American Fiction Romance

Rosa hadn’t expected to inherit the rambling old Victorian house and its contents after her great grandmother Rosina’s passing, since Gran, as she called her, had never spoken of her plans for the house once she was dead. Nevertheless, Rosa did inherit and here she was exploring in the attic. With trembling hands, she lifted the heart-shaped, rosewood box from the drawer where she found it in Gran’s chest which had been moved at some point into the attic. She held the box in her hands and remembered the story she had been told so many years ago about it. In the art world Rosa now inhabited, such a story would be called provenance, but to her it was her beloved great grandmother’s story of the enduring power of love.

The story told of two young and passionate lovers who found each other miraculously, though logic would dictate that their lives should never have crossed. This story was Rosa’s introduction to the random illogical aspects of life and the notion that what may seem like an accident is simply and truly destiny’s path revealing itself.

The beautiful and intricately carved heart-shaped, rosewood box she held in her hands was Gran’s tangible evidence of the story of those young lovers of long ago. The sweet scent of rosewood brought back the childhood memory of the first time Gran showed her the box. She was visiting Gran, who to her was somewhat mysterious because she lived alone in the rambling old house writing stories which Rosa never read as a child. In fact, she only learned later, as an adult, that those stories were published under a pseudonym and were quite popular. Rosa enjoyed the enigmatic nature of her always loving Gran. She vividly remembered Gran had taken the box out of this same chest which was then in her bedroom. She placed it on a bedside table and instructed Rosa to place both hands on it, close her eyes and tell Gran what she felt. Holding the box in the attic, Rosa clearly remembered the steady pulse of love like a beating heart she had felt then and her Gran’s response when she told her what she felt. She felt the same pulse now and the words spoken by Gran all those years ago rang in her mind.

“Yes, my dear, precisely. You feel the heartbeat of enduring love. One day, I will tell you the story, but for now the fact that you feel it is enough. Please place the box back in the drawer.” Rosa had done so.

        That was her childhood introduction to the heart-shaped, rosewood box. Now, Rosa held the box tenderly and found herself remembering more. Over the intervening years, whenever Rosa visited Gran, it was pleasant and delightful, but there were no more incidents with the box and no more stories of the young lovers. Gran had encouraged her relentlessly to follow her heart. Rosa followed that advice, going to art school, and against all odds, achieving enough success as an artist to have exhibits, sell her paintings, and support herself as an artist. She had always stayed in touch with Gran, coming to visit over the years, as well as writing letters, sending postcards, and making phone calls from far flung places where she traveled. The trail of any person’s life is often filled with unexpected happenings. In her Gran’s life, it so happened that she outlived both Rosa’s mother and grandmother. Gran Rosina lived in the large, somewhat mysterious, old Victorian house until she herself slipped away while sleeping one night and never awakened.

           Gran’s lawyer called Rosa following written instructions that she had left with him. Rosa immediately traveled to New York and met with the lawyer. That was when she learned that Gran had left her the house and all its contents, including the royalties from future sales of her stories, which were historical romance novels, still selling, and the lawyer told her the publisher expected them to continue to do so. Rosa was stunned and grateful. She stood up to leave, but he signaled to her to remain seated.

           “There is one more thing. I was instructed to give you this,” the lawyer announced, and handed her a sealed envelope addressed to her in Gran’s handwriting. Rosa opened the envelope and read the enclosed letter silently to herself.

Written on my 70th birthday, to be held in perpetuity by my lawyer, the honorable Mr. Horace Wilson.

My Dearest Rosa,

My only wish for you is that you be happy. Your life path has seen its share of joys and sorrows. Yet, my dearest, I am sure the miracle of enduring love yet awaits you. I am sorry I never fully shared with you the story of such enduring love evidenced by the heart-shaped, rosewood box. Neither your mother nor grandmother ever felt the beat of that love as you did upon placing your hands upon the box so many years ago. Thus, I have always known you are the rightful heiress to the house.

No one will contest this bequeathment. I explained everything to your mother and grandmother long ago.

I had the chest where the box is kept moved to the attic many years ago. Seek it when you are next in my house that I leave to you. The story is all there awaiting you.

                       Love forever,

Gran Rosina, your loving great grandmother

Rosa wiped the tears from her cheeks and thanked the lawyer. He handed her the keys to the house and the information about all the arrangements he had made per Gran’s instructions for her service upon her death. Rosa thanked him and departed. She moved into the house the very next week after the service for Gran.

Now, here she was holding the precious rosewood box in her hands. She traced the heart shape of the box with her hands. She carried the box downstairs, set it on the oak dining table in the formal dining room gazing at it, her mind flooded with loving memories of Gran. She couldn’t bring herself to open it just yet. She went into the kitchen and made herself a pot of tea using Gran’s china teapot from which they had shared many cups of tea. She carried the teapot, cup and saucer, creamer and sugar back into the dining room and seated herself in front of the box. After waiting for the tea to steep, she poured herself a cup adding a lump of sugar and a dollop of cream. She stirred it and raised her cup into the air.

