Robert’s eyes fluttered open. And his heart grew heavy again with the realization of reality.
The morning sun cast a stark shaft of light through the window, filling the dark room with illumination. Dust particles were amplified bright in that beam of sunlight, like fireflies floating aimlessly. The beam terminated on the wood grain top of a table.
The old man would have been able to tell Robert that the table was a late 18th Century Queen Anne tilt top tea table with a rhombus marquetry tabletop whose wood tiles formed a 3d cube pattern as well as perfect six pointed stars, whose bird cage folding mechanism sat atop three legs adorned with gilded lotus leaf decoration on top of original casters. And also tell him the specifics of the couch on which Robert had crashed after his long drive. He himself knew nothing of the pieces or the other pieces in his uncles antique shop, other than it was old. Like Uncle Lee. Old and well used, he sadly thought.
Robert corrected his thought. Lee had not been well used. He had hardly been used at all. Lee had been a broken man at a young age and had lived his life like that. Broken with nothing to give, hardly used at all. Poor Uncle Lee Robert thought. Some would call him crazy, others would call him eccentric. Uncle Lee, the old bachelor that had just died, leaving behind so many unanswered questions about him. Why was he so quiet, where does he drive off to all the time and what was in that addition he had built on to his shop all those years ago? Poor crazy eccentric Uncle Lee.
Sad, Robert sat up. He gazed at the beautiful surface of the table, tracing the grain of the wood with his finger. Drawn into the wood, he was amazed at the depth of it and how the graceful organic forms of the grain created a three dimensionality with the contrasting light and dark textures. It reminded him of clouds. Dark clouds.
He imagined when the plank had been cut centuries ago to make this top, that the wood was young, and the lines were not as well defined as they were now, nor were they exquisite, or as beautiful as they were now. He thought that with age, the character was defined, the textures with in the grain formed, the luster deepened.
Like Uncle Lee, he thought. It wasn’t that his uncle was crazy; it was character. Deep character. Poor Uncle Lee, who had passed days ago.
When his mother had called him to give him the news, she had said her brother had finally died of that broken heart of his.
The Styrofoam cups of coffee emitted a constant cloud of steam, accentuated in that beam of sunlight, now slightly shifted at a different angle. Once the misty wisp was past the direct ray of sun, it vanished in the shadows, disappearing into nothing.
The sheriffs deputy’s knock on his uncles antique shop door had jolted Robert from his deep thoughts on the couch.
Deputy Johnson, having seen Roberts car out in front of the shop, had brought an extra cup of coffee and to offer his condolences.
Dressed in his forest green uniform, Johnson took a sip of his coffee, possibly in an effort to end the silence, to establish a sense of life in this room full of age old furnishings and deep sadness, to stimulate Robert into saying something. He was uncomfortable with the silence of the room, uncomfortable with death.
Robert took the cue.“Thanks for bringing this by.” He said and took a sip from his own cup.
Deputy Johnson, thinking that Robert had shaken off the sleepies enough that he could tell him what he came by for.
“Your uncles was out in the woods when we found him. I imagine he was out there with the turkeys.” The deputy said. “He had his box call with him.” Johnson handed the wooden instrument to Lee.
Robert smiled, the first smile in days, taking it in his hand. At least his uncle had died doing something he enjoyed, he thought. He drew the lid across the top and the sound emitted a high pitched chirp. Lee loved to turkey hunt. It was a known fact that the antique shop would be closed intermediately in the spring, in which Lee would disappear. It was a sacred time for his uncle, time for contemplating and reflecting and of course for calling turkeys. He was known throughout the state for calling turkeys. And you were considered lucky to go with Lee and have him call the birds up for you, but would only do so if you asked. Lee never volunteered, always quietly obliging, having called for Senators and Sheriffs alike.
“Sheriff Conner suspected several places he might be. He can’t get out there with the arthritis in his knees. For as quiet as he was, he sure seemed to have a lot of friends. Word spread and we had over forty volunteers ready to look for him in an hour. Sixty more came in the next hour. Your uncle was a well-loved man.”
Ya, but, not loved by the One that counted, Robert thought.
