Finally, Mary could just sit with her usual exhaustion in silence. The girls had quieted. Outside, evening traffic slowed and accelerated at a stop sign one floor down. She glanced around the barren room – no memories there. It wasn't always this way, she remembered: A young new wife/an ambitious enlisted man – an evening on the couch meant passion not loneliness. That had died long ago. But the marriage lingered until one day he just didn't return - leaving her and their 3 girls displaced from family, friends and belongings in this god–forsaken dump. Today, just an hour’s drive up the hill, the storage bin filled with her family’s possessions had been auctioned off. Some lucky buyer could sell her diamond and gold band. She would have sold them, too. The girls needed exams – more expensive glasses. She’d hold out. Her vision was practically worthless anyway.
Al stared at the wall of boxes within the U-haul to unload. Maybe he should never have bid on that storage bin. Auctions like this are such hit or miss ... sometimes the obvious turns huge profit or maybe a little gem in the bottom of a box saves the day. For now he feared the worst. He took one last gasp then labored without stop ‘till dusk. Finally the pathetic looking bounty stood organized awaiting processing. Kid’s things just didn't sell; the furniture was well worn and the general quality of things seemed pretty lacking. Boxes had been quickly packed and labeled. The Jack Daniels was marked dishes; the Inglenook box marked bathroom; the Revlon marked J glasses ... Enough of this for today. He grabbed a box marked Papers and Family Photos; fixed a drink and settled down on his couch with the contents. An evening with family in his otherwise lonely life.
Mary had never known her real parents. She had been adopted at birth by a loving childless older couple of modest means. They grew rich as a family, though – together, around the hearth, evenings on the couch talking and reading - Mary’s books pressed to her glasses. The world outside was far different and she fell for the first boy that stood by and protected her. They married young; had their children; made a senseless move then Ray escaped overseas. Not fond memories at all. In a way she was glad to be parted from her things. She had saved just a picture of her departed parents – an image of family that her daughters, unfortunately, just didn't have anymore. She laid her heavy eyeglasses in her lap and wept into her hands.
Al put the contents back in the box except for the 400 dollars that had been buried within. Early the next morning he began opening boxes and processing the contents. Most of it could be heaped in the corner destined for the dump. He reached for the box marked J glasses. He cut the tape and pulled back the flaps. Therein contained a half dozen small eyeglass cases. He opened one case and lifted out a child’s pair with thick lenses. By noon his loot lay before him: a worn table and chairs, a rich collection of books, 4 small boxes of unusual eyeglasses and two lucky finds: an old diamond ring and a gold wedding band. He’d come out way ahead on this bin. At lunch, though, he just starred at his sandwich: why shouldn't he feel he had a right to this stuff? That afternoon he packed the U haul. Without another thought he added to the near full load his new findings; padlocked the cargo door and called it a day. He’d be awake at 4 am for the hour drive down the hill to the weekend swap meet.
Mary looked forward to Saturdays. She didn't have to coax the girls out of bed; walk the two older girls to elementary school then take June on with her to her part–time job sorting books at the antiquarian shop. The girls liked this day, too. They were eager to get up and help their mom clean the house because at 10 they’d all walk to the swap meet always to return with a doll, a treat or something. Around 9, as the vacuum wailed in the girls’ bedroom, came a knock at the front door. Robin and Michelle raced to open it. Their neighbor Pat, who they called Auntie, usually arrived about that time to join them on the walk to the sale.
Al looked down at the two little bespectacled faces in the doorway. This certainly was the place. He took a step back and asked if their mommy was home. Robin returned with her mom.
"Girls, get away from the door." Mary peered through the chain at the standing figure.
"Mam, I bought your storage bin." Al couldn't make out her eyes behind the shimmer of thick glasses.
"I thought there may be some things you would want back."
"How did you get our address?" she queried.
Al explained that this morning he had called his friend who managed the storage units and told him what he wanted to do. He had turned a blind eye to policy and had given Al the address.
"It seemed like the right thing to do".
The security chain dropped; the door swung open and Al entered.
Al was feeling a bit like Santa unloading the U haul sleigh. Opened boxes were strewn about the room. Each girl was trying on the thick glasses of the next eldest. Michelle was in her mom’s box of glasses and lifted a pair of myodiscs to her eyes . Mary sat with Al on the couch. She felt the heirloom ring on her finger then opened the taped box marked Papers and Family Photos.
Al listened and watched with interest as she picked through the box and reminisced about her childhood . The 400 dollars she’d apply to new glasses for herself. Al would make sure that the wait wasn't long.
"Oh, I almost forgot".
He reached in his shirt pocket and handed her the gold band. She looked down at it for some time fingering around the inner edge. Then she looked at Al.
He recalled the inscription – ‘With this ring I pledge my love’.