This story is by Maureen Duffy and was part of our 2022 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
A box of shredding, miscellaneous garbage, faded outlines on the wall where pictures once hung and empty book shelves were all that remained of the space she’d once occupied. The old clock that had kept time for years in the front hall, ticked rhythmically marking the passing moments.
M.J. removed her reading glasses, put them in her pocket and looked around. Faded green thread-bare carpet covered the sagging floor and greying white shears cloaked the dirty cream window frames. She smiled remembering all of the days and years she’d spent here working as a Law Clerk helping people who had been injured in car accidents. How often had she peered out those windows, at times feeling trapped within the confines of this space?
She sat down behind the old wooden desk in her leather black chair and scanned the room one last time. So many years, so much time. Faces of old clients flitted through her head.
She sighed as she got up and moved towards the doorway, shut off the light and quietly closed the door behind her. Her heart felt heavy as she struggled to maintain her composure. This place had been her second home for over three decades of her life.
From the floor beside the door, she picked up the banker’s box that contained the remnants of her time spent here and sunk her fingers into the ready-made holes on each side. She took in a deep breath and let it out slowly before she turned and headed for the front door.
The man who had been her boss for this huge chapter of her life stood in the entranceway waiting, his arms crossed over his chest. His face was rigid, stoic-like, as he forced a smile and nodded to her. “Ready?” he asked, as he opened the door, stepped onto the porch landing and held it open, allowing her to pass. She placed the box down, turned around and stood directly in front of him. They stared at each other, locked in the moment. Ever since his announced retirement several months earlier, they knew this day was coming. It marked the end of their long working relationship.
He cleared his throat and gave her a perfunctory hug. “Thanks a lot,” he said, as he awkwardly patted her on the back. “Don’t be a stranger,” the hoarseness in his voice palpable.
She smiled and nodded as she reached down and grabbed the box. “You’re welcome,” she said. She took one final look at him and the office corridor that loomed over his right shoulder before she turned and descended the stairs towards her waiting car.
She felt his eyes on her as she made her way down the path and placed the box into the open trunk. She willed herself to not look back. Leaving this place and the life she knew was already too hard without drawing it out any longer.
There had been many sleepless nights leading up to this final day. Her rollercoaster emotions: trepidation, excitement, sadness, joy and fear had left her feeling drained and exhausted.
She unlocked the driver’s side door, got in and quickly slammed it shut. She started the engine and turned the air conditioning on full blast positioning the vents towards her. The air pummelled her face. She sucked in several jagged breaths willing the pounding in her chest to slow down. She’d known for months this day was coming, dreaded and looked forward to it at the same time. But now that it had finally arrived, there was a surrealness to it, something unexpected, unsettling. She felt like she was floating above her body, watching it all unfold in slow motion.
She twisted in her seat. The legal career she’d built over the last four decades, three of which were spent here, was now over. She swallowed hard. It felt like a huge wave had picked her up, catapulted her forward, thrown her head first into the sand before it retreated back swallowing up everything in its path.
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw him still standing on the porch watching her, his face contorted, questioning. A knot formed in her stomach. She wanted to bolt, but she willed herself instead to paste a smile on her face, roll down the window, wave and let out a final, “See you soon”.
She watched his face slacken as he waved back at her before he retreated inside, closed the door and vanished from sight.
As the car cooled, she focused on the magnitude of the moment. She pondered whether it had all been worth it: the early mornings, the late nights and weekends preparing for Hearings and Trials, time spent away from family and friends. She closed her eyes and thought of the clients she’d helped. She knew all this had been more than a job. It had been her vocation, her life’s work. She’d made a difference in people’s lives, helped them in their worst of times. What she did had mattered and she let the significance of that truth settle within her.
She looked up at the century-old house that had been her office, its foundations firmly rooted into the earth beneath it. It’s red bricks, weathered and worn, had begun to crumble. The paint on the wooden fascia and soffits had peeled off giving it an unkempt, tired look.
The stately Victorian building hadn’t always looked that way. It had lived and breathed and welcomed clients and adversaries alike. Bright pink rose bushes grew up its walls, manicured hedges and green grass covered its lawns. Squirrels chased one another back and forth, climbing the stairs, jumping off the front banisters while they played and foraged for food. Birds sang from the majestic maple tree that stood in the centre of its front lawn. Sunlight filtered through its leaves, casting shadows through the crystal-clear windows lighting up the house with its warmth.
A flood of memories filled her mind. Many people had passed through this building and like a slide show, one after the other, she saw their faces. Some had remained friends and others had since passed from this world. They were woven into the fabric and tapestry of her life and she was grateful for the richness each had brought to her life.
She smiled acknowledging how much she’d been a part of this place, how she’d aged along side it. From the outside, the building looked as it always had. But on the inside, she knew she no longer belonged. It was now vacant of her existence.
Tears pooled in the corners of her eyes and flowed freely down her face. “It’s over,” she murmured. “It’s really over.”
As she quietly wept, she watched neighbour children two doors down playing tag. She recognized Lucy, the youngest of the children, her wide smile and bouncy stride as she ran and touched the wall that acted as home base. Two other children popped up from behind the nearest neighbour’s front shrubs and raced Lucy’s brother to the wall. They squealed with delight when they beat him. “Home Free,” they joyously shrilled, as they collapsed on the grass in fits of laughter. She chuckled as she watched them. “Home free indeed,” she said softly.
When she turned back, she put the car into gear and slowly pulled away from the curb. Stealing one final look, she said, “Goodbye old friend, I’ll miss you.”
As she pressed her foot on the accelerator and turned the corner at the end of the block and the building vanished from view, her grip tightened around the steering wheel.
A soft rain had begun to fall and she felt soothed by the gentle tapping of the drops on the windshield.
With each mile that passed and the further away she travelled, acceptance and resolve seeped into her core. She knew the only way forward now was to step boldly into her future and let go of her past.
When she rounded the last corner and turned onto her street, she saw in the distant sky an unmistakable and breathtakingly beautiful sign. A rainbow, stretched across the sky, its rays arched downward, bursting in violet, indigo, blue, green, yellow, orange and red, towered over her house.
She pulled into her driveway, cut the engine and got out. She stood for several minutes taking in the rapture of its beauty.
When she looked back towards the front of the house, the man who had always been there, who’d always supported her each and every day on this journey, stood in the doorway holding two glasses of champagne. His face lit up as she walked towards him.
“Welcome,” he said, as he handed and raised his glass to her. “To a new beginning and the next chapter of the rest of your life.”
She smiled back and raised her glass. “And to letting go of the past.”