“What’s that mess by the back door?” Harry’s wife, Abigail, said sharply, as she placed the bags of groceries on the kitchen counter. Harry smiled knowing it was a jibe and figured he’d take his time to respond. What do they say? Count to ten before speaking. It’s something he’d come to do whenever she made that kind of comment.
To be honest, he wasn’t in the mood to get into another parry and riposte right now. He’d been doing a bit of work outside on what was once their dream solarium. It was no longer a dream, just a reason to get out of the house. Harry had finished all the writing he’d wanted to do.
He’d been working all afternoon and so, he thought he’d come inside, grab a bite to eat before continuing. And after finding the box, he could take some time to think. Harry had no idea what it was, although he was curious.
“What is it anyway? I mean, just throw it out.” Abigail said, as she took more things out of the bag.
“It’s nothing. Just something I found while I was digging to lay the foundation.” He could tell by the way his wife was taking the items out of the bag, set movements, each thudding on the counter, like little bursts of anger, that she was peeved about something. It was the box, this time.
“Well, I’ve got some friends coming over and it’d be great if it weren’t in the way.” He thought, should he question it being ‘in the way’ as it was just a small box.
“Come on, it’s not really in the way.” But the moment he said it, he knew he shouldn’t have. It only made matters worse. He remembers how things blew out of proportion the last time and it led to nowhere good.
“It’s an eyesore and that makes it in the way,” she said, her words terse. They locked eyes.
“No worries. It’ll be out of the way after I open it.” It was best to appease now.
Abigail stopped putting things in the cupboard. “Whaddyamean, open it? Why do you want to open it?”
“Well, I was curious because you don’t often dig up a box. Rocks and other stuff, sure, but not a box.” Harry shrugged his shoulders. He drank the last of his coffee and got up. “I haven’t a clue what it is, to be honest. If you’re interested, I’m gonna open it now.” He thought he’d throw out an olive branch and hope for the best.
Harry walked to the porch where he’d left the box, unsure of whether she’d be at all interested. These days, half the time, he really wouldn’t be surprised if she just walked out on him. It’d been going on for a year now. Harry tried his best not to get into anything with her these days. The one time, he’d really regretted. He was sure the neighbours must’ve wondered. Afterwards, he vowed to never let it reach such a fever pitch again.
He knew it all stemmed from the problems with her family. Her parents were breaking up with a divorce looming. They had created a wasteland for their children while doing battle, dragging the entire family through the muddy trenches of what was appearing to be a pretty sordid life. He wasn’t surprised. Money had a way of dragging people down to never-before-seen levels.
Of course, Abigail would be the last to acknowledge it. She’d always been the peacemaker. But it had even exceeded her attempts, leaving her adrift. He’d tried to allay her fears for herself, their own children and so on. But nowadays, he just left things alone. Still, the past year had been pure hell.
Harry dusted some more dirt off the box. He looked up as his wife came into the porch. “Just thought I’d take a look at what you’d found.” She shrugged her shoulders as she sat down. He’d put it on a bin bag. Lifting it, he turned it around and around.
“It’s pretty light.” He shook it and they could hear something was inside. Abigail sat on the bench paying little attention, looking out the porch window, immersed in some turmoil within. Harry wasn’t entirely sure why she was there, but he figured maybe there was some ember within her that could still be ignited. “I can’t imagine it’d be too complicated,” Harry said as he fussed with the lock. “Let’s see if the internet can give us a bit of help,” he said as he pulled out his phone. He looked for a moment. “Well, here we go.” He showed her the website he’d found on how to pick locks.
“Nowadays, you can find the damndest things on the internet,” Abigail said, rolling her eyes.
“Pretty good someone decided to share, though.” Harry thought it was best to stay positive to keep things on an even keel. He read the instructions while Abigail was lost in her thoughts. “That doesn’t sound impossible.” Harry started to get up. “I’ll go and collect some of our tools. It’s not too much we’d need. Just a paper clip, I think,” Harry said. Abigail picked up the box, scrutinising it.
Harry returned with a paper clip. He was pleased she seemed to be at least somewhat interested, even though he was sure the troubles hounding her still rattled and boomed in the background. He began inserting the paper slip, jiggling it around for a few minutes. “I don’t know if this is the best approach,” he said, laughing. Meanwhile Abigail read through the instructions on the website Harry had found.
“Here, let me try,” Abigail said. Harry looked up.
“Sure, here ya go.” He handed the box to her. She placed the clip into the lock and while jiggling it, she pulled it in and out. Abigail worked at it for about ten minutes. Harry watched, his back against the wall. He thought how nice it was for her to be so completely distracted by picking a lock of all things.
Smiling, he wasn’t sure if he’d seen her give such rapt attention to anything in the past year or so. “I think the keyway just turned.” She smiled at him, looking like she’d just won an unexpected prize. Continuing to apply pressure, the keyway finally rotated and they heard that magical click as the lock disengaged.