Johnson continued. “It was folks from church found him. When I first saw him, out in the woods, I didn’t recognize your uncle.”
Robert looked up, shocked, fully awake now, thinking that maybe his mother had lied to him and that his uncle had finally blown his head off.
“Oh no! Nothing like that.” The deputy said, sensing Roberts anticipated unease and horror. “He didn’t do that.” The deputy reassured Robert, knowing just enough of Lee’s past to know what Robert was thinking. “I had seen your uncle ever since I can remember always walking about town with that big beard of his. Hell, I used to think he was Santa Claus because of that beard, but when I saw him the other day, he had shaved it off.”
Robert looked at the deputy with a sense of not understanding. The deputy simply shrugged his shoulders.
There were several distinguishing features about his uncle. All would say it was his constant silence, hardly saying anything after a polite hello. Some would say it was his girth. He was a rather large stocky man, though in the pictures of his youth, he was a normal sized fellow. But still, others would say the single distinguishing characteristic of his Uncle would have to be his beard. Like the deputy, Robert, like Deputy Johnson, had always remembered his uncle having it. The beard had always been neatly trimmed, full, in the style of Hemingway. So distinguished, so unusual. Robert could imagine that his grandmother would nearly of had a stroke when she first learned of the beard years ago, because it “just wouldn’t be proper.” Though she never did say anything about it. No one had ever said anything about it. Robert only knew Lee had emerged from a three month drunken stupor with it and had never shaved it off.
“We all got so used to seeing him with the beard, I couldn’t even think of what he would look like without it, until, of course I saw him there, against that tree.” The deputy said.
Robert continued his thought of his Uncle Lee. He thought maybe perhaps the most distinguishing feature of his uncle were his deep piercing blue eyes. When one looked into the cold eyes of his uncle, it was like looking into the cloudless sky or an empty ocean. It was always the emptiness that offset the beauty of the blue in his eyes. The ever present dominating emptiness and sadness that was always there.
The deputy took another sip, thinking how he would broach what he was about to say. “Another thing,” he decided to simply say it, “ Your uncle,…he had this in his hand.” The deputy said and extended his hand out to Robert.
Robert extended his arm and opened his palm, not sure what to anticipate.
The deputy opened his fist and a piece of light colored material fluttered in slow motion to his hand, the sunlight illuminating it, as it rest there.
It was a lace ribbon. It was old, older than himself, a pink ribbon with small white lace along it’s edge.
He knew that it had belonged to Her.
He dropped his head to his chest and looked into his coffee, overcome with sadness and grief. He wasn’t sure if the act of averting his eyes would prevent his tears from coming or the fact that when he did cry, he didn’t want the deputy to see him.
Holding the ribbon in his hand, he wanted to smell it, to capture some part of Her, for a glimmer of understanding, but he knew the scent was long gone. And he realized how ridiculous that would look to the sheriff.
He got up from the couch and stepped to a night stand, where he deposited the ribbon, hoping upon release he wouldn’t feel so damn sad.
His hand, now empty as was his heart, the sadness remained ever present and strong.
Feeling uncomfortable, Johnson shifted on his feet. He had never fared well at funerals or any sad situation. “I’m sorry for your lose. As you know, he was a damn fine man.”
“Thank you.” Robert said, his voice almost cracking, turned his head to keep the tears from spilling.
Robert had always been very fond of his uncle, like most people that knew him, despite Lee being an odd, quiet and sad soul.
Lee had an elusive quality that defined him as the man he was. Robert knew it was the charismatic mysterious aspect that kept people in a perpetual sense of waiting. And maybe this is why everyone adored him so, as there was a sense of expectation, a desire for a revelation of who he was. But that never came. He was the essential American Adam, having been tested by fire and scared, and now, carrying about an unnamable, unspeakable burden. It was possible that everyone’s adoration, which came in the form of compassion, mercy and pity, was derived from this scar tissue which Lee kept so well hidden behind his silent façade.
The people that knew Lee, especially those that grew up with Lee, understood was not crazy nor eccentric, just sad. And those people all had a great sense of pity about them. There was pity for Lee, but there was also pity for them.
For they had known Lee when he was young. And he had been much different then. But that was before Her.
