Michael Peterson was a novelist. Not a great one, but he did well enough to afford the little house in the middle of the country and it put his children through college. His wife Crystal, passed away from complications due to the cancer she battled for the last few years. In the end there was nothing left but a frail shell, just big enough to trap her spirit.
“It’s ok, I’m going to be ok,” he said to her frail body.
Crystal looked at him with her blood shot yellow eyes. How he missed the deep green they used to be. It didn’t matter though, it was still her trapped in there. She reached over and picked up a photo of their daughter Stella.
“You want me to call her?” he asked.
As weak and frail as they were, he understood her movements. Michael knew when she needed anything from a drink of water or her bed pan changed. He hated the world around him and all he could think of was to hope for a better tomorrow and pray for a cure that would never come. He hated that more than anything. Everyday, he felt like he said good bye a thousand times. It was never enough though. In the end, his life was not about ego or numbers. It was about living on hope alone.
“She hates me. She’s never going to take my call,” he said.
Tears streamed down her face and she dropped the frame to the floor. When the glass shattered, it felt like shards of glass had entered his body and chipped his bones. There was so much pain. Too much for one person to handle. How do you hold onto hope when you know there is none? He looked at her desperate eyes. They spoke louder than any words ever could. They held the look of desperation.
“Ok, I’ll try,” he said.
She closed her eyes and faded away. He sobbed on her shoulder. He didn’t know how bad it was going to be to see that final breath leave her body. It made a distinct sound and fills the void with silence. If you listen hard enough you can feel the spirit leaving the body. It is said a body will weigh 8 ounces less than when a person passes. It‘s strange the things you think about when that final moment comes. What‘s worse are the things you don‘t consider when it happens. The feeling of stinging bees crept up on his soul and all he could do was sob. Hope was lost.
He called Stella to let her know the news. A tense silence fell between the two of them.
“When is the funeral?” Stella asked.
“It’s on Thursday,” he said.
Another hushed silence between them. “I’m sorry,” he said.
“You know she shouldn’t have died in that place, don’t you?” Stella said.
“I did what I thought was right. I hoped that with constant care by professionals, she would pull-”
“What dad? What pull through? Well she didn’t, did she? Instead she died in the one place she never wanted to be in.”
“I know, I know. Please, honey. I loved her too. You have to know-”
“We’ll be at the funeral.”
“What happens after that?” he asked.
“Who knows. Bye…Michael.”
The silence on the phone between them was louder than a freight train.
‘She called me Michael. It beats bastard I guess.’
He walked around the empty house. There were so many things he didn’t know about the place he called home. He knew where the typical things were in the house. You know, like where the towels were and where his coffee cup was located. He even knew where his clothes were. For the most part though, everything else was a blur. All his life he counted on Crystal to keep his world in order. It never dawned on him that she might not be around one day.
Through the windows, a small flock of blue jays landed on the front lawn. He looked out at them. Their beautiful blue colors mixed in with the green grass made it seem almost peaceful. Almost. There wasn’t a single thing around him that didn’t remind him of the love they had. Cliché as it may seem, it was a once in a lifetime love affair. To be in love your whole life and never want or wander what it would be like to be single again, yeah…that’s once in a lifetime.
‘Crystal would have loved this. Are they here to wish her a good send off??’ he thought looking out at the birds.
His body began to shake from the deep sobs he had shoved down into his gut for the last few years. He fell to his knees and curled up like a fetus on the floor. The knife from the open wound dug deeper into his heart. For a second he was sure his whole chest cavity was going to crush under the pressure from the built up emotions.
The phone rang. He let the machine get it. People he hadn’t talked to in years were writing letters and cards of well wishes and sorrows. The ones who didn’t send something through the mail felt it was their duty to call. The truth was Michael didn’t want to hear from a single person. He wanted to go with her. He wanted his Crystal. Life without her was not one he had ever pictured nor wanted.
Another call. ‘Mr. Pendalton, this is John Myers from the antique shop. You’re wife asked me to call if I ever found, well you’re going to have to see if for yourself. Can you please have your wife give me a call. I found it. I really found it. Call me back, 555-0138.”
The machine cut off. The message pulled Michael back from insanity. What could she have been up to? She had been in bed for the last six months. He walked over to the answering machine and pressed play. His curiosity was peaked.
“Mr. Meyers please. I’m returning a call. I’ll hold.”
A few minutes later, the man answered the phone. “Sorry about the hold. This is Mr. Meyers, how can I help you?”
“This is Michael Pendalton. You said my wife ordered something from you?”
“Yes, she ordered a jewelry box a long time ago. It matched a frame she had with her. I‘m sure you‘ll know the one I‘m talking about when you see it. It’s here. I can’t believe I actually found one in the condition this one is in. She already paid for it. I can have it dropped off tomorrow if you’d like.”
“Mr. Meyers, my wife died of cancer yesterday. She’s been in bed for the last six months. When did she buy this chest thing?”
“Yesterday? Well she called me a couple months ago and asked me to get this for her. I said I would see what I could do. I’m so sorry to hear about her passing.”
