The old leather photo album had a familiar musty smell; an odiferous reminder of aged, but sour, time-in-a-bottle. Humans are prone to be fooled into thinking youth’s golden nectar has no expiration date. Each generation comes against the cold hard truth in its own way. Life is a vapor, appreciated most at the end when the sand-seconds seem to slip faster through God’s hour glass.
Anna balanced the awkward pictorial chronicle on the table made especially to reach across her tall bed. Smudged, ill-fitting, out of date glasses slipped down her nose as if trying to get away from what they did not want her to see. Without warning, as always, sleep covered her like a warm blanket and she lapsed easily into that old familiar and strangely accurate dream.
A young girl with a new cropped hair-do that was all the rage ran towards Anna. She had the bluest eyes, and tiny freckles across her nose. It was Cousin Gilda.
“Yoo-Hoo, Anna, come sit with Melody and me. There’s tons of food.”
Anna, a recluse by nature, hated these relative reunions she was forced to attend year after weary year. In the dream, just as in real life, her parents and grandmother always crawled out of the old Tin Lizzie Ford and jumped right into the throes of gossip and have-you-heards. She considered her mother’s insistence that she come along a form of torture, and vowed she would never attend one of these awful forced family feedings once she grew up.
The three cousins played Croquet or Bad Mitten. Once in a while they escaped to the town’s only picture show. That’s where the acting bug bit Anna and she succumbed to its poison, ending up as a fairly well-known actress in Hollywood.
Over the years, Gilda and Melody sent pictures and announcements and gushy Christmas letters about their perfect lives, but Anna rarely responded. She watched their children mature with each family reunion picture the faithful cousins sent to the painted and air-brushed star. Their tidy little picket-fenced lives bored her. She had money and recognition and a mansion overlooking the ocean.
A loud noise of some kind jolted Anna awake. She squinted for a few minutes trying to remember her location. The moldy whiff of the scrap book brought her back to the task at hand. A piece of ragged memory nagged at her to turn the pages and recall why she had thought she hated to be with such kind and sweet people…her people.
“Oh my, I just can’t remember where I saw that…”
Anna was used to talking out loud to herself. After a few more minutes of careful inspection of each page, she slapped her hand on the book and exclaimed to no one, “Aha! I knew it. There it is.”
In a black and white group shot of a tightly packed and serious looking clan, the brooch fairly sparkled on the chain around her mother’s neck. It was a unique and expensive piece of jewelry handed down to Anna. Years turned into decades but she was sure Gilda kept the brooch after she had borrowed it for some special occasion.
Anna found Gilda’s wedding photograph and had a weak moment of appreciation as she sighed, “She really was quite lovely.”
Then she espied the brooch on a pink ribbon resting against the satin and lace of the flowing white dress. Noisy exclamations shot out of her indignant mouth.
“There it is again! THIEF! I’ll never forgive you!”
A uniformed attendant dashed in to see why Anna was putting up such a fuss all by herself. The old lady’s eyes bulged and her face flashed deep red. When she stopped sputtering, the aide handed a letter to her.
Anna, ever the drama queen, yelled, “You read it to me. I’m having trouble seeing.”
The calm employee cleared her throat and began.
“Dear Cousin, you’re invited to our last family reunion. My mother, your cousin Gilda, is dying and she had hoped to see you and the lovely brooch once more. She says you have it.”
Anna put her hand to her throat, as if she were chocking. Her fingers felt something familiar hanging around her neck. Tears of shame blistered her old craggy face. There was only one thing she could do but she didn’t have much time left.
“Quickly, somebody come and help me get ready. I have some people waiting and I must go.”
In the end, it was a good thing.
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