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Picture the Dead Adele Griffin 2022/8/3 13:56:17

I’d heard the gossip, but it is Mavis who brings me the first official news of Pritchett House. “Miss Jennie, I have left that house a ghost of itself” is how she describes it.

I’m not surprised. I’ve always thought of it that way. Apparently, Aunt has not spent another penny on its upkeep. Mavis says that the roof won’t last another winter. “It’s a nightmare, Miss. There’s mice in the piano seat cushion, and water stains on the ceiling in the dining room, and more chips than china in the tea set.”

According to Mavis, Aunt herself ventures out only for church and the occasional Boston Ladies’ Aid function. She is too shamed, too poor, too wrecked to do much more. I highly doubt Brookline society mourns her absence any more than they celebrated her presence.

Uncle Henry is much the same, but I knew that, too. He still trundles back and forth from Boston regularly once I passed him on Fulton Street and he stared right through me, though his cheeks purpled and he immediately took out his waistcoat watch to study. No matter. We have nothing to say to each other.

Finally, Mavis brings news of Quinn, who has yet to take a position at his father’s bank. His retreat has been utter and absolute. A hermit prone to midnight walks and endless card games where he is the only player. Last winter he reconfigured all of the gardens himself, hauling down shrubbery in the dead of night and uprooting Aunt’s plantings.

“But he refuses to chop down that dratted butternut tree,” Mavis tells me. “’Spite that lightning split it in two last summer, and the wood is mostly dead and rotting. Many’s the evening I’d look out the window to see him sitting beneath it, gazing out at nothing.” She shivers. “Oh, but he’s a haunted man, for sure. The day girls never stay hardly nobody has nothing to do with him, save that silly Miss Wortley.”

Quinn doesn’t have to live this way. It’s common knowledge that he’d only have to clap his hands and he could be betrothed to Flora Wortley, thus ending any Pritchett financial woes. Mavis tells me that poor Flora calls every other Tuesday, her ringlets plump as pickles, her hopes as exposed as her décolletage. “Mister Pritchett is always courtly,” Mavis reports, “but he never shows any particular interest in her bosom or her bank account.”

Strange what we are capable of, and what we balk on.

Quinn might not have peace, but I’ve got mine. Will led me to the truth. Once that truth was known, he let me go. In the same spirit, Toby has receded to the burnish of my fondest memories. I wear my locket, and I keep their photographs beside my bed, but time is fading the tonal papers to ever lighter shades of gray and brown. It’s a natural process and inevitable. Both boys had delighted in the joy of life. For me to fall into grief would not have pleased either of them.

So I try not to dwell on what I have lost as I take my place in the to and fro of city life. But in the art of photography I have yoked my present to my past. For my last birthday I bought myself a Dallmeyer, shipped all the way from London. My parlor doubles as a studio, where I fashion simple images certainly no phantom spirits. Rather, I pay local children to pose for tableaux vivants, or recreations of poetic works, or studies in truth and beauty.

The years will tell if I have any talent. Foremost, a photographer needs a teacher. Which is why I’ve brought some plates to Geist today.

“Miss Lovell.” He greets me as amiably as ever.

Viviette’s greeting is more reserved, but I know she’ll have tea and fresh Irish scones waiting an improvement on Geist’s stale sandwiches of last year. The birth of little Seamus and maybe her new position as lady of the house has set her mind at ease and clears her to do what she does best.

“A lovely day,” I mention as I hand Geist my plates and follow him into the sitting room. He will look at my efforts later. Right now there is other business to attend to. It had been Viviette’s suggestion when she’d run into me earlier this morning at the fish market. Viviette is a woman of few words, but when she speaks, I have learned, it’s always wise to listen.

The day is sunless. A cold, shy wind rattles the dying leaves. It’s a perfect day for a séance. If anyone can find a passage over to the other side, it is Viviette.

And if anyone can follow her there, it is I.

As we sit at the table, her hand grips mine, soft but tight.

I feel the surge of her power, maybe. Or my own anticipation. I want so badly to believe that I’m already halfway there.

Geist smiles and tucks his chin to his chest. His own faith is absolute. “Let us begin.”