Harry laughed and clapped. “You did it! I don’t know. I think you may have some hidden talents we need to talk about,” Harry said. Abigail smiled. And that was like an unexpected light, something Harry hadn’t seen gracing her features for a long while.
“I’ve been thinking about shifting careers,” she said. Harry smiled as he opened the box. Inside, there were a wide assortment of letters primarily. He opened one of them.
“Well, the date is 23 January, 1916. It says ‘To my Dearest Penelope.’ And it goes on talking about what the writer’s doing in England and their training. They just talk about how it’s going and when they think they’ll be going over. I assume they mean mainland Europe.”
“O, my God,” Abigail said in a sudden gasp. “Is the person who wrote it a William Morris Turner?” Harry flipped to the next page. He nodded.
“Yeah, that’s what it says. ‘With all my love, William Morris Turner.”
“And was the person to whom it was written Penelope Ann Harcourt?” He looked at the envelope.
“Right again. It’s addressed to Miss Penelope Ann Harcourt. How did you know that?”
“Well, the land we’re on, pretty much all of the homes in this subdivision, used to belong to the Harcourts. I mean this is going back decades. When we were growing up, our mother told us about the family and how they eventually sold their land. Then it just became a part of the town. Their house is still standing, actually.” Harry furrowed his eyebrows.
“O, of course. That’s the community museum on whatchamacallit street.”
“Well, I’ll be darned. So, what’s the story here?” Harry said as he picked up the box and began looking through more of the letters.
After getting some more coffee, they spent the rest of the afternoon reading the letters. Harry didn’t say a word about Abigail’s friends coming over because clearly it hadn’t been that important. Maybe she’d just said it. He thought it was best to just let the afternoon flow.
“The one thing that’s different is this letter,” Abigail said, lifting up a letter. “It’s not from William Morris, either. It’s from Penelope. And it’s not even in an envelope.” Harry looked over. “To be honest, it doesn’t even look like it’d been posted, actually.
“What does it say?” Abigail opened the letter and began to read, a look of enlightenment touching her features.
“Ah, that makes sense.”
“What makes sense?”
“It says, “My dearest love, I received your letter with the usual anticipation and joy. Rest assured, I was overjoyed with the question at the end of your letter! My response is an undeniable and emphatic YES! I would so love to be your wife!” And the letter talks about a few other things. But that’s the main part of it, I think. It’s utterly beautiful,” Abigail said, her eyes moistening.
“I mean, yeah, it’s beautiful, but why did I find this buried. It doesn’t make any sense,” Harry said, furrowing his eyebrows and taking the letter from Abigail.
“Well, that’s the really sad part about it, isn’t it” she said, a tear rolling down her cheek. “You see, from what my mother explained, they never got married. William Morris was killed in 1916 and so it was never to be.” She looked at Harry, her voice cracking. “It’s horrible because you know why she buried all his letters and her letter. She must’ve been so thoroughly heartbroken.”
Harry touched her shoulder, gathering her into his arms. It was the first time in a while that Abigail had expressed any emotion other than anger or frustration. She’d become tightly bound over the months. So, he wasn’t sure if she were crying for Penelope and William or the sadness enveloping her own life. In any case, something had clearly broken.
Harry gave her a tissue with which she wiped her eyes. “It’s awful because this place was sold around that time, after the war. I mean, it was sold and they started to break it apart. It’s just makes you realise the horrible things people have had to endure.” She sat looking at the letters, straightening them and placing them back in the box. “I mean, can you imagine how it would’ve been when she got word he’d died. She would’ve been absolutely lost. I’m not surprised she buried the letters. She didn’t want to destroy them. She just wanted them gone.”
“Where did she go? Do you know?”
“I’m not sure. She had family in England. They were originally from there and so that’s likely where they went.” They sat quietly for a moment.
“Well, there’s a sad story. You can only hope it ended happil,” Harry said.
“Yeah.” Abigail got up from the floor and sat on the bench. “It just makes ya think of the big world out there. Myriad sad stories to go around, eh,” she said, looking at Harry.
“Absolutely.” He didn’t want to say anything, as he thought he’d rather give her the floor to maybe speak her mind.
“It kinda makes you realise the world’s full of sad stories.”
“Happy stories, too. Don’t forget that.”
“I know. It’s just, you forget,” Abigail said, closing her eyes.
“Yeah, but the most important thing is at some point, you remember,” Harry said. Abigail looked at him, their eyes meeting. She looked down.
“I’m sorry for how I’ve been. How long, I don’t know.”
“No worries. It’s in the past.” Their eyes locked again, with Harry and then Abigail smiling. “Well, how about we say, in honour of Penelope and William, it’s time to turn the page.”