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The Box

by Pamela June Kimmell

Imagination can be a wonderful thing…that is unless it takes you to dark places in your mind that are hard to return from. At least that was what I was thinking as I sat parked on the side of the narrow country road with my out of date road map trying to find “Route 267”. If I’d just left my place earlier I would have been making this journey in the light of day…. Oh well - too late for that now.

The ad in the paper had said “old farmhouse in idyllic, private setting” which had really appealed to me. Being a writer, and needing peace and quiet (at least more of it than I was getting in the noisy condo complex I lived in now) it seemed just right for me. The real estate agent handling the property had said it had been unoccupied for some time and needed some “TLC” but I could certainly handle that part. There were three bedrooms and two bathrooms and an attic space that would be perfect for an office. 

But here I was, lost in the dark, on the side of the road trying to find this place. The agent had offered to bring me out to see it - but oh no! I had to say, “thanks, but I’m sure I can find it myself”. But I couldn’t. Or so it would seem. 

Just then I saw headlights come around the corner behind me - hallelujah! Someone ELSE was out here in the middle of nowhere. 

I got out of my car and stood in my own headlights, waving at the vehicle as it slowly approached me. It was an old red truck, and behind the wheel was an ancient old man, barely high enough to see over the steering wheel, with a baseball cap covering a few strands of wispy white hair.

“Lost?” he said as he rolled down his window.

“Yes, I’m afraid I am…can you tell me where Route 267 is?”

“Yep - sure can. You passed it about a mile back. Just turn around and look for a mailbox on the side of the road that says Honey Farm on it - that’s Route 267.’bout a mile back on your left.”

I thanked him and as his truck slowly moved off ahead of me I climbed back into my car, wondering where on earth I could find room to turn around. I traveled a bit further down the road and found a spot, got turned around with a lot of maneuvering, and headed back from whence I came, looking for the described mailbox.

How stupid there was no sign saying “Route 267”! Just this battered old mailbox marking the spot…but I turned and went down an even narrower road than I’d been on, and full of potholes as well! How ridiculous was this anyway. Any sane person would have turned around and gone back home at this point. Not me - oh no - had to prove a point didn’t I?  So down the bumpy dirt road I went until I came at last to a clearing. Just ahead of me I could see it. A big white frame house - almost glowing in the dark. 

I pulled off the road and into the short driveway by the house. I got my flashlight out of the glove box and stepped out of the car. It was extremely quiet - just the sound of the crickets and the hooting of an owl off in the distance somewhere. No traffic sounds - of course there wouldn’t be out here in the middle of nowhere! 

There was no shrubbery or any other kind of plants around the house. It just sat in the middle of a large grassy area like it had dropped out of the sky and landed right here.

The porch was solid, no creaking boards…and a rocking chair sat right by the front door seemingly just waiting for me. I got the key from over the doorframe as instructed by the real estate agent, and unlocked the door. 

I immediately smelled fresh paint as I walked through the doorway, and my flashlight validated my nose by showing me smooth, unmarked, oyster-painted walls. I located the light switch and flipped it up. A bare bulb fixture came on in the hallway so I turned off my flashlight and began exploring. 

To my left was an arched doorway into a large room - it appeared to occupy one whole side of the house in fact. Another light switch lit two wall sconces on either side of a large fireplace. The floors were rather creaky, but beautiful - wide oak floorboards which had been buffed to a shine. So far I saw no “TLC” needed, but there was a lot more to see here.

The kitchen was filled with older model appliances, but they were shining and clean. A beautiful butcher-block table sat in the middle of the room. Lots of cupboards, and a walk-in pantry too.      

Back through the hall to the other side of the house, where there was a dining room with a nice built-in corner cupboard. Nice spot to display my antique porcelain serving pieces.  Floor-to-ceiling windows too, which I liked.

The dining room led to a room with lots of built-in shelves - a library I suppose. I would be able to get all my boxes of books out of the storage room at the condo. 

Up the stairs I went, and not having found a light switch anywhere in the vicinity, I again used my flashlight as I climbed upwards to the second floor. At the top was a long hall with four closed doors, and at the far end of the hallway I could see a very steeply pitched staircase to the attic. 

The bedrooms were nice and about the same size. Again beautifully polished floors and fresh paint in every room. I had yet to see where any “TLC” was required here. The place was in very good shape. One of the bedrooms had its’ own bathroom - again filled with old fixtures, but in good shape. I especially liked the claw foot tub. This would be my room. The other bathroom was off the hall, and contained more modern fixtures and some lovely flowered wallpaper, which appeared to be in great shape. 

At the far end of the hall, where the narrow staircase was located, I found another light switch. I was hoping it would illuminate the stairs up, but it didn’t. In fact it didn’t do anything, and since I didn’t see a ceiling fixture, I had no idea what the light switch was for. 