Her: the Holy Grail of all women.
Robert knew as much about Her as he knew of his uncles relationship with Her.
Which was not much.
She was the conversation no one had. Talk of Her was the one skeleton in the family closet. Robert had inquired at times, but they were always ignored and when not ignored, they were frowned upon. She was the one thing the family never spoke of.
Occasionally, the family whispered about Her in hushed tones, behind closed doors, and even then, that was almost akin to blasphemy and only privy to those that had know Lee when he was young and with Her.
And Robert knew that it pained the family members to speak of. Because Robert knew they had all lost Lee because of Her. Lee had in essence died, and as with all death, it pained people to speak of the lost loved one.
Robert would sometimes see his mother look at her brother with a sad deep look in her eyes that was unfathomable. His mother always did say that Lee was just a shell of the man he used to be. And that was only mentioned in a moment of nostalgia and inevitably.
But one occasion, years ago, his mother had let slip out some details, after she had one too many extra strong toddies on a Saturday afternoon. She had said that when she and her siblings had been young, Lee had been “a hoot!” and that whenever he used to walk into a room in his slicked back hair and bow tie, he always lite it up with his gregarious, social presence. He had always been the life of the party. And just as quickly as she had offered a glimpse into Lee’s past, she was just as quickly quiet about it.
Another opportunity to glance into Lee’s past had come when they were at a family function, years ago. His mother had been talking to her sister, Gladys which Robert had overheard her say “Used to be the lamp shade wearing life of the party. Ladies wanted to be with him and men wanted to be him. Now he’s the strong silent type; ladies still want to be with him and men still want to be him.” And he remembered Aunt Gladys, shaking her head in sadness, biting her lip as the two sisters looked on at their sad lost brother who was already leaving the party, only showing up out of generationally engrained politeness.
Before his passing, two days ago, Lee still had the sense of power about him when ever he walked into a room. Instead of a handshake and a smile or a pat on the back and a laugh, his uncle’s simple silent presence still attracted the attention of those about him. His youthful smile was replaced with a mask of stoicism. The social conversation was replaced with silent remembrances and sad recollections. His bow tie replaced by an open collar shirt. It was the silent aspect of this large, attractive man that turned heads toward him.
Overwhelmingly sad, his back still turned to the door as the deputy closed it, Robert felt weak kneed and unstable.
Seeking a respite, he sat down in a large winged backed chair. It enveloped him, almost comforting him, as he sank in the plush overstuffed cushions of the seat.
Robert knew that Lee had been, laughing, gregarious and social when he met Her.
Even though his family or family friends never offered insight into Her, there were the times that Robert did catch a glimpse through the doorway of the past and caught a fleeting sight of Her.
And She was intriguing. And beautiful, even though he had never seen her.
It was during the football games that this insight was often revealed.
The football games had started when Robert had been a junior at Vanderbilt. Robert’s father had just passed and Robert wasn’t doing well in classes because of it. Midway through the semester his uncle had unexpectedly sent him tickets to the Florida-Georgia game in Jacksonville with a plane ticket, a bottle of bourbon with a new bow tie tied around the neck, a hundred dollar bill, and a note. It was a short note and had as many words on it as Uncle Lee would ever string together in a conversation. It read “ Happy Birthday! The ticket gets you into J-ville Friday afternoon, to give you an opportunity to see your Florida friends that evening. I’ll arrive at noon for lunch and drinks with you and your friends at Nelly’s on the River.”
He looked at the ticket. It was third row at the fifty-yard line. And Robert had been excited, and a little dumbfounded, as this was out of the blue, so unlike his Uncle Lee to reach out. It just wasn’t in his personality. But his uncle knew how sad he had been at the funeral. This was a way for Robert to heal.
He had had a great time that weekend at the Florida Georgia Game. It was indeed a chance for him to escape the pain in his life and just relax. And he felt that it had been the same for his uncle. It was a chance, an opportunity to escape his own pain that he lived with. Though the two were together that weekend, they neither spoke of their sadness, just enjoying each other’s quiet company.
The weekend trip to Jacksonville was the start of many many weekends throughout the Southeast for Saturday ball games lasting throughout his time at Vanderbilt and a little into grad school before Robert just got to busy.
