This story by CarolL was first published in the Square Pegs (squarepegs.overspillers.net) public fiction section
He feared it was a mistake, but could not help himself. Quietly driven from within, he slowly slid his hand under the bed, pleating the grey felt of dust that then snowed tiny motes into the shard of sunlight reflecting from the oak floor. His fingers stumbled on the box he knew was there, that he steadfastly tried to ignore but to which he intermittently fell victim.
He exhaled, tripping gently the motes as they had prepared to settle again, then gripped the roughness of the wood and slowly started to withdraw it, wondering if he might, even yet, find the strength to push it back out of sight. This box held his heart. This box would give him untold pain but untold joy. This box was all he had left.
Briefly, he relaxed his arm; his last chance to avoid the soul-splitting dichotomy of the golden burst of exquisite joy and the suffocating blackness of utter joylessness. He sensed it through his fingertips, urgently straining to be released, these emotions laid momentarily to rest but ever-present in their desire to be savoured again and wreak their havoc on him. The painfulness of the anticipated joy was overwhelming; the pleasure of the inevitable pain a salve that exonerated him from all blame.
It slid from under the bed as if under its own propulsion and not through his desire. He had no control over it once it was in motion, inexorable in its inevitability. His heart was here, beating its echo to the heart within his chest, finding its expression in everlasting regularity. Did he push it back, momentarily, or was that his imagination wishing he had the strength? No, of course not; there was no going back now, and he let his hands press tightly on the sides and lift it into the light, settle amongst the softness of the goose down duvet and sit silently daring him to lift the dull grey clasp.
The burst of scent was all too familiar as he raised the lid, the broken glass of the dark green perfume bottle redolent still with the enigmatic smell of her. He bent forward, slowly and deliberately and inhaled the essence of his love. Painful joy shot through him, lungs filled with remembered passion and muscles tensed to hold her still. His eyes were closed but saw with clarity undiminished by loss. Frozen in time for ever his consuming desire, but his breath escaped once more, his eyes opened and his lungs emptied their delight back into the box. The pattern of the days, the weeks and the months were deeply ingrained and with no need of thought his fingers stroked the glass, deliberately running his fingertip along the sharp edge to leak crimson beads along the thinnest of lines on his skin, then gently laid it alongside the box on its crimson cloth dotted with the desiccated spots from previous bleedings.
The crackling cache of letters, tied with a crimson silk ribbon and speckled with undefined agonies, teardrops and fear, blood stains and ecstasy, called feather-light to him. Pages crumpled by time and repeated reading spilled their story, as if he needed telling, but read them he did, every word familiar but new in its effect on his emotions; her love for him and his for her pumping into the chambers of his already bursting heart. He wept, as he knew he would, as he needed to, the driving force that brought him to this place that was the only stimulus for his release.
Years later, years that might in fact have been but minutes, he kissed the memories and thus added to the traces of his own humanity on the surface of each missive. Retied, they found their familiar home back in the box, the perfume bottle nestling across them once more. As always, he paused, reluctant to close the box and return to the reality of his life without her. He knelt by the bed and bent his head briefly to touch the box in salutation, golden hair spread momentarily across the darkened grain, and then slowly pushed it back out of his sight.
Later that evening, still drained but strangely calm, he opened his address book at the page where she had lived since first they met and stayed inscribed forever. Next to her was the entry for her parents and he dialled the number that, in truth, he knew without the need of prompting, but he needed to feel his finger tracing the numbers she had written in her neat italic script.
“Hello, it’s me” was all he had to say before the love and warmth and comfort he craved enveloped him across the miles.