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.
One of your best yet, my love. The anguish is just so real.
I really appreciate you saying that. I know it’s not a feelgood story but it just popped into my head. And when the stories are in there I just have to write them out!
For a story that just popped in your head, it was great. The conflict was believable and your writing generated suspense.
Oh Selma, well done! Your story held me throughout.
Maybe because there were bits of my life in there. I guess that’s why we connect with stories. I absolutely love the ending, with her sealing the letters into the window box. I have always loved the idea of a house harbouring secrets within its walls.
Great execution too pal.
Great story Selma. I have had a few friends die in the last 10 years. I have stayed in their homes and what their families leave behind are usuaally the most interesting. Note books , lists pictures and clothes. I wonder what whoever finds my note books will think of me ? This story made me reflect on that.
Sigh…..there is nothing more painful than a conflict of the heart.
Excellent Sel! You’ve written with the angst and frustration so palpable in every line.
It’s a story that most women can relate to, even in a small way. Especially on yet another “mundane day” . Ahhh….the road not taken, can we ever really put those out of our mind and heart? 😦 I haven’t.
Happy Weekend and Hugs, G
Very impressive Selma. The opening paragraph is just perfect (and a little poetic). The structure is quite interesting and complicated but you’ve pulled it off well and the whole thing flowed seamlessly – I got quite carried along with the flow. What a great ending, putting the letters under the wood. Sometimes you don’t have to let go entirely. Love this one!
Story held me all the way. The cutting down of the lilac tree was heartbreaking. The trouble with conflicts of the heart is that how can one really tell if it’s a grand passion of just infatuation that will soon fade–and then what are you left with if you don’t have that “deeper bond” that you’ve established with your reliable, everyday companion? Do we live for this “serial infatuation,” the fiery passion of it–or do we take that less exciting road of settling down with someone who nonetheless gives us that constant companionship, that continuity, that rock that we can rely on through thick and thin…
Since you’re story is about secrets, here’s one that many don’t know. The fire fades to glowing embers in every relationship if it lasts for very long, so that grand passion better have something more substantial–a foundation to build upon–and the person we should look for is the one who can give us that. It’s either that or flitting from one “grand passion” to another, over and over whenever the fire burns out…and being ultimately alone in the end.
Amazing story Selma! I couldn’t stop reading, it really hooked me from the very first sentence… Can’t wait to read another story of yours 🙂
“Unspoken choices were clearer than spoken ones, less coloured with purpose.”
This is such an inspirational line… and a very true one as well.
I really appreciate your critique. Thank you so much!
I got the idea of the window box from my great grandmother. When she died a false bottom was found in her chest of drawers that contained love letters from an unknown man who merely signed his name as ‘Billy.’ To this day no one in the family knows who he was. I wanted the letters when she died. They were beautifully written. But my aunt – who is a very strict Catholic – thought they were immoral and burned them. I still think of them and wonder….
It’s true. I often think the same thing. We are all leaving behind some kind of legacy with our writing, our art. In years to come it may be the only thing left to define us!
Oh, God, yeah. I think we have all experienced it in one form or another. It is not easy to move on from it.
I have to be honest and say I haven’t either. Sometimes the thought plagues me. The ‘what ifs’ drive me crazy. I think we all ponder what could have been from time to time.
I really appreciate you saying that about the structure because I felt it was a little unwieldy. I had a little bit of trouble getting from beginning to end. Sometimes I don’t write the entire story in one go and lose the flow. This writing lark isn’t as easy as people think. I really value your opinion, so thank you!
What an incredibly insightful and wise comment. I think it can be easy to convince oneself that a grand passion is much more than infatuation. There is a strong fantasy element to it. However, after the glitter fades, as you say, you still have to do things like listen to him belch all night after six beers and cringe as you wash his smalls 😆
The fire will burn out and if the relationship is built on nothing but fire then all that remains is ashes. I loved your comment. Thank you.
You are a lovely person. So supportive and kind. Thank you so much!
I enjoyed the whole story,Selma,but I especially liked the penultimate line: “A secret that might never be discovered”. We are left to wonder if the secret is ever discovered and the consequences of that.
“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”.
I read somewhere or other that Clark Gable was once asked by a journalist how his character Rhett was able to look upon Vivian Leigh’s character, Scarlett, with what seemed to real, genuine love. Was it acting or was he (Gable) truly in love with Leigh.
Gable answered (and I paraphrase)
” Victor Fleming (the director) asked me to look at her with great passion and desire…so, I pretneded she was a nice, juicy steak.
Beautiful story Selma, the emotions were vivid and understandable.
My favourite line in this story was:
“She thought of her mother and her series of fathers on a conveyor belt of hopes and dreams.”
I just felt that it conveyed so much in such a simple, yet well constructed sentence. It tells a lot.
I would say that it emphasizes the hallmark of a great writer, which we all know that you are!
Are you going to submit this somewhere? I really hope that you do!
Keep at it !
Selma, I think this is quite possibly my FAVORITE story you have ever written. EVER. And maybe that’s because I have experienced that kind of grand passion. Unfortunately, I was also forced to ‘let it go’.
No, I was not dating a married man, and no, I did not have an affair. But I really did LOVE my boyfriend Sonny like that. And, quite frankly I still do. And, I know that HE still loves me that way. Sadly, due to circumstances outside of our control at this point we cannot be together. At least not the way we want to be together. But maybe one day, we will have the life together we want?
Anyway, I could NEVER settle for the kind of life/love Merryn had with Hal. Especially after having the kind of love Merryn had with Sebastian.
I believe true love like that NEVER dies. And I also believe that kind of grand passion only comes along once in a lifetime. Maybe TWICE if your REALLY lucky.
PS; I have also saved every single letter from Sonny in a pretty hatbox that I keep under my bed. Thankfully, I haven’t had to nail it shut yet.
That is a great story about Gable. It was rumoured he and Vivien Leigh didn’t get on although it’s a testament to the size of their talents that you wouldn’t know it. I love hearing about all the old movie trivia. It’s incredibly interesting!
I am so glad you liked that line as I was quite proud of it. Thank you for always being in my corner. It means so much to me!
It breaks my heart that you had to let your grand passion go. I am so sad for you. I hope that one day you and Sonny can be together the way you want to be.
You’re right – a love like that usually only comes along once in a lifetime. The letters in the hatbox are just tugging at my heart. I am so sorry you are going through this. But don’t give up. Love like that never dies but neither does hope. There is always hope. XXXX
I will never give up my hope! xoxo
Oooh I loved this!
It gripped me all the way through and I felt the passion and the loss.
I just followed a link here and am glad I discovered your blog. 🙂
I won’t either. I remain hopeful for both you and Sonny XXX
I am glad you discovered it too. That I could successfully convey the passion and loss makes me really happy. Thanks so much for visiting!
very sad and very real, is all I can say…
It is real. Some people have to deal with a lot of sadness in their lives. I guess that not all love stories are happy ones…