Her picture was face down. Locked away inside the drawer, shoved to the back, it collected dust and pleaded to not be forgotten. The edges of the photo itself were yellowed with age and, as a consequence of neglect, the faces were starting to fade along with the background. The small portrait of unrecognizable people were stuck next to an ancient cigar case and worn, brown horn-rimmed glasses that were just slightly banking to the left to fit the shape of a face. Just like the smiles no longer visible from the long forgotten day of joyful life, these objects were never to be seen by the weary eyes that used to gaze over each of them every morning.
The man had habitually picked up the cigar case first. He would open the tarnished silver container to reveal unsmoked Diamond Crown cigars, now more than decades past their prime. He would run his fingers down each and every one, not out of longing to light them, but rather to feel the tobacco shift inside the decaying wraps. Though he had smoked like a 'proper’ man should, he had left the hobby behind after being introduced to his dear friend Agent Orange and its delayed unforeseen effects nearly four decades later. He never knew health after that as it compromised his immune system thus causing his liver to fail.
Hills were the only part of his deployment that made him feel at home. They anchored him to life, preventing hope from vanishing entirely even as flames rose around him. The man held onto the fleeting flashes of childhood that allowed him to get through the day in this distant land. Upon returning home, those pleasant memories were replaced with the distant pattering of guns and the daily chaos he had endured. But those stunning hills that rolled with the horizon would stay with him until the grave. It was in this foreign rural region that he truly found himself, a man of loyalty. Of honesty.
Thoughts of his time in that country unifying with the excessive sentimentality of the silver case would transport him back to running around mischievously as a teenager. When he was bored, he always had begun his day by dragging a visually-impaired kid outside and refusing to let his partner fall behind, all while his father smoked from the porch and gazed after him, stolid. The smell of Diamond Crown cigars embedded itself into the fabrics within the home, reminding the residents of his father even after the working man had gone to work. Everything around the children was still redolent of the Diamond Crown’s aroma, which always evoked the sense of their father’s persistent presence. Even as a boy, he had always enjoyed the scent.
After taking a deep inhale with his nose pressed up against the thin barrier between tobacco and his lungs, overwhelming his senses with euphoria and sickly sweet scent, the man would close up the silver case meticulously slowly. Then he would lay it down with a shaking hand back into the drawer. Fumbling around a bit until the tips of his fingers would brush against the plastic of the glasses’ frame.
With great effort, the man would extend his arm as fully as he could. Though the prescription was long since expired and worthless, the man would place them on the bridge of his nose and tilt his head slightly to try and match their slant. The bright blue eyes that peered out from behind the thick glass were unnatural and out of place. There was a pause, almost as if he was intruding into the depths of another’s soul. He saw through the eyes of another, allowing him to perceive the world in a fresh and unadulterated light. Once the spectacles left his face and rested in his hands, where they would stay for at least twenty more minutes, the man would feel a melancholic relief. His bright blue eyes did not fill with tears but rather a silent reminiscence. Faint fragrances of pine trees, childish laughter, and the distant ring of hammer on nail plagued the man’s senses as he clung desperately to the glasses, which now failed to keep his mind rooted in the present.
Years ago, the thick plastic frames were on a young boy, clinging for life as they romped around the neighborhood. Brothers both by blood and choice, the boys were adventuring without fail day in and day out. Both of them were seeking either the next escapade or recruiting their various companions to join them on a glorious quest, which none of them recognized at the start, but rather discovered on the journey. Whether it was skipping rocks across the pond or trekking through the woods to find a decent foundation for a grand tree house, the two were always together, despite the influence of weather and season. These two peas of the same pod labored without rest until night fell and they had to return to their home and continue the exhilarating endeavor in the morning. Every summer was spent transferring two by fours and plywood into the forest, borrowing power tools from their father without asking, and constructing a poorly planned house that would never support any weight. The pair worked flawlessly together, even though their age prevented their projects from truly functioning. It was never used.
Left hanging in those woods to decay and be ravished by time until only the shell remained, the treehouse eventually returned to the earth and became the plants. Its architects would follow after it. The treehouse would have one of its ebony walls dismantled by the teenage boy, now a young man, that constructed it to create one last project in honor of his partner, whom he hadn’t seen in years.
A private smile would crack through the man’s resolute countenance. After he would lay the plastic spectacles back into the deep crevices of the refined ebony wood drawer, he tended to allow a tear or two to roll down his wrinkled cheek. Carved from the repetition of the tear, they followed a crevice leading from his eyes to the bottom of his chin, hovering above the drawer of sentiments, only to be wiped away prior to falling. Ever since the man made the drawer, he felt like he reconciled with the spectacled child, even though that was an impossibility. The glasses within the drawer were a reminder of the permanent bed made of deep, dark wood that finally allowed his brother to rest. Religiously he would twist the too small ring on his left pinky finger, as an attempt to calm down.