“You say you contacted you a couple months ago? I don’t understand. Are you sure you have the order right?”
“I’m sure about it sir,” Mr. Meyers said.
“Well whatever it is, please send it back.”
“Sir. It’s a nonrefundable purchase and she was pretty adamant about getting this piece.”
“What exactly is it?” Michael asked.
“It’s an old music box of sorts. It dates back to the Salem Witch Trials. She said something about having had the frame in her family for generations and knew there was a music box. I did some research and found it. Anyways, she wanted it delivered and she paid for it,” he said.
“Sell it again to someone else.”
“I’m afraid I can’t do that sir. Look, I’m going to drop it off tomorrow. You can decide what to do about it then.”
“I said I don’t want it. What more do you want to know. Are you deaf or something?”
Michael slammed the phone down on the receiver. That was all he needed, another reminder of the woman who would no longer be in his life. Rage. Anger. Grief.
He walked up the stairs to their room and stopped in front of the door. His mind drifted back to one of their last times in the house together. It was long before they even thought of the word cancer, a word that should be defined as curse.
“Michael. Stella is just strong willed that’s all. She wants to live her own life. We have to let her,” Crystal said.
“I don’t care. I don’t like that guy she’s dating. What’s his name?” Michael said.
“Brian. His name is Brian and he’s really a sweet man.”
“Sweet or not. He isn’t right for her. That’s it. I’ve said what I have to say about it. I won’t bless this marriage.”
“Well, I’m afraid you and I don’t have a say in it. This is who she’s going to marry and if you keep this up, we’ll never see her or our grand children.”
“What grand children?”
“Not now dear. The ones she’s going to have later in the future. Why can’t you just be happy for her?”
“I’m getting old.” Michael let out a sigh.
“What do you mean?”
“If she goes off and gets married, well that’s it. We’re officially old. I don’t want to be old. It isn’t right that we have to get old.”
Crystal let out a little chuckle that softened his heart. Her laughs always had a way of doing that to him.
“We’re all getting old. Besides, we’ve had a good run in life. I don’t mind getting old. I think I’ve earned it,” she said.
“Says you,” he said. “Oh alright. I’ll give him a chance.”
A small smile formed across her face. It was the last real talk they had about the future. A few months after the wedding they learned what the word cancer really meant.
“There, now don’t you feel better already?”
“No, but I can pretend I guess,” Michael said.
Crystal leaned over and kissed him on the cheek like she had done so many times in their marriage. He held her close that night, breathing in the smell of her hair and watching the way she slept.
When people die, it isn’t the big things you miss. It’s the little ones that make life worth living. To Michael, it was the kisses on the cheek and the talks they had in the middle of the night when she was sound asleep. She would ramble things in her sleep and wake him up. Most of the time it was the errands she had to run the next day. There were late nights when he wished she would just shut up and let him sleep. Now though, he would give anything to hear her ramble off a list things that needed done. Anything.
The setting sun cast a shadows through the windows. The gnawing feeling of knowing the next day would be the first day he woke alone in the house without a purpose filled him with fear. So much so, it made it hard for him to sleep.
He walked down the stairs to the living room and laid on the sofa with a book in his hands hoping sleep would come soon and take him away from all the pain he felt. It didn’t work though. His favorite photo of Crystal looked like it was staring at him.
‘It matched a frame she had for generations.’
Tossing. Turning. Twitching.
“What do you want from me? I did what you asked. I’m making up with Stella,’ he said to the photo. Sleep took him in the early hours of the morning. Even fading into dreamland didn’t make him feel any better. He had gone through so much hell since the beginning of her diagnosis. In all honesty, he didn’t know what to pray for any more. He knew his faith had left him.
He woke up crying out, “No, please don’t take her. Take me!”
Hands, clutching a blanket, his body was covered in sweat, Michael got up and paced the house. So distraught by the pain, Michael didn’t realize he still had the blanket in his hands when he walked up the stairs to their room. How it hurt him so to think she would never grace their bed again. To know he would never again be able to talk to her about things that bothered him. To never again hear her laughter or even the sigh of disapproval when he was wrong, was more than his heart could bare.
Back down to the living room sofa. Once again he laid down and for what seemed like a split second, he thought he heard Crystal talking in her sleep. He dozed off.
A loud ring from the doorbell shocked his being into reality. It wasn’t something he wanted to do…wake up that is. Still, the sun brought him another unwanted day filled with too many things he didn’t want to do. Who wants to make funeral arrangements?
He opened the door to find a small wooden crate sitting on the front porch. The stamp on the front said it was from Meyers Furniture.
“Dammit all to hell. That rat bastard delivered it anyways.” he cursed out loud.
He kicked the crate into the house and slammed the door. Looking down at the small monstrosity, Michael shook his head.
“What were you up to Crystal?”
Michael dismissed the crate and walked into the kitchen to get his coffee and read the paper. He wanted to give himself some semblance of normalcy. Seemed like a small thing to ask for at the time.
