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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Message in One...

The bottle sat on the window ledge half-full of water with the stem of a drooping daisy leaning on the lip. It was small, with a rounded top, the kind they plugged with a cork in the days long before the twist-top was invented. Shelby wondered what was in the clear glass container originally. It was too small to hold anything of substance, wine, soda--or “cordial” she was pretty sure they called it back in the day. It had a long narrow neck and she could picture it stacked among others in the backroom of an old time apothecary, where sunlight streaming through dusty bottles of potions painted green, amber and white rainbows on stained wooden shelves.

Henry dug the bottle up yesterday when he was yanking the crab grass from around the granite boulder at the end of the patio. “Here's another for your collection,” he said, passing the muddy container to her. Grabbing the hose, she rinsed out the dirt and later, placed it next to the other three he dug up earlier in the week. They were starting to realize, she and Henry, that in the time before landfills and recycling centers, people simply buried their trash out back.

The house was over one hundred years old, with tilting bones and squeaky floors. She loved the way the panes in the windows waved, distorting the images outside like carnival mirrors, although she wasn’t sure those windows were going to be much of a blessing in the winter. But still, the house had character, that’s for sure. The three sided porch had beckoned her right inside the first time she saw it—gosh, was it three months ago already?

That day, as Vera Smyth toured Henry and her around what seemed like the countless split-levels and track built ranches in their price range, Shelby hardly dared to hope that they could afford something like this. But then Vera pulled over, Shelby looked up and knew, that whatever it took, she’d find a way to make sure this house became their home. It stood as it had since the 19th century--a country Victorian, built close to the street, with peeling white paint and faded cranberry shutters. The right side of the porch was screened in; she could see a wooden swing hanging from chains just beyond the door.

Shelby had gripped her arms in disbelief as she gazed around the inside--at the original wide pine planking in the living room, the cast iron wood burning stove in the corner of the brick floored breakfast nook, but it was the picture on the stairway wall that did it. As soon as they saw that, they went right back to Vera’s office and signed the offer papers.

Buying it meant just about emptying their bank account; they wouldn’t be replacing the quivery windows anytime soon. Sydney shuddered a bit when she thought about heating bills and the winter winds that would shift and blow right through her billowing panes. But she didn’t care because now, behind the kitchen, up a half flight up on the narrow stair landing, the faded black and white framed photograph was hers. Left by the former owner, who had told Vera it was there when she bought the house, it was taken at the turn of the century. In the picture, the road wasn’t paved yet and the left side of the porch was missing. It must have rained that morning. The driveway leading to the barn was embedded with water filled tracks.

So many times as she climbed the stairs, Shelby would pull the picture off the hook and stare, searching for clues to the history of her home, imagining herself laced in a whalebone corset underneath a white muslin blouse and a sprigged skirt that swished above her ankles. She saw herself approaching the barn with a tin pan filled with mash that she spread out to chickens that clucked around her like school children. And she envisioned dosing a tousle-headed toddler with a teaspoon of elixir from a bottle like the ones that kept appearing in the backyard, whenever Henry tried his hand at landscaping.

The brain is fried, but scene storming still seems to work. This started with one of the bottles we actually did dig up from the boulder by the back of the patio, but the rest is imaginary. What kind of things from real life do you use to jog yourself to write?

9 comments:

Tabitha Bird said...

I don't know if photo's count, but I use photos a lot to jog my muse. Lovely post Liza.

Simon C. Larter said...

I like this very much. Wonderful way to use a prop to create a scene, good lady!

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

I love the way you describe her imagining she is the prior owner in her sprigged skirt. This is a lovely scene storming. Good stuff.

Jody Hedlund said...

You drew me right in! You almost made me wish I'd boughten an old house so that I could feel the same way!

Wander to the Wayside said...

This was beautiful, and really hit home with me! We bought a 1890s era home back in 1981, and it looked just as you described! It was our dream home the minute we saw it, flaws and all, the house that we would raise our daughter in and be the family home that she would return to in later years. I, too, would imagine what lives might have been lived in it over the years. Alas, we lost it to foreclosure five years later, before we could even fix it up, in an economic scene similar to what we have now with the construction industry. But I still look at photos of it and tear up with the memories of our short time there.

As for the bottles, I have collected many over the years that I've found in our wanderings around old abandoned homes, and they have a seat of honor in my kitchen window.

It almost feels like you somehow came thru the screen and read my life story!

glnroz said...

I use props. All kinds. My favorite is to make them or take my own pic of them. In the "rattlin' on" about Hank and Billy Ray, (current posts), I spent several days making up,staining, sewing , garage saling, burning candles, drawing map, lol,, to take the shot of the Voodoo box. I only have a paragraph so far, but who knows,,

Helen Ginger said...

I love that bottle. I hope you find more.

This was a great story. I couldn't tell whether it would lead to a ghost or back in time.

Helen
Straight From Hel

Sharon said...

Things connect me to the ribbon of time as well. You did a great job weaving an intoxicating story around an empty bottle. I would love to hear more about this old house and it's owners.

jbchicoine said...

A boat in my current story was inspired by a model boat my dad built when he was 17. I grew up with many sailboat models—and a couple full size sailboats. Seems that every story I write includes sailing.
I love the description of the house—reminds me of the first house my husband and I bought. An 1825 colonial that used to be a boarding house—what a project!