I already knew, even without going up into the attic, that this was going to be my house.  I loved it. It seemed to call to me and I felt comfortable and at home here. The only disappointment so far was that the attic room which I’d thought would be my office might not be practical in view of this difficult little staircase I was about to go up.

Carefully I started up. The stairwell was very narrow and made a sharp turn to the right about halfway up. I shined my flashlight ahead of me but the darkness was so deep that it just swallowed up the light like a hungry animal. Not only that, but it was decidedly much cooler up here. Chilly in fact.

The roof was sharply pitched, and about halfway towards a small window at one end of the attic I saw a bare bulb and chain hanging from the ceiling so I made my way towards it, anxious to see the space in a better light. Thankfully, the bulb was good, and bright, for it lit the entire area quite nicely. 

I scanned the space and saw at the opposite end a large trunk. Left behind by the previous owner I guessed….I’d have to let the real estate agent know. I went over to it and allowed my curiosity to get the best of me, lifting the lid to see what, if anything, was inside. 

At the bottom of the chest was a box tied with faded and tattered ribbon. I carefully took the box out, closed the lid of the chest and saw the box on top of it. I knew I had no business being so nosy…but who could resist a box in an old chest? I could tell there was something inside because as I removed it, the weight of the contents shifted and sort of rustled.

Carefully I slid the old pink ribbon off the end of the box. It was dusty and delicate. I lifted the lid of the box, and inside was a small packet of letters held by a narrow pink ribbon, and under them was something silky to the touch. I took it out and held it up to inspect. It was a beautiful gown of white silk, with thin satin ribbons for straps and tiny pearl buttons down the deeply scooped front. There were two rows of white lace attached to the bottom of the gown and as I held it up in front of me, it appeared to be exactly floor-length. It was just beautiful and very feminine. It had to be old, but appeared to be in perfect condition. I carefully laid it back in the box, and picked up the packet of letters, knowing that my curiosity would drive me to look at them too. 

Even though it was late, and chilly up in the attic, and I knew that I had no business reading these letters, I sat on the floor in the attic directly under the bulb and pulled off the ribbon. 

The top letter was addressed in very fancy script, to Miss Emmaline Porter, and as I quickly looked at the other six or seven envelopes, they were all addressed to her.

I pulled out the top letter and became instantly mesmerized by the contents. It was a passionate love letter to Emmaline from Charles Putnam. This particular letter was apparently written to her on the eve of their wedding. The depth of the feeling Charles expressed for his soon-to-be wife was expressed in a most explicit and intense way, yet somehow, it was still sensitive. I felt a thrill reading his words; I imagined that Emmaline must have as well. It would have certainly set the stage for a passion-filled wedding night. 

I should have been embarrassed reading this most personal letter from Charles to Emmaline, but I wasn’t. It occurred to me that this beautiful gown was most likely Emmaline’s wedding nightgown, and what an impression she would have made on Charles, entering the bedroom softly lit by candlelight, in this decidedly alluring gown.  Instead, I found myself daydreaming…imagining myself walking towards my waiting groom as his eyes drank in the sight of me slowly moving towards him with a secret smile on my face.

Just then, the bulb in the attic ceiling made a popping sound, and went out, breaking my trance. 

Thankfully, my flashlight was handy and I turned it on and sat it on top of the chest so the light would shine out over me enough that I could put everything back in the box, and in turn, back into the trunk. 

I needed to head for home - my watch told me it was 11:38PM and somehow I’d been here for three hours! At least I would be driving away from this house knowing that soon it would be mine. I definitely wanted to buy the place. 

Just as I was preparing to head back down the little attic stairs, I made the decision to take the box home with me instead of leaving it in the trunk. So, with the box under one arm, and my flashlight showing the way, I went carefully back down the steep stairs and back to the front door. I sat the box down, went back through the house turning off the lights, and locking the door behind me, I carried the box back out to my car and put it in the trunk.

I hardly noticed the bumpy ride back out to the country road because my mind was on the gown and the letter. I was sure the other letters were further expressions of Charles feelings for Emmaline, which most likely had led up to the one I’d read, given to her on their wedding night. 

When I got back home and parked in my assigned spot I could hardly wait to get the box out and head upstairs to read more. 

I made a cup of herbal tea and settled on to the couch with my treasures. In the bright light of my living room, the gown was even more beautiful. It was practically weightless in my hands, and was so well preserved that I could have bought it that morning in an exclusive lingerie shop in town. The remaining letters were as passionate and sexual in nature as the one I’d read in the attic. In the Victorian times in which they’d been written, this would have been quite bold an expression to a young woman. 

I finished the letters and put them back in the box. As I was folding the nightgown to return it to the box as well, I decided on some overwhelming impulse, to try it on. 

In my bedroom I stood before the full-length mirror at my reflection. My hair curled down over my shoulders after I’d taken it down from the ponytail I’d worn all day. The gown fit me perfectly and accented every curve. The material was so soft I hardly felt it on my skin. 

