Julia leaned against the doorframe, staring at what should have been the carpeted floor of her apartment, but, as it was covered in numerous boxes, the floor itself was hidden. Each box seemed halfheartedly put together, each bursting at its creases with yellow-paged books, dusty photographs in tarnished picture frames, unraveling patches, and copious amounts of souvenirs. Others contained out-of-style men’s clothing that smelled of moth balls and stale detergent.
The boxes were not the only things taking up space in Julia’s small living space. The coffee table was weighed down by several casserole dishes covered in aluminum foil, a couple plates of chocolate chip cookies, gallon jugs of store bought iced tea, and stacks of condolence cards.
Julia shook her head and turned from the room towards the open window and sat in a small folding chair. She sat like this, unblinking and straight-backed, for half an hour, though it seemed much longer, until a small white Ford pulled into the parking lot. The engine died slowly, sputtering and lurching to a stop before Sammy stepped out. He stuffed the keys into his suit pocket and ambled to the door of the Julia’s apartment.
She heaved the door open before he knocked and invited him in. They made their way into the living room and Sammy glanced at the coffee table.
“Why do people give you food when someone dies?” He shrugged off his coat. “It’s like, ‘I’m so sorry for your loss, here’s a pie’. It doesn’t make any sense.”
“They do what they can, is all.” Julia crossed her arms over her chest and sighed.
“Well it’s a bunch of bullshit.” Sammy slumped himself on the couch, leaned forward and snatched a cookie off of one of the plates. “It’s not like it helps much. Give me some whiskey; that would at least let me have some fun.”
Julia sighed again. She picked up a cookie of her own and attempted to take a bite. It was too hard. “Father would have liked that,” she smiled. “Though he would have preferred scotch.” Sammy snorted.
“Jules, why did he have to go? Dad seemed so… I dunno. Full of life?” Sammy swept the crumbs onto the floor. “I know Mom was waitin’ for him and all, but still, it kinda sucks, ya know?”
She shrugged. “I just don’t know what to do about all of his stuff…” She nudged one of the boxes with her foot.
“What didja’ do with all of Mom’s stuff?”
“Dad took care of most of it. He gave me some of the nicer jewelry and Mom’s old fur coat.”
Sammy snorted. “You mean the one she bought online ‘just because’?”
She smiled. “Yeah. That one.”
He leaned forward and stuck his hand into one of the boxes, emerging with a faux leather covered photo album. “I guess we just go through it all and see what we want to keep?”
“And send the rest to Goodwill or something?” Julia moved to sit next to her brother.
“Yup. Though we might have to dump the things other people wouldn’t want.” He tossed the album back into its box.
Julia frowned at him. “You mean like these pictures?”
He shrugged. “Sure.”
“Well, if you don’t want them, I’ll take them. They are memories.” She reached over and retrieved the album, sitting it on her lap and delicately leafing through the pages.
“Whatever. What I’m really looking for is Dad’s old pocket watch. Silver-plated with a little silver chain. That thing could rake in some big bucks.” He plunged his hand into one of the boxes.
“Seriously, Sammy?” Julia looked at him disappointedly. “Are you planning on pawning Dad’s coin collection too?”
He shrugged. “If I can find it.”
She rolled her eyes and continued flipping through the photo album, feeling the slick pages crinkle between her fingers. There was a picture of her parents, laughing jovially at what seemed to be a Christmas party. Their cheeks were tinged the color of the rosé they were sipping. Another photo depicted a happy couple and a new, fat baby girl. Julia smiled at her younger family.
Sammy, meanwhile had spread the contents of the box nearest to him across the small free space of the floor. He had found the pocket watch, a few tie clips, some cuff links, and a few other expensive trinkets. He dumped the remaining letters, books, and folders back into the box and moved on, hoping to find that coin collection.
The two of them went on like this for a while, Julia picking through memories and Sammy picking through pockets, before thirst overcame them both. Sammy reached for one of the gallons of sweet tea but a reproachful look from Julia forced him to stand and walk to the kitchen in search of a cup. He tried a few cabinets before he found the glasses but on his way back to the couch, he passed by a small wooden box sitting on the edge of the kitchen counter. He stopped.
“Hey, Jules. Why isn’t this in a box?”
“Oh. Because I saw it already and wanted it.”
Sammy put the glasses on the counter and picked up the box. It was light, made of lightly stained butternut wood. Its top was carved, albeit a little sloppily, by an unpracticed hand with the incorrect tools. The etching of a sun seemed burned into his memory. The hinges on the side gave the box a bit of sophistication that it would have otherwise lacked, but upon inspection, the box itself was empty.
Once, this had been a project of his. Well, his father, sister and his. They had worked for about three weeks cutting the wood, carving the sun, staining it, covering it with polyurethane and finally screwing the hinges into the wood. He had long forgotten why they had made it, but here it was, decades later.
“Why do you get to have it?” Sammy forgot the glasses on the counter in favor of the box, carrying it over to the couch. “We both made it with him.”
Julia shrugged. “I assumed you would be too caught up in the food and the more valuable objects of his. I didn’t think it would mean much to you.”
He paused for a moment. “Well, it does, okay? I did the carving by myself. And it cut up my hands. Do you remember that?”
“Yeah. I do. But you kept on carving.” Julia glanced at the box. Her eyes softened. “If you actually want it, it’s yours.”
Sammy locked eyes with her, his mind racing. Why did it matter so much? It was just a stupid box. He looked down at it. But it was a labor of love. And it was something special. He had made it with the people he loved. It held memories.
“I mean, I dunno what I’d put in it.”
Julia smiled. “Well, you have some things here that you could look through.” She gestured around her at the cardboard boxes. Sammy laughed. He sat down on the couch, holding the wooden box carefully.
“Pass me some of those photo albums. Maybe there’s something in there.”
“No way. Not until you go grab our glasses,” She laughed.