little boxes

"Lulucakes, what am I going to do without you, ooh ooh, you-ooh?" sang Marion across the sunny kitchen to her sister, Luella. Mimi still couldn't believe it, even though the ceremony was happening the very next day.

They had lived together their whole lives, sisters Mimi and Lulu, in the rambling house on Summer Street in Longview, New Jersey. The house in which they were raised, the one with the two staircases and the overabundant flowery backyard. After nearly three-quarters of a century, their lives together were about to end.

Lulu was getting married.

Lulu trilled in reply, "Goin' to the backyard and I'm gonna get ma-ah-ahh-rieeeed," as she filled another vase with fresh cut hydrangea and shooed black Molly off the counter. Mimi's eyes overflowed as Lu flounced out of the room.

The wedding was beautiful, as it damn well should be when one waits 72 years to tie the knot for the first time. High blue skies, pungent freesia and lustful peony. A simple gown even more antique than the bride. And then off flew Lulu with her betrothed in a shower of sunflower seeds, to her new rocky homestead in Maine. "I'll call you when we arrive, Mimikins!" her lilt trailed off.

Next morning, Mimi was already at the kitchen table as the sun began to stream through the blinds. She drank earl grey from a dainty flowered teacup and contemplated what might be next. Really, what was next? Molly purred in her lap; Queenie and Princess sunned on the tile floor.

"Maybe I should go to the lake house... this place is too big for us now, isn't it, girls? What are we gonna do with ourselves?" Mimi leaned back and surveyed the room containing her life. There was the mantle clock that she had found in her mother's hope chest. And there was Cedric, the ceramic bunny all the grand-nieces and nephews loved to hold.

Her eyes landed on a pile of boxes. In the flurry of Lulu preparing and packing for her new life, much had been upturned and was out of place. Curiously, one of the boxes was labelled MIMI ARMY. Really? "Mimi Army? Hmmmmm, curious! Let's go see what's in that box, girls."

She sang as she cut the crispy yellow tape holding the box together. "Little bah-xes on the hill-side, little baahh-xes maaayde of ticky taahhcky," and then a sharp intake of breath as the dust flew from the box flaps and she peered inside. "Ah, Molly love, what have we here?"

Mimi knew immediately the contents of the formerly crisp white package on top. Her dog tags, wrapped in a white linen nurse's cap, and entwined, exactly as she left it, a slight silver chain bearing the tiniest heart pendant. She untangled them from the linen ribbon; slipping both around her neck she pressed them to her sternum, breathing in.

Here were photos of the girls, here were postcards and letters from Lulu and her other sisters. Here was a pressed flower. Here was a pen she remembered, and her diary. And a small dog-eared Bible, the kind they hand out for free. Searching, flipping through, ah yes, there it was.

A bundle of letters tied in a pink rick-rack ribbon, fading blue ink in loopy longhand on each envelope: Ms. Marion Clarke, Summer Street, Longview, New Jersey. Loosening the ribbon, she counted twelve letters in all. Twelve. That was all.

Dearest Mimi, my love, my every breath reaches for yours. Where are you as you read my words? What are you doing? With whom do you spend your days now, away from me? I cannot bear to be without you. When and how will we find our way home? With love, your angel, Beatrice.
She folded the first letter with care and returned it to its yellowed envelope. She re-tied the pink rick-rack around the bundle and placed it back in its box. Folding the torn flaps over themselves in closing she sighed, "All right, my pretty girls, it's time for us to get some air."

She hummed a tune as she passed by the framed photo, Mimi and Lulu by the lake all teeth and freckles and smiles, her housecoat sweeping through the back door to the flowery stone patio.

Little boxes, on the hillside, little boxes made of ticky-tacky, little boxes on the hillside, and they all look just the same...

It's Indie Ink Writing Challenge time again. This is a piece of pure fiction, based on real people, inspired by Nikki's challenge: "The adventure of an ancestor in any pursuit. Where they've gone, what they want, what they hope to accomplish, anything." The photo is not mine, but is borrowed with thanks from the U.S. Army Medical Department Museum's historical images on Facebook.