One weekend the two would be at a Razorback game, another weekend they would attend the Auburn Alabama rivalry.
Then a strange occurrence happened when he received tickets to a South Carolina game. There were two tickets and they were in the box seats with the schools Athletic Director, Robert knowing his Unlce had great connections through his antique business. . The note simply said “Take a friend and dress up for this one.” Which meant coat and tie. And he was a little surprised and sorely hurt when his uncle didn’t show up. He had called his uncle to ask him about it and tell him what a great time he and his friend had had rubbing elbows with South Carolina socialites and politicians in the Box. But his uncle didn’t answer. Nor did return that particular call, or any call for he never spoke on the phone.
When he called his mother and told her about it, she had said that “Clumbia’s much too close to Charlotte. The cultcha and folks are much too alike.”
“What are you talking about mom?” he asked bewildered, wondering why his mother were comparing the two cities when he was asking about a football game. And why she was already drinking this early in the day.
“Robert Lee, do I have to spell it out?. Your uncle wouldn’t even go to his own sisters Glaydis wedding in Greenville because that is too close to Charlotte!”
Robert estimated that Greenville and Charlotte were about two hours apart, wondering what this had to do with anything when his mother interrupted his wonderings with the ominous and declarative “Charlotte was where She lived!” she practailly shouted through the phone.
And he fell silent.
And, though the angry ramblings of his mother Robert learned that his uncle never would breach a certain radius around the forbidden city of Charlotte. Even his work, or his passion of turkey hunting, didn’t call him beyond the self imposed circle.
Another time, Robert recalled, he had been privy to the exclusive part of his uncles past. They had gone to an LSU game in Baton Rouge, and as they were watching the exaggerated antics of an Ole Miss fans beat up a stuffed Tiger, a group of female students walked by. They were obviously student nurses, as they all wore their white nurse’s uniforms and cute Tiger tails, pinned on their rears. And his uncle’s smile faded as he stared as they walked past. And Robert knew at that moment that She, She whose name is never spoken, that She had been a nurse and wore a white uniform. The Ole Miss fan and stuffed tiger, the fartherest thing on his mind, Robert had seen the depth of pain in his uncles eyes and he had wanted to burst into tears for his uncle. And he almost had as he witnessed the transformation his uncle went through and the extinction of his smile the rest of that day. There was a longing in his uncle’s face and a blank lost melancholy look that completely broke Robert heart.
And the student nurse’s passed, as did the moment. But his uncles smile never returned that day, and his eyes seemed gray, not blue. For the rest of the day, though out the game and the trip to the airport, his uncle said even fewer words than when he did speak and there was that faraway melancholic look in his eyes.
The pieces of the past came together about as smoothly as a round peg fits in a square hole. But never the less, these bits of history revealed what he didn’t previously know. And he always wanted more. But never got it. The story was never complete.
The room was scented with age. Everything in this room had a quality of a long ago era to it. Even himself Robert thought as he made half an effort to grin. He was getting up there, about to turn 44, himself.
He looked around the room at all the old furnishings and furniture. Antique desk and night stands were methodically placed about the room and rest of the shop. Wall hangings covered the walls. Everything from old guns to tapestries. His uncle Lee hadn’t only dealt in antiques, he was a collector, and not just of antiques, but sometimes historically significant pieces. He had once been in possessions of pieces owned by George Washington, Forest Bedford, Francis Marion, Stonewall Jackson and Daniel Webster.
Next to a framed copy of Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense” there was a framed collection of arrowheads. And he knew they were not for sale because they were family property and had been found on the land were the old family house stood.
He remembered the day finding those same arrowheads. Not in a plowed field or by the river bank, no, they had already been found. He simply refound them in the house.
