“Bloody hell!” she cried, frustration and hurt beginning its familiar tattoo in her chest. Eyes closed she slumped against the door, squashing the bag of groceries in her arms, feeling the cold of the wood seep through her cheek. It had been two months since Angela Tripps had died. Lucy had moved into the small weatherboard house in the days after her funeral – determined to carry on like normal, as Angela would have insisted. That week was now a jumble of hazy memories, peeking up through a grief induced fog to stab Lucy in the heart when she least expected. She opened her eyes and tried the lock again. The key slipped in like it should and Lucy swallowed the urge to scream at it. Instead, she pushed her way into the house past half emptied boxes and unceremoniously dumped the shopping on the kitchen bench, flinging the door keys across the room. The noise roused Thompson from his afternoon sun worship and he casually made his way from dusty windowsill to Lucy, slinking through her legs with a purr. Lucy looked down at him and smiled. Her eyes grew hot and began to prick as she remembered her grandmother sitting at the kitchen table drumming wrinkled fingers on its green Formica top, engaged in heated conversation with the cat about the state of the economy and that stupid Prime Minister “Whats-his-name”. Angela hadn’t been one to discriminate and she would argue with anyone or anything that breathed, whether or not it could talk back.
“Bet you’re missing her, Thomo…” Lucy scooped the cat up and roughed his belly before plonking him on the bench next to the groceries.
Make us a cuppa, will you love?
“Just let me put the shopping away, gran. The pastrami will go off.” Lucy winked at Thompson who observed the one-sided exchange with typical feline detachment.
Right then! If you’ll be so tetchy, I’ll do it myself…
Lucy sighed on cue.
“Oh quiet down you impatient biddy. I’ll put the kettle on and you put the shopping away!”
Fat lot of good I’ll be with no body, don’t you think? Impatient biddy, my word!
Lucy giggled to herself. Her ‘chats’ with her dead grandmother were becoming a regular habit. At first she’d felt ridiculous; talking out loud to a dead person was for crazies who believed their loved one was still out there somewhere. Lucy had watched her grandmother many a time holding conversations with her own long-dead husband and always felt as if she was intruding on an intimacy she couldn’t understand. But as the days went on, Lucy had opened herself up to the simple comfort that came from talking to Angela as if she had never left.
Lucy put away the last of the groceries, wiping the bench as an afterthought.
“I guess I should get on with it then” she glanced at the boxes stacked higgledy-piggledy down one side of the hallway.
It’s a right mess, Lucy. No time like the present.
Not all the boxes contained Lucy’s things. She had already settled most of her bits and pieces in Angela’s home. The others, held the last tangible memories of Angela’s life. Lucy had kept her grandmothers jewellery box and silver powder pot on the dresser in the bedroom and her scruffy dressing-gown still hung over the bathroom door as it and various reincarnations had done for forty years. Framed photographs still hogged what shelf space they could, among dog eared biographies and hard-backed travel books. Lucy couldn’t bring herself to throw away the lounge suite with its faded 1950’s brocade and amazing dust gathering abilities and the kitchen still housed an assortment of now vintage appliances and cracked thirty year old Tupperware. Every one thing was a touchable, smellable, wearable reminder of Angela and Lucy would keep them all.
She flipped up the corner of the nearest box, sneezing at the puff of dust she unsettled. This one held some of her grandfather’s belongings; packed by Angela after his death ten years ago. Lucy rummaged between old copies of Popular Electronics, 1960’s jazz records, a tiny magnifying glass and a tweed winter coat, till she touched something silky. Something feminine. She drew it out.
“Hello…” She whispered to the object. It wasn’t her grandfather’s that much was obvious. She looked at the snow white photo album in her hands. A long white ribbon attached to the spine that wound tightly around a silk print cover of a yellow rose – as vivid as if printed yesterday. Lucy hadn’t seen it before. She and Angela had gone through all the albums after her grandad had died, packing up the very boxes Lucy was trying to sort through now. But this one… this one was different. She absently twisted Angela’s wedding band on her right ring finger.
“Where did you come from?” She asked the treasure, half expecting Angela to snatch it out of her hands and snap at her for snooping. She sat back on her heels, her knees cracking in protest and untied the ribbon. Thompson sashayed over; taking advantage of Lucy’s being on the floor and promptly curled up in her lap. She rested the album on her thigh and carefully opened the cover. A faint musty smell welcomed her and she ran her fingers lightly over a sheet of cream tissue paper. A black and white image hid beneath, its monochromatic tones bleeding through the thin fibres, teasing Lucy with its promise. She hesitated. A small flutter of nerves started up in the pit of her stomach.
“It’s just a photo album, Lucy… grow some balls.” Thompson yawned his agreement and after a moment’s pause, she gently turned the tissue paper.
It was a family portrait. Not one of those formal, postured types, but a snapshot of a man and a woman and three unrecognisable children standing windswept on a pier. She peered closer at the wide-angled image.
“Is that you, gran?” Lucy touched a fingertip to the woman’s face as if in doing so it would create a connection across time and space. The man’s face was turned to the left of the camera, she could see his frown and his brow was creased to match and a stiff white dog collar stood out around his neck. A priest? A grumpy priest, she thought.
“You don’t look all that chipper…” Lucy squinted at the family once more and then turned to the next page. Another curtain of tissue paper, this one ripped in the bottom corner. Behind it lay two photos. The first; the same three children that stood on the pier, this time playing on a huge expanse of lawn with what looked like tin cars – the action, merry, their faces, dulled. The second; her grandmother, laughing like Lucy had never seen before. She was very young, maybe sixteen, hair in curls that bounced along her shoulders and a polka dot dress cinched in at an impossibly small waist. Lucy had seen other photo’s of Angela at this age, but in none had she exuded so much happiness as she did here. A chill ran down Lucy’s spine. Thompson started, his claws sprung into Lucy’s leg and she yelped pushing him off. A breeze lifted the tissue paper and it settled back over the two photographs. Lucy looked down the hallway. The window at the end was open – she couldn’t remember opening it, but considering her recent nightly exercises in sorrow-drowning… she grunted and got up to close it. When she returned to her spot before the box, Thompson had commandeered the album as his and was crouched possessively over its silk-rose cover.
“Shove, cat.” Lucy ordered. He didn’t move so she nudged him off and slid the album out from under him. Taking it into the bedroom, she shut the door behind her and sat in the cushioned bay window. She heard Thompson scratch at the door, but she ignored him and opened the album where she had left off. Lucy turned the next page over but beneath the tissue paper, she saw only four browned and feathered spots of paper – the remnants of a photo torn from the album. She looked up, thinking, staring at a framed photo of her grandparents on their wedding day that sat on the bookshelf across from the bed. Why hadn’t Angela shown her these? And why was the album shoved into the bottom of her grandad’s belongings? Lucy came back to reality and focused on the album in her lap. She fanned the rest of the pages but there were no more photographs. She sighed. Running her thumb along the spine, she went to slot it into the shelf alongside Simone de Beauvoir’s autobiography, when a flash of black and white slipped from under the silk cover, landing on Lucy’s foot. The album hovered before the shelf as Lucy stared down at the photo. The man – the priest – and her sixteen year old grandmother together, with a look in their eyes that any person in the throes of love would recognise in an instant. Lucy dropped the album. Outside the bedroom, the cat began to howl.
**[Fiction] Friday Challenge #220 for August 12th, 2011
Include each of these items in your story: Priest, ring, magnifying glass, cat.**