Runner Up: Evelyn Addison Ray
Evelyn Addison Ray, retired from training and development and community education, has written job materials as a matter of course in all her career, but never fiction. Now, having written two short stories for WOW, she is proud and delighted to be in the finalists and motivated to continue to write short fiction. She earned a BA in Journalism and English and an MA in Education Leadership. She and her husband, Gary Holloway, live in Foley, Alabama and are avid travelers.
The Remnants of Living at Journey’s End
She had gone to more estate sales this year than in her whole life before. It had been an inexplicable quest for some assurance about death and its consequences for the living who face a different way of life. And, of course, by the living, she meant herself. When her husband Sam died without warning, she had found the sales a comfort, though not necessarily a pleasure. She preferred to go alone, rarely inviting a friend.
Contemplative, she moved quietly through the sales. Not to the fine antiques or old lace, but to the debris, the detritus, the remnants of a life used up, well or not. She studied their books, photos and the memorabilia of their lives.
Today, she meandered outside crowded rooms, down to the basement, not surprised to confront an enormous amount of seeming leftovers not suitable for sale—boxes of photos, check ledgers, invitations, news clippings, bank statements, letters and cards.
A box had overturned and careless shoppers had trampled on and scattered its contents. Among hundreds of photos of a couple dancing, dining, and sightseeing over many years was a letter scrawled in fat, emotional handwriting on stationary advertising dull, practical washing machines and feed grinders. "Goodbye Mother, I don't know how long you all think I could sit around here like a stick all summer." The daughter wrote that she was leaving home and demanded her mother not search for her.
Was the daughter the baby rocked in her mother's arms in another photo? The pretty young woman clowning in a photo booth? The young girl on the Shetland pony? And who was the handsome sailor in the photo dated October, 1944? These photos, this letter, had marked moments and events in a family's life as important, as precious, and had implied that life as it was would continue forever.
Now they meant so little. She took the letter home and taped it onto the wall behind her filing cabinet to motivate her in this year's file purging. She and Sam had chosen the Christmas season to organize and sort the papers and photos accumulated that year. Oh, Sam. These sales had left her determined that their personal mementos not be scattered onto a basement floor for strangers to peruse and reject.
Mercilessly, efficiently, and dispassionately, she would dispose of these files that had been with her years and years. No one would read Sam's letters to her. No one would see her clumsy journaling. The children could have the photos now.
Karla Bonhoff sang The First Noel on the radio. What to cull, what to keep? Polling site notices tracked them as they married, had children and changed cities with Sam's job promotions. News clippings announced the deaths of a young friend by suicide, of her stepmother at 89, of her first mentor. Dates testified these papers had survived many purges. Cards, insurance receipts, warranties, home listings, her personality profile, family genealogy. Trash. She sighed and carefully replaced her Goals file under the G's for another day.
She pulled out a homemade Christmas card made by their son in kindergarten. That faded paper safeguarded all these years did it. She stuffed her fist up to her mouth to stifle the coming sobs. She could see his tender eyes as he shyly, but proudly, presented his card. Realizing it did not matter, she clutched the card to her chest and cried loudly now, tears and tears and tears with no one to hear, no one to stop her.
By evening, carols had shifted to popular tunes and she heard "weep not for the memories." How appropriate. Music had always been a transcending ally that settled her heart in a way logic never did and crystallized her understanding of whatever concerned her.
She must keep these sentimental remnants, for her own sake, for the day when only these letters, photos, and documents could rekindle clouded memories, far away, but innately the soul of her life. Keeping them was more important than the fear their lives might be subject to cold disclosure and rejection.
Sam was gone, their life together over. But until that time when her own life would end, these files were here for long strolls with him in peaceful solitude down paths she could never walk again. They proved that she was loved, she mattered; she would be okay.
She unloaded the trash basket. Then, she turned off the music, closed the drawers, locked the cabinet, and prepared to sleep.