           “To you, Gran, with lots of love. Thank you,” she said before sipping the tea.

           She let her left-hand rest on the box as she toasted Gran and sipped the tea. Slowly, steadily the heartbeat pulsed through her fingers. Finishing the tea, she set the teacup into its saucer. She placed her right hand next to her left on the box. The pulsating beat from within the box grew ever stronger. Tears began to flow down Rosa’s cheeks. She hadn’t allowed herself a good cry for Gran’s passing, but she let the tears flow now and could almost feel Gran’s sweet, comforting presence. After a while, the tears ceased. She wiped her cheeks, poured herself another cup of tea, and pondered the box. Yet, she still could not bring herself to open it. Instead, she reached into her art bag, which was never far from her. Pulling out her favorite drawing pen and a traveling sketch journal, she started drawing the box from all angles, capturing the intricate carving and the spirit of the box with her drawings. The act of drawing always helped her focus. She finished her last sketch and set her drawing pen and journal aside. She was ready now.

           Holding her breath, Rosa carefully opened the hinged lid of the box. She gasped. Gran ‘s lilac perfume mixed with the scent of rosewood wafted out of the open box. She picked up a stack of letters tied together with a red velvet ribbon and laid them gently on the dining table. Underneath the letters was a faded photograph showing Gran as a smiling young woman holding hands with a young man who Rosa did not recognize. The box also held a beautifully carved wooden heart. There as an envelope addressed simply “To Rosa.” She opened the envelope and found a letter. She unfolded the letter and another old photograph dropped out. It showed the house in which she now sat with the same young couple standing in front of it. They were holding hands and beaming with love. There was an inscription on the back that said simply, “Our Home.”

Dearest Rosa,

If you are reading this letter that means I have left this Earth, finally to be reunited with my first and only true love, who died so long ago. It means you found the heart-shaped, rosewood box and can now learn the story of our enduring love. It is all there in the box. Read the letters we wrote to each other before we came to live as husband and wife in this house that I have bequeathed to you. His name was George Winton. We met one summer when I visited cousins in Manhattan. We fell in love. It was magical. Neither of our families approved but we didn’t need their approval or their money. All we needed was each other. So, we eloped, married quietly, and bought this house in Prospect Park where we created our own world. George was a successful lawyer with many wealthy, grateful clients. He had access to his Manhattan office by train, and I had this lovely home and gardens in which to dream and write. I followed my heart. For years, we tried to have children but that didn’t happen. Then, in the summer of 1916, I conceived and your grandmother Winifred was born nine months later, and we  were ecstatic. This was just before our beloved America entered WWI.

Every day the news grew worse. War was raging in Europe. George was determined to do his part. With his education, reputation, and connections, he got a posting in the army with the rank of major. He trained and shipped out as soon as the United States entered the war in April of 1917. That was a hard parting for us. Thankfully, he survived the war and came home to me and little Winnie in time for Thanksgiving after the armistice in 1918. Such a joyous day. He became acquainted with Winnie, and we loved each other hard every day. Then, just after Christmas, that same year, tragedy struck. He fell sick with the terrible flu that was spreading everywhere bringing death on its heels. I quarantined Winnie in another part of the house. I allowed no one to care for Winnie or George but myself. I cleaned, cooked, and nursed with very little rest. I did everything I could, but my dearest George died in my arms within a few days of falling ill. Miraculously, neither Winnie nor I caught the sickness. I hired grave diggers and buried my beloved in the garden with the Love Bench you played on as a child marking the grave. I’m sure you remember the inscription on the bench that said, “Enduring love lasts beyond the grave.”

The family had never forgiven me for eloping with George, and did not come to my side. Yet, I wasn’t alone. I had Winnie and memories of my true love, your great grandfather, George Winton, and I had this house and my stories. Eventually, Winnie grew up and married and your mother was born, and then she married and brought you into my life. The men your grandmother and mother married both died young, so you never knew them.

The love I shared with your great grandfather has endured all these years. I put the evidence of that love in the heart-shaped, rosewood box and waited until one of my descendants could feel the pulse of that love. You felt it, and so I grant to you my greatest wish that you too will one day experience the magic of such a love. Keep an open mind and an open heart. You never know when destiny will reveal itself to you.

                       With all my love,

Your Gran Rosina

  Rosa stroked the beloved signature, and touched all the artifacts of that enduring love. Then, she put everything back into the box with care and closed it. She knew she would read and reread the love letters, but she needed to sit with all that she now knew.

She would do as Gran had bid her. She would keep an open mind and an open heart. She would live and paint here and trust that one day her enduring love would walk into her life. When would that happen? Only time would tell. For now, knowing it could happen, was enough. She carried the heart-shaped, rosewood box into her bedroom where she put it in a place of honor.

February 19, 2022 03:27

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