Over the next ten days we will be publishing the ten finalists from the 2019 Voorheesville Short Story Contest. This, the third of our first five stories, was one of the ten that made it to the final round of judging. Today, enjoy Julia Francis’s story, “Home is Where the Heart Is.”
The house was old, but still beautiful to her. Chipped paint on the shutters and siding only reminded her of when she had first painted them with her husband. The scarred tree was a reminder of her daughter Joan’s first driving lesson. The sunken porch was only a result of years of people that had enjoyed a beautiful sunrise from the comfort of a rocking chair with a mug of coffee. For every imperfection someone could point out, she could tell a story that would be so funny or happy that it would drive the defect from their mind. She saw it all flashing before her eyes, the lifetime of memories not only herself, but all her friends and family had endured. The house wasn’t the only thing that had gone through a lot, and she had the age lines to prove it. Looking up at the place she had called home for so many years and the sign out in front brought a tear to her eye.
The front door opened and George and his two daughters Joan and Elise walked out carrying boxes to the blue Chevy in the driveway, his wife’s old truck.
“You sure you want to get rid of this stuff Daddy?” Joan asked.
“If you girls don’t want it there’s no reason for me to keep it. You know how your mom hated clutter,” replied George.
“I guess you’re right, it just seems like we’re moving so fast,” Elise said, her bottom lip trembling. “It was just last week. I can hardly believe it,” she said, letting a few of her tears loose.
“Aw Lise, I know it’s hard, but I also know that we’re gonna be okay,” Joan said, slipping an arm around her sister, “Besides, mama’s stuff isn’t her, it never will be. And no matter how hard we try we’re never going to be able to really get rid of her,” she added, winking and hugging Elise closer.
“Your mom was so proud of you two,” George said to his daughters, tears starting in his eyes too. “So am I.”
At this, Elise really started crying and they all hugged each other.
“Alright, you two better get going now. Bring that stuff to the donation place and call me when you get back to your houses,” George said.
“We will, and you’re going to love living around us, I promise!” Joan vowed.
“I’m sure I will, it’s just going to be tough leaving your mom.”
“Joan was right though, things aren’t what made mama, it’s her memories that really matter. She’ll always be around somewhere telling you to take out the garbage or clean out all the junk in your desk,” Elise said, laughing and wiping her tears away.
“You’re right,” George said, chuckling. “Speaking of which, I got to start sorting through all of my stuff if I’m gonna be out of here by the end of next month. Love you girls, have a safe trip.” He gave them each one last hug said goodbye. He followed the truck into the street, Elise poking her head out of the window to wave to her father all the way down the road. She would always have the spirit of an eight year old, George thought, laughing to himself at his daughter, now well into her forties. He waved back until the truck turned onto the main road and he lost sight of it.
George sighed and looked around his empty house, trying to figure out how to begin packing. He allowed his smile he had kept on all week for his girls to finally slip from his face. He had a list of what he needed to do but none of the energy to do it. He wished Marion were here. True, she would probably be yelling at him to get moving and stop laying around like a lazy worm, but if she were here, he wouldn’t care. He would sweep her in his arms like he had when they were young and spin her around until she had forgot what she was yelling about and was laughing too hard to care. She had the best laugh, one of those that was magical and musical and genuine and just so . . . her. Gosh, even after fifty years of marriage he had still been head over heels in love with her. He shook his head to clear pointless wishful thoughts from his head and grabbed a box to start putting scrapbooks in it. Marion always used to keep them around so in a moment of idleness she could whip them out and praise her daughters or get people laughing over silly memories and stories of years past. Of course, he made the mistake of opening one, which led him down the road of reliving Marion and his entire relationship, from their first date to his and Marion’s fiftieth wedding anniversary this year, just a couple of months ago.
He thought back to that day with a smile. They had been together since they were so young, practically a lifetime ago. They met when they were ten and now George was only two years shy of seventy. But one lifetime with his soulmate was not nearly enough for him. Sighing, and feeling weighed down by all the things he knew he had yet to do, he set down the scrapbooks and picked up the box again.
She watched as her daughters drove away down the road, watched as George walked back into their house and began packing, and then turned towards the west to watch as the sun shown some of its last light on the perfect August day. The final rays reached out to Marion, calling her, beckoning her forward and inviting her towards the unknown. Staying around like she had for the last week would mean confining herself to simply watching, and anyone she had ever met would know that doing nothing was not something she enjoyed. Eternally floating around, aimlessly, what would that get her? She knew that after a while it would start to wear on her. Watching without the ability to do anything, without the ability to bake with her grandchildren, laugh with her friends, go on vacation with George, comfort her daughters, that was not an existence she would wish on anyone, and only one that would only make her increasingly unhappy about what she was missing. Going into that warm light however, with its steadily growing glow . . . well she could only imagine what going towards it might mean.
She knew in some way that she would always be around for those she loved, but she knew above all that she could not continue living as if she were still alive, watching as her family and friends actually lived. Was the thought of leaving that part of herself behind her sad? Of course. It was probably the hardest thing she had ever had to do. But she had confidence that wherever the future took her, she would always be tied to those who had lived at 72 Yellowgrass Road.
She began to feel a tingling sensation as she stepped closer to the sun’s last light, her spirit vibrating with youthful energy as she turned around to take a real look at her house for one last time. As she gazed upon it, she saw everything that she had experienced in that house flash before her once again, like a parting gift. She saw herself carried by George through the front door on their wedding day, bringing her daughters home, playing in the front yard, the high school and college years, the breakups, the good times and bad. Then later scenes: her daughters’ weddings, (both weddings had been at the house because they said they couldn’t imagine having them anyplace else), sleepovers with her grandchildren, her fiftieth wedding anniversary just two months ago and finally, just last week, as she sat in her rocking chair on the front porch, the one where people would always go to find her, where she had taken her last breath holding George’s hand as the sun set for the final time in her life. Reflecting on that sunset and all the things that had made her life and life worth living, she saw George loading boxes into a truck in their driveway. He looked tired, but she knew he would be okay, he would continue to take care of their children, grandchildren, maybe even great grandchildren, even if she no longer could. And she knew that one day, whether it was two or twenty years from now, their love would reach across space, time, and whatever else was between them, until they found a way back to each other.
Smiling as a tear came down her face, and accepting that he wouldn’t be able to see or hear her, Marion blew a kiss to her husband of fifty years, saying goodbye to so many things at once. A soulmate, two daughters, family, best friends, a home, saying a final farewell to all of these she simply said, “I love you.” Then turning around, she threw her shoulders back and walked proud and strong into the light now blazing forth from the setting sun, welcoming her home.
George heard a breeze rustling through the tree Marion and he had planted the day they bought the house. As he looked around at the stillness of all the other trees and plants around him he felt his cheek warm, almost as though someone had placed a kiss there. Looking westward, he realized he was looking at the most brilliant sunset that he had ever, and probably would ever see. Smiling as tears began to well up in his eyes, he blew a kiss towards the horizon, saying, “I love you too Mare.”