THE HORIZON WAS AN ANGRY MORASS OF DARK, roiling clouds. I was grateful for the sagging roof and dusty window glass. Around me were the discarded baubles and trinkets of a family, long picked clean by the vultures left behind. Between the growls of thunder, the quiet swept back in. In the stillness, I knew this place to be a grave, a hollow, empty shell.
But this tomb would be my shelter, it would shield me from the storm. I welcomed the deepening shadows to hide me from the world, for I found the gloom befitting my mood. And this place, no doubt, was once a happy place, like the places I remember from when I was a child. Though I was left to wonder, when all was considered, if such happy memories were real. Perhaps, truly, they were nothing but distorted phantoms, delusions of how we wish things had been.
And here the wind howled and slammed heavy upon the walls, as if to smite me for such thoughts. But the cracking sound above me, from the dilapidated frame, spoke to the truth of how nothing lasts forever. I could not help but to recall the faces all now gone, with equal measures of anger and love. This, I think, the bittersweet, tugs harder at the heart and my melancholia found company in the pattering of raindrops. It was well, since I had no more tears.
I struck a match, more to ease the growing chill than to banish the encroaching darkness. And with this little torch, I looked closer at the relics strewn about. On a rickety table and also on the floor, there were pictures discarded sans frame. But is it not appropriate, nowadays, for the present to roll on without a thought for who has been? Why I looked is a question I can’t answer, but I suppose it was a way to connect with those forgotten, the best I could do to thank them.
There was nothing remarkable to be seen, save for time. I saw them as a family, mother and father, two daughters and a son. I saw the two as a younger couple, smiling from an images of silver-gray. I saw again with multitudes of grandchildren all around them. I saw them throughout their lives and wondered if they still lived in memory or were but baggage too tragic to bear. And at this, the lightning flashed and the thunder cursed me loudly.
In that brilliance, something in the room glinted brightly. With some trepidation, I crept forward to view it in my lesser light. On the mantle, standing lonely, was a music box. A ceramic man and woman stood atop it, their arms around each other as they walked along and smiled. Perhaps it might be cheap, but it was sweet, and a mended crack showed that someone had valued it enough to make repairs. As I turned it for a better view, it came to life.
Notes, simple and pure, rang out to echo from the walls. It played its timeless tune as it must have countless times before, and in its melody there seemed a longing to be heard one more time. Turning slowly to the music, they were a beautiful sight. I watched them dance with a painful weight in my heart. Even my eyes found raindrops to spare.
Then, as it must, the music began to slow and the dancers with it. The notes came as the beats of a breaking heart, the song a final, whispered goodbye. Stillness and silence swelled to fill the world.
story by Joe Stanley