Stella was coming over today. For the most part, Michael was trying to push the guilt back for not being excited about his only child’s visit. He feared her looks of disapproval and hate filled eyes almost as much as he had feared losing Crystal. So much to deal with…too much really.
The phone rang again. Once again Michael let the machine get it. “Hey buddy, it’s Chip. I’m flying in today to help you with anything you need. Oh, and the publishers are on my ass about your next book. Did you get anything done on this one. It’s the last one needed to finish out this contract. Anyways, we can talk about all that later. Look I’ll be in at 1 this afternoon.”
“Stupid money hungry bastards. All of them,” Michael shouted at the machine.
Michael turned around. “Who said that?”
The phone rang again. Michael looked over at it and waved his hand at it.
“achk let the dam machine get it.”
“Dad, pick up. It’s me,” Stella’s voice said.
‘She called me dad this time.’
“You know I love you right. I just wanted to make sure I said that, ya know before the funeral and all.”
“I know you do honey. I forgive you. I’ll always forgive you. Are you and Brian on your way?”
“Yeah, just as soon as we finish changing little Robbie, we’ll be on the road. See you later tonight.” Her voice was distant and cold with a hint of sadness.
“Ok. I love you honey. Never forget that.”
The phone went silent.
‘See, I can give you what you want. Now open me. Let me breathe a little.’
Michael looked over at the crate again. It was such a little thing. Why would she order something like that? He walked into the kitchen to find a hammer. He never understood why Crystal kept the house tools in the bottom drawer. He just liked knowing where they were. That, at least hadn’t changed. He took the hammer out of the drawer and walked back into the foyer where the small crate sat on the floor.
Slam. Crack. Screech. The sound of cracking wood reminded him of bones breaking. The thing inside really wanted out and for some reason he couldn’t help but to open it. The whispered voice didn’t quell the lost void he had in his chest.
‘What if this thing was the reason my daughter called in the first place?’
He glanced towards the windows that hung horizontal by the door and paused for a moment. The sight outside was like nothing he had ever seen. His entire yard looked blue. There wasn’t a single speck of grass showing out on the lawn. The trees were also layered in blue jays. Curious.
Finally the last part of the crate was opened. Inside he found a simple looking box with a silk lining. It was beautiful in it’s simplicity. He glanced over at the frame. The wood looked to be the same. Small runes were carved into the lid of the box. They were the same ones that were on the top of the frame.
‘They match. I didn’t know there was another piece like that. What were you up to Crystal?’
A sigh went through his body. He didn’t know if it came from him or the thing in front of him. There it was. The top of the chest had an old Egyptian symbol on it. He didn’t know what it meant. It didn’t make a single sound when he opened the lid to the table. He swore when he opened it he heard music from it.
He shut the lid and pushed it to the side.
‘Why did she buy this?’
The door bell rang. Michael went to answer it. It was who he liked to call jackass. His neighbor Clark was just that. He was president of the homeowner’s association. He loved to walk along the block and let people know when their lawns were too long or their mail boxes didn’t quite match the house. His favorite thing was to pass out fines. Of course most people were nice to him. He loved the power he had over the neighborhood.
“Hello Michael. I just wanted to stop off and remind you that trash day is tomorrow and wanted to make sure you get all of it down to the curb.”
“I’ll be dealing with a funeral. So you’ll forgive me if I don’t get to that right away.”
“Crystal finally passed huh? Well, I’m sorry to hear about that. You know rules are rules and well, even in times of pain we all have to follow them.”
Michael picked up one of the sticks left over from the crate and waved it at him. “Now you listen here you dumbass. I’ll do what I dam well please. You can pass out as many fines and say what you want. But don’t be coming over here and think you’re going to get away with it.”
“Now Mr. Pendalton, there’s no reason for violence. This was just a simple reminder. I really am sorry to hear about your wife’s passing. No one seemed to notice when my little Petunia passed on.”
“You’re Petunia? Wasn’t that the name of your dog? You want to compare the passing of MY wife to the passing of that stupid little thing you called a dog. Hell she pissed on my flowers all the time. Glad to be rid of her!”
Michael slammed the door on his face and threw the stick down on the floor.
‘You want him dead don’t you?’
“I’ve always wanted that jackass dead. That’s not a secret,” Michael said.
‘I can take care of that for you.’
“Do what ever you want. I’m going to take a shower.”
The lid to the chest opened. The sound of the music played again. It filled the hall and flowed out the door through the keyhole. Michael ignored the music. He hated the pain he felt. Crystal was the only person he had ever really loved and with her passing, went his own soul. It didn’t matter to him where the music was coming from or even where it was going. All that mattered to him was the photo on the mantle. He listened to the music from the box and watched the photo on the mantle. She moved. He was sure of it. She looked right at him. The scenery behind the photo changed. It was no longer a shot of his beloved in the garden. It was the living room. She maintained a smile on her face and warmth in her eyes while the background continued to change. Now at the front door that was wide open, the background zoomed in to her right. The backside of Clark, the jackass appeared.
The photo shifted again. This time she looked right at him. “Do you want me to take care of him?”
(to be Cont’d)