It sits at the back of the attic, covered in brown paper and wrapped with string. Apart from this there is no other indication of what it contains. Covered in cobwebs and the dust of the loft space she knocks it as she moves a pile of old books. The box shivers, almost sighs. She nudges it back into place with her elbow and turns, heading for the ladder with a sudden urgency for fresh air.
She has been trying to make it ok for a long time. She has taken responsibility for her own healing. She has written a version of her story which she can share without bitterness or anger, without tears or tantrums. And she knows that there is a richness and freedom now which she couldn’t have imagined in the past. Life moves on. She is grateful.
She has new boxes to store in the attic now, full of bunting and table decorations from the wedding, or leaflets and tickets from day trips and holiday visits. She stores there the spare plates and kitchenware which come from combining two households. And the Christmas boxes with ornaments she has chosen with a new love.
The calendar flips in a movie-style montage and months, years pass. Her hair begins to grey, lines crease at the corners of her eyes now. Anniversaries come and go, for celebration and those she would rather forget. The pain has shifted into regret, and a blurring of memory. She knows it tore her life apart, but the emotion is washed out, faded from technicolour to sepia.
These last months though she can feel it calling. A whisper each time she ventures into the roof space, a rustling at the edge of her dreams. Something unvisited, unapproached, locked down. For months she distracts herself, more work, more social calls, projects and plan, classes and crafts. Because in the busy time she can ignore that murmur at the edge of thought, the nag in her gut, pulling her.
It is with a clear, blue flash, while hanging laundry, that she realises it is holding her, pulling her strings, that she is allowing it to manipulate her inner world. The sensation is like the shock of cold water closing over your head as you plunge into an unheated pool, like the falling within that comes when you miss a step. She pauses, hand on the line, looking into a clear autumn sky.
Leaving the laundry, she enters the house, jaw set, heart pounding. It is time. Because the story she has told is a version of events, one she has created to show and tell, where she is whole and happy, air brushed and suitable for family viewing. The real story is tied in the box. Unexamined.
She pulls down the ladder and climbs up, suddenly breathless, the dark space flickering into reality as the fluorescent tube winks into life.
There. In the back corner, leaning against the chimney breast. She crawls across the boards, reaching for the string binding and pulling it towards her. Her hands are slick and sweaty now. The knots resist and, for a moment, so does she. She closes her eyes. Slows her breathing. Loosens the knots gently, working them free, peels back the paper, removes the lid.
She takes out the items one by one, each memory held up to the light, some blurry and unclear now. She looks at the images, checking the back for dates to reconstruct a timeline. It is incomplete, and the raw power that sat here once has faded with time. She sits, surrounded by the story, heart sore and raw again, tears flowing freely. This was it. The legacy of a great love. A shared path laid out, the tangling of two lives, now unmeshed.
She pushes the attic window, and props it open, allowing a streak of blue to peep through into the harshly lit space. Returning to her papers she gathers them into her hands, wondering at their frailty. She holds them to her heart and whispers to them, her sorrow and regret, her gratitude, her love. Taking them to the window she spreads her hands and watches each one as it grows wings and flutters into the fresh, cool air, mixing with the golden leaves that shower from the trees.