He had maybe been eight or so and had been doing what eight years old do in their grandmother’s house. He had been exploring. This type of exploring didn’t involve running through the woods and peaking under logs on his grandmother’s land, but rather exploring in the house. This involved opening closed doors, looking in old antique bureaus, reaching under the beds in the many rooms of the great old house. He was fascinated by the old saber his great great grandfather had worn in the War of Northern Aggression. Equally fascinating was when he opened the door under the stairs and discovered the bucket of arrowheads. He had immediately pulled it out in the room for better lighting and went through the bucket, placing the arrowheads on the floor imagining the Indian hands that had crafted these ancient artifacts. He had laid them out on the wood floor in a rows and columns when his grandmother had walked in the room and said there was a cigar box full of more arrow heads somewhere in one of the living room drawers. Robert remembered rapturously running into the living room with rampant eagerness, in an attempt to discover more of the ancient hunting implements as his grandmother reminded him that he would have to clean up the mess he was now making with the arrowheads. He roughly rummaged through the many drawers in the desk and bureaus in the semi lit room. His grandmothers voice called into the room, telling him not to break anything. As he was opening the second to the bottom drawer of the writing desk in the living room, she said “You damn well better straighten any mess you make in there!” Unlike the drawers that seemed bound up due to slight warping of the wood, this drawer opened rather unexpectedly easy and he had to be careful not to spill the contents. He caught the drawer with his legs and he slid the drawer partially back into the receiver. Like all the other drawers, this had been full. The items were various, small nick knacks, a shoe box full of letters in yellowed envelopes, a turkey call, a stack of pictures and underneath those a cigar box. He dove his hands into the drawer, retrieving the cigar box, scattering the pictures within the drawer. He immediately opened the box, already knowing they were arrowheads just from the weight of the box and the clinking noises the flint pieces made on one another when the box was moved and jarred.
After breathlessly examining the contents of the box, he prepared to join these arrowheads with the others on the floor in the parlor. But, he was mindful and respectful of his grandmothers wishes and fearing her wrath, he obediently gathered the pictures to straighten them just as he had found them. His young, curious mind looked over the yellow and black images, as he casually flipped though the thin pieces of printed cardboard. There were images of people standing by a farmed field, old and young men after a hunt, a picture of a horse that Robert knew to be named Pet from the stories his grandmother had told him. There were pictures of a social gathering in this very room, Robert recognized, though some of the arrangements were different, but the furniture, for the most part was the same.
And amongst the pictures of the social gathering was one picture of a jovial young man.
Thirty nine years later, Robert thought back on it and could remember the picture as clear as if it were sitting right here in front of him on this very wood table with the deep luster.
The picture was of a young man, in an untied bowtie, his white shirt had two buttons unbuttoned. The man had ruffled hair and appeared to be doing a dance of some kind at the same time laughing. His mouth wide open. Laughing. Laughing out loud.
And this struck Robert as odd, because the picture subject was different. This was a candid shot. All the other pictures of the time period, he had seen were pictures of people posing. They all looked stiff and frightening in their lifelessness. But not this picture. This one showed an individual from that time period in his unadulterated inhibition having a good time. Not someone that was dressed up and posturing for the camera. Even at his young age, Robert recognized that this moment had been captured for the spontaneity of it.
This person seemed so real and full of life, unlike the other stiff backs. And the young Robert was curious about the picture, about this person, about the moment.
And he stood, still delicately holding the picture, as his grandmother long ago had instructed him to do, forgetting the arrowheads.
He took the picture to his grandmother who was sitting in her rocker in the parlor., slowly rocking.
He had asked her who was in the picture and what was he doing. His young hand passed the carded photograph to her withered fingers.
She took a brief look at the image, holding the card in her hand and said nothing as her eyes became clouded and began to glisson over with tears.
The young Robert asked again who was in the picture.
And his grandmother’s hand, holding the picture, began to shake.
And she turned it over, placing it on her lap, saying that it was his Uncle Lee. And she said no more.
She turned her head too gaze out the window, to conceal her trembling jaw and tear rolling down her check.
Robert had been amazed, at his young age, that his Uncle Lee had ever been young. And he didn’t have a beard. Until that point, Robert had thought that Uncle Lee had been born with his white thick beard. He had always thought of him as old, quiet and sad.
But in this picture, he was laughing. He had never seen his Uncle Lee laugh and never thought it happened.
And then Robert realized his grandmother was looking out the window, crying.
And he asked her why she was crying.
Still gazing out the window, lost in an all but forgotten memory of a cheerful time, she didn’t answer.
