Maggie sighed heavily and carefully folded the silky blouse, placing it back in the dresser drawer. The day's chore was wearing on her, this sorting through all this old stuff of her moms. Had the woman never tossed anything? She thought she'd begin the chore in her old bedroom which mom had made into a guest room for every down and out relative. Now, she found that this dresser was packed with old clothes and junk. Whose she did not know.
The old Victorian house her parents had lived in for nearly fifty years was hers now and everything in it. Dad passed first. Now mom. Everything had to go. . . and every thing was an enormous amount. Her Aunt Sara, mom's sister agreed to come by and help. Where was she? This task seemed to be hers and hers alone today. Maggie had grown up here in tiny Roseville. The Victorian house she and her parents had lived in forever stood on the edge of town, five acres of dark woods surrounding it. Maggie had left at eighteen, anxious for a chance to leave the small town and check out big city life. It had agreed with her. Except maybe now that Todd had left her high and dry. Divorce was in her future. The place she called home now was miles from here and how she hoped she could return soon. Her friends, job and small apartment, were home now. She even had a cat. She'd forget about Todd eventually. She'd forget that he cheated and now wanted her back. Begged her to come back actually. No way. No way would she go for that. She wouldn't even let him take care of their cat. Thank God, her neighbor had agreed to tend to it till she returned.
This job was way too hard. She couldn't go through all this stuff in her lifetime. An estate sale would have to be the answer. They'd probably charge her a fortune but geez, she couldn't move back here and do this rummaging forever. The one bedroom apartment was her home without Todd, but it was home. She didn't want this big place and all its old stuff.
The pile Maggie had created to throw away had just gotten bigger and bigger. Opening another tightly filled drawer, Maggie dumped the contents on the floor. More junk, trinkets, scraps of paper, old letters and a small wooden box. Picking up the heart shaped box, Maggie admired its pretty shape and pink decorative design. Gosh, maybe she had found one thing she would save. She might put her earrings in this or whatever. It would look good on her dresser. Maggie threw it in the save pile, the very small pile in which she'd take home with her.
Later that afternoon, Aunt Sara had finally shown up. Calling for Maggie as she walked the upstairs hall, Maggie poked her head out of her old bedroom and motioned for Sara to enter. Aunt Sara, white haired and tall, peeked around the door. “Well, I see you've made a start.”
Maggie groaned as she stood in the middle of scattered junk from another empty drawer. “A start? Yes, that is all this could possibly be as I will never see the end of all this.”
Smiling smugly at her niece, Sara Carter nodded. “I'll admit, Alice really never tossed anything.”
Standing and stretching, Maggie shook her head. “I'll really need a lot of help, Aunt Sara. Probably need to hire someone.”
“Probably,” Sara agreed as she fingered a postcard that was in the throw away pile. “I remember this actually.” She turned the card around to show Maggie. “Puerto Rico many years ago.”
“Take whatever you want from these things, Aunt Sara. The only thing I'd like is that small heart box I put over there on the bed.”Do you remember anything about that?”
Maggie watched intently as Sara reached the bed and took the box into her blue veined hand.
“Well, I'll be,” she whispered.
“You think it's something mom had or someone else? I'd like to take it home. Kinda pretty for a dresser or something. I could put my earrings in it or...”
“No, Maggie. I'll have to keep this,” Sara said quietly as she stroked the top of the box.
“Really?” Maggie complained. “The one thing out of today's fiasco and you want to keep it?”
Sara only smiled, her lined face still pretty after all these years. “I stayed in this room years ago when my Winston passed. I needed my sister's comfort. Alice was so good to me. I must have left it. Your mother never forgot a person in need. You remember your Uncle Winston, Maggie?”
Maggie watched her aunt continue to hold the small box in her hands lovingly. “I do Aunt Sara. “I remember how he doted on you, always buying you stuff. Always loved you so much.”
Sara sat on the bed and opened the box, drawing out a gold heart into her palm. Opening the heart, Sara sighed heavily. “He was a good man. It's still here. I thought I'd lost this.”
Maggie could stand the suspense no longer. “What? What are you looking at?”
With her eyes moist, Sara said slowly, “Let's go down stairs for a cup of coffee, Maggie. I think I'd like to tell the story of this heart and of course the small box. Maybe then you'll understand why I'd like to keep it. I'd like to share how wonderful your uncle actually was.”
Maggie followed her aunt dutifully down the stairs. At least the day would end on a more interesting note. Aunt Sara rarely shared much of her life with anyone. Apparently today she would.
