144 Sheldon Lane This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

144 Sheldon Lane. The small house is adorned in weathered wood, the foundation iced with crumbling brick, every strong gust of wind sending mortar pieces tumbling onto the withered yellow lawn. The house sits alone amongst the heavy populace of a pine forest; the rough spines fruitful with bushy branches that have spent years sheltering the house from both the sun’s harsh rays and civilization’s turmoil, while the sappy trunks have provided material for the modest porch. If it could even be called a porch as it existed more as slabs of wood so battered and beaten by time that the rawness peeked out in patches from the once elegant dark stain. A rusty nail is hammered here and there, but barely keeping the slabs hugged together while the crooked stairs sit two feet too short meaning that one had to climb their way from the doorstep into the interior. The process was a difficult maneuver that involved launching legs from stoop up into foyer, and hopping from foyer to the rickety waver of the porch. It was an exercise that had once only proved mundane for Mr. Silversworth, but that had been in his young days when he had stood tall and strapping, now the mount into his house was nothing but a challenge for his arthritis riddled joints and aching back. It was but one of the reasons why he chose to spend most of his days inside. Only when it proved absolutely necessary did he decide to venture outside to bring in groceries or chop wood to fuel the woodstove; the two main chores in the house.
His wife had died years ago, his children moved off even more years ago. While many grew uncomfortable with the solitude of an empty house, Mr. Silversworth was the opposite. He embraced the quiet sanctity of the three bedroom house; the worn whitewashed walls, plain decorum, shabby furniture, and the coziness that presided from the overall simplicity of the entire structure. His appreciation for solitude carried over into even the darkest and most frightful of nights, when the violent thunderstorms so prone to his state would rage outside; savage festivals of flashing, rumbling, and whipping. On this particular night, the storm was most certainly a sight to see. The wind flogged against all surfaces with the ferocity of a wild beast, the rain pummeled against the flimsy windows of the small house, while the feeble walls were beaten with the pulse of branches thrashing back and forth: Thwack, Thwack, Thwack. Despite the disarray ensuing outside, the mood inside 144 Sheldon Lane was peaceful, even cheerful. A small fire blazed while the burn of a small lamp washed the house in a gentle bask of light as Mr. Silversworth reached for the kettle he had set over the fire to boil. Bubbles now frothed over the dark rim, the whistle of the kettle intermingling with the rhythm of the branches; an odd symphony that was disturbed by a harsh rapping noise. Mr. Silversworth’s ears were old; the skin gnarled and grizzled with age and the eardrums long past their prime, so he was so quick to dismiss the noise.
You old fool, that’s just the wind, he told himself.
Just like every night for the past twenty years, a cascade of water would pour from the kettle as a curtain of steam rose up like mist on a meadow. Soon the clear water turning murky as dark snakes of flavor escaped from the tea bag sunk in the pearly compounds. Irish tea, always Irish tea for Mr. Silversworth. There had been a time when the cupboard had been filled with so many flavors of tea that one could lose count. The colorful packets had filled their glass jars like candy in a candy store, but now only the green bags of Irish tea adorned the jars. It had been his wife’s favorite tea. Tonight as Mr. Silversworth drained the water from the aged kettle, the noise sounded again, this time louder, so forceful that the origin of the noise was undeniable; the doorframe and its exhausted coat of paint shaking with the sound.
What the hell, that’s no branch. Who would be out in this weather?
He plopped the teabag delicately into the water, only the slightest of splashes arising as the dark streams ran from the tea bag like ink from an octopus, as he moved across the room to investigate the knock. The scratched and scuffed linoleum floor creaked under the tatty soles of his slippers, an old Christmas gift from his wife, until he reached the front door. As he moved the particles of dust danced in the air around him. The house had forgotten the touch of a broom or duster since the death of his wife, with one exception; the polished wooden picture frames hanging on the hallway wall. The images of Mr. Silversworth and his wife were kept meticulously clean. Mr. Silversworth would often glance at the pictures and his heart would clench as he remembered the happiness he used to possess. Flashes would fly through his mind like slides from an old movie; picnics by the river, the sound of her melodious laugh, and the sway of her body as she danced to the radio. How he wished to have that happiness back. The door frame quivered as another series of raps swallowed the otherwise quiet walkway which was usually sheltered from the rattle and rumble of the external chaos by two firm brick walls. The orange tomcat named Mr. Bingley by his late wife, who had had a fondness of the author Jane Austen, twiddled around the corner and brushed against his legs with a mottled purr that brought to mind an un-oiled chainsaw. He’d never liked cats, but had put up with them for the sake of his wife. The whirr of the cat was swallowed by the groan of the door as it creaked open revealing a tall woman clad in a rain coat, water running down the glossy yellow surface while her dark hair without the protection of a hat was glued slick to her head, like a second skin from moisture.
