The Picture

April 30, 2008
By
“Faithfully, Fiona, faithfully. That is how to live your life. Be faithful, my dear.” The murmurs floated about Fiona’s ears, caressing them softly. Thoughts of pleasant June flowers with their faint, powdery scent and tart lemonade poured into a set of chipped teacups lulled her to near-sleep. Had it not been for the stick of wax that waved a flickering light upon the face of the armoire, Fiona surely would have drifted away. Every so often her eyelids fluttered heavily and she forced them open again, pressing her back against the wall with unyielding focus. A musty scent lingered above the bed, but Fiona barely noticed it itching at her nostrils. All she remembered were the fields of tall, tickling grasses, the crisp white blouse, and the skirt of soft, ruffled violet. She pictured the sun staining a blue sky of wispy clouds with bright light and the tangy odor of dried apricot biscuits. An image of darting butterflies, beaded silk slippers, and honey-brown ripples of hair flashed in her mind. She remembered all this, even the clean, delicate hands clasped on the skirt, and yet…she couldn’t remember everything. A flurry of cards fell to the floor with a pitter-patter. Fiona, not bothering to retrieve them, closed the box of remaining photographs and hurriedly pushed it under the bed. Wiping a moist droplet from her face, she rose from the sheets and headed toward the steps.

“Fiona, dear, your time will come. You must be patient, Fiona. You must be patient.” As rain across a window pane, so did her tears streak now, blinding her vision and wetting her cheeks with every bat of the eye. All around her, the settling autumn fog was thick with the smell of decaying leaves as Fiona glided through the shadowy forest. The mud-patched ground below proved unkindly to her smooth feet and she steadied herself on a tree limb protruding from the shadows, refusing to slip. Her toes grew increasing numb now as she ducked under the tangle of branches above her head and shrunk away from sharp branches, bending this way and that like the wind itself. An unsettling sound brushed against her ears- was that an owl’s cry? Perhaps, but she did not notice. She observed nothing around her, not even the bite of the icy wing on her skin that ripped through her frock. All thoughts save one were absent from her mind: The checkered tablecloth on the ground, the white barn of haystacks,, the one silver string of hair across her face, a rust-colored cat sitting on its haunches between the legs of the bench…

She came to a fallen maple in a moonlit glen and dropped to the forest floor, nearly losing her balance on the carpet of slick leaves. A quick tap on the maple’s stump revealed a hidden latch and her chapped fingers gripped the edges of the opening. Please be here. The gingersnaps in a square sugar tin, the gold chain with a rearing horse dangling from its center, a black velvet purse. Oh please, let it be here. Fiona withdrew a rusted metal box with a fat lock on its front and impatiently inspected its front as she slid onto the log. A desperate joggling of the piece knocked the lock undone and it fell with a clack onto a rock underfoot. With numbed fingers and trembling breath, Fiona lifted the lid. Oh please. Let it be here. Oh please.
The keepsake box was full to the brim. Inside its metal frame were letters on cracked paper, aged yellow with time, a ring of bronze keys with rounded heads, a faded red ribbon, and pictures- dozens of pictures. Each left its familiar metal cave and swirled, exposed, in the wind as Fiona wildly discarded it over her shoulder. She reached the last photograph, one of a curly-haired girl standing in front of a picket fence, and let it slip through her hands dejectedly, into the blackness below. Not these pictures. It isn’t one of these.
Fiona’s sense of reality, suspended for so long, now sank before her eyes. What had once been a terrible possibility was now a terrible reality, and the dread she had been forbidding to enter into her thoughts pervaded deeply, as poison through veins. Fiona crumpled into the mud. Her face. Oh, her face. It is gone! Gone forever, forever…no… She grasped handfuls of leaves, photographs, and useless memories to dash against the rock, ashamed at her failure and hopeless behavior, and yet heaving sharp, broken sobs. Even patience and faith, worn to the thinnest of threads, were useless now. Surely she had kept all her wishes, fulfilled her promises. Surely she had listened to her voice, amplified it every day, ‘til even her own thoughts shrank back behind the volume of the past. Surely she had done everything possible…but everything wasn’t enough. Utterly powerless, with no choice but to grieve, Fiona lay trembling in the wet earth. The thought of losing her mother’s face was far too much to bear.





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