Cal sat in the easy chair and studied the box on the mantlepiece with a wary eye. It had been in the family for ever, it seemed; and when he was a kid his Mom had even used the box as a center piece for the dinning room table from time to time. But now-a-days, the box sat neglected above the fireplace with the lid closed tight.
He suddenly rose from the chair and stepped toward the mantel, paused briefly and then slowly lifted a hand toward the dust covered container.
“What-yah doing Cal.”
He jerked his hand back at the sound of her voice.
“I don’t know Glory – nothing.” He stuffed his hands into his pockets and glanced at his wife. “I just thought it might be a good idea to dust the thing off once in awhile – that’s all.”
“Leave well enough alone, that’s what I say.” She turned toward the kitchen. “We’re doing fine the way things are – just leave well enough alone.” She looked back for a second. “It’s only supposed to be opened at certain times you know.”
He stared vacantly after her as she disappeared into the other room. After a moment he turned to his chair and flopped heavily onto the cushions. Grabbing up a magazine Cal tried to forget about the box on the mantelpiece, but he couldn’t get it out of his mind. He began to absently flip through the magazine.
Flip, flip, flip.
“It didn’t feel fine when Mama died last year.”
Flip, flip, flip. He finished the magazine and started over.
“Things weren’t ‘well enough’ when Robbie fell in with that bad crowd.”
Flip, flip, flip. He finished the magazine for the second time.
“And now me getting laid off – don’t it all qualify as ‘certain times’ when we should open it?”
“What in the world are you mumbling about out here Cal?” She looked over at the box and then back at her husband. “For a minute I thought you had opened the darn thing.”
Cal stared at her without a sound but when she drew a breath to speak again, he broke in.
“It’s Sunday, Glory. Why not go to a church meeting tonight?”
She wrinkled her nose. “It’s been a long time Cal. I don’t suppose…” Her voice trailed off and she turned to look at the box for awhile. When she spoke again it was in a whisper. “I’ll go get ready.”
Cal watched her leave and then abruptly jumped out of the chair and walked to the mantel. Reaching into this hip pocket he pulled out a handkerchief; he trembled slightly as he extended his hand to clean the box lid. Letters began to emerge from beneath the dust as he gently brushed the handkerchief back and forth over the box.
Cal reached up and took the box down. Cradling it in his arms like some delicate thing, he smiled as he started to open the lid.
Glory’s heart stopped at the sound of her husband’s hoarse cry from the other room; it made her think of an animal caught in a trap. Stumbling over the shoes strewn across the bedroom floor, she called out as she ran.
“Cal! Cal! What happened!? What’s wrong!?”
She found her husband slumped on the floor, tears streaming down his face with the box – empty – beside him. She could see where he had cleaned the lid to reveal the letters written there and she breathed the word out-loud as if in quiet exclamation.