Rated: 13+ · Short Story · Contest · #1197983
A forgotten memento can bridge the past and present. writer's cramp entry
|Slats of midsummer orange filter the attic in a sunset haze. Jessie sits in an old rocker, mesmerized by the graceful dance of dust. Swirling. Glittering. As fleeting and fanciful as the years that have passed.|
" . . . tea. Jessie?"
"Oh, I'm sorry, Darla. I was just . . . thinking."
"About Grandma?" Darla asks quietly, handing her sister a tall glass of Southern Water.
"Nah . . . yeah . . . kinda. I don't know . . . It's just odd, all of it. All of her stuff, her private things . . .her memories. Everything that she is . . . and was . . . so open . . . I feel like I'm trespassing."
"I know. I found an ancient negligee tucked in the back of her undies drawer . . . it was red, Jes . . . hooker red."
The sisters hold their solemn composure as long as they can before embarrassed giggles overtake the attic. Jessie spills half of her drink down the front of her blouse, sending the women into round two of silly hysterics. The last of the Pacific sun dips below the horizon as the girls work on their second pitcher of tea and rummage through the home's treasures, sorting and packing.
"Look here, Darla." Jessie hands a yellowing sketchpad to Darla. "Grandma drew these! There's - " Jessie eyes the old steamer trunk, "a whole trunk full. A hundred . . . maybe more."
"Oh, my goodness, they're incredible!" The sisters huddle beneath the lamplight, flipping through charcoal memories. Ships. Whales. Banquet halls and dancing couples. One couple, swinging a smiling child between them, look as if they might actually waltz off the page. Jessie and Darla drag the box under the lamp, searching through its secrets.
"Jes . . . look at these." Darla says, tossing a bundle beside her sister as she rises and crosses the room, quickly putting distance between herself and the pages her sister now holds. Lighting a cigarette with shaky fingers and inhaling deeply, she tries to choke out the horrible images drawn floating behind her eyes. Broken ships. Sinking bodies. Faces upon faces, frozen in eternal fear.
"Why would she draw those?" she asks the silence.
"I have no idea, Sis. You know . . . she never talked much about her past. Maybe it was the Great Depression . . . a lot of people killed themselves. Maybe she had a dark phase. Maybe . . . I can't imagine."
"Well, she sure as hell could. Oh God! They're so . . . real. I didn't even know she could draw, much less that she drew . . . grotesque . . . morbid things." Darla tries in vain to shake away the images. "Okay, well, I've had enough art for one evening. I'm gonna start going through the closet over there." Darla pulls another long drag from her smoke before stubbing it out.
"Fine by me" Jessie studies the rest of the drawings. Some are disturbing in their darkness. Others, breathtakingly beautiful. One whole journal showcases winged mermaids. Mothers and daughters swimming, ducking in and out of haunting shadows. Wings of feathers, and wings of scales, span cover to cover from sea to sky. Jess loses herself in the glassy stare of a merchild.
"Jes, I found her wedding dress!"
Darla spins like Cinderella in front of a floor mirror, clutching the gown to her shoulders and waist. Its pearlized threads glow in the dim light. Tiny teardrop pearls hang in gentle loops from snowflakes of sequined lace.
"It's gorgeous!" exclaims Jes. "I wish I was about four sizes smaller."
"I wish I was getting married."
"You could always divorce John and then re-marry him."
"I might, if I can wear this dress!" Darla counters. Again the attic fills with laughter. "I can't stand it; I gotta see if it fits." While Darla plays dress-up, Jessie fishes through the wardrobe relics.
"Hey, Darla, when you get done, check this out."
"What is it?"
Darla steps back into the closet, a perfect testament to flapper fashion. She looks so lovely, Jessie nearly forgets she's holding a bathing suit.
"Oh, yeah. Straight from the twenties, I'd guess. I have pant-sets that cover less skin!"
"No doubt. What's it doing here?"
"Well, if you look out that window you'll see a large body of water. We call this an ocean. The Pacif - "
"Oh, hush, Ms Snidely. I know damn well where we're at. I just meant Grandma never swam. No one ever saw her get wet. The surf washed over her feet once, I thought she was gonna flip out. She took the steps two by two back up to the house, then spent half the night scrubbing her feet."
"Oh, I know. I was just teasing. But, phobia or not, it doesn't mean she didn't keep a swimsuit around for guests."
"Makes sense. Heh . . . I never understood how she should love the ocean view so much and be afraid of the wate r. . . just seems like such a waste."
"I know. Hey, look at this old coat."
"Pretty shnazzy. How many opossums . . . or is it opossi . . . do you think they clubbed to make that god-awful thing ?"
"Not sure." Jessie says, snickering as she parades past Darla in the aged fur. "but, it feels like a hundred of those puppies."
"Eww . . . it could be puppies. Mangey puppies. Take it off . . . club it again, I think I saw it move, and then bury it . . . deep!"
"Fine. I ju - " Jessie says, nearly laughing, then pulls a scrap of paper from the pocket. Inspecting it, her eyes fill with confusion, then knowing; then tears.
"What is it?" asks Darla.
Jess hands Darla the paper as she crumples to the floor, staring at the "sketch trunk" under the lamp. She cries silently, her grandmother's past crashes around her.
For generations, they had thought her eccentric, half-crazed. "Grandma doesn't like the water, Baby; it frightens me." "The ocean's dirty." "I watch for them in the whitecaps" Even her dying words, smiling in a backless gown, her eyes lost to some mad dream:"They 're calling. I see them swimming. My home is the sea . . . my home"
Darla reads the rat-chewed ticket:
WHITE STAR LINE
YOUR ATTENTION IS SPECIALLY DIRECTED TO THE CONDITIONS OF TRANSPORTATION IN THE ENCLOSED CONTRACT
THE COMPANY'S LIABILITY FOR BAGGAGE IS STRICTLY LIMITED, BUT PASSENGERS CAN PROTECT THEMSELVES BY INSURANCE
First Class Ticket Per Steamship: Titanic