Once every single piece of furniture and every single box are loaded onto the truck, this house, stripped bare in a single morning, will go back to being mute. A white canvas, where someone else will write their story.
That's how fast our memories disintegrate.
I've been procrastinating about calling the movers, of course. Who wouldn't? It's like phoning in your own death sentence and prodding the executioner.
Instead I've been wandering around the rooms in a daze, touching surfaces, sizing things up. Every time I open a drawer or look in the back of an armoire, some new discovery stuns me. I keep turning between my fingers what I have just found, as if expecting it to talk to me. An old dusty ribbon (a hat? gift wrapping?), a newspaper clipping from the fifties, the obituary page (whose death are we looking at here?), a single light-blue silk shoe, custom-made in Paris (Renée's?), a tiny photograph in black-and-white, of a group of young people huddled together on a beach in thirties-style bathing suits (which one is my grandfather?), a single page from a letter (no date, no signature, written in French).
It's like trying to trace the history of an Egyptian mummy from her ring, a few glass beads, bits of broken pottery, a faded inscription. Yes, she was a merchant's wife-no, a pharaoh's sister, or maybe a high priestess. History demands a plot with a proper beginning and a proper end.
This is not a story about what we know, nor about what we have.
This story is about what gets lost on the way.
My mother, Alba, rings me twice a day from her house in Rome. She wants to know how I'm proceeding with the move.
"Oh," I say gingerly, "I'm not quite ready yet. I still have to go through all the drawers upstairs in the bedrooms. There are all these papers, photographs, you have no idea how-"
"Just chuck everything in the boxes," she interrupts. "You'll never get out alive if you start looking at everything. Those people said they want to move in next week."
"It's all right. They have the house for life now. They can wait another day or two. By the way, I found your wedding dress."
"Oh my God."
"It doesn't even look like a wedding dress. I only recognized it from of the photos."
"You found those as well?" she asks.
"Yes. Everything was kind of stuffed inside a box on top of the armoire in your room. There were hats, printed wedding invitations, an envelope full of pictures. Papa looks like this smart kid with glasses. Like a math genius or something. Why didn't you wear a long white dress?"
"Oh, I don't know. It was a country wedding. . . . I kept it simple," she sighs, impatient with me already. "I remember it was a pretty dress."
"Knee-length, full skirt. Tiny poppies embroidered here and there. Fifties-style, you know. I'm wearing it right now."
"It barely fits me, but it makes this whole process a bit more fun. You know, wearing something so nice."
"Alina," she sighs . . . . "are you okay doing this on your own? Do you want me to come down? I could get on the train tomorrow if you need me."
She asks this question twice a day, her voice full of dread that I'll say yes.
"No, I'm fine. You would only get in the way."
"Are you sure? I'll come if-"
"No, really. I'm actually enjoying it. It's kind of . . . therapeutic."
I don't hear anything coming from her end, so I add:
"It's like, you don't even begin to realize someone you love is really dead until you see their body go underground. It's part of the process."
"Jesus, you are morbid," she says, but I can feel her relief: she can stay in Rome.
I always knew she wouldn't have anything to do with sorting out old, forgotten boxes. Alba has never been big on remembering.
Excerpted from Casa Rossa by Francesca Marciano. Copyright 2002 by Francesca Marciano. Excerpted by permission of Pantheon, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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