Prose, Grades 10-12: Second Place

Inside the Tiny Boxes— Nechama Yardley

Slowly I crept upstairs, trying not to make too much noise as to not wake up Mom and Dad. Tiptoeing past their room, I bounced up the second set of stairs to the attic. The door creaked and I winced. I slid past the door and walked into the pitch-black room. Fumbling around with my hands in front of me, I found the string for the light and tugged it. Instantly the room was bright.
Dozens of boxes, large and small, appeared before me. Each and every one had a label: “Marielle Lanton’s” and, in loopy handwriting, it described what was in the box. Photos, bills, jewelry, dishes, clothes, antiques and more.
I remembered when the movers had put all of Grandma’s possessions up here. It had been less than a week after she was admitted to the hospital. As I took in the scene of mounds of boxes, curiosity overcame me. Glancing over my shoulder to make sure no one was there, I pulled down a box labeled “jewelry.”
Grandma had always worn exquisite jewelry, and she had kept her good taste until the very end. She had always been so particular that it was real, not fake or cheap. Real and valuable stones, such as sapphires, rubies, diamonds and opals. These jewels adorned all of her earrings, necklaces, charms, bracelets, pins and brooches.
Carefully I opened up the box. Inside were individual jewelry boxes, made for all types of accessories. I reached in and pulled out a few. Inside the gray velvet box with gold lining I found familiar pieces. A heart locket that hung on a loose, thin gold chain. Despite her love for extravagant ornaments, Grandma had rarely taken this simplistic charm off. Most times I had seen her simply put another necklace on top. Sniffling, I closed the box. As I placed it back in the packing box, I noticed the faint outline of the word “Tiffany’s.”
The next box held a bracelet. Whereas the previous necklace was plain, this was anything but. Huge oval rubies with an intricate gold frame wove around in a circle. Inside the frames around the larger jewels there was a variety of miniature rubies. The bracelet was held together by an elastic string, but it was quite sturdy.
“She got that one as a gift for my wedding from Dad’s parents.”
I jumped, terribly startled, nearly dropping the piece. Mom stood in the doorway, arms clinging to a shawl and fingers wrapped around a cup of tea. Hastily putting it back in its place, I mumbled an apology for snooping.  Mom just shook her head and then came to sit by me.
As I glanced at her, I noticed the faintest of smiles on her face.
“When the wedding came ’round, your grandparents wanted something to connect with Grandma. They gave her that bracelet. And boy was that pricey! Because of that, we didn’t go to Cancun for our honeymoon. Ah well. But it is quite beautiful.”
Mom, deep in thought, reached for another box. This one was a case, old and worn, and looked as though it had been opened many times. As she took out the earrings from inside of it, Mom passed me the box. Despite its tattered edges, the box was still elegant. It was covered with a silky blue material with a printed silver Celtic knot on the cover.
“She purchased these for a friend of hers. But she came back from that reunion terribly upset. The next day, she was wearing them. I never found out what happened that night.” Mom peeked back into the case and gasped. Slowly, as if in a trance, she pulled out a box. It looked ancient. She sniffed as tears rolled down her face. I handed her a tissue and squeezed her arm.
“This… this was her engagement ring. She hated this old thing as soon as it went out of style.”
The ring was dreadfully plain. It had a jeweled band and a very ordinary diamond in it. To me, it was very unlike Grandma.
“She put it on at the wedding and at his funeral. That was it. I don’t know why.”
“It’s pretty,” I said lamely, unsure of what to say.
“Take it.” Mom held it out to me. My jaw dropped. “What?! I can’t take it. It’s her wedding ring!”
“Well, she would have wanted you to have it. And anyway, she didn’t wear it after the wedding. She went out and got the one she really wanted. Here, I can show you the picture.”
Mom dropped it into my hand, then got up to search in a different box.
“Aha. Here it is.” Mom pulled out an album. As she lifted it up, photographs flew out the bottom. I scrambled to pick them up, but Mom just sat back down on the floor, untouched by the mess of photos at her feet.
“See here. This one shows them under the arch. Oh, look here, these are their handwritten vows. Tsk, how sweet.” Mom looked lovingly at the papers in her hands. Then she got real quiet despite a sniffle or two. She silently showed me some more pictures. I then realized that Grandma truly had a full life. All of these photographs, depicting all the things she had done; it was amazing and inspiring.
I reached out and grabbed a few more albums. I slowly turned the pages, chuckling quietly at the exotic hairstyles Grandma tried out. Then I noticed an interesting page. It was a divorce document, but Grandma’s name wasn’t the one on it. I asked Mom about it. And she laughed. It was a full and happy laugh, filled with fond memories of loved ones.
“Grandma was nothing if not a dedicated friend. She had this girlfriend who was not happy with her husband. Sally, that was her friend, wanted a divorce, but her husband refused to sign the papers. So Grandma went out and followed him. For three days. She printed out dozens of copies of the divorce papers and put them everywhere. Then she went to work with him and went to dinner with him and even followed him home. Finally, he got so sick of her following him that he signed the papers. She sincerely thanked him and simply walked out of the house. Afterwards, Grandma went with Sally everywhere, to the court, to the store, to get haircuts, just to make sure she was all right by herself.”
“Another time, her friend Margie kept getting her books declined by publishers. Grandma was so sure that the company wasn’t even reading the book that she personally traveled to the company. She made an appointment with someone there. When she got in the room, she simply opened up the book and began to read aloud. For two hours, she just sat there and read the book. Gosh, she was so smart. She left in the middle of the most exciting part so that the listeners would have to finish the book. I remember when Margie got the acceptance letter. It was a huge party.” Mom shook her head in wonder. “I can’t believe she did stuff like that.”
As Mom noisily blew her nose, I realized something, something that hadn’t really sunken in until now. My mom was an orphan. She only had Dad and me now. I had never really thought of my mom as a child, as a daughter to someone. She was always just my mom.
Grandma and Mom shared more than just looks. Yes, they had always shared those unruly black curls, porcelain skin and hazel eyes. Grandma had that smile, a smile she wore when she was simply proud of something. It was without teeth but you could plainly see all of her love shining through her eyes. Mom smiles the same. And their love for each other was apparent and infinite. When they were together, they had acted like sisters. They had a bond, a relationship anyone could be jealous of, a connection that was admired by everyone.
“Grandma was really something, wasn’t she?” I said softly, taking Mom’s hand as she wiped the other hand across her wet cheeks. Mom nodded and leaned against me. “These pictures make it seem like she is still here, doesn’t it?”
I continued quietly, “I think that besides missing someone when they leave us, there is fear, too.  Fear of when you’ll need them and they won’t be there. Fear of when something exciting happens and they can’t rejoice with you. And most of all, fear of living without them.”
I suddenly became aware of Grandma’s ring in my hand. I squeezed it.
“But I think there is fear of forgetfulness, too. We are scared that we will forget all about them. Forget our memories with them, forget them when we smile or laugh. Forget them if we throw something of theirs away.
“But with someone like Grandma, who was so bold, outspoken, smart, and such a fierce friend, you can’t really forget. Not when they were that important in your life. Not when they have touched your life in so many ways. Let’s try not to be scared. We’ll just try to be content with missing her.”
Mom noticed the ring and found a chain for it. Together we slipped the ring on the chain and she placed it around my neck.
And I didn’t feel quite so sad anymore.