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“Don’t touch that!” Samantha shouted in a wavering, frantic tone, as she dashed towards the small, wooden box. Her breathing came in short wisps as she shoed the hand away from the item and picked it up, holding it against her chest in defense.
“Your ad said everything had to go, did it not?” The customer grunted in frustration with a raise eyebrow, his eyes scanning her as though she was mad.
“Yes, but not…not that.” Samantha sighed, looking down at her feet in embarrassment. Her cheeks flushed a deep rose.
She carefully placed the wooden box back upon the vanity and brushed off dust that had settled onto the top.
“Then what about this?” The man asked, pointing towards a lamp on the bedside table.
“Yes. Yes, of course. That one is OK.” She whispered softly, running a hand through her thick, brunette hair.
She spun around and walked towards a gathering of people, examining a large chest, chiseled with age.
“How much is this?” A woman questioned, pointing towards the chest.
Samantha swallowed. “Not for sale.”
“Then what is?” The same man from before, who Sam deduced was her husband, scowled. He cradled the lamp in his arms.
“This is.” She replied, pointing towards a random of object of little meaning. The crowd followed her gaze and sauntered over to their next item of interest.
Sam shook her head. It was harder than she supposed it would be. When she had initially written the ad in her local newspaper, her finger sliding across the keyboard as though on a field of ice, it felt like she was beginning a new journey in her life, that she was being a relieved of any hardships she had had previously. These difficulties oppressed her, suppressing her dreams. Now, she thought, she was free to do whatever she chose to. She was looking forward to the day that the memories would be emptied from its wretched holding.
However, now that the day had finally arrived, she realized how difficult it would be to let go of the past. The house had remained in a standstill position, frozen in time, since the day Lilly had drawn her last breath. It was the only living memory of her she had left. A burden became something that she only knew now she should have cherished more.
She walked back to the vanity and traced the delicate, ornate patterns on the lid of the box, gently lifting up the lid. A faint tune escaped from its contents. The corner of her lip curved up into a crooked smile. Subconsciously, she hummed along with the melody. As a child, she remembered her sister opening the box whenever she felt stressed. It soon became a habit, now passed onto her. Curious eyes from onlookers settled onto her. She looked up and immediately shut the top. The tune ceased.
The day continued on. Visitors went and out of the old house. Some merely perused. Others purchased various goods. But by the end of the day, the house was not empty as she had hoped it would be. Many familiar objects still rested in their original positions, untouched. As the sun slipped below the horizon, its rays peeking over hills with glowing tendrils that licked the tops, Sam waved her last customers goodbye and slowly shut the door. She heard the slight click of the lock.
With her back facing towards the door, she slid down onto the decrepit wooden floor which moaned beneath her weight, digging her face into her palms. The house had gradually fallen into despair over the years as her sibling became less and less able to take care of herself. With the little money she had flowing into the basics of health care, there was little extra to spend on something as menial as a housemaid. And so, the house of her ancestors continued on without the proper maintenance. There were more important things to worry about in that time that seemed to occur so long ago, but in reality the memories were only 2 weeks old- fresh, still causing her breath to catch when the house creaked. She expected to see Lilly to descend the stairs. But it never happened like she dreamed it would be.
Her sleeves became saturated by her tears. She wasn’t fast enough to wipe them off of her drenched cheeks and they dripped onto her shirt. No matter how many times she denied it, she missed her sister and the sorrow grew stronger every day. Nobody can prepare for a death- it never happens as quickly as people suppose it does and when it occurs, it is like being slapped in the face. She had experienced the death of loved ones, friends and family before. After all, her parents had died at a very early age. But never someone she had had such a close bond too. The pain of loss was choking. She felt lonelier than ever.
Sam jumped as she heard a small knock against the decaying oak wood of the door, the sheen long gone from its polished surface. She took a deep breath, collecting herself, and picked her body, limp with fatigue, off of the ground, straightening the winkled pleats of her shirt and pants. She hastily straightened her hair, now in tangles.
“Who is it?” She called out.
