Stella hates Tuesdays. Her grandmother, Alice Eva, died on a Tuesday. Now Stella must hang a rope around Alice Eva’s bed and let strangers in to mutter and fret, “Lovely needlework this, Gill.”
“Please stay this side of the rope,” Stella says.
In the music room, the suspended ceiling’s coming down, one moulded peak at a time, plaster peppering the boards. All is sag and warp.
Alice Eva danced there, long yesterdays ago, the hem of her gown frowsy with dust, head high, flashing a smile and her best diamonds, long gone now, sold like so much else to patch the cracks in the cornicing and keep the ceilings up, and for what? So strangers can tramp through, pointing at the beds, remarking on the magazines Stella sometimes forgets to tidy, a slip-slide of Sunday glossies, “Look, Gill, they read the Times just like Martin!”
“Stay this side of the rope,” Stella pleads.
Oh, Alice Eva! In your primrose silk, lilac blossom between gloved hands, your eyes fierce as a first frost, laughter brimming over on your lips.
Stella’s kept the petals from those flowers, crisp as cinders in a drawer, and the gloves, under glass where visitors can admire them. She’s not to touch now, the insurance company insists. These things are part of the assets of the house. Stella’s grandmother was not famous but her home is old and the public will pay money to see a little of life as it was once lived.
Alice Eva’s past is an asset, and a liability.
Stella is not to touch the gloves or the little bits of ratted brocade she played with as a child, the beads and brushes, ivory elephants, paper fans. It’s all roped off, under glass.
Once a month, on a Wednesday when it’s safe, Stella shuts herself up in Alice Eva’s room.
She sits on her grandmother’s bed and pulls the kidskin gloves onto her hands, working the ebony hook the way she was taught, one buttonhole at a time, dressing herself to the wrists in a time when Alice Eva danced on floors that dipped and rose, the house like a sea around her, shifting and shining to her smile.
Sarah Hilary won the Fish Historical-Crime Contest with Fall River, August 1892, and has two stories in the Fish anthology 2008. She was a runner-up in the Biscuit Short Story Contest 2008. MO: Crimes of Practice, the Crime Writers’ Association anthology, features Sarah’s story, One Last Pick-Up. Her work appears in Smokelong Quarterly, Literary Fever, Every Day Fiction, Ranfurly Review and Zygote in my Coffee. Sarah blogs at http://sarah-crawl-space.blogspot.com/.