You’ve got to be kidding, it’s a peddler. Can’t they go bother someone else on a night like this?
“I won’t be havin’any peddlers around here. His voice came out in a bark. For just a second he expected the soft touch of his wife’s hand on his shoulder and her mild reprimanding, “Curtis,don’t be so crabby. I bet this nice person has some interesting things to sell.” His wife had always been the one who was good with people, not him.
“I’m not a peddler.” She said firmly, her voice was unexpectedly loud amid the roar of the storm. “I’m here to see Curtis Silversworth.”
Mr. Silversworth had known few women in his seventy odd years of life, and for the past twenty years he had existed among the sole female presences of his wife and two daughters, it was unthinkable that a mysterious woman would be asking to see him, quite unthinkable.
Whatever could she want? Maybe this is one of those darn nursing home recruiters. Those damn kids of mine are always complaining that I can’t manage on my own. Hell I’m only seventy-nine, nursing homes are for old people.
“I’m Curtis Silversworth. May I ask what brings you out on such a fine night?”
“It’s a bit of a story, may I please come in?” She asked, reaching to squeeze some of the rain from her hair as if to remind him just how drenched to the bone she was.
I should leave her out here, but Beth’s looking down from heaven right now and I know she’d shake her head at me. She’d never leave a stranger out here like this, especially a young girl.
“I suppose I have no choice, since it’s storming so badly. I’d feel bad if you were to get struck by lightning.” He grumbled, “What are you thinking walking out in this type of weather?”
“Walking?”The girl chuckled as though amused by the idea, “Oh no, I drove. I parked my car behind yours if that’s alright.”
It certainly was alright, Mr. Silversworth’s elderly Chevy Cavalier’s engine had given out years ago. He had always meant to tow it but somehow the days had slipped away from him and now it sat on the front lawn, a rusty monument that did little to memorialize the golden years of diaper bags and car seats then soccer cleats and dance leotards.
“I guess that will do, it’d be crazy to have you move it now.” He griped as he stepped aside, a wary sentry, as the young woman passed through.
“Would you care---”Mr. Silversworth began to invite the guest to take a chair by the fire, but his invitation abruptly ended as he saw the guest had already made herself comfortable in an armchair, while her jacket had been tossed across the hearth to dry in the pleasant smolder of the woodstove.
“Would you care for a cup of tea?”
“Yes please. Do you have any green tea? That’s the only tea I drink you see on account of my picky tastes, I’m quite peculiar about what I drink and eat. My dad is always complaining, but I’m quite happy subsisting off hamburgers and Ore Ida fries.”
“I only have Irish tea.”He said, his voice taut. He knew that somewhere buried in the cupboards were boxes of other tea, but he had no desire to go digging around in them for this girl.
“Oh.” The girl paused momentarily put off by his lack of tea variety, but bounced back with a bubbly voice “I’ll take a cup of that stuff then, who doesn’t like to try new things?”
Mr. Silversworth’s hands shook from the arthritis as he brought forth the aged china, one of the cups his wife had always saved for special occasions however the pile of unwashed dishes in the sink had made it necessary to break the tradition. A cup of sugar adorned the end table that separated the two shabby arm chairs where he carried the cups. A solitary tear formed to the corner of his eye as he remembered the time before his wife’s death, when every night he would bring their cups of tea to the arm chairs where they would bask at the fireside as lazy conversation floated around. The guest had begun to dry out in the warmth of the woodstove; the stove door ajar to expose crackling flames dancing on top of charred logs, the flames extending a flush that washed over the guest. Her dark hair was beginning to dry in gentle waves streaked with caramel framing a thin face on which a slender nose and bright green eyes were situated above a tender arch of lips. The sight of his guest sent the delicate cups on a tumultuous ride, from the knobby hands they descended to their linoleum death where porcelain and tea alike splattered. The sharp bellow of splintered ceramic echoed by the pointed gasp of the woman who shot to the ground, faster than Mr. Silversworth could with his arthritis, and began to pick up the pieces of china, laying each piece gently in the palm of one hand as carefully as one would recover artifacts.