Robert shook the veined hand of his grandmother, still holding the stiff carded photograph of an earlier joyous time.
He was sorry that he made his grandmother cry, his young mind not understanding why.
She had continued to look out the window into the sunlit yard, unaware of Roberts young presence. Her aged eyes, not seeing the yard, but rather clouded with tears, saw an earlier time of a soul that was no longer with them. And unconsciously she mumbled into space, into the air, to a unseen ghost how she missed him.
Called back to the present with Roberts inquiry and his hand squeezing hers, she regained slight composure, and told him to go play outside. But he didn’t want to, he wanted to know what Uncle Lee was doing in the picture. And wanted to why she missed him because he was just in town about twenty minutes away at the shop.
But she would say no more.
And later the young Robert had asked his mother about how strange his grandmother had acted and about the picture, for his grandmother had already hidden it. And his mother, becoming saddened and agitated, explained that Unlce Lee was now very sad in his heart. The young Robert, didn’t understand what she was saying, as his young mind couldn’t grasp such concepts of the adult world, but he didn’t fail to recognize the sadness in his own mothers voice.
The antique shop doubled as his uncle house. It was in the historic district of ______, the streets lined with similar shops, boutiques and cafés. A virtual fantasy world for any Junior Leaguer or Southern Belle. The narrow street was lined with age old oak that had Spanish moss hanging off the limbs. It created an extremely romantic image and added to the appeal of the shop lined trees. When his uncle had purchased the structure and property years ago, zoning had allowed dual use of residential and commercial and he had lived upstairs ever since. After he had restored the structure, he opened up shop. He had hired an architect to design an addition on to the property nearly forty years ago, which his family thought was strange, as he wasn’t creating a family and expanding. His uncle quietly said he was putting in an indoor pool.
And it was at these moments, when his old sense of humor came out that broke his mother and aunts hearts the most, because that is when they missed him the most. They said that his uncle had had the most hilarious dry sense of humor.
Robert couldn’t remember ever having been in the addition. And he wondered if anyone had ever been in the addition, other than his uncle. And he speculated what was back there.
The front door opened and Milhouse, the family attorney, entered.
Milhouse extended his hand to Robert “Your looking thin.” He stated flatly. Milhouse was a man that avoided formalities and addressed the issues immediately at hand. He had been the family attorney as long as Robert could remember and thought of him as family, as he would often come to family functions and events.
He held up a bronze key. “This is the key to the addition. It was in a safety deposit box at the bank. Your uncle had left instructions for. I imagine like myself, you have no idea what is back there. As far as I know, no one but your uncle has ever been in there.” He said as he started walking to the back of the house, toward the door of the addition.
Robert was indeed curious. “If it is something illegal or improper, we will dispose of it without anyone knowing to save your family embarrassment as well as your uncle.” Millhouse stated.
On the exterior, the addition melded nicely with the existing structure, it seemed to have always been part of the original building to the casual observer. It’s authentically made lead windows had always remained covered with drapes, so an outside observer could not peek in the windows and the door leading to it, Robert remembered, had always been shut, and locked. And he doubted if the back door had ever been opened except on occasion.
Milhous inserted the old key in the authentic lock and opened the door. They were greeted by darkness, causing Milhouse to instinctually reach into the threshold and feel for a light switch. He muttered under his breadth, taking the Lords name in vain, not finding an electric switch. He cursed again, peering into the darkness, attempting to discern the layout of the room. Again, his efforts to find a light switch proved defeated, when his hand only encountered a wainscoted wall. And cursed again.
Robert stepped through the door and moved to the side to let the dim light from the parlor make its way into the dark room. He decided to hug the wall and let the lawyer upset any tables full of breakable knick knacks or let the lawyer put his foot through a Walter Anderson propped up on the floor.
“There!” Millhouse exclaimed in the dark as he pulled back a dark heavy curtain.
The action caused sunlight to immediately flood the room. It seemed amplified Robert thought. He blinked his eyes, acclimating himself to the new environment.
His eyes adjusted and he heard a sharp intake of air from Millhouse and muttered “What the hell?”
