The card passed the village sign, drove onto the paved road, and continued street. The old lady sitting in the back seat looked out the window. For the first time in a long while, she felt better. All the pain and nightmares were behind her—the death of her husband, the awful neighbors in the city apartment, the constant problems. Those were all over now.
Mrs. Julia had decided to return to her hometown overnight after her husband’s death, where they had lived for so many years. She gazed out the window at the familiar landscape, and her heart squeezed with a pleasant mix of nostalgia and happiness. Knowing she was about to reach that same house again, Julia watched everything—a slender, beautiful tree barely touched by the emerging autumn, swayed gently in the wind. The azure blue sky, endless fields reaching the edge of the dense forest which appeared black from here.
Julia leaned forward, straining her neck to see when her street would appear. All those little houses, she knew everyone who lived there, and they were all good people whom she loved. She would never forgive herself for allowing her husband to take her away from here.
She had been so happy here despite the problems. She experienced joy every day from the simple village life. And in the city, she couldn’t even recall a single instance when she had been happy, except for the rare evenings when she met her husband after work. And when he ended up in the hospital, her life became too melancholic.
Finally, the car stopped near a small single-story house filled with memories of a past life. Julia got out of the car, watching the driver help her with her suitcase. Life was already bustling here—workers carried boxes and placed them in the rooms. Some were labeled kitchen, others bathroom, living room, and bedroom.
But soon all the commotion ended, and Julia was left alone. She walked around the house, which still looked too empty. Back in the city, she had imagined this moment many times—how she would enter the house, inspect it, feel an acute need for her husband, and struggle to live normally anymore. But in reality, it didn’t happen that way. She felt at home. Yes, she still longed for her husband, but in this house, she felt peace and safety.
Julia put on the kettle and started unpacking boxes. Despite being an elderly lady, she tried not to give up her positions, not to become a woman who sat in front of the TV all day, devoid of interests, friends, or the desire to live.
Julia made herself some herbal tea and carried the cup with her, sipping it in small sips. She unpacked all her belongings in the bedroom and the living room. When she started feeling tired, Julia made a final effort and unpacked the boxes in the bathroom. And only then did she decide to take a break.
“Julia, is it really you?” a familiar voice echoed from the hallway. Julia rushed to the voice and laughed warmly, almost crying with happiness. Her old friend was here. Apparently, she had seen Julia going out to the yard from the window, or maybe she saw her arrive. But the most important thing was that she was here.
They helped each other, tears of joy welling up in their eyes. Galena rolled up her sleeves and got to work in her usual energetic manner. She quickly unpacked the boxes for the hallway and kitchen, and soon everything was finished. Now the house, free of boxes and bags, looked much cozier and more pleasant.
Julia was so delighted to see her friend that she was a bit overwhelmed and stunned when Galena started helping. But now, they both sat on the porch, indulging in homemade raspberry jam, drinking delicious tea, and simply talking about everything in the world. It was as if they had returned to the past when everything was good. When they would sit like this and have tea almost every day, chatting, taking walks, going down to the river, and all the problems in their lives became insignificant.
Julia gazed into the distance where the sun slowly rolled towards the horizon. She was talking to her friend while reminiscing about walking these streets when she was young and unmarried. “We didn’t have happiness there,” Julia said when her friend asked about life in the city. “It was a constant struggle.
But here, how do we live? Everything relies on the land, and money is put away for a rainy day. We hardly spent anything, except for occasional treats from the store. But there, everything depended on money. Here, you wake up in the morning, open the windows, and the scent is so invigorating that it feels like pure bliss. But there, it’s better not to open the windows at all. I’ve heard neighbors saying that fresh air exists only in the mornings.
Those people don’t even know what fresh air is. And overall, it was a nightmare. Every man for himself, no support or assistance, just problems. And when my husband fell seriously ill, they all started to torment and mock me. It was a matter of survival. I was at my wit’s end because of this nightmare. And then the hospital called and said Arthur was no more. I couldn’t believe it. I thought the neighbors were just making fun of us.
