George’s ring. A baby shoe. Three pennies. War and Peace. The last picture of the family together, dated 1992.
Stella opens her eyes. It’s all there on the table. Bits of her life, remembered. She stops holding her breath. Puts her feet on the ground. Touches the ring, the baby shoe. Flattens the picture corners. 1992, she thinks. I can recall it like yesterday. George at the end of the table, pale. The kids grown up. The grandchildren caught in mid-reach, scooping up seconds, thirds — blurs in the background. Her own plate sits, untouched, as she stopped them all to catch the moment.
The phone rings, interrupting her thoughts. She turns towards the sound, frowning. Peter? Kate? An appointment? I should learn to write things down. Where, she thinks, now where did I put that phone?
George’s ring. A baby shoe. Two — no, three pennies. War and Peace. The picture, the one with George. He’s so pale. Our last supper together. The last supper.
Stella reaches out to touch the table before opening her eyes. Yes, three pennies. She picks one up — the oldest she could find in the change jar. 1953. The year we were married. George in a hand-me-down suit, second-hand shoes. Only his ring was new. Stella puts the penny down and tries the ring on. Too big, now. It used to fit. They used to be the same size. George would wear Stella’s ring around the house, sometimes. Bat his eyes. Cram his feet into her shoes. One time the phone rang and George reached out, her diamond ring scraping the receiver. “Hello!” His voice so high-pitched it cracked. Stella was speechless. Mortified. In love.
Stella puts her feet down, into her slippers. Pushes up off the bed. The clock says 10 but that can’t be right. She walks toward the staircase, shaking her head.
George’s ring. A baby boot. Three pennies. A big book. A Separate Peace? Peace, yes. But not peaceful. A battle? A fight? Ah, War and Peace. That picture of the family, at the supper table. George staring past the camera. Or into it. So pale.
She wipes her eyes and opens them. It was Kate who bought her War and Peace — a parting gift. A peace offering before she left home. For weeks Stella set an extra place at the table, by accident. Or just in case. Over Christmas, she’d wait for Kate’s light to go out. Count ten minutes. Then go in to brush Kate’s bangs behind her ear. Kate, the firstborn. The one Stella worried over. Just like my adolescence, Kate had written on the inside cover. A lot of fighting, then a little peace.
Stella reaches for her glasses on the bedside table, taps her fingers around the clock. Nothing. Runs a hand through her hair and finds them. She puts her palms on either side of her hips and pushes. Tries again and stands, slowly.
George’s watch. A baby shoe. A — penny? Dime? The Art of War. The family picture, where George is… sick? Yes, sick. Only she didn’t know it. He’d been slow that day. Tired. The heat, he said. Too much food. Arthritis. Stella waited until the family left before asking him if he was really okay. I’m fine, I’m fine, he said. But he wasn’t.
Stella looks at the baby shoe. Yellow, now. Scuffed. It fit two tiny feet, once — Kate’s, then Peter’s. A silver bell, pulled through the lace, had jingled their whereabouts around the house. She’d cleaned those shoes for the last time just before Keith was born. Stella had set them in the drawer in the baby room down the hall, tucked between hand-me-down PJs and new knit caps. George had driven her to the hospital, so early, weeks too soon. A few days later she’d dressed Keith in a knit cap, a matching sweater. Tried to warm his cold, blue arms. George had said enough, Stella. Hand him back. No more. But she couldn’t part with the shoes. In with the old, she thought, hands shaking on the dresser top. Out with the new.
Stella swings her legs over the side of the bed and stops. When did I get these? She runs her hands over her pajama legs. Pink with black roses. She smoothes the material out and laughs. It has a matching top with pockets. There’s a tissue in one and Stella pulls it out, blows her nose.
George’s shoe. A baby. Something round. Shiny? A… box. No, a book. A big book. And a picture, the one of all of us. I’m in it. No, I’m taking it. Seeing the whole family. The big picture. Not seeing George. His face was so pale. Almost lifeless. George, George, why didn’t you tell me?
They’d come over for Thanksgiving. Peter and Linda, Kate and Paul. The grandkids. Stella had made a feast, cooked each one their favourite. Then the photo albums came out. Who was that? Do you remember? Family features analyzed, noses traced with small fingers. Peter asked if he could have the one of George in the war, his uniform clean and pressed. A beret on his head. As young as his oldest grandchild. George had nodded, sighed. Stella looked up and frowned. Frightened. Opened her mouth to speak. I’m fine, he said, smiling. She looked around at her family, smiled back. I’ve captured a perfect moment, she thought. Something to frame. To remember.
She brings her legs around, plants her feet on the floor. Lifts once, twice. Her arms don’t seem to work. She wiggles to the edge of the bed. Tries again. Catches movement in the mirror. What a silly old woman that is, she thinks. Wearing her hat to bed.
George. Baby. And — and something. Something. Another one. And a picture of… a picture of… I have to remember, Stella says, eyes closed. They’re all I have left. Her hand reaches out, grasping.
Please, I have to remember.
Tina Wayland is a stay-at-home mom, freelance copywriter and out-of-the-closet fiction writer. She’s got her fingers in a few pies and hopes to net herself a few publishing plums.