I am too late to post this story to Magpie Tales but I thought I’d post it here regardless. I like the prompt – a box of nails conjures up all sorts of images. If you wish to read the other stories visit here. Or why not write something yourself for next week?
Anyhoo, here is my story –
Pain was a form of nakedness. Longing too. Merryn knew that now. There was nowhere to hide when your very thoughts were daubed with grey.
The letters sat on the table. One hundred and two of them sorted in chronological order. She had turned them all face down so that she could avoid seeing Sebastian’s handwriting – the dearness of it – it squeezed so tightly at her heart she couldn’t breathe.
Unspoken choices were clearer than spoken ones, less coloured with purpose.
Merryn had told Hal last night that she would stay. That she would give Sebastian up. He hadn’t asked her to but she had seen the absolute terror in his eyes that she might leave him, might leave the girls and the cats who hid under the bed when she left the house for longer than a day. She couldn’t be responsible for causing terror like that.
Come back was all he said.
It was a statement of forgiveness and pleading rolled into one. The smallest of prayers.
Merryn was ashamed. Hal was a humble and modest man. A good man. She loved him quietly the way one learns to when life remains consistent.
But he wasn’t her grand passion.
It was her mother’s fault. She spent years going on about grand passions. It wasn’t like she knew from her own experience because Merryn’s father had left when she was a baby and Merryn’s subsequent fathers were more like guys looking for a free room and a free meal than gentlemen capable of engaging in a grand passion. Not like Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy. Or Bogart and Bacall. Or if you wanted to go down a more fictional route – Rhett Butler and Scarlett O’Hara.
Merryn’s mother had watched Gone With The Wind 256 times. Merryn had counted. When Scarlett and Rhett danced at the charity bazaar Merryn’s mother always flung herself back on the couch in a weird kind of rhapsody saying: Imagine such love. Imagine. It would change your life.
Merryn liked Gone With The Wind. Her favourite bit was when Prissy said: I don’t know nothin’ bout birthin no babies, but she didn’t care for Scarlett O’Hara much at all. She pouted and sulked like a child. It didn’t seem like her grand passion was giving her much in the way of happiness.
Merryn’s mother’s grand passions were also not affording her much happiness. Her passion was too one-sided to be grand yet she insisted that Merryn not settle for anything less than a grand passion of her own.
How will I know it’s a grand passion? Merryn asked.
Oh, you’ll know, said her mother, her face dreamy and wistful.
Merryn didn’t have that sense of knowing when she met Hal. She liked him nonetheless, he was decent and kind. Dependable. He was what Merryn needed after a childhood full of over twenty fathers. On their wedding day Merryn’s mother wore black long before it was fashionable to do so at a wedding.
He’s not the one for you, she said. He is not your grand passion.
Merryn dismissed what she saw as her mother’s displaced romantic ideals but sometimes when her confidence in the future was unravelling she thought of the black dress at the wedding and its significance.
She knew straight away with Sebastian. It came out of the blue, the sliver of a look that passed between them, but it was enough. After years of being virtuous Merryn was shocked at the depth of her passion. She couldn’t get enough of him. She loathed people who were unfaithful to their partners, regarded them as weak and immoral, but when it came to Sebastian she found she didn’t care. People would call her what they will. Let them. Sebastian was all that mattered.
Hal didn’t find out until Merryn realised she loved Sebastian. More than her own life. Hal stood in the garden cutting down the lilac tree they had planted together when they came back from their honeymoon. He didn’t shout, didn’t accuse. He just cut down the tree. Her daughters cried, clutching their teddy bears. The lilac tree was the one with the bird’s nest with real eggs.
Sebastian loved her too. At first she had thought he was someone who went after married women, that their affair was nothing more than a power play on his part. Until she saw the spare room in his house decorated with fairies and moonbeams for her daughters. So they would feel at home. He believed she would leave Hal for him. How could he not? Their love was strong and real.
Merryn had a packed suitcase under the bed. Hal found it one afternoon. She had packed the letters Sebastian had written to her sometimes daily, proclaiming his love, on top. Hal held them in front of him at arms length, two spots of colour staining his pale face.
She thought he would fall over when she told him about Sebastian, of her love for him.
You will tell the girls, he said. They will not go with you. You will tell them you are leaving.
She told them as she was tucking them up in bed. Two sweet faces tiny in the lamplight with disbelieving eyes.
Who will be our Mummy? they asked. We don’t want a different Mummy.
They wept for hours, clutching her hair, her clothes. Merryn had a pain in her chest that felt like dying. When the girls fell asleep she saw Hal lying on the bed, fully clothed, staring into the darkness. He didn’t even blink.
In the morning she went to see Sebastian. She knew how much he loved her when he didn’t argue with her decision to stay with Hal. His eyes were gentle and warm. She wanted him so badly she almost changed her mind. She thought of her mother and her series of fathers on a conveyor belt of hopes and dreams. Looking, always looking for her grand passion. Now Merryn had found hers and she was going to throw it away.
I’ll love you forever, Sebastian whispered as she walked out the door and out of his life. Her heart shrivelled to nothing in that moment, but her girls, she couldn’t risk subjecting her girls to a different mother, to different mothers. She thought of the child she had been – loving fathers who were always bound to leave and didn’t look back. She couldn’t look back.
The letters sat on the table like an urn full of ashes. Hal had pushed the wheelie bin right up to the back door, holding the lid open.
They belong in here, he said.
Merryn felt like she was choking as she dropped the letters one by one into the bin, watching as they landed on bits of orange peel and scrapings from dinner plates.
Hal seemed happy with her efforts and went to work. Merryn took the girls to preschool, then spent the morning cleaning the house, scrubbing floors and windows until her arms ached. She thought of the letters in the bin, soaking in mouldering rubbish and it was as if she had tossed Sebastian himself in there.
Merryn sat on the window seat in the kitchen and wept. She wanted to stay but she couldn’t. She wanted to go but she couldn’t. The window seat creaked like an old bridge. There was a space between it and the wall, loose, wobbling.
Merryn got out her toolbox, concerned one of the girls would get her fingers stuck. She pulled out the box of nails she had bought on a whim, not because she needed them but because she liked the box.
Once something is nailed shut with these babies, it’ll never come loose, the man in the hardware store told her. A good way to lock up secrets, she immediately thought.
Merryn ran outside to the bin. Wildly. Pouring the contents onto the ground. Sebastian’s letters were unmarked, dry. She held them, rocking on her heels the way a mother cradles a baby, then carried them inside reverently.
I can’t let you go, she said. I’m afraid to.
She pulled off the loose piece of wood on the window seat and crammed the letters inside, covering them with a tea towel. She got a handful of nails, hammering with such fierceness the windows began to vibrate. Soon the window seat was repaired, unmoving. The letters lay within, safe now. A secret that might never be discovered.
Merryn, incomplete, but resolute, began to prepare afternoon tea for her daughters.