It still feels like a horrible dream. After the funeral, I packed my things and left everything behind. The apartment is now rented out, a small addition to my pension. Now I just want to live and enjoy life. It’s hard without Arthur. I wake up every day and think he’ll come into the room and bring me tea with lemon, like he always did. But he’s gone. On the other hand, it was better to end it all. He suffered so much pain.
It was unbearable to watch. The last time I saw him, he was lying in the coffin, so peaceful, as if he were sleeping. That’s how life played its cards, Julia. Who could have known it would turn out like this? Arthur wanted a better life. He hoped he would get better there, but it turned out differently. At least we buried him in our homeland. That’s something good. The important thing is that you came back, and now everything will be fine.”
“When I buried Eduardo, I couldn’t find my place either. I kept waiting for him to come home from work, but he never did. And sometimes, it feels like he’ll walk through the door any minute. But it’s been six years without him.
But the main thing is to keep living. As they say, we should pity the living. It benefits them more. Oh, what a handsome fellow!” Delena suddenly changed the subject. A ginger fluffy kitten with long legs and white socks on its front paws walked into the courtyard as if it were entering its own home. It strolled along the path, crossing its legs gracefully like a model on a runway. Delena said, “They say cats choose their owners themselves. Look who came to you. Now you can’t escape. It seems like he chose you.” She burst into laughter.
The kitten rubbed against Julia’s leg, then moved away and sat near the steps, gazing at the gate. From now on, he was the master here. “Let him stay. It brings me joy,” Julia exclaimed. “I’ll buy milk and cream from the neighbor. This morning, I woke up and couldn’t believe I was returning. It’s as if we came to this city on purpose to taste sorrow.
Well, we’ve had our fill. And that strange woman came too. Ah, I didn’t tell you, when I was in the hospital for the last time, picking up his body, some woman came. About ten years younger than me. She stood by his body, talking to the doctor. She told me we would meet again, not to relax. I looked at her like she was some crazy person from the city. She rolled her eyes, flicked her hair, and left. Since then, I can’t remember where I’ve seen her before. I had forgotten about that incident until I told you just now.”
“And you know what? I have Arthur’s suitcase. He brought it back from his last business trip, but I never opened it. I’m scared. Who knows what’s inside. It’s as if my heart tells me I shouldn’t open it,” Julia said.
They talked for several hours, switching between serious conversations and laughter. But as the evening approached, Galena bid farewell to her friend and left. Julia returned to the house, not alone but accompanied by a ginger kitten that had boldly invaded her peaceful life. Julia smiled at him, and he purred and rubbed against her. He climbed onto her lap and purred loudly. She named him Jasper, and he accepted the name as his own.
Julia had no idea that an unpleasant life awaited her here, but rather another heap of problems brought from the city. When it grew dark outside, Julia checked the gate one more time, closed the house, leaving only two open windows secured with bars from the outside. She took a book from the shelf and went to the bedroom. After reading before bed, she fell into a deep sleep accompanied by the purring of Ginger Jasper with his long white whiskers.
Early in the morning, Julia woke up out of habit, without an alarm clock. She didn’t feel like getting up so early. She reached for her book and decided to spend another hour in bed. The cat was nowhere to be seen, apparently finding a more comfortable spot.
Julia didn’t regret for a moment that she had moved into this old house. She felt cozy and peaceful here. So good, for the first time in a long time, she had a sound sleep, feeling a sense of calmness in her soul. Upon waking up, Julia got up and went to the shower and then to the kitchen. She opened the door, and a cool autumn breeze rushed into the house. The cat was sleeping on a chair in the kitchen, but startled by the door opening, he got up, stretched, and flew out onto the street.
Julia prepared breakfast for herself and decided to eat outside. She put everything she needed on a tray, went out, and placed it on a round table that her husband had crafted with his own hands. Julia enjoyed the approaching autumn. She watched as nature transformed around her—the withering grass, the leaves turning golden and brown, the branches becoming increasingly bare. The young shrubs, their leaves.
Autumn was her favorite season. Suddenly, Julia’s thoughts shifted from autumn when she saw an unfamiliar silhouette at the gate. She got up and walked towards the woman who politely and cautiously knocked. Julia opened the gate and froze—it was the same woman she had seen at the hospital, only now her expression was arrogant and triumphant.