I decided to wear it to bed. I fell asleep as soon as I crawled into bed.

My dreams were of Charles. Not Charles and Emmaline, but Charles and me. It was our wedding night, and what a night it was. The last thing I remembered before waking was Charles telling me whenever I wanted him to come to me, I should wear the gown and he would be there. 

My next few days were a whirlwind of meetings with real estate agents, bank officials and loan officers. At last I was the new owner of Honey Farm. I’d been so busy getting ready for my move that I’d forgotten the box and its contents. 

When I was at last in my new home with the furniture placed where I wanted it and the movers pulling out of the drive, I was exhausted. All I wanted to do was take a hot bath in my claw foot tub and sleep - maybe for days! 

I took a long soak in the marvelous tub - filled with rose-scented bath salts. That was when I remembered the box. I’d brought it with me in the car rather than trusting it to the movers. It was sitting on my bed waiting for me.

Tonight I would wear the gown, and hope to dream about Charles again here in my new home. 

As I slipped the gown on over my head I heard a noise downstairs. Just a faint noise. I decided it wasn’t worth my going down to see what it was - probably a carton falling over or something…..I just wanted to get some sleep so I could be with Charles, so I slipped between the clean sheets and just as I was drifting off, I heard footsteps - definite footsteps - on the stairs. I was not afraid.

I turned on my bedside light and there before me, standing in the doorway, was Charles.  I was truly more exhausted than I had realized! Why wasn’t I petrified at this apparition standing there smiling at me from the entrance to my bedroom? It was because I knew Charles - I had spent an incredible night with him in my dreams and he was back to be with me yet again. I must be asleep….this must be a dream.

I sat up and Charles came to me. 

“My darling, at last we are together” he said as he held his arms out to me. He was tall and handsome and here he was with me again.

He held me tenderly in his arms.

I barely touched my writing projects in the next two weeks…nothing meant more to me than spending time with Charles. My editor at Farnum & Gaines was about at her wits’ end trying to get me to finish the last two chapters of my book but I had lost interest. In fact, I disconnected the telephone and ignored my mail.

I noticed very little, and ate very little, and slept a great deal. Charles came to me only at night, and only if I wore Emmaline’s nightgown. 

One morning, as I was crawling out of bed I saw a tear in my gown…and one of the delicate straps was loose - just hanging by a thread in fact. I needed to do some repairs!  I did the best I could - I was not a seamstress - but as I made the minor repairs, I noticed other little things that I’d been too busy to see. My constant use of the old gown was taking a toll on the delicate material. Two of the tiny pearl buttons were gone, and the bottom row of lace was coming apart at the hem. Not only that, but the seams were working themselves loose along the sides. My beautiful gown was coming apart - literally at the seams. I made the repairs as best I could and carefully laid the gown on my bed to wear for Charles’ visit that night. 

My freshly laundered and repaired gown looked like the old garment that it actually was when I went upstairs to bed that night. I donned it expectantly though and waited…I spent the night sitting in the bed waiting, but Charles never came to me. The same thing happened the next night and the next…I was distraught. I felt abandoned. I truly had become obsessed with Charles and the gown and this fantasy. 

I was staring in my dresser mirror at my haggard face and the deep shadows under my eyes; my unkempt hair and sad expression pulled me out of my deeply depressed state and I realized it had all been a dream. Wishful thinking or something that I truly did not understand had ruled me for weeks now. It was just something I had made up in my head to take the place of no “real” romance in my life. Then I noticed the envelope propped up on the pillow of my unmade bed. There was no writing on the envelope but I tore it open and read: 

“My Dearest… Just as it was with Emmaline all those years ago, so it has become with you. The anticipation is always the best part. As time passes, the new and novel becomes the old and familiar…just like the gown that Emmaline, then you, wore for me. I must move on….and on….and on…forever seeking the fruit that remains fresh and sweet from first bite to last. Forget me not.  Charles” 

My gown was gone, as was the old box, the remaining letters, the faded ribbons, and my fantasy. 

I stayed in that house, writing my books, never marrying, and living my secluded life for years and years. It was a fairly content life, but I never forgot Charles. In many ways it seemed like just yesterday when I had first seen the house, the trunk in the attic, and the magical contents. But I was now eighty-two, and very, very tired. 

One night, as I was preparing for bed, I opened my dresser to take out my flannel gown and there was a box there in its’ place. My shaking hands pulled off the bright pink ribbon and shook the top loose from the box. Inside was my gown…as beautiful as it had been when I’d first seen it! I held it to my face and felt the softness of the silk on my dry old skin. I slipped the gown over my head and looked in the mirror. Staring back at me was the beautiful woman I had been when I first wore the gown! I smiled back at my reflection and got into my bed. I knew Charles would come to me this night for the last time, and I would die in his arms just as I felt that I would that first time we were together all those years ago on my first night in this house.

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