Friday, January 11, 2008

I Want to Live Here 7

“There’s another downstairs, looks like her uniform bag.”
Susan pawed through the contents of this one, coming up with a small appointment book. I made a note to look at it when she was finished. There would be clues in there to where she’d been staying. Maybe. The book disclosed a work schedule. Sure enough, Abigail was AWOL. Susan snatched up the telephone, dialing a number.
While she was on hold, I walked into the smaller bedroom at the rear of the townhouse. This was the only room Abigail had furnished with her own furniture. Against the window, which looked over her patio and, I noticed, into Mrs. Mason’s and another neighbor’s patios, she had placed a blue rocking chair and, on it, a pair of porcelain-faced dolls. Near the door stood a girl’s roll-top desk, cheap oak painted white and stenciled with gold lines and curlicues. It was the kind of desk you get when you’re ten and stop sharing a room with your brother. My own had been antiqued a soft green. I’d outgrown it by high school when my parents, noticing my nascent taste for antiques, replaced it with a Governor Winthrop secretary that, had I not sold it to help finance my impulsive move to Atlanta, I would still be happy to own. I wondered why Abigail still had her girl furniture, but nothing more. Had she brought nothing to, or from, the marriage with Kevin?
Against the longest wall, Abigail had placed daybed of a Victorian style: white painted metal bars softened by at least a dozen throw pillows and a bolster, each one a different floral pattern. Over the bed she had hung a large mirror, flanking it with snapshots of friends, other Eastern stewardesses living it up in the big Northeast cities the carrier served. The contents of this room were juvenile, but well worn and probably gave the best clue as to who Abigail Snowe had once been before opting for trendy sophistication.
Her record keeping was not up to par. In one drawer I found a bundle of telephone and utility bills. She had opened the accounts in October with deposits indicated on each. Nothing was overdue. Opening her two Southern Bell invoices I noted what I considered to be hefty long distance charges especially to the 617 area code.
I called out to Susan, “Do you think she might have been staying in Boston?”
Receiver in hand, Susan stretched the cord as far as it would go, which was to the door of the second bedroom. “An hour ago I would have said no,” she said. “Now I’m not so sure.” Whoever she was holding for reclaimed her attention.
The closet doors in the small rooms were the kind that slide on tracks to the left or to the right revealing half their contents. Opening the door on the left revealed a row of dry cleaner bags. Summer uniforms: skirts, blouses and two jackets. On the shelves above were stacked blue jeans, sweaters and T-shirts. Had she used this room for herself? In that case, who lived in the master bedroom? A roommate? Rent the big room, keep the small one for yourself? Not a bad idea if you were a traveling girl who didn’t spend much time home anyway.
When Susan returned, she was shaking.
“I don’t even know what to say to these people. I mean, they want to know details. Funeral details. Viewing times! Flowers. Jesus. I don’t know. Do you know?”
“I’ve never organized a funeral,” I said. “Beats me. Won’t your mother know?”
“My parents are dead too,” she said, sinking onto the rocker, holding both dolls in a familiar cuddle. “I don’t know. I don’t know.”
Kneeling in front of her, I tried to gently pull the toys from her grasp. I wanted to take her hands in my own, press them confidently and say, “We’ll figure it out.” But she gripped them so tightly there was nothing I could do but place my hands upon the dolls' worn and well-loved heads. “I’ll find out for you. Don’t worry. Judith will know. Someone here will know.”
And with that the doorbell rang and a voice called up, “Is anyone here?” It was Mrs. Mason, looking for her vodka, but carrying, we would see, a business card for Patterson’s Funeral Parlor. “If Patterson’s don’t do you,” she said with the confidence of a matriarch, “you ain’t dead.” I’m sure our combined giggles arose purely from nerves.

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