“Julia, I didn’t come here for no reason. You took on the responsibility of arranging Arthur’s funeral, and I’m incredibly grateful to you for that. But you don’t know anything. If you knew the truth, you wouldn’t have even come to the hospital for him,” insisted the stranger.
“The thing is, your saintly husband had a second family. Yes, it was me, and we have a son,” the woman continued.
Julia shrugged. She was like an impenetrable wall. She truly didn’t believe a word from the stranger. However, the stranger’s face changed, distorted by a contemptuous smirk. She briskly lifted her chin, and Julia continued speaking.
“And now, why dig up the past? I loved my husband, and I still do. I’m sure he always loved me. I never doubted his love, and that means a lot. I don’t know what you want from me or why you came, but I can say with confidence that you came here in vain. Leave, and don’t come back. Don’t disturb my already troubled heart.”
Julia forced a smile, walked into the yard, and closed the gate behind her. The woman left, and the sound of a closing car door and the fading noise of the departing vehicle could be heard. Julia returned to the table. She finished her breakfast with her favorite book, cleared everything from the table, and washed the dishes.
She turned on an audiobook, took a frame outside, secured it with clamps to the table, and resumed her embroidery. The audiobook on her small laptop was so captivating that Julia didn’t even notice how quickly time flew by. She completely forgot about the stranger, unaware of the many problems she would bring into her life in the future.
Julia noticed that it was getting darker outside. She glanced at the clock, but even for autumn, it was too early for such darkness. It turned out that gray-blue clouds were covering the sky. The old woman packed up her sewing machine and moved to a large armchair in the living room. Agatha Christie’s book played from the speakers.
Cross-stitch by cross-stitch, a wonderful bouquet was taking shape. Suddenly, a thunderclap sounded, lightning flashed, and another thunder followed. Julia shuddered. Suddenly, the autumn rain pounded on the windows. Julia went to close the door when, at the last moment, Jasper burst into the house, all disheveled and already wet. He rubbed against his owner and then settled on the couch next to a large embroidered cushion.
The house became cozy again, with a storm outside and rain falling. It was quiet and pleasant. Julia devoted herself to her favorite activities all the time because they brought her joy. There was no need to work anymore, to seek means of survival. She bought potatoes from her neighbors and prepared for winter canning. The pension money and the rent from her apartment were more than enough. The woman hired two neighbors who happily took care of the garden.
Julia kept thinking about how everything was falling into place, how she could return to a normal life once again. The conversation with the stranger completely slipped her mind. But instead, an idea settled in her mind—to finally open her late husband’s suitcase. It had been delivered along with the rest of his belongings.
Julia found her late husband’s suitcase and placed it on the coffee table. She ran her hand over it, the same one brought by their son from Germany. It was a beautiful black suitcase made of genuine leather with natural embossing and rivets.
The suitcase was 10 years old, but it still looked brand new. Julia always unpacked her husband’s suitcase herself after his business trips. It was a tradition in their family. But the last time, she simply didn’t have time. Her husband was brought to the hospital, and she hastily threw his things in the hallway and rushed after him. So, the suitcase remained locked. But now was the time to open it Julia clicked the lock and lifted the lid. Upon seeing what was inside, she screamed and fainted.
Julia woke up much later, barely regaining consciousness. She made her way, clinging to furniture and walls, to the kitchen and gulped down a glass of water. She washed her face with icy water, replaying the moment in her head when she opened the suitcase. She couldn’t believe what she had seen in the photographs. There was no choice; she had to return to the suitcase.
Her head was spinning, and she couldn’t recall the faces in the pictures. Maybe she imagined it. Perhaps the lighting was unfavorable. Maybe she just didn’t understand it at first, all because of vision problems. Julia returned to the coffee table; she opened the suitcase again and felt nauseous. She hadn’t made a mistake in the photos. There was her husband, a 10-year-old boy, and the very same woman who had visited today. The photo lay right on top.
