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Drama Fiction

      “There’s a lot of dusty crap in here,” Beatrice coughed.

           “Where did you learn to say the word crap,” I asked sharply?

           “Mom, I’m thirteen now. I can say ‘crap’ at least. There’s a lot of other words out there that are a lot worse. Like shi…”

           “I know, I know. I am familiar with them all. I’m just not familiar with the sound of them coming out of my sweet, innocent daughter’s mouth,” I cut in. “There is a lot of junk and dust up here though,” I conceded.

           “How did you wind up with so much stuff mom? I never pegged you as a hoarder,” chided my daughter.

           “Well, this hasn’t always been our house,” I explained.

           “Did we live somewhere else before? I don’t remember ever living anywhere else but here.”           

           “No, we’ve always lived in this house, but it’s been in our family a long-long time. I grew up here when it belonged to my parents and before that it belonged to their parents and before that it belonged to their parents. This house actually dates all the way back to the Civil war era!”

           “Soooo, why don’t you just clean all this crap, I mean junk out?”

           “Well, when gramma died, I guess I just didn’t have the heart to do it. I think, maybe, I feel that if I clean all her stuff out it’s like I’m cleaning away the memory of her. I expect she felt the same way about cleaning out her mother’s things and her mother felt the same way about cleaning out her mother’s things and before long the house started to look more like a museum than a house. I guess I kind of like it that way even though I don’t know who half of these people are anymore.”

           Beatrice listened to me with one eyebrow lifted in teenage disapproval.

           “I don’t get it mom.”

           “And you won’t. Not for another twenty years or so. But that’s okay. Maybe we could do a little cleaning and organizing today. It is rainy and cold and I can’t think of anything more interesting to do this Valentine’s Day. You wanna help?” 

           “Uh-yeah!  Maybe we’ll find some stuff worth a ton of money that we can sell on Antiques Roadshow!”

           “Umm, yeah, or something. Well, why don’t you take that side of the attic and I’ll start over here then.”

“Okay.”

           “Aww, look at this. It’s your baby album,” I said blowing the dust from the binding of a light pink book with a naked baby butt as the featured cover art. 

           Beatrice grimaced and turned red in embarrassment. 

           “I don’t think Antiques Roadshow is going to want THAT,” she blustered.

           “Probably not,” I answered. “But I would pay a fortune for it.”

           “BINGO,” yelled Beatrice. “Now THIS is actually something interesting!”

           She triumphantly held up an old, heart shaped trinket box. “What is this mom?”

           “I dunno. I’ve never seen it before. It could be an old pill box or something.”

           “A pill box? Like they kept Tylenol in here?”

           “Yeah, something like that. I don’t think Tylenol was invented yet, but there were chemists who peddled all sorts of ‘remedies’ for ailments. Pills, lotions, powders, and packets of cures were kept in these little pillboxes. Open it up- what’s inside?”

           Beatrice shrugged her shoulders after a few minutes of prying at the lid.

           “I can’t get it to budge,” she sighed.

           “Hmmm…. well, where did you find it? Maybe there’s some instructions or something.”

           “It was in this box over here. Looks like someone’s Valentine’s Day mementos! There’s some super crispy dried roses, a book of poetry, a napkin….”

           “That’s a handkerchief, not a napkin! Women used to send men they loved off to war with a handkerchief tucked in the pocket of their uniform as a good luck charm. If the man made it back alive, he would bring the handkerchief back to her as confirmation of his love.”

           “I guess that’s a lot more romantic than a napkin. There’re some letters in here too! I bet they’re LOVE letters.”

           “Well, there we go! I bet there’s a clue to the box written in there. Can you read any of them?”

           “I DID learn how to read in first grade mom,” replied Beatrice with a teenage eye roll.

           “That’s not what I meant! In time the ink fades and the paper breaks down. Are the words still clear enough to read?”

           Beatrice stuffed a yellowed piece of paper in my hand.

           Sheepishly, I fished my reading glasses (a gift of my forties) from my pocket. Giving Beatrice my ‘not a word’ stare I cleared my throat and began to read:

           My dearest Clarice. This war drags on and still the world is so divided. I cannot see a clear end in the near future.  As my friends fall at my side and I witness horrors I cannot bare to share with you the memory of our love is all that keeps me going. I have arranged to send to you a forbidden token in this time of rationing- enjoy the roses my love. Yours forever, Charles.

           “I think you might be right Beatrice. This looks like a box of courtship mementos.”

           “Here’s another one mom, read it!”

           I cleared my throat and read:

           My dearest Clarice. You have been so disappointingly silent. I hope you are well and enjoyed the flowers, perfume, and poetry as well as the accompanying letters. I am at a loss as to what else I can send to prove my love to you. Please, I implore you, write to me soon my love. Tell me what more I can do to prove to you that we are simply meant to be!

           “Poor guy,” sniffed Beatrice. “It sounds like she was being kind of a bi…. I mean, she was being kind of mean to him. He’s really pouring his heart out here.”

           She shuffled through several more letters desperately looking for some sign of a happy ending.

           “Here, read this one mom. It mentions the box!”

           Dearest Clarice. It pains me to the core to have had no word from you after all my letters and tokens of affection. I have come to the end of me and I fear I have run out of both time and luck. We march tomorrow at dawn to what will most likely be my last battle. I send to you the last thing I can think of with which to prove the depth of my love. When you solve the puzzle on the side of the box you will be able to open it. With any luck this last token will finally prove my love for you at last. I pray I will return from battle a hero and a husband.

           “MOM, WE HAVE TO OPEN THIS BOX,” screamed Beatrice! “I have to know what he sent her to prove his love!  I have to know why she never wrote him back!”

           “Well, all we can do is keep searching through these boxes honey. Remember this stuff is from the Civil war. It’s not like they had computers to keep everything filed away neatly on. Stuff got lost, ruined, burned up in fires. We have to accept the fact that we may never figure out what happened to these two. Why don’t you start trying to figure out what code will open that box and I will start looking for more info on Clarice.”

           Beatrice worked the little dials on the side of the box silently as I flipped through scrap book after scrapbook. I was about to give up and make us some soup and grilled cheese for lunch when an obituary fell out of the pages of a well-worn bible.

           “Oh dear,” I sighed.

           My daughter’s eyes snapped to attention immediately.

           “I think I may have the answer here. It’s a death certificate. Clarice Beatrice Anne died of tuberculosis on May 17, 1861. She never wrote Charles back because she was dead sweetie.”         “How sad,” sniffed Beatrice.

           “Looks like he didn’t make it either. There’s a newspaper clipping in here too. Charles Andrew Smith died just before the end of the war. He got part of his wish though. Says here he was remembered as a celebrated war hero. Odd though….”

           “What mom?”

           “Of all the weird things to mention! It says he was found missing a finger. They assume it was shot off during the battle. Well, that’s two mysteries solved. Have you figured out how to open that box yet?”

           “Nope, nothing’s worked yet. I’ve tried her birthdate, his birthdate, the date he left for the war. Gosh, I wonder what’s in there! I bet it’s a ring, maybe a hundred-year-old piece of chocolate, a lock of his hair?”

           Beatrice’s face suddenly transformed from the dreamy look of a hopeless romantic to an ugly mask of horror as the top of the box popped open and Charles’ missing; mummified finger fell to the floor at her feet.

February 13, 2022 20:46

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