You can read part one here.
“You got something good there?” I heard someone say. I dropped the postcard into the box and closed the lid.
“No. Just things. Nothing valuable.” I said, as I pressed my hands hard onto the top of the box. I felt my shoulders arching up a little, and the lid depressed into the box. I felt the paper inside crunch a little again.
“Old boy had some nice suits,” he said, leaning over me and pawing through the jackets. The smell of mothballs and dust whipped up, past me in a breeze, masking the smell from the shoebox as he pulled out a blazer. “What do you think?”
I turned my head around. The man was about 60 years old. He had a magnifying glass around his neck. In his hand was a porcelain swan. He held it by its neck. His other hand held the tweed jacket up to his front. His bottom lip was pushed out, waiting for me to say something.
I tried smiling.
“Suits you.” I said.
His lips curled into a smile and he turned to the mirror beside us. I looked at him holding the man’s jacket.
“You know, I think you’re right. Not for me though. This is Harris Tweed. Quality.”
He folded the jacket over his arm and walked away.
“Happy hunting, There’s some great stuff here.”
I nodded and tried smiling again. I watched him walk towards the door. He stopped and looked at the pretty porcelain models on top of the almost empty bookcase. He lifted up his magnifying glass and bent into a long, thin ballet dancer. He checked out every angle. He turned her over and looked at the bottom. He put it back down and shook his head as he walked out, into the crowded hallway.
I opened up the box and looked inside. I tried to find the postcard again. My eye was caught by a glossy, once bright blue sky shining at me. I pulled it out. It was a photograph of a man standing on the beach by a lake. He was a little tanned. He had been in the water. His hair looked like it had dried in the sun. He wore these blue and red shorts. I looked at his face. He was squinting in the sunlight. He had a slight smile on his face, like he was about to stop.
I lifted my glasses to my forehead and pulled out the little diamond loupe I picked up from a sale I was at way back. The photograph turned to group of soft edged blurs. I brought the magnifying glass to my eye and looked for his face. I put the loupe away and slid my glasses back down my nose, bringing clarity back to the room.
I turned the photograph over. Right in the center read “Bill and Me on Lake Erie”. The handwriting was different. It looked feminine. The letters curled. They were careful and perfect, but slow, almost regal. There was a date written in the corner. July 3rd 1971
“Bill, and Me” I said to myself
I turned the photo over again. I looked at his face and that faded smile. He was ever so slightly out of focus. Like one of them had just moved. I turned and looked around the room. There were people picking at Bill’s clutter, deciding if they wanted to make it their own. I looked at the pictures of people that he knew that hung in frames on his wall. There were lots of people smiling. I imagined those people coming through this house after Bill died, taking the things they wanted. I wondered if they’d missed this box. I looked back at Bill, on his own, almost smiling. I looked back at the faces in the frames on the wall.
I went into my jacket pocket and pulled out the photograph of Margaret that I’d brought with me. I arced my back a little. I cast a shadow over the two photographs. I looked over each shoulder. I held them next to one another. Margaret’s picture was taken maybe a year or two before. Something about her look told me that much. Bill looked a little more modern. But I couldn’t be sure if I was mistaking age for modernity.
As I looked back and forth between the two pictures, keeping an ear on the people behind me, I thought that they worked. I imagined Margaret taking a photo of Bill, and Bill taking a photo of Margaret. Their expressions weren’t so different. But Margaret’s was a little happier. Like that smile probably continued after the shutter was closed. Maybe that’s what made me think her picture was older.