The man had the ring from highschool. Though the town was a miniature extension of a larger city, the classes were practically empty, with fifteen students on average attending. Although it was an intimate environment, he never reached out to anyone. It wasn’t until after the spectacled child he spent his afternoons with introduced him to her that he realized they were in the same grade and shared most classes. Unbeknownst to the brothers, the introduction would be the end of their youthful camaraderie. From that moment onward, he would be focused on her, leaving his brother much like they left the treehouse. He had been the one to grow away, allowing his visually-impaired brother to live a solitary life.
That apprehension of guilt was overwhelming. There was nothing the man could do to prevent his solemn face to contort as he would begin to openly sob. Like clockwork, the salty product of his sorrow would fall onto the rear of her photo. After years of this process, the words on the back were distorted and warped by the drops that fell from the man’s eyes. The man would recite what was once written on the back of the portrait. ‘Like the summer, your passion burns hot. Like the winter, you are cool and intimate. Like the spring, you brighten up the world around you.’ He always paused there, struggling with how to say the final line, then closed his eyes and took a deep breath. ‘Like the fall, you possess a transfixing beauty that has captured my heart and soul’. Blue ink, now just incomprehensible blotches, no one else would ever understand how much this worn photograph and single poetry stanza meant to him. Though she was gone, he never emptied her belongings from the wardrobe’s drawers.
As the photo of her was turned to face up toward him, it fought to stay together against the relentless assault of time. Just like the hands that held it, there was not much time left before its demise. He knew it. He locked eyes with the two white blotches where hers would be and sat unmoving, crying without making any sound and a smile etched into his lips that screamed of both loneliness and contentment. The man trailed his finger across the arm that was still barely visible, whispered words meant only for the two of them. That final gaze had been one of acceptance when he let the faded photo flutter back to the corner of the darkened drawer. After he closed the wooden structure, the objects wouldn’t see the light of day for what seemed like eternity. No daily check ins, no memories to be retrieved. Only the fate of disintegration and pointlessness remained. The trio of memorabilia’s host had forever vanished.
Outside, the world moved on. No difference was to occur. Until finally there was a disturbance. Shuffling and aggravated mumbling, items toppling from shelves, and the sound of plastic rippling as books or clothes were thrown in without any care. After a slight click, there was light. An exclamation of surprise was all that escaped the lips that now hovered over the scraps left behind. A new but familiar face, one yet to be stained by time, that was now beholding the private prized possessions of the other man. Even still, it held the same fascination and understanding.
The glasses were the first thing he was drawn to, turning them over with a confused expression on his face before a peculiar understanding occurred to him. With a sudden realization he placed them gently onto the top of the night stand, next to a picture of a close-knit family. An older, tired-looking man with a cigar in his left hand, who had his arms around two boys, was able to be seen with a twinkle in his eye and a slight hint of pride. The young men were clinging to a two-by-four, effort etched into their features. A teenager next to a kid that could have been no older than nine were struggling to hoist the ebony block together forever within the confines of the golden frame. The older one had a hammer in his white-knuckled grip, he must have taken it from his father’s grasp. The photo was taken seconds before they would allow the block of wood to tumble.
Only the dust around the rest of the bed table revealed how long the framed family photo had been hidden from sight. The younger man’s eyes ended up traveling back to the night stand’s drawer. He chuckled and picked up her photo. Shaking his head, the image held his attention longer than the glasses did. Taking out his shabby leather wallet, the man removed his license and put it in with his debit cards. He then slid the photo into the license’s original place as carefully as possible to not damage the faded edges more than they already were. Holding back tears, the young man ran his finger along the arm that was still visible, only to slowly close the brown pouch to hide it from view once more. As the younger man got up to leave, a glint in the light caught his attention. The final object had been pushed to the very rear of the drawer, out of sight except for the single stray ray of light that reflected its tarnished state.
Without any effort, the younger man picked up the silver cigar case, exactly like it’s previous beholder. The newcomer called out to someone in another room as he slid off the lid with caution to gaze at the six worn rolls. Bringing them up to his nose, the young man took a quick inhale, closing his eyes while doing so. A woman entered the room, asking what he needed. With bright blue eyes, the man looked at her with a bitter sweet grin.
“It smells just like my childhood home.”
Oh, no, I definitely prefer the other one too. This was a challenge to improve my writing skills, so it isn't really supposed to be amazing. I made it as readable as I could though cx
That, and also it was always meant to be for realistic fiction- which is so not my normal genre.