“I wish you were a mouser.” Charley wagged her tail enthusiastically, gazing intently at the large chunk of watermelon Lucy was about to pop inside her mouth. A trail of pinkish juice that started at her wrist now followed the contour of her arm all the way to her elbow, where it dripped onto the kitchen floor; Charley inched closer to Lucy, mopping up the sweet droplets with her tongue. Then she sat and looked up again with watermelon lust in her eyes, still wagging her tail against the floor, which had the comical effect of sending crumbs and her own dog hair everywhere.
Lucy squeezed her teeth into the juicy bit she held, severing it neatly in half, and then offered one section to Charley, the recently mangey dog who was suddenly looking so beautiful. Even the one floppy ear had started to stand more and more erect, suggesting youth in this canine commensurate with her silly behavior. Lucy stepped past the dog to rinse off her hands at the sink, haphazardly dried them on a dish towel, and then turned on her heel.
“Come with me, sweet darling; let’s be brave and start emptying Bran’s closet shelves.” Lucy was channeling her grandmother unknowingly. Charley popped up obediently and followed her human companion into the small bedroom. An unfortunate encounter with a live mouse several days earlier had been enough to convince Lucy to abandon this project; the minuscule rodent had found her hand as she fumbled blindly for a shoebox high on the shelf in the top of the closet, and then skittered all the way down her arm to her shoulder, thence to the floor, finally disappearing out of sight among rows of shoes in the bottom of the closet. This entire event unfolded in under two seconds, but Lucy bellowed so loudly, in fact, she felt certain the inhuman sound that came out of her must have reverberated clear down the hill behind the house and across the river to its northern shoreline. Now, at last, her resolve was sufficiently restored to try again.
This time she brought a step stool and made a lot of noise. There was no sign of a live mouse on the shelf, but sadly Lucy found evidence of widespread damage—one of Bran’s lovingly folded and stored cashmere sweaters lay in tatters, Lucy could see, where the little reprobate had chewed right through the plastic sweater bag and then pulled tufts of the soft wool through its self-made hole and formed it into a nest nearby; it was covered in droppings and reeked. Lucy gently brought down the entire mess and eased it into a garbage bag. Then she worked the shoebox side to side with an index finger until she could just reach it, and carefully grasping both sides of it, lowered it gingerly as she stepped off the stool; she could feel the payload shifting inside the box and hoped nothing in it was alive.
Wiping away more droppings, she lifted the lid from the box, revealing a tangled confusion of costume jewelry. Charley had sought out one of her many chews and now lay on the floor nearby, working it contentedly; Lucy sat cross-legged next to her and began to excavate the sparkling lump, piling brooches here, clip-on earrings there, separating necklaces comingling improperly with bracelets. Some of it was tasteful enough, but a great deal of it gaudy and overwrought, she decided. Still, she could imagine each of these fake jewels on her grandmother for this occasion or that—weddings and funerals mainly, Lucy suspected. She could see Bran’s long dresses from here, hanging in the closet, and began to match the jewelry to each one of them in her mind’s eye—the baby blue rhinestones with that dress, the fake turquoise bracelet with that one, or maybe with the unfortunate double-knit pants suit. This collection was nothing at all like what she remembered on Bran’s elegant dressing table in her swank Manhattan apartment; in fact, Bran’s cosmopolitan existence itself was really nothing at all like her Appalachian roots might suggest. These thoughts rolled around in Lucy’s head as she explored the contours of her grandmother’s jewelry with her fingers.