Madeline was tired. She had been boxing up all sorts of antiques all afternoon since the owners, Maude and Jason Fredericks, were going out of business. These boxes would be heading to an auction where they would all go for what Maude described as “pennies on the dollar.” Madeline was especially upset about three different objects that were her personal favorites. Each for a different reason and now they were all going to be sold off in a box-lot to someone who might or might not want them instead of going to her, who absolutely, one hundred per cent did want them.
The first was an iridescent egg with a purple solid center that had swirls in the purple. It was probably worth absolutely nothing, but this was the first object that she had actually noticed when she had come to work for the Fredericks back when she was a high school senior and they still had hope in their lives. The egg was sitting on a shelf next to the cash register and when she had asked Maude about it, the older woman – sixty-five at that point, had sighed and said, “Aw, honey, sometimes you keep something that reminds you of a happy memory. That’s what this egg does for me. Takes me back to by-gone days and sweet teenage love.” She leaned close. “Don’t say anything to Jason since it didn’t involve him.” Madeline had seen the spark in Maude’s eyes when she mentioned that love and now the egg represented Maude’s happiness from a long time ago. A happiness that didn’t seem to translate to now as she faced Jason’s Alzheimer’s and his need to move to an assisted living facility.
The second object was a silver-plated bowl filled with fruit made of smooth stone. There was a bunch of grapes, a slice of watermelon, a pear, an apple and two other pear-shaped pieces that didn’t approximate any fruit that Madeline knew. Still, the fruit was so beautifully colored and the texture so smooth, she could hardly resist touching it every single day on the job. She had touched that fruit on the day that she started college, on the day her father left her mother for a girl who was 5 years older than herself, and the day that Jason had wandered out of the store for the first time and Maude started realizing that something terrible was going on with his mind.
That fruit held memories and secrets for Madeline. Like the time she’d sat for a full hour just cradling that bunch of grapes as she accepted that her dad truly wasn’t coming back and her mother was going to have to cry possibly for a long time before she got her feet back on the ground after such a betrayal. Somehow those grapes – each so perfect and smooth – had soothed the ache in her own heart at the sadness that had enveloped her home. Her dad was now living in an apartment, the girl was long gone, and her mother was seeing a dentist socially. Still, the grapes, the watermelon and the rest of the fruit remained the same day after day, no matter how many times a person might pick them up and feel their weight. Yes, they remained consistent even with the closing of the store and Madeline’s leaving as well to go off to graduate school in art in another city on the far end of the state.
The third object was a matched pair of Chinese iron horses that were a foot tall and four inches wide. They each weighed 20 pound each. They had saddles on them and the horses were standing still, as if waiting for riders. Madeline often imagined herself shrinking in size to fit on one of the horse’s backs, and riding off to parts unknown with perhaps the extra horse coming along just in case they found someone who wanted to join them along the way. So far, there wasn’t anybody in Madeline’s life she could think of that she would want to come along except perhaps for Maude, who could surely use a short pleasure trip after all her time and trouble with Jason. They could ride the horses down to a pretty river and sit in the shade of a weeping willow and watch the green water as it flowed by. Yes, this would be good for both of them since Madeline was also feeling sad about leaving this old couple and their shop filled with memories.
Madeline was just filling a box with these three treasures – her treasures – when Maude arrived with Jason tagging behind. Jason’s eyes lighted up when he saw Madeline and he held out both arms for a big hug. Madeline knew this was one of the biggest things she would miss about the Fredericks, this open-armed love that they offered. She stopped her packing and went over and gave Jason a hug back, which produced the same response that it had for years now. “Aw, such a fine young woman. We are so lucky to have you here.”
Maude poked around the almost full box and then lifted her eyes to Madeline. “These will be going straight to Jason’s room at the facility, you know. They are his favorite things we have in the shop.”
“Really? Even the egg?”
Maude smiled. “Jason has always thought the egg was something he gave me when we were first dating. I’ve never told him the truth, as you might imagine.”
The two women laughed, enjoying the secret they shared.
“I hope you’ll take something from the shop to remember us by, “ Maude said. “Is there something that means something special to you?”
Madeline knew she could never ask for the three objects that she loved the most, but she did have one more idea. “This,” she said, pointing to a simple frame which held a picture of Maude and Jason when they were young. “Would this be too personal?”
Maude’s eyes filled with tears. “You are such an unselfish girl, my dear. Let me give you something I know you really want.”
She reached into the box and pulled out one of the two horses. “How about you take one of these and we keep one? That way, we can think of you and you can think of us.”
Madeline nodded, unable to speak. She wasn’t quite sure how she was going to make it without Maude and Jason. They had, after all, become the most stable adults in her life, even with Jason’s Alzheimer’s. “Thank you,” she finally managed.
“Don’t mention it,” Maude said, as she reached for paper and began wrapping the horse. “You have so many adventures ahead of you and, apparently, we have a few remaining, as well. This is the least we can do for you.”
Fifteen years later, Madeline, now married with two children of her own, received a letter in the mail. It was official looking from Terence C. Howard, Attorney at Law. She nervously opened it, fearing the fender bender she had been involved in the week before was bringing an unexpected lawsuit. Instead, the letter recounted that boxes would be arriving from the estate of Maude Fredericks, who had died one month before in a far-away state. Though she and Maude had exchanged Christmas cards over the years, Madeline hadn’t visited since Maude had gone to live in a distant state with her sister after Jason passed away. This was the first official word Madeline had gotten regarding Maude for at least five years.
The next day, two FedEx boxes arrived on Madeline’s doorstep. She lugged them into the house and, after finding scissors, she cut through all the tape. Inside one, she found the other iron horse. She smiled. Of course, Maude would want the pair to be reunited. The other box held the silver bowl with the fruit and the egg. What a great surprise. A letter in Maude’s handwriting was enclosed.
Please know that I have looked at that horse every day and thought of you. I hope you will enjoy having the pair back together and will think of us from time to time.
Just for your information, the horses have grown in value over the years. If you look them up on eBay, you will be pleasantly surprised. Feel free to sell them if you prefer.
As for the fruit and the egg, they are simply sentimental favorites. Enjoy or give away, as you wish.
Madeline immediately placed the horses on either side of her mantle, the egg on her buffet and the fruit on the table in her living room. None of these treasures were going anywhere. They contained memories of by-gone days that were now very precious indeed.
She walked into her bedroom and looked at the photograph of Maude and Jason that sat on her dresser alongside a photo of her dad with his wife of 10 years and her mother and her dentist husband. They had all become her family over the years, most especially Maude and Jason.
Madeline went back into the living room and ran her fingers over the fruit. All those memories of that painful period came flooding back, but now with the awareness that time had righted so much of what was wrong.
She picked up the egg, felt its smoothness in her hand and thought of Maude’s bright eyes when she had spoken of young love. Madeline had learned in her own time how sweet those memories could be to savor.
Finally, she sat down on the couch and looked at the two horses, now reunited. She wished Maude were there for that imagined trek to the river, but then realized that Maude had already made her journey to a place where comfort awaited. She and Jason, like the horses, were now back together.
Madeline leaned back, sighed and was happy. She was glad to imagine those two on their next adventure, wherever it might take them. That was just as it should be, now and forever.