“Do you think he can hear us, Grandma?”
“Only God knows child. Sometimes I wonder if he even knows we’re here.”
Two masks leer down at me with muffled noise squeezing its way between painted lips. Pressing in on me. One old … one young. Both heaping their question marks on me. I pray they will leave me soon so I can return to my safe place. At last; the masks are gone and all is quiet again.
“Such a shame.”
“Do you think he remembers what happened?”
“The doctors say he doesn’t. Sometimes I wonder if that isn’t all he remembers.”
The masks are gone again, leaving their question marks behind. I pick them up and store them in my box. My box of question marks.
“When do you want to come back?”
“I don’t know. Sometimes, it’s more than I can stand. He doesn’t even know we were there.”
“I guess. Still, I feel guilty not coming more than we do. It wasn’t his fault your mom died.”
“I know that but does he?”
My world has turned to stone. Unmoved by the void in my soul that spirals ever deeper with each coming and going of the masks. What can save me from this darkness? Perhaps my box of question marks. Perhaps.
“Well, another year another visit.”
“I started to come a couple of times by myself but couldn’t bring myself to.”
“You want to go first?”
“Sure … Dad … It’s Angie. Grandma and I are here for your birthday. Aren’t the flowers and balloons pretty everyone sent? Dad?”
“Son … It’s your mother. Please come back to us son. I love you son.”
The two masks have changed. One older .. one not young anymore. Go away. You remind me of the unthinkable thing I keep hidden at the bottom of my box, buried beneath my precious question marks. Please leave me. Perhaps one day, I will find a way to answer you. Perhaps … but certainly not today.
“Time to go Angie.”
Finally they are gone. No one to try and steal my beloved question marks. No more buzzing in my ears with nonsense about letting go and moving on. No one to interfere with what must be. Trying to make me feel again. As though anything has mattered since that day. As though I can feel. As though I care to.
“I can’t come back.”
“I understand child.”
“It would be different if he understood anything, if he could feel anything.”
“The doctors say he passed that point a long time ago. Catatonic they called it. When your mother died something broke inside your father. I don’t even know if he realizes she’s gone. Maybe the doctor’s are right. Perhaps he doesn’t feel anything at all.”
The masks are gone. Come back; I was wrong. Too late! So I sit with my granite face: hard, cool, impenetrable. Alone with my box, my question marks, and what lies beneath them. They didn’t get my precious box. At least I have my …
Rose Mary, the nurse’s aide, found Mr. Williams where she always did. He sat in a metal chair facing the wall. In his lap was his ever present cigar box. His eyes stared straight ahead. Unmoving. She wondered what he kept in that box. A doctor had tried once to open it and nearly lost his head for the trouble.
She patted the hunched-backed man on the shoulder and started to walk away. Something caught her attention so she leaned over him. A single tear trailed down the man’s face. She leaned closer and placed two fingers on the side of his neck. Only then did Rose Mary realize the box was open. All that lay inside was a small photograph of a beautiful young woman.
Rose Mary took the picture from the box and turned it over. A simple note written in a fine feminine hand read; I forgive you, now please forgive me. Shed what tears you must and move one.
The aide laid the photo back in the box, closed the lid, and then Mr. William’s eyes. Eyes that reflected a heart that had died long ago. Perhaps now he could finally move on. Perhaps.
For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death.
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