The light peremeated everything and washed the surfaces in it’s bright brilliance. It bounced off the white wainscoted walls and twelve foot ceilings. It reflected off the highly polished hardwood floors. But it was the dishes that amplified the lights so.
The pieces of clear crystal dishes that filled the shelves.
Millhouse went to the other windows and parted the curtains. And the reflection was amplified even more with the additional sun light streaming in the windows.
Robert had expected to find couches, end tables, bureaus neatly placed in the room. He thought that the addition was for expanded space for his uncles mish mash of antiques.
But that wasn’t the case.
Heavy hard wood shelves were made in the room that rose from the floor to the ceiling . Orientated opposite the window apertures for greater light efficiency, the shelves were full of a clear crystal. The sunlight struck the pieces and radiated out, causing everything to shine and glow. The apex points of the pieces, which seemed to be a million and one, twinkled with a bright dash of sun shining through it.
A million and one sparkling glints and points of illumination.
He looked around in wonderment and felt that when he passed the threshold of the door, he had passed into a wonderful fantasy realm of light and joy. For everything seemed beautiful in this room. He stood for a moment basking in the glory of that light.
And contemplated the meaning of this.
And he closed his eyes, and pretended, for a moment, that he felt the warmth of the sun on his face and smiled.
Robert relinquished his spot along the wall and stepped to the interior of the room, marveling at the diamonded dishes that were displayed. The clear crystal dishes.
All the same style.
From floor to ceiling, in this large room.
All the same. Tea cups, platters, plates, gravy boats and pitchers. Thousands and thousands of pieces.
He tentatively reached for one, fearing his touch would break the spell of the room.
It was a simple, yet beautiful design, clear crystal with clear glass beads that adorned the edges of the cake plate he inspected.
Putting that one down, he turned and picked up a tea cup, the beads running along the handle and pedestal. The crystal as clear and bright as any diamond.
He stepped back and looked about him and wondered if any additional structural measures were hidden under the floor to accommodate the weight of the shelves and dishes. No doubt, there had to be. There were a lot of dishes.
Tea cup still in hand, Robert heard his mother before he saw her. Heard her outside, at the front of the store. She was fussing with her help, who had driven her to the shop. “Why couldn’t you get me here sooner. You drive as fast as a turtle. For Christ sake, I can walk up hill faster than you drive downhill!”
Her arrival through the front door and into the shop seemed like a hurricane as she explained to Emma, her help, that she would need to get the hell out of her way before she walked over her.
And she made her way through the shop, calling Robert’s name.
He answered from the back room indicating they were in the addition.
Then they heard her fussing about never having been in the addition and how the boys beat her too it.
A cane in her left hand, she used this more as an intimidation tool, than a walking aid, a bourbon glass, half empty, in her other hand., she entered through the door. Not having stopped to gaze into one of the many mirrors in the antique shop to primp, her hair was not in place and was slightly disshelved, which was unheard of for her. She rushed into the room and stopped dead in her tracks two steps in. Her dress fluttered with the halt of her momentum and was still. Still holding her bourbon in her right hand, she dropped her cane and used her now free hand to put on her glasses that hung about her neck on a chain.
And she looked at the contents of the room and the items neatly stacked on the shelves and her mouth fell open. She stood there for a moment in disbelief.
“Mother!” Robert called.
Collecting herself, she shut her mouth, ran her hand atop her hair, finally in an act of primping, she seemed to compose herself. She straightened up, ignoring her dropped cane, she walked to the nearest shelf, bourbon glass still held in usually steady hand, began to tremble.
“I’ll be damned.” She muttered she walked across the floor to the nearest shelf.
She picked up a rather heavy looking pitcher, hoisting it as if it were a feather. She inspected it , letting the sunlight shine through it in a held aloft position. She placed the picture down heavily were she found it. “I’ll be damned.” She repeated in complete disbelief.
Downing her bourbon , she placed the now empty glass on a stack of eight inch plates and picked up a desert dish from a different stack. Inspecting this small plate as she did the pitcher, she felt the move was almost an obligation, as if she were simply going though the motions of what she knew, attempting to postpone the inevitable realization and correlation. “I’ll be damned.” she said for the third time, slower and with a tone of sadness, the understanding finally sinking in.
