Thursday, October 21, 2010
Short Fiction - I Wouldn't Be Surprised - Part II - Conclusion
A week after the delivery, I was rushing around getting ready for work, when I bumped into the corner of the cabinet. I hadn’t found the perfect place in my apartment just yet, plus it was too heavy for me to move, so it was still just inside my doorway. As I bumped the corner and started rubbing my hip, I noticed that an envelope had dropped to the floor.
Where did that come from?
I bent over to retrieve it and saw the loosened duct tape on the back of the cabinet.
My heart began to beat a little faster as I carried the letter to the kitchen table.
I know the cabinet’s arrival must have taken you by surprise, but I though it best that you receive it in your home where it clearly belongs. With all the turmoil after your parents’ accident, I knew you didn’t have the heart to go through their belongings just yet. You trusted me to keep an eye on things here in Ohio until you had time to come back and look them over. I have taken that trust very seriously.
I found the enclosed letter in your mother’s desk a few weeks ago. I was going to pay some of the ongoing house utility bills and was rummaging around for some stamps when I found the envelope. It was addressed to you. The outside of the envelope said: Dear Linda, please don’t ever get rid of the wooden cabinet. There is a story.
So, dear niece, I taped the envelope to the back of the case and shipped it off to you. I did not read the letter. I hope whatever you find inside brings you comfort. With Love & Affection, Aunt Denise
Aunt Denise was as close to me as a sister. She was 15 years younger than my mom and only 10 years older than me, so we grew up with a special closeness. I went on trips with her and shared my deepest secrets. We had a very special bond and I trusted her completely.
After my folks funeral and memorial service, I had to return to New York right away, so she had agreed to keep an eye on things until I could come back and spend some time sorting through things. An only child, I knew I had an enormous task before me, but I had pushed it to the back of my mind and thrown myself into my advertising work with a fervor. And then the cabinet arrived.
I opened the enclosed envelope with tenderness, realizing my mother had sealed it. I missed my folks so much.
I’m not sure when you will open this letter or how you will feel about what I am about to say, but I hope you come to treasure this cabinet in the same way I have.
When I was 20 years old, five years before I met your father, I had started my first job and was setting up my apartment in Indianapolis. I would often go to flea markets, garage sales and estate sales to find items to furnish my place. I had a blast digging through junk to find any little treasure. One Saturday afternoon, I stopped in a small resale furniture shop and spotted the wooden cabinet. It was nestled in a corner with a crooked lamp resting on top. A thin layer of dust meant it hadn’t been touched in awhile. I smelled a deal.
The owner approached from the back of the store. A man in his 30’s with an athletic frame, he strode toward me with energy and purpose. He looked Italian with his dark eyes and hair and confirmed my opinion when he spoke with a fluid Italian accent.
“My dear, can I interest you in this fine piece of furniture? It has been sitting in that corner for three years and needs a good home. It comes from Italy and was made by my father Giuseppe. He made many of these, so I have decided to sell a few, but only to those I deem worthy of such a fine piece of furniture.” Putting out his hand, he gave me a dazzling smile and said, “My name is Carlos. Welcome to my shop.”
Linda, I was smitten, more with the man than with the cabinet. We talked for the next two hours about my new job, my family, his family, his father’s woodworking shop, how Carlos came to America and on and on. He invited me to dinner and ended up cooking me a feast of Italian dishes in the apartment at the back of the shop. We drank wine and talked into the wee hours of the night. I spent the night with him and returned many times over the next six months. I envisioned marriage, children, Italian vacations and helping him run the shop.
One Saturday, I arrived for our evening together and there was a note taped to the door. My Dearest Susanne, it said, I have returned to Italy for a family emergency. My father is ill and it may be many months before I return. I love you, but life has made a choice for me. Family comes first. I will always hold you in my heart.
There was a sign on the door which said: Dear loyal customers: My shop is closed indefinitely due to a family emergency in Italy. I will be away for many months and hope to return someday - until then, Dio sia con te – May God be with you.
I drove home in tears - great sobbing tears. I mourned the loss of my innocence, of first love and of this beautiful man who had touched my heart.
A few days later, a delivery man arrived at my door. He was a large man carrying an even larger box. He shoved it through my front door and then asked me to sign for it. I hadn’t ordered anything, but it was clearly my name on the address. I retrieved the scissors from the kitchen and slit the seams of the box. There was the wooden cabinet from Carlos’ shop. As tears began to flow, I opened the latch and found a letter.
Dear Susanne, I am so sorry for leaving you. You are a beautiful young woman with your whole life ahead of you. Someday you will forget about me, find a husband and live happily ever after. I want you to have this cabinet as a reminder of our time together. Fill it with the things that bring you joy, the things that warm your heart and the things that store memories. I will never forget you. You are full of light and life – a true gift from God. Love, Carlos
I met your father five years later and never looked back, but I kept the cabinet all these years because it reminds me of who I really am – a person of light and life. And I did fill the cabinet with memories – memories of your father and you. You are the people who bring me joy, who warm my heart and have given me a lifetime of happiness. I hope you treasure the cabinet for the same reasons. Love, Mom
I put the letter down and sighed, thinking about my folks, about my mom being 20 and experiencing her first love and about the treasures in the cabinet. Yes, I thought, I will take care of the cabinet and begin to fill it with my own memories. My folks are gone, but I will try to carry their love, light and life with me as I travel the rest of my days. I tucked the letter inside the cabinet, got out some furniture polish and lovingly rubbed the wood. Happiness, so elusive, so tender - emotions so strong, so telling of our hearts inner longings. Dio sia con te, mom and dad, may God be with you always. I strode out the door and headed off to catch the subway for another day of work.