

“Oops,” she says, giving me a little grin. “Now I’ve done it.”

“Whatever. Just put it down and let’s get back to work.”

“I say we try it.” She holds one half out to me. “What’s the worst that could happen?”

“You’re nuts. We could get some kind of disease or infection, end up puking our guts out or something.”

“If that happens, I’ll apologize. Now, come on, don’t be a big baby.”

I grit my teeth. “If I do this, will you toss the box and let us get on with what we’re doing here?”

“Swear. Scout’s honor.”

“Fine,” I take one piece.

“Okay, let’s eat it together,” Linda says. “On three, okay?”

I roll my eyes. “Okay.”

“One. Two. Three.”

I pop the chocolate in my mouth, bracing for I don’t know what kind of foul taste. But the candy is still sweet, amazingly. It rests on my tongue for an instant, then just seems to evaporate. Almost immediately, I feel a warm flush, a comforting sensation of familiarity, like I’ve just remembered something really happy.

And then I’m not in my grandparent’s attic anymore. I’m standing in a restaurant, or a diner, I guess. Everything is… strange. White-painted walls and shiny chrome accents, red leather banquettes and big windows all sparkling clean. The floor is a checkerboard of black and white tiles. There are people there, sitting in the booths or on tall stools before a polished counter. They’re all dressed in old-fashioned clothes, with hairstyles like something out of a movie from the Fifties.

With a shock, I realize that I don’t have a body, that I’m not really there. It’s almost as if I’m a ghost, able to perceive what’s before me, but completely unable to affect it.

Then my gaze comes to rest on a young man sitting alone at a table near the back. He looks… familiar. I stare closely at him for a second, and see a hint of an old, grouchy man I know in his features. “Grandpa…” The word comes out as an astonished gasp.

And then a woman appears, dressed in a waitress uniform with a paper cap, emerging from a swinging door carrying a tray with a steaming plate of food. She walks toward the table, a smile on her face and a gleam in her eye, like this is the highlight of her day. Again, I recognize her, seeing the old woman she’ll one day become in her lovely face.

“Here you go,” she says, sliding the tray onto the table. “One Chef’s Special, just for you.” She steps back, smiling, one hand planted on a hip. “Anything else?”

The young man glances from the tray to her face, his hands fidgeting with the cutlery. “Uh, no, uh, thanks, uh, Sandy. This is… great. Perfect.”

“Okay, Hon.” She turns to go, a little frown on her face.

The young man, my grandfather, sits up and squares his shoulders, bracing himself. “Hey, Sandy, I was wondering… are you… would you…”

“I’d love to,” she says, half-turning to look back at him. “I’m off at six. Meet you out front?”

“Uh, yeah.” An absolutely rapturous smile spread across his face. It’s like watching someone see a sunrise for the first time. “That’d be great.”

She mirrors his smile. “Took you long enough.”

The man’s face turns red. “Sheesh, gimme a break. I don’t do this much.”

“Mm-hmm. Well, that’s one of the things I like about you, Hon.” She winks. “See you tonight.” And she disappears back through the doorway.

Abruptly, the scene dims, the colors paling and running together, like a painting left in the rain. For a second, everything goes dark, and then I’m back in the hot, stuffy attic. Linda is beside me, standing there with a look on her face like she’s been punched in the gut.

“Uh, what was that?” she says. She’s still holding the little paper cup in her hand.

I look down at the box of chocolates, the rows of small hearts with their strange markings. My eyes go to the lid, reading the title again. “Always keep your love in mind…” I murmur the words softly. “Linda, I think each one of these is a memory. A different memory, one shared by my grandparents.”

She stares at me, mouth open. “I don’t believe it.”

“Me neither. But I’d swear we just watched my grandfather ask my grandmother out for the first time. I must have heard him tell that story a hundred times.” I remember that, sitting there beside his wheelchair, listening with half an ear while he rambled on about his past, just wishing he’d fall asleep or something so I could slip away unnoticed.

“This is crazy,” Linda says. Her hands tremble and the paper cup falls to the floor.

“Just… just let me think.” It is crazy. Unbelievable. I’ve never heard of anything like this. Somehow, my grandparents found a way to hold on to their best memories, their best times, to save them to reexperience all over again.

Only they didn’t get the chance to.

Somehow, the box of chocolates ended up here, lost in all this stuff. My grandmother died more than a decade ago; even if Grandpa remembered the chocolates, maybe he didn’t want to take them without her. They put if off too long, and lost the chance to relive those memories together.

This whole thing makes me feel… well, like a jerk. All these years, I’ve only thought of myself, how much of a bother Grandpa was, how I couldn’t wait to pass him off on someone else. Seeing him with Grandma, seeing how happy they were together, makes me feel sad for him, for them both.

I slowly pick up the box of chocolates, holding the best parts of my grandparent’s lives in my hands. What other memories are here, preserved to by enjoyed another time? My hands tighten on the box. They lost so much to the uncaring passage of time, but maybe it’s not too late to give at least one of them something back.

“Linda, I think the rest of this can wait.” I gesture at the attic, crowded with the things the old couple collected over their lives. “I need to do something else first. I need to take these to Grandpa.”

She understands, as I knew she would. “I’ll come with you.”

I nod, looking down at the box of Love Bites. For the first time, I’m looking forward to seeing the old man.

A smile crosses my face. Who knows? Maybe he even remembers where he got the chocolates.

February 17, 2022 15:45

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1 comment

Carmen Perez
22:41 Feb 23, 2022

Good writing. The woman was too agreeable so the conflict felt contrived. I like that you made his internal dialogue reveal his evil side. That's more realistic than if he had happy thoughts. You show his attitude changing by the end. That was great. You pointed out unnecessarily that the young man was the grandfather. I already knew, and I think a little mystery there would be fine anyways. Then later you repeated the information. Thank you for leaving the cursing out. It gets old. The jump to the assumption that they had figured out a w...

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