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A Moment's Absence

Maureen Scott Harris
From:   Contemporary Verse 2. vol. 17, no. 3, winter 1995.

At her desk, imagining herself driving through countryside no longer familiar, the car seat soaking up the warmth of the sun and her leaning into it thinking "This is how it feels to be happy", imagining herself singing in spite of her tin ear and thin voice: "Remember the Red River Valley and the cowboy who loved you so true".

The album of pictures from last summer's vacation in the back seat brought along to show the old aunt she imagines visiting, so the aunt will be able to see her in her life, surrounded by the children and things they have done. Her husband there too, but the aunt already knows what he looks like.

At the weatherbeaten little house, parking carefully, the air surprisingly sweet, not the expected rich manure smell of her childhood, but this heady mixture of clover and grass.

In the tiny living room the scuffed linoleum, a tray with china teacups and silver spoons. Her aunt pouring hot water into the china teapot. Strong tea. Shortbread cookies out of a box with a plaid lid like she remembers.

Sitting side by side on the chesterfield to look at the pictures, scarcely seeing each other. Her aunt saying nothing as she turns the pages, except to ask if she wants more tea, or to verify the names of the children. Looking at them takes a long time. The afternoon growing dim.

On the way home in the car, feeling uneasy. Deepening twilight making it hard to see the road's edges clearly. Realizing she's not in any of the pictures.

Turning from her desk, she sees a painting that hangs above the chair where she sits to read. In it a wooden chair stands on a stone floor; from the floor's edge steps lead into space which is blue and pink. The room, if it is a room, is empty otherwise except for the shadow of a woman's body across the floor. The shadow's head falls outside the painting; its feet must be planted somewhere in the blue space.

Maureen Scott Harris's works copyright © to the author.

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