Seeing What Is Shown

August 7, 2011
By briannab14 SILVER, Morristown, New Jersey
briannab14 SILVER, Morristown, New Jersey
5 articles 0 photos 0 comments

The letter in the mail didn’t say why I had to be there. It was just an address and “I hope you find what has been you.” The directions were to my grandmother’s old house. An 1820’s re-modeled colonial estate. The last time I had been inside was before her funeral ten years ago. My grandfather sold it soon after, saying it brought him too many bad memories, but we all know why he sold it.

I open the unlocked door to the abandoned mansion. A layer of thick dust welcomes me, mixed with the smell of mothballs and mold. What would the writer of the letter possibly want me to do? A thorough spring-cleaning? The house has been wiped clean. The trinkets from exotic lands that my grandmother would travel to are replaced with cobwebs. The front closet that was once full of her fur coats is now filled with black widows.

I step through the foyer, my reflection shining through the cracks of the once polished floor. Grandmother’s living room sits at the back of the house. Its placement crucial to her, as her calm, steady voice echoes through my head, “You should always place your living room at the back of your house, Bella. You never want to show a stranger how you really live.” My mother would never listen to the anecdotes that her mother would tell us. The snippets of advice that grandmother thought useful were white noise to my mother. But for me they were the directions on how to live properly. How to become a lady of society with ease and grace. It was especially after my mother’s two divorces and late spinster lifestyle that I started to take grandmother’s advice into account, filing it into the back of my mind for later use.

And now, in her barren house, an anonymous letter that has been written sloppily on yellow memo paper, clenched in my hand, I walk into the living room. The black grand piano sits to the back of the room, placed in front of the large, bay windows, their lights filtered with gossamer drapes. I remember the countless Christmases as a child, sitting on the cushioned piano bench, feet barely touching the floor. My hands perched on top of my uncle’s as he swept them across the keys, serenading my family with dreamy Christmas lullabies. I see the gold-tone parrot’s cage, still on its matching stand. It was a palace to Porky, the albino parrot that my grandmother fell in love with on her final trip to Guatemala. I remember the love that my grandmother had for that bird, more than for her own daughter. A monogrammed steamer lies to the right of the cage. Grandmother’s initials printed in white script. She had left my grandfather twice. Maybe more, but they would only share the two occasions publicly. Their dysfunctional relationship wasn’t a secret. He would lie to her, steal from her, cheat on her, try to break her down into nothing. But no matter how many times she would walkout on him she would always come crawling back days later. I could almost see the happiness on his face when they closed her casket. A deep sigh of relief as they lowered her six feet underground. The sound of his chain breaking free as he ran off with his secretary to Paris after her certificate of death was signed.

My breath suddenly catches as I look down at my face again in the floor. My dark brown hair curled softly around my made-up face. My ironed blouse opened modestly, only revealing the thin, gold chain hanging around my neck. The phone in my pocket that holds seventeen missed calls from my mother, calls that I don’t plan on returning. The mascara flaked on my cheeks, placed there by tears that have fallen after another nasty fight with my boyfriend. The person who wrote the letter knew. They knew exactly what I forgot, and what I needed to remember. They knew exactly who I was and needed for me to be here in order to see it.

I have shunned my family. Written them off like a bad check; hoping they would never bounce back. I remember the explosive fights with my mother. Blaming her for my father walking out on us when I was only six, for not being able to afford the designer jeans and expensive vacations that my friends could. I have slowly replaced genuine love with that of expensive cars and jewelry. Like grandmother, I hide misery with make-up. Drown sorrow with champagne. Stitch scars with silk. I am grandmother; whether I like it or not. I am a heartless beast that cannot be stopped.

The author's comments:
I spent the most time on this piece, editing every line so that I could release Bella’s voice in the most effective way. The dramatic change at the end of the piece where Bella realizes the monster that she has grown into was an important aspect of the story for me. Originally a piece of flash fiction, I expanded on the work, adding a great amount of detail so that Bella would become a fully developed character.

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