On that winter afternoon she came home to find that the driveway was covered with small ceramic dishes, framed photos, leather prayer books, lengths of hand-tatted lace. Everything sat on bath towels and sheets of newspaper, and the cardboard cartons they had been in were collapsed in a soggy heap next to the trash can. She wandered around touching a china bowl, lifting up a diploma, unfolding and refolding threadbare linen napkins that were still damp and were turning yellow at the hems. It looked like a yard sale, but not the kind with outgrown bicycles, dog-eared paperbacks, or the crock pot with one dent on the side. No one would be bargaining.
She knew, of course, what all the items were. Her mother had died the previous year, and she and her husband had cleaned out the house where she had lived for 47 years. The piano to the pastor of her church. Dozens of books to the university library. Clothes to Goodwill. Furniture sold at auction. When they reached the basement, they had run out of steam. There were too many pieces to catalog, too many decisions to make. They bundled everything up in cartons and stored them in the garage. Next spring, maybe.
But the week before 14 inches of snow had fallen, thick wet snow that collapsed the roof of the garage. He had gone over with a borrowed pickup and shoveled the snow aside and loaded the truck with the boxes, brought them back to the house where the saturated cartons fell apart. He had taken each item out and placed it in the sun to dry.
She knew there were things she could throw away. Who needs bank books from closed-out accounts? No one will write with the ballpoint pens banded together with a green elastic. But what about that newspaper article about her father? What about the ivory comb with the silver handle? What about the commemorative cup from Niagara Falls? She sensed that each of these items was rich with story. Someone had bought the copper ashtray as a gift. The faded postcard had been mailed with love, and even though the signature was blurred from time and melting snow, an entire relationship bloomed behind the ink. She wanted to know those stories. She felt as if she were the last repository of their edges and angles, and if she tossed away the bedraggled items, she would be throwing away the stories as well.
Lengthening shadows cast the objects on the driveway into silhouette. Before the day darkened into night, she would have to pick everything up. She didn’t know where she would put them, now that the cartons they had been packed in had sagged into themselves, useless. She would bring the splayed books in to dry on the kitchen table. She would wrap her hands around the cups and small bowls and set them among the china pieces in the cabinets. She would drape the napkins and lace over the ladderback chairs in the dining room.
For days she would walk among them, listening.
[Refer: This story put the editors in mind of J.C. Todd’s poem “Where They Were Sent.”]
Ellen Collins is a writer, teacher, and artist who divides her time between Vienna, VA, and Bethany Beach, DE. Her work has appeared in a number of books and journals including No Place Like Here: An Anthology of Southern Delaware Poetry and Prose, The Beach House, Broadkill Review, and Moon Journal. She has conducted writing workshops for children and adults in Texas, Massachusetts, Louisiana, and Virginia. Collins taught language arts for more than 20 years in Fairfax County Public Schools (VA). She is currently an associate instructor at the Elizabeth Ayres Center for Creative Writing and is an active member of the Rehoboth Beach Writers Guild.
Image by Evelyn Flint