The Yellow Dress

The dust gently swirled throughout the sun lit attic as the man lifted an old cardboard box off of a wooden shelf and placed it on the floor. It had been years since it had last been opened. A collection of old photographs, memorabilia, and pieces of artwork from years gone by were neatly stacked, one on top of the other. 

The man intently analyzed his hands as he shifted through the items, how wrinkled and callus his hands now looked, worn down from the slow decay of time, from the multitude of struggles, heartbreaks, and highs and lows which came to define a life well lived, but a life which was ultimately unfulfilling and full of regret.  

As the man glanced at a photograph taken of himself at a stony beach in Funchal, Madeira, his eyes widened as he looked upon a watercolor painting on an old, weathered, and worn piece of paper. The painting was of a young woman in a yellow sun dress. The sapphire blue waters of the Atlantic shone behind her, the clouds white and serene, discreetly giving off the element of the cool Atlantic wind that is so prominent in Madeira during the summer months. 

The woman looks away, her head turned towards the ocean, as if secretly longing for something far away, never to return again. 

The man recollects his time on the island so long ago, he had been eighteen, the son of an American exchange professor based out of the University of Lisbon. He had been visiting his father during the summer before he began his collegiate studies at Georgetown. His father had been conducting academic research on the Island, and had invited his son to live with him in the capital city for three months.

Her name was Luisa, the daughter of a poor and lowly fisherman who lived in a coastal village. They had met at a local church function, her English being passable, he had volunteered to improve her language skills before she went off to the University of Porto to study law. Both being Catholic, they would attend daily Mass together, take long walks on the multitude of levada paths that wound their way around the island. In the evenings they would listen to fado performances, followed by late night trips to the beach. They would spend hours laying on the sand, looking out at the pitch black ocean, discussing their hopes, dreams, what they loved most in each other.

Three months came and went. Their love for each other grew with every passing day. They both discussed marriage, both endeavoring to put off their university studies to pursue their romance. Her father had become sick during this time, she would be unable to leave the island, she would delay her studies for a year, while her father recovered. 

He told her he would return in a year’s time to marry her. On the day he was to leave, he painted a watercolor picture of her wearing a yellow sun dress on the beach, her favorite dress, and the one he loved the most. She looked into his eyes, and he into hers, he would return for her, he promised. 

Every month he sent a letter, which she eagerly read. Her father had died from his illness, joining his wife and her mother who had long since been deceased. With no other family to keep her on the island, the one thing she eagerly awaited for was for him to return to her. On the day she was to meet him, he failed to appear. He had met another girl at Georgetown and decided to put off his trip at the last minute. He would never write or speak to Luisa again.

The man puts the watercolor painting back in the box, and places the box back onto the wooden shelf. He leaves the attic and proceeds downstairs to assume his usual afternoon routine of reading a prominent Catholic newspaper. His eyes come across a story out of Portugal. A prominent nun in Madeira had recently passed away. She had joined a religious order at the age of nineteen, living in quiet contemplation before earning her Juris Doctorate and embarking on a forty year campaign of vouching for the poor and less fortunate in impoverished countries 

The man turns the page of the newspaper revealing a large picture of the nun taken on a beach in Funchal shortly before her death. 

The nun looks away, her head turned towards the ocean….

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