What tricks are these old eyes playing? I swear I just saw the ghost of my dear late wife; she has her hair and eyes, but it can’t be, surely I saw wrong. The poor girl, I’ve probably scared her to death with my clumsiness.
“I’m sorry my eyes were playing tricks on me, for a moment I thought I recognized you.”He stammered. His apology accompanied a ratty green towel from the kitchen that he bent to the floor and swiped across a puddle of tea.
“It’s perfectly alright; my nerves can get to me sometimes too. I don’t think I ever told you my name Mr. Silversworth, I’m Cassandra.” She giggled, reaching out a hand.
As he grasped the smooth, warm hand, he took another glance and was amazed to find that the woman did indeed resemble his late wife. It was shocking to see such a resemblance; he was sure now that he was seeing a ghost. His nerves refaced and his heart fluttered as he yanked his hand away with surprise, shooting to his feet, the fastest he had moved in years.
“I’m sorry, wh-what did you come here for?”
“Just for a cup of tea.” Cassandra said with a weak laugh that was silenced at Mr. Silversworth blank look at her attempted joke. “The truth is really I’m here because my mom died a few years ago, I only got around to going through her stuff just now and I found a lot of pictures that I don’t understand. You see I didn’t recognize anyone in the pictures except for my mom---”
She shoved a faded photograph at him and it took a moment for him to recognize the dark lush of the forest and the rush of the waterfall around which a happy family was gathered around, his happy family; his wife, his kids on one of their family hikes. His wife had always been the one to suggest their family outings. To be honest he had never been good with kids, never understanding what it was they wanted or needed.
“What are you doing with this?” Mr. Silversworth’s voice rattled with alarm.
Where on earth had she gotten this picture from? The only copy is shoved away in the attic somewhere.
“Please Mr. Silversworth, I found these in a photo album in one of my mom’s drawers. Your name is on the back of all the photos.”
True to her word, he turned the photo over to the gentle strokes of his wife’s penmanship spelling out his name.
“This woman...”
He stared at the beautiful woman pictured in the photograph; his wife, mother to his children.
“She can’t be your mother, we had a family together. She died years ago.”
Mr. Silversworth woke from the dream, or rather the nightmare, gasping for air as he did every time. It was as if he had been underwater for so long his lungs were burning, but rather than water he was drowning in pain; a pain which the fresh air of reality did nothing to help soothe the clammy, cold skin and sweat that poured down his frail body. If only it was a nightmare then he would find console in the waking hours, but when nightmare was reality there was no escape, neither in consciousness or unconsciousness. It had been two weeks since Cassandra had come, two weeks since his life had been ripped to pieces like the photos he had minced apart, until they were nothing but shreds smoldering in the fire.
Now the drone in his head was constant:
She was the only one who made your life worthwhile and not even she could love you. You weren’t enough for her, do you blame her? Look at yourself you’re worthless, worthless, worthless. You were a fool to love her, a fool to believe she could ever love you back. She didn’t care, no one cares about you; not her, not your kids. Her kids. You’re not blind, look at the pictures with their blonde ringlets; they look nothing like you or her. You have nothing left.
The drone of the voice buzzed as he hoisted himself down onto the faded linoleum flooring, buzzed with the clomp of his feet down the dim passage to the kitchen, buzzed as he set the kettle on the heat of the woodstove, poured the boiling water into the dull mug, and set a teabag inside. English tea this time, from an old dusty box stowed in the back of the cupboard. The Irish tea had simmered in the fire along with the pictures and any other memorabilia he had gathered in his rage. If only his memories were so easy to destroy. Outside a storm raged, but the violent struggle of nature was inaudible to him as the clear water morphed dark, he took out the bottle of sleeping pills from his bathrobe pocket. One, two, three, four, five, six tiny pills fell into the worn creases of his hands. One, two, three, four, five, six pills rested on his tongue for a single solitary moment before they were swept away in a wave of briskness and bitterness. It was only then that the buzzing stopped, Mr. Silversworth was allowed his last moments in silence as he wobbled to the comfort of an armchair, letting the urge of eternal sleep overcome him as he rested his head against the faded, floral pattern that his wife had sewn on so many years ago. Had he stayed awake only a few moments longer and glanced out the window, decorated in the drip of raindrops, he would have seen the storm had slowed to a lull drizzle and the sun had began to peek out behind the green, bushy branches of the forest.





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PJD17 This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Apr. 12, 2011 at 7:46 am
i liked this peice good work keep it up  could you please check out and comment on my story Numb.   i would really appreciate the feedback
 
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