Only one box remained to carry down from the attic. Finally, Janus could move on with his life. With Mai long gone, he’d had plenty of time to think about all that went wrong.
“We’d better hurry, it’s getting dark,” the driver shouted from inside the cab.
Giving himself one final boost atop the ladder, Janus could see the lone box across the attic floor, sitting amongst the cobwebs. It was lit by a flue of blue dust traveling through a small crack in the north walls’ wood paneling. In spite of the unbearable heat, his tired joints, and the honking horn outside, Janus slowly straddled across the floor joists, careful not to put his foot through the exposed floorboard (the last thing he needed was the burden of repairs in the midst of a sale).
When he reached the far end of the room, he looked up, mindful of the low hanging rafters. The box was no longer where he thought it was. It had moved to the south end of the attic. Bewildered, Janus used his sleeve to wipe the sweat from his brow, then he looked forward and then again behind him.
“Just like Mai,” he said.
He could sense the cab driver’s impatience, but nothing could preclude Janus from retrieving this box. To strangers, it may be nothing more than a battered carton of abandoned relics, like those found in flea markets or garage sales. But to Janus, it housed a lifetime of treasured memories: shiny trinkets curled into hieroglyphic patterns reminded him of their travels to the other side of the world.
“How beautiful!” Mai once said, holding a delicate chain of silver made by the hands of children who twisted, fired and buffed the alloy using primitive tools. “I must have it.”
Countless moments such as these were captured in albums bursting with faded photographs. Even those occasions that were not quite forgotten but stored in the deep recesses of the mind, waiting to reappear at one’s loneliest hours, were buried here.
There was a neatly folded turquoise scarf with flecks of gold (just one of the many gifts they had exchanged during their courtship); a pair of tickets for a ferry ride taken the night of his proposal; Mai’s diaries and Janus’ sketchbooks, an archive of recorded trips to the zoo, hikes in the wilderness, and drives up the coast. Often, they played a game in which Mai would begin a poem in her journal and Janus would complete it with a pencil drawing in his. To anyone else, each book would appear to be nothing more than random, incomplete thoughts. Janus and Mai knew otherwise.
He didn’t know exactly how many diaries Mai had altogether, but one thing he did know for certain was she had one of them in her possession during her final days. It too disappeared without a trace. He recalled last seeing it laying on the bed by her side, looking just as worn, bowed, and helpless as she did.
At least she spent it here.
How much she adored this house, with it’s storybook pitched roof, bright bay windows and arched doorway; they knew it was theirs, from the moment they drove up its cobblestone driveway to the moment they made the offer.
“It’s lovely, Janus. This will be our home forever!”
By now the attic was so hot the dripping sweat and mournful tears were indistinguishable. His sodden sleeve proved as useless as the search for his missing wife the night she left him behind. That box was all that kept her close to him.
Janus gathered himself and turned toward it. He reached for the beam above his head with his fingertips and inched forward.
With the sunlight fading it was difficult to discern exactly where it was safe to step, so Janus took his time, occasionally looking in the direction of the box to ensure that his eyes had not deceived him. A startling horn blared from outside, causing him to lose his balance. Janus grabbed onto one of the aged rafters, splitting its spine down the middle, causing it to collapse onto his shoulder. Not since that fateful evening when he stepped away from Mai’s bedside had he experienced so much pain.
“I’ll be right back. I’m going to put on a pot of tea,” he said. When he returned, she was gone. The bed, with its pristine sheets was perfectly tended. Only the faint scent of his beloved remained on one of the pillows.
Over the next few months other cases of people vanishing in the same manner befell the community. Some from their homes, others from the town hospital. All of them terminally ill. Most alarming was that no one had any answers. To this day, the disappearances have remained unsolved. The result was a suburb in delirium. In a span of two years the once vibrant town had become little more than an abandoned settlement. With its barren streets and vacant buildings, the looted development stood frozen with hollow eyes and an expression of horror.
The final bit of light now extinguished, Janus heard the distant sound of a starting motor and the cab driving off.
Stooped in complete darkness, he labored back to his feet with one hand over his shoulder. He waited for his eyes to adjust before using his foot to feel for the floor joist. When he found it, he tapped it twice with the toe of his shoe before setting it down. When he swung his other leg over, he kicked over the box, which was now directly beneath him. The box burst open releasing its contents as Janus fell hard impaling his palm on a stray nail.
He cried out in pain as the items swirled around him. The air was a cacophony of celestial bodies colliding as the objects clashed and fell to the floor. Books and souvenirs battered the attic’s deteriorated frame before striking Janus on his legs and back. The room trembled, shaking up the soot. Janus could hardly breathe. At last, the final few loose papers scattered onto the attic floor and an old tattered three by five card landed on Janus’s bloody hand. It was a photograph of the newlyweds posing in their front yard with the inscription HOME, SWEET HOME.
Resting on his elbow, Janus sat in silence, unable to take his eyes off the picture. He brushed his wife’s cheek softly with his bloody thumb, staining the photograph. When he closed his eyes a quick chill, followed by a blanket of warmth flowed through his body. “Mai,” he whispered, before releasing his grip. •