And Robert knew his mother was suddenly sober from a mixture of surprise and sadness.
“That son of a bitch!! That son of a bitch.” She exclaimed. “Momma, forgive me.” She said looking skyward. “You are not what I’m calling you.” She said talking to her now dead mother, fifteen years passed. “But we now know where all the Candlewick has gone.” His mother stepped briskly to another shelf and inspected a tea cup and then dinner plate. “Lee’s been buying it all. Oh Momma!! Oh Momma, there is so much here.” She said walking about, talking to her mother as if she were there.
She was in a state of absolutely dumbfounded and shocked as well as sad, talking to her long lost dead mother, the desert dish, still in her grasp. Her mouth agape.
The full realization and implication of this hit his mother at this point, weighing on her as if voicing it to her dead mother made her realize the gravity of it all.
It was a weight she couldn’t support and she wavered.
Robert raced to grab her arm and steady her. When he got to her, she had steadied herself by grapping onto a shelf. He still held her arm because her legs were weak. Emma had turned and left, bringing back a wooden chair from the shop.
“Oh damnit!” she muttered, embarrassed from almost falling. She wished she had another drink as she was helped to be seated by her son. She pulled a flask from her purse and took a large sip. Emma brought her a glass to her, still half full of ice cubes. She filled it half way and sipped. She sat with the empty plate held firmly in her left hand and her glass in her right.
“Candlewick started disappearing forty … fifty years ago. Used to you could readily pick it up.” When she saw the perplexed look on Robert and Milhouse’s face, she held up the dinner plate, shaking it in her frail hand and exclaimed “Candlewick.” She then tucked it back underneath her drinking arm, as if she feared it would be taken away from her. “I never collected it. Oh I imagine every woman has piece or two, but I knew women that would of sold their first born to get a small collection of it, thirty, twenty, fifteen years ago. It got so that is was so scarce to come by.” She said and looked around, still in disbelief.
His mother suddenly looked old and feeble too Robert.
“You just couldn’t find any of it.” She stated looking about at the shelves. “Evidently because of my damned brother.” She said and opened her arms in a gesture of epiphany.
“Why? Why did he collect so much?” Milhouse, the normally uninquisitive person, asked.
She sat silent, looking at the shelves, looking sad. Sad and old. And Robert was reminded of his grandmother, looking sadly out the window that day, so long ago,when he was young and looking for arrowheads.
“Mother!” Robert called, when her response never came.
She turned her head in the direction of the group, but didn’t look at them.
“Because, it was Her favorite pattern!” She said loudly and angrily, looking down sideways at the floor, not into anyone’s eyes. And she had stressed the word Her. Said it with derision and hate.
Silence permeated the light filled room as his mother clinched her jaw at the situation. And she started. “He was going to give it to Her for Christmas one year. Lee had asked me too help him find as many pieces as we could. I was calling dealers through the South. He was driving to Atlanta, Tuscaloosa and Jacksonville for any ing he could get his hands on. He was so excited and giddy. Just like a happy little boy.” She said, a far away look in her eyes, and she smiled remembering her brother in his joyful youth before Her. “Between he and I, we were finally able to piece together a full place setting for eight with serving platters and all. He was so proud and excited. I wished your father had felt as passionate about me as Lee had about Her.” She said starring off in the room, biting her lip to hold back the tears. “What women wouldn’t be jealous of Her. The way he was about Her.” She contemplated. “Anyway, Lee loaded it all up in his car and left for Charlotte.” She said, remembering that day so long ago. “And he was going to ask her to marry him.” She said as she starred even further off into space, the harsh memories running through her mind. “But we never saw Lee again.”
She downed the bourbon, bite her trembling lip and avoided eye contact with the others in the room.
“He came back with his car still loaded up and he stayed shut up in here for three months, drinking I suppose. When he finally emerged, he had that damned beard and he never smiled or laughed again. Ever. It didn’t take a fool to know She had broken his heart. We never knew why, just that She did.” Roberts mother took another look around, her mouth agape again, still amazed at all the pieces. “It’s like a damned museum.” She exhaled looking around at all the Candlewick. “Hell, and I thought maybe he had put in an indoor pool back here.”