This story is by Thiago Santos Monteiro and was part of our 2017 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Joyce sat on her bed and looked at the cardboard boxes laying open along the wall. Our bed. She turned her gaze to the window and let out a sigh. Outside, grey clouds were swiftly passing overhead, blown by the cold October winds. Passing so quickly, just as time. Joyce gave a sad smile to nothing in particular and brought her attention back to the boxes. Almost all of Henry things were already packed. On the left corner of the room, just slightly apart from the other boxes, was a plastic box with stuff her son Thomas had brought from the attic. There were a few photographs tied together in two small stacks on top of a larger stack of books. Beside them, sat a bundle of newspaper cutouts, assorted fishing gear parts, miniature animals, and a box with stamps and coins. Everything was clean and organized. She had no idea whom their son took after, being so neat all the time. Neither Joyce, nor Henry were known for their tidiness. Maybe because of that.
She bagged the fishing gear, the stamps and the coins to be later thrown away. Nobody is interested in that, I suppose. Then, she carefully untied the stack of newspaper. Some were more than 30 years old, other no more than 4. A collection of news about diseases, viruses, and their cures. Henry, you paranoid fool. Why would you keep those? Joyce shook her head and threw the cutouts in the trash bag. She was about to do the same with the books – a set of old travel guides – when a postcard slipped from one them. It was postcard from Paris, from so long ago, an entirely different life even.
After years of saving, they were finally here. I can’t believe it! Paris! What should we do first? I bet the Eifel is gorgeous, but I cannot forget the Sacre Coeur and Notre Dame. I wonder if the gardens in Versailles are still beautiful this time of the year, all yellow and red. I looked to the side and saw Henry with a thin smile on his face. He never looked more handsome than then. Sober dark clothes with the hint of colors only from his striped white blue shirt partially hidden by his dark crimson scarf. It was an almost cliché look that I had picked for him, but I was glad that I did it. He looked so confident with his travel guide open on his hands, as if he was and felt ready to explore every small cranny of this wonderful city.
‘Well, here we are. Shall we have the time of our lives?’ Henry asked and I could only brightly smile in response.
And the time of our lives we had. We lived 5 days of breathtakingly wonderful views, tastes, smells and experiences. I would return exhausted every day to the hotel, still marveling at the paintings, the buildings, all the intricate details built in such a long and rich history as Paris has. At times, it felt as if there were only Henry and I, equally observers and part of all the beauty there ever was in the world. I was in love with the place, with him, with myself, with everything.
We decided to save the best for last, and it was so that on the 6th day we went to see the Eiffel tower. As luck would have it, it was a heavily clouded day. I was heartbroken. We sat on a nearby Cafe to wait the clouds out, but after a few hours, it was clear that we would not have such luck. Before we left, Henry bought a picture of the tower on a sunny day and sent it to us. I had completely forgotten about it.
“May our hearts keep ever bright enough to make all days shine as they do when I am with you. Love always, Henry”
A soft knock on the door brought Joyce back to the present.
‘Come in’, she answered drying her eyes with her fingers.
‘Hi mom, are you ready?’ Thomas spoke from the threshold.
‘Yes, I’ll be down in a minute. Thank you, sweetie.’
‘Is everything alright?’
‘Yes, yes. It’s just the dust from the boxes.’
Henry was sipping a cup of tea after his daily walk when someone knocked softly on the door and entered his room. An older woman, probably his new nurse. There always seem to be a new one, thought Henry idly. Never the same for any long period of time. He didn’t mind most of them, but wished they could stay longer. He didn’t have many people to talk to, and he sure missed his dinner conversations. Or just chatting really, to be frank. A young man brought some boxes inside and put them next to his bed. The man and the nurse whispered something and he left, closing the door behind him.I wonder if they intend to change me to another room again. His suspicion rose when she slowly sat directly in front of him, but then something about her gave him pause. Something in the way she looked was just so familiar, so much like his Joyce.
Joyce was laughing and I couldn’t help but notice that her eyes became curved waxing moons while she did it, one slightly more open than the other. I must have stared for a long time, because I noticed that she had stopped laughing and was staring back. I turned my eyes quickly to the ground, red as an apple. I knew her from school, but we never really hung out together. By pure chance, there we were again, at a mutual acquaintance’s Halloween party. She was cousin to somebody at the party and was visiting town. I was there to meet a friend of my roommate’s. When we met each other, however, words and laughs flowed so easily, one would think we were and had always been the best of friends. It was late in the evening and we were sitting on the grass in front of the house. It was windy and chilly, but quiet. When I looked back at her, she was absent-mindedly picking at grass blades from the lawn.
‘It’s incredible that we haven’t talked like this back in school’, I said trying to keep the conversation going.
‘I feel like there was always something going on back then.’
‘I thought I could become a baseball player, you remember?’ I said with a laugh.
‘Oh, I remember that. You acted like you owned the place. Look at me, Mr. Superstar!’ she said in a deep mocking voice.
‘Come now, it wasn’t that bad’, although I fully and regrettably knew it was.
She smiled and glanced sideways at me, shaking her head slightly. ‘You know, even then I thought there might be a good person hiding beneath all that show. I don’t know why, but I just did.’
We stared at each other for what felt like the longest time. There was something bittersweet about her. A touch of a smile on her lips, but a drooping warmth in her brown eyes. I felt all the life’s ‘could have beens’ wash over me from her, as if just now realizing how much I just let pass me by.
‘Hey, Joyce! We are going home’, it was her cousin calling from behind. Joyce got up, the delicate veil of the moment lifted.
‘It was nice seeing you, Henry’, she waved a pressed lips goodbye.
‘And you, Joyce.’
That night, I got her number and called her, even though it was late. It was the best decision I’ve made in my life. One that led me to the best days of my life.
Henry was a long a silent moment looking at the postcard Joyce had gave him. Finally, he raised his head, the same blue-grey eyes she always loved.
‘I once travelled to Paris’, Henry said with a broad smile.
‘You did? I was once there too. How did you like it?’
‘It was a beautiful city, just not as beautiful as my Joyce.’
‘Yes. The most wonderful woman I’ve ever met. I cannot imagine my life without her’, there was a hint of sadness in his voice.
‘And where is she?’ Joyce asked with a knot in her heart and throat.
Henry looked straight into her eyes and smiled his easy smile. For that brief instant, she thought he might recognize her, that all would be the same again. Then his face sagged, infinite sadness imprinted on it.
‘I don’t know. We were always in love, she and I.’
‘And always will’, she whispered with tears in her eyes.