There was no response. Cocking an eyebrow, Sam called out once again. And, like before, no one returned it. Pursing her lips, she lowered her eye to the peep hole and peered through it. What she saw made the air she was breathing catch in her throat. She fumbled with the lock and threw open the entrance, falling into a hug in the arms of the man in front of her.
“Robert!” She cried, digging her face into the crook of his shoulder. “Robert, why are you here?”
“I knew I had to be here. After all, she was my sister, too.” He sighed in melancholy.
“I thought you said that you had no obligations to the family?” Sam removed herself from his grip.
He stepped back down the front concrete stairwell that led up to the doorway. Just like everything else, there were obvious cracks in the pavement. Robert dug his hands into his suit pockets and shrugged.
“Well, I do now.”
“You’re just going to leave again after this. Don’t do this to us- me- once more.”
“I’m not.” He spoke with a serious tone. “I promise. Before…before I was young and naïve. I didn’t want to deal with caring for a sister with such a serious form cancer. I wanted to live my life. I didn’t mean to be so harsh. I just knew you wouldn’t let me go if I had left. And, to be honest” He breathed. “I didn’t think she would live that long anyway and you wouldn’t need me to help.”
“You went away at the worst time.” She whimpered, her body convulsing with tears. She gasped, “The worst time.”
“I know. And I’m so, so sorry. For abandoning you. For abandoning Lilly.” He brought his sister back into his arms, gently caressing her like a child. “I...I miss her too. I wish I had a better last memory of her.”
“The funeral was last Tuesday. Why weren’t you there, Robert?”
“I couldn’t face anyone. I was ashamed… Please don’t hold this against me, Sam? I want to help. I want you to forgive me.”
A thousand thoughts raced through her mind. Her ambitions had been squelched by Robert’s own drive to reach success. There was never a moment in her life when she was living for her.
No longer could she put that off.
“I…I do, Robert. I forgive you.” She wept. “Stay here this time, please?”
Robert smiled, relieved and filled with joy. “Don’t worry. I will.”
Sam led her brother within the dark confinements of the house and shut the door, shrouding the rooms in shadows. She felt her way to a light switch and flicked it on, bathing the space in a dim, flickering life. Robert placed his hands on his hips as he surveyed the room.
“Wow. This place has really fallen apart.”
“Lilly had no money saved. I’m planning on…on selling the house soon. It should be put on the market at some point in the next week.”
“Hm.” He grunted, rubbing the wall. “We all made a lot of memories here. It’ll be sad to see it go.”
“Yeah. It will.”
“Did she still have that music box from when she was kid?”
Sam stared into her brother’s eyes. “The one that she always listened to when she was stressed out? Of course! Someone almost bought it today at the estate sale. Thankfully, I was watching.”
“Can I see it?”
She grinned. “It’s right over here, in mom and dad’s old bedroom.” She walked into the adjacent space with Robert shuffling behind her. She saw in the corner of her eyes Robert breathing in deeply, as though the mere smell of the house brought back thoughts of early days. She carefully picked up the wooden box on the vanity and passed it to her brother. “Careful. It’s fragile.”
Robert didn’t hear her. He was transfixed on the object in his hands. He gazed up at his sister for permission to open it. Sam nodded in agreement.
As he gradually opened the lid, the music beginning to spill out, she noticed the corner of a white envelope resting within its contents. “Robert! Robert, what’s that?”
With the box fully open, Robert also saw the envelope. He placed the box back onto the vanity and grabbed the small package, slipping his fingers underneath the lip and opening up. He withdrew the small piece of stationary from within. Sam watched as his eyes quickly scanned the page. He looked up.
“She….she wasn’t broke after all. It’s for you.”
“What do you mean?” Sam said, snatching the letter from his hands. She read it over and over, refusing to believe what she had read. “Oh. Oh my.”
“Why wouldn’t she use the money for better healthcare? Or to fix up the house?”
“I guess…she knew she wasn’t going to live.
That she was grateful for all that she had had and that it was time to move on.
She lied purposely so that we wouldn’t spend all of it on something so fruitless.
What she really wanted, I assume, is that….
It’s time to live my dream.”
The room became silent. A tear slipped down Sam’s cheek, and dripped onto the floor.