Broken Ties

May 6, 2008
By Lindsay Michel, West Chester, PA

Silence skulked over dusty shelves, ebbing away and renewing itself just as quickly, like a wave of persistent static. It enveloped a crude wooden drummer boy, and he gave a weak blow to his drum before he, too, succumbed.
‘Shush, shush,’ murmured the toys in their breathy voices.
The china doll chanted through conjoined porcelain teeth, blood-red lips curled into a frozen smile, the epitome of coyness.
‘Shush,’ the toys on the opposite wall echoed obediently, a synchronized choir of emptiness. Long-kept secrets were forgotten lyrics; faded and forgotten as time consumed.

Two feet pattered soundlessly down the narrow stairwell, the owner’s arms wrapped tightly around her small frame. “Hello?” she whispered, her voice barely audible in the dense blackness.
The girl nervously tucked a coppery strand of hair behind her ear and continued walking, faded turtle slippers flopping gently on the wood with ever step. “Mommy?
she murmured, voice trembling. She paused, peering more closely at the wall she walked parallel to. She could just barely make out a picture, but the details were impossible to discern. Biting her lip in concentration, she squinted. ‘JAD’ was scrawled in large looping letters at the corner of the frame. Though as to what it meant, she had no idea.
She quickly lost interest in the mystery, jade eyes swiveling forward once more. As she descended the last few stairs, she felt something akin to cold dread freeze within her chest, tightening and twisting painfully. She opened her mouth and gasped for air, arms squeezing insistently around herself. After a few seconds, she found the pain had gone, leaving merely a ghost of the previous trepidation, settling to a thread of unease. The stale air calmed her, and she confidently descended the next stair, then the following.
With her next step, she fell through swirling motes of dust.

“I do hope you will reconsider, Mr. Dufragne,” the woman said in her no-nonsense voice. “This is a major endeavor you are attempting to undertake.”
The elderly gentleman inclined his head in agreement, a sad smile deepening the grooves carved into his face. “I am aware of that, Tiany.” He paused, tucking a worn brown handkerchief into the breast pocked of his charcoal dress coat. “However, I feel that all matters of business here are taken care of, and the property no longer has any reason to reside in my possession.”
The blond woman sighed, bending at the waist to retrieve her leather briefcase that rested on the mahogany table. “I regret being the one to sell this land, Mr. Dufragne, but… if you insist…” she trailed off, fingers clenching the handle of her case tighter than necessary.
“I do,” he repeated firmly, then proceeded to guide the woman to the door in the next room. When the door had closed, James Dufragne sank back into the hard-backed chair with a sigh. “Well,” he said, running weathered fingers over the top of the table, “I suppose this is the end.”
He picked up a picture of a woman that lay face down on the table, nestled behind a red glass vase. She was smiling into the camera, jade eyes twinkling in the noon sun. As he watched, her image began to fade, replaced by rolling hills and amorphous asterisks of light. “The end,” he murmured, and a lone tear disappeared into one of the many crevices of his face.

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