Beautiful and Well Made

It just sat there, looking at her without eyes; much bigger than her tiny, slight form. Stretching floor to ceiling, the shelf dominated the living room.

People always remarked on it when entering: “That’s beautiful!” they’d remark, and they were right. It had been carefully sanded and stained to bring out the natural grain of the wood. “Well made!” they’d remark and again, they were right, the dovetail joints flush, the teak reinforced by cunning design, holding up all her little ornaments and the like, row upon row of them on each of its many levels.

But to Marilyn, all she could see were the hands that had lovingly created the shelf, sanded and stained it. If the shelf did have eyes, they would be his eyes looking back.

He’d left so long ago now, at least it felt like that. It had technically been mutual. Rationally, they both know the marriage wasn’t working. Fiery fighting preceded icy indifference – that was the worst part.

Oh, there had been love. Such love blazing like a forest fire; a conflagration that burned all her fears and worries away. For Marilyn, there was only him. For Michael, there was only her. They had been so passionate, not just the hot blood of youth, the heady euphoria of new love. They’d both always been passionate and driven, living life at one hundred and ten percent. They had been such kindred spirits.

Or so they thought. Maybe they had been too similar, maybe a marriage has a limit on passion. Maybe, for all they loved each other, they couldn’t be friends. Couldn’t live with each other, for all their fire. The flame charring them as their love twisted to hate.

Yes, technically mutual separation. It was still a lie. Neither of them wanted it. They’d both been waiting for a magic fairy to float down, wave her wand and repair the rift between them. It wasn’t going to happen. With that realization, something within Marilyn cried and died: sometimes love just isn’t enough.

So he’d gone, taking all his stuff with him. All that remained of him was that damnable shelf.

That wasn’t quite true, Marilyn reflected, as she looked at Michelle. Occasionally, she’d catch the light in a certain way or do something unconsciously that would be exactly like her father. A bit of Michael shining through his daughter.

Sometimes Marilyn couldn’t help but resent that part of Michelle. It was unfair, it wasn’t her fault. Michelle hadn’t wanted him to leave either. She had been such a daddy’s girl.

Michael’s presence seemed almost there – but it was just a ghost of the past haunting her in Michelle, in that beautifully wretched shelf.

Both of those echoes pained Marilyn through the old wounds of the heart. The shelf especially, just feeling its presence was a hole in her heart where her essence slowly leaked out.

She’d tried to get rid of it so many times. She’d even called people, made arrangements and then cancelled them at the last moment.

If the shelf was the ghost of Michael, it wasn’t a ghost she wanted to free, no matter how much it pained her.

So the shelf just stood there, beautiful and well-made. A legacy of the shared inferno of their love, a tombstone marking the death of their marriage.

Marilyn could have stayed there all night, betwixt love and pain, but life went on. It was time for bed, tomorrow would be busy and both her and Michelle needed their sleep.

No more time to waste on that stupid shelf.

*

Marilyn awoke suddenly, still dark as various little objects danced crazily on the nightstand. Dust sifted down from the ceiling as the room continued to tremble. Ornaments dived off the shelf in the other room to smash daintily.

Michelle ran in, terrified. Marilyn instantly drew her daughter into a warm embrace, trying to soothe her daughter as the tremor increased in intensity.

The quake climaxed in a deafening crack that shook the room; Michelle whimpered in fear while Marilyn tried to be strong. The worst of it was over, she hoped. At least it was quiet now, although the sound of sirens on the cusp of hearing was still disquieting. How had the city fared? Their friends, family? Rushing around at this time of night wouldn’t help anyone though. The phone lines were out, as well as the power. It was best to just sit tight until morning.

In any case, Michelle was taking deep and ragged breaths but slowly coming down from her panic. She’d exhausted herself in terror and would be asleep again soon. Marilyn curled up with her daughter and attempted to sleep as best she could.

*

Another rude awakening. Thankfully this time it was the doorbell, not another earthquake.

Leaving Michelle asleep in the bed, Marilyn answered the door to greet a fluorescent uniformed emergency worker.

“Ma’am, I need you to remain calm and not panic. The structural integrity of your home has been severely compromised.”

Marilyn gulped, immediately thinking of sleeping Michelle in her bedroom.

“Ma’am, if you could carefully evacuate your home as soon as you can, we’ll see what we can do to stabilize your house.”

She didn’t waste time. Picking up a very dozy Michelle and a few things that insurance money could never replace, she followed the directions of the emergency workers and waited at a safe zone with some of her neighbours.

Michelle was still rubbing sleep out of her eyes when everyone heard the shouts of “GO! GO!” and the emergency workers boiled out of Marilyn’s house.

“DUCK!” yelled their leader and not a moment too soon, as the house collapsed upon itself, spraying dust and splinters all around. The emergency workers had shielded them with their huddled bodies – no one had been hurt. All of the workers had escaped from the destruction of the house as well.

But Marilyn couldn’t stop shaking. We could have still been in there. We could be dead right now.

The worker that had met her at the doorstep tried to calm her. “You’re safe now, ma’am. It’s over, you’re safe.” He kept repeating it until Marilyn could think straight once again.

Hollow-eyed and harrowed, almost crying, Marilyn put words to her reverberating thoughts: “We’re just so lucky to be alive – it’s a miracle. That roof could have crushed us both last night in the quake. Someone’s looking out for us.”

Smiling, the emergency worker agreed. “Yup, sure was. Either God or whoever built that shelf.”

Shelf? She must have said it aloud, or the worker saw the question in her eyes.

“Yeah, ma’am. Last night, during the quake, all the structural supports broke. By rights, the roof should have caved in then. But that shelf in your living room somehow held up the entire roof. Not sure how, but it was very well made. Shame it’s just probably toothpicks now. It was a beauty. When we tried to pull it free, the roof started to subside and we got the hell outta there.”

Michelle looked up at her; Marilyn could see Michael in her eyes. He had put so much of himself into that shelf; he’d made it with love, something just for her. Maybe some of him had remained in the shelf, some of his love, his care, his strength; there to help and protect his family in their time of need.

Perhaps the shelf hadn’t been the ghost of love lost but the ghost of love returned.

Beautiful and Well Made

Cailean

Adelaide, Australia

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Artist's Description

This story is dedicated to Marilyn, Michael and Michelle Downing. It is their story.

Artwork Comments

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