Short Story: How Do You Measure a Life?

How do you measure a life? Is it worth its weight of material goods collected over the years? Is it measured by the amount of pleasure you felt or good deeds you performed? Annabell contemplated these questions as her frailĀ old body began to break down. She knew the end was near and began to reflect on her life.

She had lived a long life. Long enough to watch the patina form on her grandmother’s silver candlesticks that was given to her upon her grandmother’s passing. As a child, she took pleasure in helping her grandmother polish all of her silver. But as the years pressed on, her priorities began to change.

Annabell met Lester at the age of 19 when she was still helping on her father’s farm. Her mother had come from a wealthy family, but she chose to marry for love. This fact was one that tore a hole in the fabric of her family. That showed in her grandmother’s will when her mother was all but forgotten.

Lester was a traveling salesman who just happened to stop at her family’s farm in search of someone to buy his wears. He was prepared with the usual speech, catalog, and samples. When Annabell opened the door, Lester was so struck by her natural beauty that he had completely forgotten the words that he always used to try to persuade someone into buying his overpriced and weak in quality merchandise.

It took all of thirty seconds for him to realize that everything he had valued in life was now worthless as he looked upon Annabell’s fair face. She smiled at him and his whole body felt weak. He did not even hear her ask him why he was there or the fact that she figured it out herself when she pulled the catalog out of his hand and began to thumb through the pages.

After getting up the nerve to begin talking, they stood there for over an hour discussing everything and anything except what he had come to sell. Although he did not sell a single item that day, he got something even better, her acceptance for a first date. That date was the beginning of a very long relationship. They married the next spring and had five healthy children.

Annabell thought of all of the many happy memories. From birthdays to anniversaries to vacations to the Grand Canyon. She could not remember a time when she felt like she wasn’t lucky to have the life she was leading. She had married a man who worked hard for their family and gave her everything she could have ever wanted. After marrying, Lester had been promoted to a managers position which meant longer hours and more travel. This seemed slightly strange since he was already a traveling salesman, but now he had to travel further and for longer periods.

Her head was so filled with memories. That was the one thing that life had not taken away from her. When arthritis had taken away her ability to move with ease and her hair had lost all of its beautiful color, she still had her memories. As she looked back upon her life, she tried to focus on all of the most treasured memories. Like the time she threw a birthday party for her eldest son, Marcus. She closed her eyes and could see the astronaut decorations, the spaceship cake, and all of the children running around screaming for joy. She could normally see it so clearly, but the details were beginning to fade. This began to worry Annabell. She did not want her mind to deteriorate before her body.

She raised her worn out body off of her bed and slowly made the long trek to the other side of the room where she stored her many photo albums. She found what she was looking for very quickly. This pleased her to know that her mind wasn’t fading as fast as she had feared moments before. Sitting down in the chair closest to her, she opened the photo album and found the photos from her memory.

She smiled as she looked at each photo, scanning it to preserve more details in her memory. She noticed things that she had forgotten, like the fact that her youngest daughter Susie was still in diapers or that her middle child Franklin was trying to sneak cake before they sang happy birthday to Marcus. The photo of Franklin standing next to dessert table with a devilish look on his face as his hand was reaching towards the cake made Annabell chuckle a little. The only person in the photo who seemed to be noticing what Franklin was doing was a young woman wearing a red and white polka dot dress standing behind the table. For the life of her, Annabell could not remember who this woman was.

She continued to go down memory lane as she looked through that photo album and many more on the shelf. That is when she began to notice that same woman in many photos. How could this woman be apart of so many important moments in her life and yet she did not know who she was?

Her hands could not take any more. She had pushed past the pain several albums before but by this point, she knew she was losing the ability to hold on. She left the albums where they were and began to drag her fragile body back to the comfort of her bed. She took with her the photo of Franklin trying to touch the birthday cake. By this point, Lester had come home. He was only a few years older, but life had been a lot more kind to his body. He sat next to the bed in an old armchair.

He leaned over and kissed her forehead like he did many times before. Annabell knew that her body was beginning to give out and that it was only a matter of time before she would see her grandmother again. She felt like her life was well lived, but it still bothered her that she could not remember who that woman was.

She spoke slowly for the more energy she used the more she felt that her end was near.”I looked through our old photo albums today.”

“Oh, you did? And what did you see?” Lester asked gently holding her hand.

“I saw a woman that I cannot remember. I always thought my memory was the strongest thing about me, but I just don’t know why this woman is in so many photos but I cannot remember her.” She handed him the photo in hopes that he could help jog her memory.

Lester stared at the photo for a long time without saying anything. This began to worry Annabell. Maybe he too did not know who this mysterious woman was.

Finally, he spoke as slowly as she had. “You were never supposed to know.”

Annabell’s face contorted to show her confusion. She had no idea what he was trying to say.

“I know that you won’t let this go until you know the truth,” he said without taking his eyes off the photograph.

“Know what?” was all that she could get out.

“Know the truth about her…” he trailed off lost in thought.

Annabell had never seen that expression on Lester’s face before. He looked lost and scared. This only brought fear to her old heart which she felt could not take anything more than a regular heartbeat.

“She wasn’t supposed to come. I always told her that she was risking being found out, but she always wanted to be there. She wanted to be apart of the important moments. She wanted to see you as well.” Lester had a tear forming in his left eye that was beginning to fall.

Annabell had never seen Lester cry. She had lived such a busy life that she was shocked that she had never realized that fact until that very moment. This only brought more anxiety. Her heart was pounding which brought great pain to her chest. She knew that she had to calm down or the end would be closer than she had thought. Out of fear, she said nothing and waited for Lester to confess more in the silence. She felt if she opened her mouth, he would no longer let out the information that he had apparently been keeping from her for so long.

He spoke again with a choking sound in his throat, “She loved me and I loved her, but I refused to lose my family.”

Now his chilling words seemed less like he was talking to his dying wife and more of a confession to a priest.

“It started out as a way to have fun on my long business trips since she was working for the same airline and was usually on the same flights. Then it progressed to so much more. I never expected it to happen. I never wanted anyone to know the truth. So, I lived two lives. One with my family and one with her. But it wasn’t enough for her, so she started coming to the parties when she was in town. I was terrified that someone would figure it out. This went on until her tragic death on a flight that I missed due to my appendectomy…”

His eyes were now filled with tears and Annabell could hear his heart beating right out of his chest. He was matching the rhythm of her own struggling heart.

He finally looked up at her with the saddest eyes she had ever seen. “I thought I would take this to the grave, but once you noticed her I knew I could no longer hold onto this secret.”

Annabell closed her eyes and thought back to her life. The life that she had always thought was a happy one. She thought back to how you measure a life and if the weight of this new knowledge would tip the scales. She realized that even with all of this it did not change the fact that she lived eighty years feeling extremely happy. One moment was not going to take that away from her.

So, with her last dying breath, she opened her mouth and softly said, “I forgive you.” Then she closed her eyes for the last time and joined her grandmother to polish the silver once again with hands fear of pain.

via Daily Prompt: Patina

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