But it didn’t confuse Julia. She took that photo and then the ones behind it, where an unfamiliar idyllic family was depicted, with her husband at the helm. Julia couldn’t believe that her husband could do such a thing to her. She was convinced of Arthur’s unconditional love. Could he have taken such a step?
Julia was so shocked that she couldn’t fall asleep. She tossed and turned until morning. The rain didn’t stop until then. Exhausted from her failed attempts to sleep, Julia got out of bed and sat in the corner. She kept thinking about what to do next, how to survive this. Arthur was already resting in the ground, and she couldn’t understand what she was going through now. Maybe she should forget everything and forgive the deceased, or on the contrary, leave him unforgiven. Julia didn’t have the answer to that question.
She got up, not feeling like eating, and the old woman took a bath, brewed herself cherry tea, and went outside. When she saw that another car had pulled up to the house, she stepped out and immediately closed the gate behind her. Julia draped a white shawl, a gift from her husband, over her shoulders.
The same woman emerged from the car, accompanied by a tall, slender man whose face appeared simultaneously proud and arrogant. The corners of his lips drooped down, and his skin, like a bulldog’s, sagged in folds on his cheeks.
“Just as I said, the music didn’t play for long,” the woman said, smirking nastily. “Look, here’s the contract. If you still have any, bring proper documents tomorrow at nine in the morning. Otherwise, I will officially sue you for meddling in our family. At least find out who I am.”
With that, the woman turned and got into the car. The man followed suit, and they drove away. Julia’s son arrived just in time. He recognized the car and had intervened to protect his mother’s interests.
“Daniel, my dear son, you came just in time. They came and told me that your father had another family, then he left the house to another son,” Julia explained.
Her son’s face changed. If before, he simply looked concerned, now his expression turned menacingly angry. The woman who had upset his mother stepped back as he approached. The man took the contract from the stranger and snorted.
“Who do you think you’re trying to fool, huh?” he said, barely containing his laughter. “This, in your opinion, is a will? Then tomorrow at nine in the morning, I’ll be waiting for you here with proper documents, if you still have any. If you don’t bring them, I will officially sue you. Before meddling in our family, at least find out who I am.”
He took the photograph from the hands of the unfamiliar woman, who hadn’t even had a chance to object. By the expression on her face, it was clear she hadn’t expected such a turn of events. She stared at him, twisting her dissatisfied smirk.
“Well, well, aren’t you something? Oh, what idiots,” the man said, barely suppressing his laughter. “Leave peacefully before I call the police.”
The tall, silver-haired man with a bulldog-like face got into the car and drove away. The woman, who was already sitting in the car, deliberately avoided looking at Julia or the man who had arrived and disrupted all her plans. Daniel embraced his mother, assuring her that everything would be fine. He drove the car into the yard, then began unloading boxes of cucumbers, tomatoes, and zucchinis from the trunk. He carried them all into the kitchen while his mother exclaimed in admiration.
“I was planning to come the day after tomorrow. I thought you would need some time to settle in. When I heard you were coming back to the village, I was so happy. In the city, you were always suffering, facing problem after problem. But here, I remember you only as happy,” Daniel said.
“Don’t worry, my dear. I almost went crazy here,” Julia said, picking up the cat. The cat settled in comfortably and purred. Julia sat on the bench next to her son, and they didn’t leave.
“Son, the longer we live, the worse the world becomes. Now, you can’t really trust anyone. Everyone tries to cheat, deceive, or double-cross you. But I keep thinking that God sent me here. If I had come a couple of days later, who knows what could have happened? And don’t be afraid of those idiots anymore. The prosecutors called them themselves; they will sort it out,” Daniel reassured her.
Julia immersed herself in memories while watching TV. The topic of their conversation shifted and became trivial. They talked about the weather, the upcoming winter, the search for a suitable home, and how good it would be to return to their hometown. They enjoyed each other’s company, finding solace in the simple joys of being together.
The troubles of the past seemed to fade away in the warmth of their bond. Julia felt a renewed sense of hope and gratitude. She knew that no matter what challenges lay ahead, as long as she had her son by her side, they would face them together.