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American Contemporary

October 4, 2019

       Daniel Alderman walked into his bedroom after a short walk from school on a cool Friday afternoon. The leaves- changing color from deep green to a soft orange- scratched against the window softly in the breeze under a grey sky.

       The floorboard in the exact middle of the room creaks as he steps on it, he usually avoids that floorboard because of the horrible noise that gives him goosebumps, but he had been too lost in thought to remember it.

       “Uck,” he groans and rubs his arms until the tiny bumps subside, “I hate this house.” Daniel didn’t actually hate the house- a brick Victorian sitting on two acres of land that backed up to a whole forest- he was mostly just angry with his life at the moment.  

       At sixteen-years-old, he had been forced to move from the big city he had spent his whole life into this boring small town when his dad was transferred to supervise finances at a new plant the company he worked for opened. They had been here since August and Daniel still had yet to make friends. Boxes still lined the walls as he held onto hope that they would move back.

*** 

 October 4, 1949

       Elizabeth Warren screamed into her pillow, tears pooling into the soft fabric. This was awful!

       Sixteen and had to leave the small town she grew up in to go to the big city with her family because the farm had finally gone under. Four years of hearing about financial problems because of this stupid “bad harvest” her dad kept having since he came home from the Pacific. She knew her family was poor but why did she have to go? Couldn’t her dad just go and send the money back to the family?

       Just when the leaves were changing and the town got ready for the sixth annual Harvest Fair next week. It was something that the entire town participated in to bring treats, music, costumes, a dance, and the Harvest King and Queen. Even a few rides were brought in and set up in the park for adults to drop their kids off to go dance to the musicians playing. She knew who would be crowned already- Caroline McCann, who lived in a massive white mansion on the most successful farm in the state, and Joseph Ryder, whose dad was the only doctor in a sixty-mile radius. Still, though, the harvest had enough going on to not want to enjoy.

 ***

 “Daniel,” Cindy Alderman, Daniel’s mom knocked on the door.

       “Open,” he answered in a harsh voice. Cindy walked in and sighed at her soon when she saw him lying in bed with a sour expression on his face.

       “How was school today?” she asked in a tone that she hoped sounded cheerful and friendly.

       “Bad.”

       Cindy frowned but tried again, “Make any friends or meet anyone who could be a friend?”

       “No,” in a school of only three hundred people who had all grown up together, how was some city kid supposed to make friends with any of these hicks?

       “Well, you’ll meet some eventually,” Daniel snorted rudely at that, but Cindy kept her anger down- she did feel bad that her son had had to leave everything he knew behind against his choice. “Are you going to the football game?”

       “They’re away tonight,” Daniel told her in a monotone way. Not that he would have gone anyway, why would he support a school he hardly even knew?

       “Well, the town’s annual Harvest Fair is starting tomorrow, want to come with your dad and me to that?” Cindy hoped something would bring her son out of his funk, “There’s supposed to be rides and music- might even be some cute girls,” she added with a raised eyebrow.

       Daniel rolled his eyes, “I don’t care about rides and girls- I want to go back to the city where there’s actually stuff to do.”

 ***

       A knock came at the door, “Can I come in, hun?” her mother asked.

       Elizabeth didn’t answer, her mom must have taken the silence as a welcome because the door opened.

       Margaret Warren surveyed the room. It looked nothing like it had even just a week prior. Everything except a few choice items had been cleared in preparation for the move tomorrow.

       “I know you’re upset, dear, but this is best for the family,” Margaret told her weeping daughter. “Besides, maybe you’ll like the city, there will be so many interesting people and so much more to do.”

       “I’ve got all I want right here. Mama,” Elizabeth squeaked. “We couldn’t at least stay for the Harvest Fair?”

       “I know it’s hard, Elizabeth, but we just can’t afford the house and farm anymore.”

       “I’m right in the middle of school, though!” Elizabeth’s sorrow turned to anger, “What if I’m behind the other kids? I won’t know anyone! There are crazy people and murderers in the city!”

