This is what they had been reduced to now, is it? Years of life in a battered cardboard box. Jesse had left him inconsolable; an insufferable fool holding onto the last vestiges of who she had been. No one had told him that she would remain in that loft long after she had been buried. The hidden stash of mementos had taken on the chore of haunting Mark’s heart. He had to deal with it.
Placing the carton on the kitchen table, he hesitated, staring at the pressed paper vault seemingly paying it homage. Thoughts invaded his mind, an inner voice urging to put the box to the curb unopened and be done with it. But Mark knew it would be harder that actually rummaging in her “presence” one more time.
Mark un-tucked the folded flaps, releasing the specter of every memory the parcel represented. A Pandora’s Box of their past together; holder of every good hope for the future, and every evil that pained him. The scent wafted harshly, as if slapping him into noticing. He could smell Jesse. It was her perfume; he would recognize that fragrance in a darkened room. He remembered being with her when she bought it. Jesse wanted Mark to approve. He’d be smelling it the most after all! She wanted to please him. The widower reached into the box and extracted the vial. The cap had come off releasing her essence into the confines of package. Mark held it under his nose for a sniff. Jesse filled his nostrils. The bottle was returned to the box.
“Happy Birthday, Honey. I love you.”
The sound froze Mark in his tracks. It was her. Jesse’s voice filled the room. Mark saw as illumination filled a corner of the box. He reached in to remove the source of light. A digital picture frame she had given him for his last birthday. Swiping his hand across the dusty screen, he watched as each new photograph of him, or Jesse, or the two of them scrolled in static resonance. Could he have forgotten how truly beautiful she was so soon? Or was Mark deliberately trying to purge her from his thought? Thoughts that always brought her “back” to him. His thumb brushed the button on the lower right corner of the frame. Jesse repeated her greeting.
“Happy Birthday, Honey. I love you.”
The sight and sound of Jesse overwhelmed him. Mark felt the pangs of loss in one instance; a wave of incredible love in the next. He placed the frame on the table beside the carton. A new item piqued his interest. The birthday card she had made for him when she had presented Mark with that frame. Jesse was artistic and she could not see “paying good money for something expressing what only I know is in my heart”. Mark knew she was right. He had never received a store bought card from Jesse for as long as he knew her. This one was no different from the rest. It was beautifully hand crafted and painted in soft pastels (her favorite). And it did express what was in her heart. The last line before her signature told their tale all too starkly. It read, “I will love you until the day I die”. With the brightest, reddest lipstick she owned, Jesse had painted her mouth and pressed a perfect kiss over her name. Mark’s fingers touched the mark on the page. Instinctively, he held the card to his face placing his lips to the imprint on the heavy card stock. His heart raced and his head spun. Mark could taste her! He could actually discern something in that “kiss”. He savored the taste of those lips one last time. But the words stuck in his heart like a hard stab from a long blade. “I will love you until the day I die”. Little did either know that day would come so soon.
Every trinket and bauble that Mark removed from the box elicited thoughts of Jesse. They surrounded him, filling him with love and plunging him into a deep despair. His eyes started to well with moisture; tears for her passing that never seemed to dissipate. “I’m not ready to let you go!” he said out loud for no one to hear. One by one, Mark returned each piece to its cardboard home and gently tucked each flap of the box beneath each other. Her “treasure” was secure. Mark carried it gingerly as he climbed the steps to the attic crawl space. He slid the panel to his right and felt a rush of air engulf him. It startled him. Froze him in his tracks once more. He felt as if the gust blew right through him. It warmed him and comforted him. If he didn’t know any better he would have thought… Jesse. It was Jesse. She knew how to ease his pain, and he remembered that feeling. He felt it this time. Jesse had reminded Mark in a very sensory manner that her love for him remained as the last gift he’d ever need. Mark felt complete.