Afternoon Miniature 7.19.20

Bran’s bedroom was all that remained to suggest the original vernacular architecture of her little cottage—the rest she had dragged grudgingly into the 1970s. A pair of authentic-looking casement windows just above the bed had convinced Lucy this might be true, anyway: They were large and lacked mullions, with handwrought iron fasteners that worked surprisingly well despite their age, and swung open easily on their hinges despite so many layers of paint, some now flaking off in irregularly formed bits. But Lucy still couldn’t bring herself to sleep in Bran’s big, ancient bed, with its elegantly turned posts at each corner and surprisingly plain headboard, preferring instead the sleeper sofa in the river room, where sunlight poured through windows on three sides at different times of the day. The casement windows in the bedroom were beautiful in their own way, but were positioned too high in the wall to afford a view of anything much except the treetops outside them.

Lucy had dutifully stripped Bran’s bed of its coverlet, and sheets and cotton blanket, and then washed, folded, and stacked all of it neatly inside the linen closet, imagining Bran would have urged her to do this. All save the mattress pad, which she pulled from a hot dryer and restretched over the corners of the bed. In the intervening months since she’d opened up the cottage, the bed had served mainly as a staging area of sorts, a holding zone for piles of clean clothing, old costume jewelry, shoeboxes filled with all manner of fancy footwear in Bran’s notoriously narrow dimensions—in short, it was a convenient spot to separate a lifetime of belongings into keep or give, repurpose or jettison piles. In the beginning this exercise had been more difficult, fraught with intense emotions as memories came bubbling up from a deep place in Lucy’s gut, but as time wore on she sensed her grandmother’s essence somehow there with her, consenting to plans, such as they were, to resurrect the house and grounds and bend them to her will, and finally remake a home. She had to believe Bran would approve, anyway.

On this sunny Saturday in October, Lucy had risen late and flipped on the coffee, and then pulling a bathrobe over her tank top and threadbare boxers, walked outside with Charley, warming her palms with the mug she held between them. Color had come in the foliage, and the air had grown cooler and less humid; Lucy could scarcely believe how much had changed in her life since the steamy spring afternoon she first fought her way through scrubby, overgrown vegetation to reach the front door of the cottage. Some weeks ago—the same day she unearthed the children’s tome that now served as a talisman of sorts at the shop—she’d plucked a small cardboard box of photos from a high shelf in the flooded basement closet; any longer there, and they’d be unsalvageable. Today was as good a day as any, she concluded, to sort through them.

Down in the meadow behind the house, Lucy could discern Charley’s movement by only the tip of her tail, visible above the tall grass like a submarine periscope, she imagined. Satisfied she had taken care of business, Lucy whistled for her, and up popped a pair of erect ears somewhat comically. “C’mon, Charley—let’s go!” Charley bounded effortlessly up the hill, and as the twosome rounded the corner to the front door, Lucy plucked some burrs from the dog, who shook her coat vigorously and headed for her water bowl.

Inside the bedroom, Lucy rearranged some piles on the bed and stretched out long, propping up against the headboard; Charley jumped up after her, upsetting a pile. Lucy chided her, but didn’t object, setting her mug on the nightstand and unfolding the top of the box. Inside was a jumble of photos, mainly snapshots in black and white, some with smooth edges and others scalloped; a few stuck together stubbornly—Lucy carefully set those aside until she could find a way to separate them. The rest she began arranging chronologically according to the dates imprinted on their borders—most were made in the late 1950s and early ’60s, images shot during parties and family gatherings. The younger men had wide eyes and sunken-in cheeks and wore long, thin ties with their sport coats; some held cocktails and Lucy imagined she could hear them swirling around the ice cubes in empty double old fashioned tumblers. Then she fished out a photo of a somewhat youthful looking Bran who was situated partly in profile, seated on a sofa and turning to look into the camera the instant the flash went off, with an expression that suggested she had not expected it. She wore a silk taffeta dress and a double strand of pearls; her skinny legs were crossed at the ankles, and she held a cigarette between the fingers of her right hand. Lucy could see a ‘dowager’s hump’ already coming in her grandmother’s neck, the spinal curvature that would grow so pronounced in the twilight years of her life.

She stared hard at the photo, studying every detail of it, taking in the shadowy, out-of-focus figures in the background, the ornate pattern in the drapes, the artwork on the wall behind the sofa; she couldn’t imagine where the photo was made, only knew that it had been before she was born. Lucy lingered over the snapshots for long hours until her back grew stiff, and an intense beam of sunlight shone through the window above her, falling with laser-like precision upon the glossy images in her lap.

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