how many lives can one person touch?
Register Days
Don’t Touch it, Don’t Clean it, Don’t Take it Out
There’s an old picture in the living room, sitting on the mantle. It’s old, with no color, and the frame is cracked and chipped. Dust crowds most of the glass like a sheet, save inside the cracks. The picture is held in by a brass frame, which has flowery designs in the corners that are tarnished and black in some places. Sometimes I want to polish the frame and wipe the dust away, but Mom always catches me lifting up a licked finger to the glass.
“Heaven forbid, Tabby, leave the photograph be,” she says. She also says that we should keep the dust as it is, like a funeral shroud, on account of us having no fancy black stuff to cover it with.
“I just want to see his face,” I always complain, “Just one little dot’s all I need.”
Mom shakes her head, “Tabitha, you know my rules. Don’t mess with the photograph. Don’t clean it, don’t touch it, and especially don’t take it out.”
I always slink away, because I know Mom’s really hurting over Grandpa. She doesn’t want me messing with it because she doesn’t want to have the hurt flooding back when she just bandaged the wound, like a clean photograph in a clean frame. She doesn’t want to start over. She’s afraid of her past.
But I study the photograph, day after day, always and always. If I squint and lean up close to it so that my nose is almost, but not quite, touching the glass, when my nostrils burn with the smell of the dust, I can make out the outline of a person, and something like a hollowed-out triangle by his head. The horizon line comes into view if I concentrate and lean in the tiniest bit more, and lumpy shapes dumped on it. But then I have to back away before I sneeze from the smell and blow the dust away, or my nose wipes the frame clean, or I rock the mantle and cause the picture to fall.
Even when the photograph is in the other room, I feel it drawing me. Just one dot, I tell myself. One careful dot and Mom won’t notice. One dot an I can see his face. One dot and I’ll be satisfied.
Mom doesn’t keep any other pictures of Grandpa in the house, and I never saw him. She never talks about him. At. All. And that’s why I need to know. I just want one connection with him, other than Mom saying, “Your eyes are the same.”
Once she told me that I’d rushed to the bathroom mirror and practically pressed my face to the glass. I opened my eyes wide with my fingers, studying every inch of them until my eyes watered. I went so far after that as to keep a journal of everything I knew about Grandpa.
So far I have this:
•Eyes grey-brown, like dust. A bit of gold. Not much, just around edges and pupil area.
•Was in the army. Possibly the air force.
•Fought in WWII
It’s not much, but I know I’ll find more someday. And my journal will be filled.
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