       “Oh, hun,” Margaret spoke calmly, “that’s just what people say. The city isn’t bad.”

       ‘The city isn’t bad” yeah right. Elizabeth had heard the horror stories of people just getting killed for walking down the wrong street or for having a pair of shoes that someone wanted- she was never going to make it.

       She liked the openness of her town. It felt freeing and comforting. How was she ever going to survive being packed like a sardine in a tiny apartment in a building that a hundred other people lived in? How was she going to feel free with traffic and crowded sidewalks? She would miss the tress, reading with her back against the trunk of some great big oak, the only sounds being the wind and birds. Now, she was going to have to deal with horns, yelling, engine noises, it was too much.

 ***

       Cindy left the room, leaving the door open. He sighed and got up to close it back up. Grabbing his book off the desk by the door, he tripped on the loose floorboard.

       “Sonuva-“ he grunted instead of finishing his phrase. His toe ached, but something else had caught his attention.

***

       Margaret departed her daughter to make dinner. Elizabeth had to do something to take her mind of leaving home during her favorite time of the year.  

       Taking her diary that she kept hidden in the floorboards, she dated the top of the empty page and wrote:

       This is so childish, I don’t know why I’m doing this, but I have to do something. No one will probably even read this.

*** 

       Daniel pulled the floorboard back, careful not to snap it in half. In the gap, he found an old, rusted tin box, just fitting the slot it was placed in.

       Being a fan of mysteries and fantasy novels, Daniel felt the excitement grow in him like a balloon being filled with air. It was the first time he had felt anything but anger for the last two months, and though he wouldn’t even admit it to himself, it did feel good.

       The snaps on the container took some strength to open. The once light blue paint had chipped off in places and left ugly splotches on corrosion where it did. The lid opened it a dull creaaak.

       The first thing that caught Daniel’s eye was a small black and white polaroid. The back was dated July 4, 1948. The girl was cute. She had wavy dark hair, done up sweetly with a charming smile displaying dimples on both cheeks. She wore a dress that looked like it was plaid, Daniel wondered what colors the clothes had been. The image must have been taken at an Independence Day celebration because there were tons of blurry figures in the background running around.

       The next thing Daniel’s hands found was a soft pack of cigarettes. The once white paper was now a sickly yellow with hints of dark brown everywhere left from the tobacco staining it for so long. The brand didn’t even exist anymore as far as he knew. Most of the paper had died away, leaving just a clump of dried-out shredded leaves that still held on to the offensive odor.  

`The rest of the mementos were just little trinkets. A small cross necklace on a dainty chain, a matchbox containing a few matches with the brand worn off, some pennies and dimes dated from the mid-1930s, and a small tan seashell. Sitting on the bottom, was a folded note.

*** 

       Elizabeth finished the letter she wrote. Tearing the pages out of her diary, she neatly folded them and placed them in the box she kept under her diary on the floorboard. The box had once contained some makeup that her aunt had given her, but Elizabeth now used it as storage for things she didn’t want to be left in the open.

She poured the contents out and placed the letter at the bottom of her treasure chest. Deciding that she couldn’t just leave a note for some future residents, she added some other things from the box. A few coins- it was more money than she would have liked to have given up, but maybe the person that found her stuff could use the thirty-nine cents to buy some candy and a soda or two. She also left the pack of cigarettes Tommy Barese lifted from his dad’s corner store for her. She tried one, but it had made her sick as a dog all night- maybe the person who found this would like smoking though. She also left the matchbook so he could light them if he needed to.

Elizabeth also decided to leave the small cross necklace she found eight years ago on the floor of the church. She hadn’t worn it since she was nine and figured it would make a good addition to the time capsule. The last two things placed in the box were the hardest to part with, but Elizabeth figured that two more things on top of her childhood home left behind wouldn’t matter. After flipping through the small stack of photographs for a few minutes, she decided on one from last year’s Fourth of July celebration that the American Legion Post of the town always put on. Rebecca Thompson had been taking everyone’s picture that day and Elizabeth thought that it would be a good way for whoever found the box to know what she looked like. The last item was the small seashell she had found at the beach on a Florida vacation as a little girl when the family’s farm did much better.

