Story: For Emily

By: Jeffrey Miller

oldtrunk

The day Emily finally got around to boxing up her late husband’s clothes to donate to Goodwill he broke her heart one last time.

For months, she painstakingly hung onto them as though this simple act would guarantee her that the memories she had of him would never be lost. Entombed in a steamer trunk in the attic, she slowly worked her way down the strata of shirts, sweaters, and trousers. Even though it had been months and years since his clothes had been relegated to the attic, she went through the pockets methodically, out of habit, more than searching for some long lost memory of their time together.

At the bottom of the trunk, she removed the last of her husband’s clothes, a brown tweed jacket with the leather patches on the elbows. She still remembered when she bought the jacket. He had just started teaching at a downstate university and bought it for him at Paul Koehler’s, a men’s shop in downtown Bloomington. He looked so handsome and dashing in it. He reminded her of Steve McQueen and a jacket he wore in Bullitt. She lifted the jacket out of the trunk and held it in front of her. Although the jacket still carried a distinct hint of mothballs, if she closed her eyes and imagined hard enough, she could smell his favorite brand of pipe tobacco.

Emily was so caught up with inventorying her husband’s clothing that she didn’t see her oldest daughter, Alicia, standing at the far end of the attic. After months of going around and around with her three kids about whether or not she could take care of the house on her own, Emily finally gave in and decided to sell the house and move into a condominium on the outskirts of town. It was for the best they told her, though Emily thought otherwise.

Mom, do you have anything more to go to Goodwill?” Alicia asked, brushing a wisp of brown hair that had fallen down across her sweaty, dirty forehead.

Just a sec,” her mother said, as she held up the jacket.

That was Dad’s favorite jacket, wasn’t it?” Alicia asked, pulling up a chair and sitting down across from her mother.

Her mother nodded. “He loved this jacket.”

Alicia smiled. “I remember the photograph you had of him wearing it when he won the Teacher of the Year award.”

Oh, that’s right,” her mother said. “You know, I always thought that if your father wasn’t a teacher he would have made a fine actor. Did you know that he once auditioned for a role in a movie that was filmed in Pontiac?”

Yes, you told me that story many times.”

It wasn’t a big part or anything, but he was called back twice. Who knows what would have happened had he gotten that role,” Emily said as she started to go through the pockets on the jacket. “Nonetheless, he acted in Community Theater for many years. He once played Harold Hill in The Music Man.”

I remember when you dragged us kids to see him,” Alicia said. “He was a good singer.”

Emily smiled and reached into the inside pocket. Her fingers touched something that felt like cardboard and pulled out two concert ticket stubs.

What are those, Mom?”

Concert ticket stubs.” She heaved a sigh and stared at that the tickets. Of all the things he could have thrown away, he had to keep these.

Can I see?”

Emily fingered the tickets and felt a sadness rising inside of her as she passed them to her daughter.

Simon and Garfunkel?” Alicia asked as she looked at the ticket stubs. “Who were they?”

They were very popular in the sixties. Your father loved them,” Emily explained. “He said they were America’s poet laureates along with Bob Dylan during the 1960s. He taught some of their song lyrics in one of his literature classes. They had a brief comeback in the early eighties.”

Alicia handed back the ticket stubs to her mother. Emily looked at the date on the tickets. It was funny how her husband had forgotten all about them in the jacket and how she had missed them before. One thing was for certain, thirty-five years later, the scars still ran deep.

Mom, is there something wrong?” Alicia asked.

What was that, dear?”

Are you okay? You look as though you’ve seen a ghost.”

That ghost was alive and well and living on the other side of town. Emily still saw Mary Jo from time to time at the supermarket or the beauty salon where she had her hair done once a month. Ben had said their relationship was purely a professional one when Emily found out, but in the back of her mind, Emily had always had her doubts even though she had forgiven him. Ben had told her that he was helping her with her thesis which explained all the late night meetings and dinners, though drinks at the Lamplighter Inn fueled her suspicions. There were some things a person could keep secret in a small town; there were others that one couldn’t.

Although Emily had debated confronting Mary Jo about the ticket stubs, there was no way she was going to be able to rest easy until she had. She had to know even if it broke her heart again.

When she pulled into the driveway, she saw a man on riding lawnmower cutting grass in the front yard. The man shaded his eyes with his hand to see who it was as he steered the lawn mower back toward the house but Emily had already hurried up the sidewalk to the front door.

I was very sorry to hear about Ben’s passing,” Mary Jo said later in the kitchen, pouring Emily a cup of coffee. “I’m sorry we missed the funeral. We were vacationing in the Dells.”

I understand,” Emily said. “It was all so sudden.”

Mary Jo nodded, pouring herself a cup of coffee.

The strangest thing happened the other day,” Emily began. “I was going through Ben’s clothes and I came across some old concert ticket stubs.”

Really?” Mary Jo said, crinkling her nose. “You know there are folks on eBay who will pay good money for that kind of nostalgia. What concert was it?”

Simon and Garfunkel.”

Mary Jo’s hand trembled as she set her cup down, trying not to telegraph too much of her surprise. “Oh really?”

You wouldn’t happen to know anything about that would you?”

Why do you ask?”

Please, Mary Jo,” Emily said, working up her courage. “You know what I mean.”

Is that what this visit is all about?” Mary Jo said, knocking over her cup of coffee. The coffee puddle seeped into the cotton red-and-white checked tablecloth. “I should have known better.”

Well did YOU?” Emily asked, raising her voice.

Mary Jo smirked and regained her composure. “If it’s any consolation, I really didn’t care much for the concert. I was never into that kind of music. I would rather it have been the Stones or Led Zeppelin.”

The back door opened and slammed shut. Emily glared at Mary Jo. It wasn’t any consolation. It would never be any consolation as Benjamin Jr., now in his mid-thirties, but forever the spitting image of his father, shuffled into the kitchen.

Who’s this woman, Mother?” Benjamin asked, staring at Emily.

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