The Box

Soft light filters through high nave windows spilling soulless rainbows into the cold marble vault of the church.  A bay breeze brings the smell of the open sea and adventure.  The deep baritone of the Priest rumbles out last words and the motley crew offers up a ragged Amen.

 Dark garbed supplicants weave and merge as they centipede out of the pews towards the main aisle. Once out, they grasp one another’s hands or elbows and barge forward like a dark, slow moving train towards the open cathedral door and bright July day.

  A stoop has interrupted the upright elegance of an elderly man who clutches the elbow of a stern woman,  sleek as a seal in a black silk suit and pillbox hat from which a delicate veil flows down her face with her salty tears.  The Priest follows carrying a mahogany box , on the top a shiny brass anchor.  He holds the box carefully one large hand splayed beneath  the other flat on top of the lid.   The Priest can see the back of the stern woman’s jacket stretch as she takes deep breaths to control sobs of angry grief raging within her.  

The Priest and old man exhale deep sighs simultaneously as they reach the sunny narthex. 

 Inside the stretch Limousine the stern woman stares out a window. 

Ahead, The Fairmont Hotel. She remembers hurrying along with an anxious 4 year old  boy in a sailor suit, carrying tiny girl in white linen dress.   The old man beside her holds her hand and squeezes, telepathic lovers. He remembers being slim, smart in starched white naval officer uniform as a happy young woman and two children, he has not seen in 2 years, enter the ornate Fairmont lobby. 

They limo slides down the hill towards the Wharf . SS Neptune rocks gently at the dock, patiently waiting.  The limo shoots past The Buena Vista,.  A mourner sitting on the limousine bench opposite the stern woman, a younger-look-alike, remembers Irish Coffees with her brother, laughing and talking for hours.  She could use a drink now. 

The stern woman hesitates at the gangway leading to the big gray vessel, she turns to flee, as if  her leaving will alter the finality of the day. 

The look-alike mourner murmurs “It’s almost over.”

 “It will never be over,” the stern woman whispers.

 They sail west on the smooth undulation of seiche waves to a churned point in the ocean. The Mahogany box is opened, silver ash is released, it spirals to heaven on a cold North wind updraft. The mourners watch it rise, float and disappear, their salty tears merge with the Pacific never to dry again. 

With head bowed the Priest intones a final prayer, the stooped man raises his head, squints into sun and silently asks “God, Why not me?”

Now the young look-alike woman is old.  She shifts on a chair, peering down into a Bekins box that smells of cardboard paste, rose petals and vellichor. The faded Memorial Service program lies on top little boxes of treasured items, letters and scrapbooks which were kept by the stern woman during 93 of her 99 years on earth. The stern woman faded away, as has everyone cherished in the contents of the box. The single survivor ponders her curatorial duties as she gently removes the objects of nine decades of love, hopes, dreams and despair .   One by one she examines them and placing some of the letters in a mahogany box with an old  brass anchor, which is softly polished every July 30.

M.D. Richardson

May 8, 2019

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