I shuffled up the cracked concrete walkway. Weed-choked flower beds lined the path and directed me toward the house. It was as yellow and as withered as the lawn before it. Shingles fell from their places. Decades of sun and rain and cold caused discolored paint to chip away, exposing ancient cedar. My heart sank a little deeper with each step.

I hated going to Esther’s house.

The place didn’t have a doorbell, but rather, a tarnished, iron knocker shaped like a lion’s head. The old lady was expecting me, so I simply lifted it and let it fall once on the great oak door. I wasn’t surprised by the minute of silence that followed. She always took a long time to answer the door. This made no sense, considering that she insisted I show up at exactly three in the afternoon when I was forced to visit her.

The door creaked open and Esther invited me in. Her home’s interior matched it’s exterior.  Everything was old, off-white or yellow and dusty- including its owner. I was sure she didn’t like me, but having me over probably distracted her or something pitiful like that. When I thought about this, I wanted to be nice to her. All the kids in the neighborhood believed that she was a witch. We told each other stories about Esther stealing babies and puppies and calling our parents if she saw us doing something even remotely bad. That last one was likely true.

She didn’t utter a word, but motioned for me to follow her down a dark hallway, toward the dining room. Once there, she offered me some terrible, old ribbon candy and a coke then told me to sit. She’d planned to show me her photo albums and tell me stories about when she was younger. I suppressed a laugh- there was no way this woman was ever young.

She rambled off, leaving me with the sound of her shuffling feet and my own breathing. I wished I could leave, but at least being alone was easier than dealing with her. She reminded me of Dickens’ Miss Havisham, only I had no great expectations, only boredom and resentment.

She returned with a leather-bound photo album. Unlike everything else in this house, it wasn’t dusty. She must have spent a lot of time looking at pictures from better times in her life. This thought made me pity the woman, even if I was her captive.

She sat next to me and opened the cover. I was shocked at what I saw- the first page contained a large picture of a young woman donning a bloody mess of a wedding dress next to a crumpled convertible. In the background, people looked on in horror. Esther didn’t say anything, but turned to the next page. It was covered with pictures of people grimacing, crying and yelling. None of them looked happy, at all. The old woman remained silent. Was she waiting for me to ask a question? I would not inquire about any of these images- I was not interested in why she’d have photographs as unhappy as these.

Page after page revealed more blood and unhappy faces. Nothing about it made sense. Why would someone try to capture these moments? Who’d want to remember pain, fighting and apparent misanthropy like this? How often did she look at these pictures? It was then that I began to worry that she had bodies buried somewhere nearby, like her terrifying yard. I felt sick inside. I wanted to go home.

★                    ★                    ★

“If you forgive someone’s sins, they’re gone for good.

If you don’t forgive sins, what are you going to do with them?”

John 20:23, The Message