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Echoes of Ellen

Echoes of Ellen by BF Oswald
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On the first anniversary of his wife’s death, a widower finally begins removing his wife’s things from their room with the help of his sister-in-law. The job nearly completed, his sister-in-law calls his attention to three boxes apparently hidden by his wife under their bed. He did not know they existed, and therefore what was in them.

When he reads the stories, he begins to recognize similarities between characters in the stories and people he and Ellen had met, places they had been, and life situations they had shared. As he reads the stories through a second time, they trigger memories, some wonderful, some painful, of their years together, and he orders the stories accordingly in his narrative. These stories become for him echoes of Ellen.
SynergEbooks; December 2007
229 pages; ISBN 9780744313871
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Title: Echoes of Ellen
Author: BF Oswald
William (Bill) Lewis

I thought I had buried the past with Ellen. I was wrong.
Here it is again, and I’m glad.
~ Bill Lewis to his sister-in-law, Suzanne

I buried Ellen on the afternoon of November the second, 2005. We had known each other for fifty-five years, been married for fifty-one of them. One would think that after all that time together I would know everything there was to know about her. I didn’t think we had any secrets. I was wrong.

I spent the first year after Ellen’s death in a blue funk. I just went through the motions of living – developed a routine that required little of me, and was as free from change as I could make it. I’d dealt with too much change in my life already and I wanted no more. Yet throughout all my waking time, every minute of it, I was aware of the great ringing emptiness of our home. And the emptiness I felt inside.

Our marriage can be divided into two parts - before San Diego and afterwards. For the first year after her return from San Diego, she was despondent. Then she found a new sense of purpose and developed a renewed vitality. Until the very end of her life, which came peacefully in her sleep, it seemed she was always in motion, doing something – talking on the phone, or with one of her frequent visitors, cooking new things, baking my favorite desserts. She seldom sat quietly all the way through a TV program. After living without her those years she was in San Diego, it took me a while to get used to this background noise of contented busyness after her return. But I did, so when it suddenly stopped, the silence was deafening.

As soon Ellen’s body had been taken from our home, I moved my things from our bedroom to the guest room at the end of the hall. I knew I could not sleep in our bed again without her, or look at her things on her dresser, her clothes in our closet, and the other constant reminders of her everywhere in our bedroom. I left everything the way it was before she died, and closed the door behind me.

After the initial, hectic business of finalizing a life so long lived; writing thank you notes to well wishers, canceling Ellen’s many magazine subscriptions, notifying her many correspondents – the ones too far away to have read her obituary – and countless other tasks that filled those early days, I morphed into the soporific routine I mentioned.

The morning of the first anniversary of her death, I decided it was time to get on with my life. I had mourned Ellen’s passing until I had become a nothing, an old bag of bones just going through the motions of living. It was time for a change. I called Ellen’s sister, Suzanne, who lived about an hour away and asked if she would come over and help me dispose of Ellen’s things. Since Suzanne had been badgering me for the past six months to do this, she came willingly.

By mid-afternoon, those items that could be donated to charitable organizations were boxed and piled in the front hall waiting to be picked up. Suzanne and I divided the special keepsakes without a problem. We capped off the afternoon with a glass of iced tea on the porch, sitting in silence, each of us fighting back tears. It was almost dark when Suzanne bade me good-bye. As she was walking to her car, she turned and asked if I had gotten the boxes from under the bed.

I was unaware of any boxes and my response said so.

She walked a few steps back toward me. “I saw four boxes stacked one on top of another under the bed, centered up against the headboard. I thought you knew they were there; that’s why I didn’t mention them before this.”

I told her I’d retrieve them and call her about what I found. I came back into the house and had started up the stairs to Ellen’s room when the phone rang; it was an elderly neighbor who wanted me to take her to the drug store to pick up her prescription. After we left the drug store, I invited her to eat supper with me at a nearby diner. I was more saddened by the act of closure that Suzanne and I had performed than I thought I would be, yet glad it had been accomplished. Dining out with my neighbor was a celebration of sorts, and a sign of a new beginning for me.

Later that evening, I passed Ellen’s room on the way to my room. Her door was open now and I paused to looked inside. Something nagged at me, something I was supposed to do in there. I shook my head and started on down the hall. Then I remembered the boxes.

There were four cardboard boxes, the kind that would each hold a ream of letter-sized stationary, taped together one on top of the other under our bed where Suzanne said they were. There was a substantial layer of dust on the top box, and the tape was so dried out that it gave up easily when I pulled on it. They had apparently been under the bed for a long time.

I lifted the lid on the top box and found a large envelope inside of which were a number of letters, twenty-five in all. The earliest was dated May 26th of the second year after I went to work for Pinkerton's; the latest was dated three months after I retired ten years ago. Each was a rejection from a publisher or an editor, of a work submitted by Ellen. Three were from book publishers, the rest were from magazines. Some letters were personal and encouraging replies, some blunt form letters, a few had brief hand written notes across the bottom of Ellen’s query letter. Each letter referred to a short story she had submitted. A few of the stories she had submitted twice, one story, Faith, had she submitted three times. None of the stories were dated. Later I discovered that several stories had not been submitted at all.

I was shocked. I had no idea that Ellen ever wrote anything other than letters to friends and relatives. She had apparently been writing short stories also. Doing it without my knowledge. Why hadn’t she shared them with me? I couldn’t think of a reason. I felt hurt, then angry.

I pushed aside the boxes, got up from the floor where I had been sitting, and went downstairs to make a cup of tea. Curiosity quickly overrode my anger and I carried my tea upstairs to continue my investigation of Ellen’s secret boxes. I picked up the box I had opened and moved to her dressing table. Seated, tea at hand, I set aside the envelope and looked at the contents underneath. There were six of her short stories, each neatly bound in a cover. I briefly thumbed through them, then retrieved the second box that contained seven stories bound the same way. There were more stories in the third and fourth boxes, a total of eighteen stories in all.

I called Suzanne, told her what I had found, and asked if she knew anything about Ellen’s writing career. Suzanne sounded as surprised as I had been and denied any knowledge. She told me that as a girl Ellen like to write stories for her family and friends, and that she had taken a writing course in college, but as far as Suzanne knew, Ellen had no intention of taken up writing as a career. I knew she hadn’t, and I thought I knew everything there was to know about her.
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