With two mugs before them and a plate of cookies at the small kitchen table, Sara Carter looked intently at her niece. “Maggie, I want you to know why I'm telling you this. I don't want you to think less of me after I tell you, but I want you to know the story of the box. When I pass you can have it. I think it might make you look twice at Todd. Make you think twice about your future with him.”
Maggie grimaced. She couldn't think of Todd, divorce or now or of another death. Her mother's passing was still fresh on her mind, except when the pain was pushed back into a dark corner so she could deal with her many responsibilities.
“Take a look at the pictures in the heart.” Sara replied softly.
Maggie took the box from her aunt and opened it up, removed the small gold heart and looked closely at the two pictures put into both sides of the heart. It was her much younger Aunt Sara. It wasn't her Uncle Winston. “Ah, this is you, of course, Aunt Sara. This isn't Uncle Winston though. “Who is it?”
Sara took a long draw from her coffee mug and after placing it down on the table, took the heart carefully from Maggie. “His name was Paul.”
“An old boyfriend before you met Uncle Winston?”
Sara blew out her breath and placed her hand on Maggie's. “No, it was someone I met while married to your Uncle Winston.”
Maggie bit her lip. What?
“Your uncle was in the service, gone to Korea. I met Paul and we saw a good bit of each other. Your mother knew about this and tried to warn me I was headed for big trouble. I didn't listen of course. I thought I was in love with him.”
Maggie sat spellbound. Her Aunt Sara was a cheater? Her mother knew about this? “Ah, Aunt Sara, I'm not sure I want to hear anymore, please.” Maggie got up to leave the table.
Sara put her hand firmly on Maggie's. “Please stay, I'm telling you this so you might see the true Winston. The one who I fell back in love with. So, you might know the power of forgiveness.”
Maggie listened with wide eyes to the woman before her. This woman she had only ever seen as an old lady along with her sister Alice, Maggie's mother. She hadn't pictured her young and vibrant, young and in love with anyone except her husband. Aunt Sara wanted to tell her this story. She just couldn't understand why. Why did it matter now? She had a house full of stuff and this one little box had this long, apparently heart breaking story behind it. A small item full of memories and not all of them good she didn't think.
“I was lonely, Paul was hanging around. As I said, Alice warned me. Paul was handsome. What was a young woman to do?”
Maggie's eyes stayed wide. Well, she thought, probably you could of walked away. Walk away to save your marriage. Guess it was easier said than done.
Sara continued with her eyes cast downward, remembering well those long ago days. “I continued seeing Paul and that year at Valentines Day he gave me this box and the heart inside. I let your mom see it and she told me to get rid of it. I didn't. Soon after, Winston returned from Korea. I was planning on telling him all about Paul until he found the box, I carelessly left out one afternoon. I'll never forget the scene in our room that day. Winston just held out the box to me and asked me who the man in the picture was. I told him. He turned and never said another word about it. Not another word. That evening all he told me was he loved me and he hoped I would make the right decision. No ranting, no yelling, nothing but that he hoped I would make the right decision. The next months were difficult, I was torn. But, I stayed with Winston. Paul left the state. I have never regretted my decision, Maggie. I stayed with a man who loved me despite my infidelity, despite how I'd hurt him. Our marriage grew strong then. I never looked at another again. I grew to love Winston again for his forgiveness, kindness and remembered why we had married in the first place. After Winston's death, I stayed up in your old room. I kept the box to remind me how strong and enduring Winston's love was. He could look at me and another and still forgive me. His love had shown brightly through forgiveness.
Maggie felt tears sting her face. Were they for her Aunt Sara and Uncle Winston? Or were they for she and Todd? She didn't know. She just knew she was crying now, her head on her Aunt Sara's shoulder. Her mom's sister wasn't perfect. Todd wasn't perfect. Sara was forgiven by Winston. Could she forgive Todd?
As the two women sat together, quietly remembering those who had left their lives with holes that could not be filled, their bond for each other began to grow. Maggie knew now her mom was gone but her Aunt Sara was still here. Todd was here too if she'd let him back into her life. It would be a long road. Could she walk it?
Squaring her shoulders after lifting her head from Sara's shoulder, Maggie said confidently. “Thank you, Aunt Sara. Thank you for sharing this with me. Certainly, I will think long on hard on forgiveness. Uncle Winston never knew he'd be such an example to his niece someday did he?
Sara Carter smiled lovingly at her niece. Ah, such power there was in forgiveness.