It’s a perfectly good frame, thought the old woman, and I can still see my reflection through it. Gently she lifted the frame. It’s too heavy to carry home.
Lucretia McDonald, age 79, sat by her window and watched the goings on at the trash can in front of her house. “It’s that Smith woman again,” she said to her cat. General Lee sat in Lucretia’s lap, a chubby white house cat with gray patches. General Lee seemed not to care, his eyes almost shut as she stroked behind his ears. Lucretia rocked in her chair and continued to watch. “Seems like she could leave folks’ trash alone, crazy old thing….Oh look she’s giving up maybe.”
But no, Tessie Smith didn’t give up, for within 10 minutes she returned, rusted out wheelbarrow bumping down the sidewalk in front of her. Once again, the woman lifted up her treasure, sitting it in the wheelbarrow with the carefulness one would show an infant being placed in a carriage. There. There now, it will do nicely on the wall somewhere. It only has a couple cracks and if I’m careful the glass won’t shatter.
“General Lee, will you look at that? She’s doing it again! That talking to nobody. Tsk. Back when I was a gal they locked you up in the sanitarium for such as that.” General Lee twitched his ear in his sleep in acknowledgement. “Wish I could hear what she was a’ saying.”
“You didn’t forget our anniversary, did you, Harry? I knew you wouldn’t! You wanted me to find this, didn’t you? My present…eh, sitting by a garbage pail, but romantic none the less and no less appreciated to be sure!” And with that, Tessie and her present set off for home.
Tessie Smith looked the part of a bag lady in her faded floral dress with small tears, oddly marched tube socks, and worn out shoes. Her gray hair was a mess of tangles and split ends, which cradled a careworn face in thick glasses that slipped down her nose at frequent intervals. Bag lady, however, she was not. Her husband left a sizeable fortune when he died two years ago. Tessie just saw no reason to spend it much.
“We aren’t in as good a shape as we used to be, are we, Harry?” Tessie puffed as she opened the iron gate and pushed the wheelbarrow through it. The yard was immaculately cut, a neighborhood boy being paid handsomely to keep it so lest she be given trouble by the historic association. The Victorian mansion, the biggest in the district. was also kept up outside. Not a chip of paint was off a shutter, but no one knew what the inside looked like since her husband died in his sleep and the ambulance came to collect his body
Tessie brought the wheelbarrow up to the porch steps. She eased herself down on the middle step and began to pull the mirror upward as she sat until she was able to place the yard long mirror on the porch. Resting a few minutes before attempting to reach the porch herself, she finally was able to get up and take the mirror inside. When Harry was alive, Tessie had kept her ‘collecting’ to a minimal, one spare room utilized for putting everything she collected. It had been enough in those days. But then Harry died and she tried to fill in the great chasm in her heart with things. Books, lots of them, stacked high as a man. Newspapers and magazines people had thrown out in case something important was inside for future reference. A doll with a missing leg because you wouldn’t throw a real baby away for only having one leg.
Tessie now lived downstairs exclusively, the upstairs preserved from Tessie’s collections. She made her way through the hall to a sitting room she made into her bedroom and laid the mirror on her bed. Looking through the cracked mirror , she saw her husband behind her, but as he was many years ago. She fancied she saw herself through the cracked mirror too as she was in the 1940s, a young wife.
She carries this image of herself in her mind and becomes her as she make the anniversary dinner. During dinner she looked up from her steak over at young Harry. Sometimes she believed Harry was really there, not just the elaborate fantasy she made herself after he died. If not physically, maybe in spirit. Tessie looked over at the place setting and said, “Harry, when we went to go get my present, I think I saw the curtain move at old Lucretia McDonald’s place. You know her, remember? Talks about her cat like its her child.? I think she’s a bit off.”