This story is one of the April Writing Challenge entries chosen to be a featured story.
Rays of sun break upon polished walnut floors, beckoning dust to rise in the air as flakes of gold. They split through the window blinds, creating alternating bands of luminosity and shadow. Dust and light come to rest on the surface of a rusty box, bits of shiny metal mixed with a rufous film. I’ve since lost the key but am able to crack the lid with a screwdriver. The contents within are withered and sallow, after two decades of breathing underground: a corsage of dried flowers—yellow carnations and sprigs of boxwood—starling feathers, and a stack of letters tied together in a plastic bag. I don’t touch the flowers, afraid they’ll disintegrate at the slighted touch. But my fingers itch to untie the twine and remove the letters. One bearing my name rests on top. It’s short, scribbled in scratchy black pen and a familiar hand: mine.
By now you must be almost forty years old. I’m glad you remembered the box—you never wanted to forget your past. Memories must be kept safe and held close. I want to know who you are now. Did you ever marry Zach? Did you raise three girls like you always dreamed? Did you accomplish everything you wanted? Life is full of surprises and sometimes takes us down unwanted paths—but it’s never too late to change your mind. What would you do differently? Go change the world and live adventurously!
Love, Marah, 19
Like a hand drawing water from a deep and hidden well, a tear slips over the edge of my cheek and dots the letter, lines of water bleeding on the ancient paper. I look out the window, across the room; sunlight has ceased to stream inside, now replaced by solemn clouds and an apprehensive stillness.
I go outside to the gnarled maple behind the house; I dug up the box from among its tangled roots. A small treehouse rests in its innermost branches, its design a childish display of imagination. As a child, I took offense to its bulges and scars, boils upon its skin, and tried to cover them up with boards, a spiraling staircase pressing upon its wounds. But the tree’s scars have become stronger than the boards, pushing outward so they splinter and creak. I grasp a higher rung, slippery with moss, and feel it bend beneath my weight. I begin to climb.
Like an abandoned castle sieged by nature’s forces, the treehouse has been forgotten and left to rot. I tread carefully across the platform, afraid the springy boards may give way. The moss is growing in squiggly bumps, and I crouch to touch their delicate tops. But when I lean back, the bumps resemble letters. And I remember—scratching into the wood, pouring out my soul’s loathing in a hidden way, secrets known only to the tree and me. My tears once watered its roots as its branches shielded my face from the heat of the sun. And now, twenty years later, as moss and dust collect in those once unseen lines, I remember who I used to be. I brush my hands over the weathered boards and begin to read, then press my thumbnail into the spongy wood, a new letter.