       She snapped the lid shut on the box with a heavy heart, wondering what the person who found the treasures would look like? From what time would they be from when they found it? Would the house be torn down before it was ever discovered? She placed the box back into the little hole under the floorboard and stomped the wood back in place.

*** 

Daniel read the first two sentences of the letter thinking, “Yes, I am reading it.”

He read on, the letter was written by the girl in the photograph exactly seventy years ago. He wondered how small a chance that would be to find it on the exact day it was written.

My name is Elizabeth Warren and I have lived in this house my entire life. I was even born in the master bedroom down the hall on December 23, 1933.  

Chills ran through Daniel’s spine for the third time in ten minutes. His birthday was December 16. He was starting to wish he could talk to Elizabeth Warren and let her know that he had found her box and had close birthdays.

       I am so heartbroken today. My family is moving to the big city. Have you ever been to the big city? It will be my first time tomorrow and I know that I will hate it. Also, the Harvest Fair is next week and it’s my favorite thing in the world but I have to miss it. Do they still do the fair every year? If so, who were the king and queen last time? Not that you will be able to tell me anyway. 

       Anyway, how long have you lived in this house? My dad and grandpa built this house when he married my momma back in 1931 with the help of some of my uncles and a few friends? What year is it when you found this? Do they have any cool technology? Can cars fly yet? What is the future like? I mean, I suppose I’ll know for myself as it happens, but what if you’re from like a hundred years from now? I’ll probably be dead by that time, but I wish I could know what you look like? 

Are you a boy or girl? How old are you? What do you look like? I hope the picture I left gives you a good idea of what I look like as I write this, it’s over a year old but I haven’t changed too much since it was taken?

       Do you like to read? My favorite book is Jane Eyre. Have you read it? There’s a tree outside, you can see it directly out the window of my- well, our- room. The big oak tree that stands just before the forest, you should try it out, there’s the small nook on the far side of it that’s perfect to sit in.

I’m sure you’ve already found what I left in this box since the letter is sitting under it all, but the necklace was from when I was a little girl. I found it in church and don’t wear it anymore, but maybe you might like it. The photograph was taken at the American Legion’s Fourth of July party (do they still do that too?), the money is for if you want to buy some candy or a book or something (Daniel chuckled at what Elizabeth’s reaction would be if she knew how expensive the world had gotten since she wrote this), and a seashell I found in Florida when I was little.  

Anyway, I hope someone does read this one day. I hope you enjoy this house and our bedroom because it is the best place in the world. Treat it nicely and have a good time at the next Harvest Fair for me if it still goes on. I really wish I could meet whoever reads this, but I guess I never will. 

Warmest Regards,

Elizabeth Mary Warren

P. S. I left you a pack of cigarettes in case you smoke. They made me sick. 

Tears formed that he wiped away from his face as he finished the letter. A painful lump had appeared in his throat with an ache in his heart. He would have given everything to answer Elizabeth Warren’s questions. He wanted to tell her about his time and let her know that his favorite book was Nine Stories by J. D. Salinger. He wanted to tell her that no, flying cars did not exist unfortunately and that he found it on the exact day that she wrote it.

He decided right then and there that he would try to appreciate the house as Elizabeth did and that he would enjoy the fair tomorrow and the rest of the week for her.

A hollow feeling took over his body as he crawled into bed and read the letter over again.

*** 

Elizabeth crawled into bed and hugged her pillow. Darkness was encroaching on the sky as the sun fell lower and lower behind the earth. She would see this house one last time before leaving it forever tomorrow. Silent tears streamed down her eyes as she cried herself to sleep, wondering who would find her secret letter.

March 16, 2021 17:31

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