Frances Luban Stories

A QUIET LIFE

Frances Luban

Anne found remnants of her aunt’s life in the closets of her empty apartment in an East Bay suburb a few days after  she died. A black silk evening cloak in the style of the forties, a dozen high school graduation photographs in their cardboard frames, a plush toy that was a replica of the Velveteen Rabbit. An eighty year-old woman who had never married, had her aunt left these objects as clues for Anne to the mystery of her life? As Anne picked up cards and letters scattered on the floor, she saw that a dozen had been opened by her aunt before she went to the hospital. She read the messages: “All my love, Martin”; “Haven’t seen you all day, miss you. Love, Martin”; “Until tonight–with much love, Martin.”

The absence of her aunt was a presence in the room. Anne walked around, looking at familiar objects in the twilight as if she had never seen them before. Now it was too late to ask the questions that flooded her mind about her aunt, about her family, about herself. There was no one to tell, no one to ask.

She shivered. A sharp December wind with the promise of a storm shook the trees outside the sliding glass doors of the balcony. She turned on the lights, then turned them off. Dusk seemed the only atmosphere to contain the ghosts that swirled around the room. Her understanding of her aunt’s life, her own life, dissolved into the shadows. The certainties she had structured into a complicated existence were disappearing.

She paced the room, pausing before the framed photographs on the two Victorian lamp tables. There were snapshots of Anne with her husband, with her daughter, with her granddaughter, who wore a clown costume and rouged cheeks in celebration of Purim. Anne leaned closer and looked into the pictures, searching for herself.

Anne had come to inventory and empty the apartment. The manager of the building had made it clear that the rent was paid for only three more days as he gave he the keys. Dazed by her discovery of her aunt’s hidden life, she forgot her task. Her instinct was to flee back to her orderly life, where things were what they seemed, to go back to her hotel, to call her husband, to say–what?

She stood still in the darkening room, then as if on command, she walked to her aunt’s closet. In the half-light, Anne opened the door and took the black silk coat from its hanger and put it on over her wool sweater and skirt. A faint fragrance surrounded her. It was a perfume, “Jicky,” by Guerlain, that Anne had long ago chosen for her own.

Anne looked at herself in the long pier glass in her aunt’s bedroom. There was just enough light filtering through the east window. The coat fit her perfectly.

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