Rated: E · Short Story · Family · #2286386
A gentle reminder found behind a mantle.
“I’m telling you, I Googled it. The fireplace mantle moves away from the wall.”
“And I’m telling you, you’re wrong. It’s permanently attached to the wall!”
James glared at his wife, Lee, his blue eyes narrowed in annoyance. She returned his gaze unflinchingly, her hair escaping her ponytail to curl and frizz around her face, giving him the impression she was crackling with angry electricity.
“Jim, you do know that Google isn’t the be all and end all for information.. Just because it’s on the internet doesn’t make it right.”
“I know that, but I read several articles by people who refurbish antiques and old homes. It comes off.”
“I think they’re spinning tales. I’m done. I’m tired and hot.” Lee declared, shocking James with the hard finality in her voice. “I’m going home.”
“But…” he protested, not really wanting to quit yet, but not wanting to have her leave in the middle of the disagreement.
“No,” Lee interrupted him. “Stay if you want, but I’m going.”
James watched her pull a set of keys from her shorts pocket and turn to leave the 1906 Victorian mansion. With an air of resignation, he faced the stubborn mantle as her footsteps echoed through the cavernous rooms then stopped.
“And Jim,” she caught his attention, once more drawing him away from the mystery of how to move the golden oak mantle. He looked over at her, where she stood in the middle of the adjacent room. “I know we bought this place as a fixer-upper, but if you make more things to fix in this idiot quest to move that mantle, I’m going to be seriously angry.”
With Lee’s warning still echoing through the empty expanse between them and in his ears, she turned and left. The loud click of the lock brought an odd sense of foreboding crashing over him.
James winced, unhappy that they were arguing about the restoration of the old house they’d both grown up admiring. He stared at the beautiful mantle and sighed. For reasons he couldn’t grasp, he felt a powerful compulsion to move the antique.
“I’ll give it another half hour,” he bargained aloud to himself. “If I can’t move it by then, then it isn’t meant to move.”
Pleased with his personal compromise, James got back to work trying to puzzle the mantle away from the wall.
Twenty minutes later, James was sweating but victorious. He’d finally managed to gain enough space between the mantle and wall to see that it was attached with French cleats. Lifting from the center of the solid wood piece, he finally managed to work the mantle free.
Moving it cautiously away from the wall so as not to scar the hardwood flooring, James peered at the fine collection of ancient dust bunnies lining the back of the mantle. Grimacing for a moment, he sneezed loudly three times. When he could see straight again, he turned his attention to the wall.
An equally impressive amount of the cobwebs were woven over the leather embossed wallpaper and plaster. On the floor, however, several bits of paper caught his attention. Bending, James picked up the papers from one side of the mantle then walked around to collect the few bits on the other side. With a frown, he sat down on the maple floor to examine his find.
An aged picture of an austere woman sitting in front of a stoic-faced man was the first thing he looked at. It was scratched and covered in the same dusty webbing as everything else behind the mantle. Curiosity flooded his mind as he wondered who the couple was. The bulk of the remaining bits of paper were random scraps with scribblings of numbers or addresses on them. The last thing James held was an old card folded like an envelope.
The card was a hefty linen with a simple picture of a candelabra with three red candles and holly leaves with a few red berries separated by decorative green lines swooping across the flap. Lifting the flap, the words “Wishing you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year” were printed in the center of the card in an ancient font. Struggling to read the heavily slanted penmanship, James worked to decipher the message written around the printed words.
‘My darling, Clara~ I don’t know if it will still be the holidays when you receive this but I want you to know I miss you desperately. When everything overwhelms me over here, I close my eyes and think of you. I ache for the moment when I’m back in your arms. Until then, I remain yours faithfully. All my love, Martin. November 1917 Nancy, France’
James read and reread the words, thoughts of Lee and how incredibly lucky he was to have her as his wife flooding him. Would she wait for him if, like Martin, he was far away? Did Clara wait for Martin to come home? Did Martin make it home?
“You did it,” a soft voice shattered the silence of the house, making James start violently.
“Oh my stars, you scared the daylights out of me,” he gasped, clutching the card to his chest.
“I’m sorry. I thought I was being loud.” Lee smirked as she sat on the floor next to him. “And I’m sorry I left that way.”
“I understand,” he smiled.
“What is that?”
“An old Christmas card from 1917,” he passed her the card.
“Wow, he was in the army during World War I!” Lee exclaimed after a long moment. “Do you think he made it home?”
“I don’t know but it sounds like another project for us to work on,” James snickered teasingly. “But I like to think he did and they spent many happy years here, just like we will.”
“I promise on that old card I will always do my best to make you happy and to love you as Martin clearly loved Clara.”
Word count: 993