Scrapbook

The story behind the story:  Scrapbook

My story Scrapbook is one of 42 pieces of flash fiction featured in Microchondria II, the literary journal of the Harvard Bookstore. The finished book is in stock.

You have your choice of four different cover designs. However, if you don’t want to order the book you can at least see my very own name, listed as a contributing author. If you email me or fill out the form below I will send you the text.

The story behind the story:  Scrapbook

 (Spoiler alert! Read the story first!)

Scrapbook was inspired by two things, the first being a 1914 scrapbook, assembled by my grandmother, Elsie Curtis Nelms. It seems to me that people were more sentimental then. Things were saved and treasured. Granny Nelms is also the inspiration for my character Elsie in my novel. One of her children, Jimmy, died of scarlet fever at the age of five.

Secondly, the story was inspired by Harvard Professor Dr. Matthew Kaiser. Two years ago, I took Dr. Kaiser’s Harvard Extension School class, English-156a: Crime and Horror in Victorian Literature and Culture.

The class was fascinating, and one of the things Dr. Kaiser discussed was the Victorian obsession with death and mourning. He showed us macabre photographs of families posed with dead loved ones, which was, for a time, a fashionable thing to do. The images were unsettling. They stayed with me. The images below are not from my grandmother’s scrapbook. They are from a 2016 article on bbc.com called “Taken from Life: The unsettling art of death photography,” by Bethan Bell.

 Scrapbook1 Scrapbook2 Scrapbook3

                                               Scrapbook                                                 

Forgive the mildew odor. Go ahead, open the cover. Before it faded it was the loveliest shade of scarlet, called Morocco. The pages are brittle now, aren’t they? Take care as you turn them. Things have come unglued. That glue used to smell something awful. Didn’t come in a squeeze bottle like it does now.

Photographs were a novelty then. See how everyone was posed? That was the bride. She was lovely, wasn’t she? Did you know that they used to save hair in little silver-topped jars? On the dressing table. They bundled it up into something called a “rat” and used it to puff up their chignons. Can you imagine? Orange blossoms. That’s what all the brides wanted in their hair. Made of wax, of course. Couldn’t have them fresh in the wintertime. And a hand-made lace veil. All of the sisters wore the same one. The ones who married, of course.

Turn the page. A letter. Everyone took such care with penmanship. A letter was an event, mind you. And this one from France. He brought back perfume that smelled of carnations. Every time I smell them I think of her.

I was the third-born. The first two didn’t take, poor little souls. Turn the page. That’s me, in the christening gown. She looked happy, didn’t she? And he looked so pleased and proud.

Yes, that’s the same christening gown. I called him Brother because I couldn’t pronounce his name. My, but he was a pretty baby. And such a good boy. Hardly ever cried. Unwrap that. That silk ribbon has rotted. He had ringlets, and everyone said, didn’t I wish I had that hair. Feel it, still like corn silk.

Turn the page. Birthday cards. All that lovely paper lace. That was our little terrier. He was called Tramp. Followed Brother everywhere. Used to dig up all the tulip bulbs looking for moles.

Those are real candles on the tree. We would go out in the woods and cut it ourselves. But we didn’t put it up until Christmas Eve, of course.

It was just before Easter. The Spanish influenza. Folks would get sick, then better, and just when everyone thought they would pull through the worst spell came on. Most were too weak to keep fighting.

Father had engaged a photographer to come and make our picture. I had a new hat for Easter. Mother had a new dress. It was pink organdy. You can’t tell in the photograph that it’s pink, but it was. I remember. I didn’t get to wear my new hat. Had to wear black crepe. I still can recall how it itched.

The photographer had wooden stands. Look closely, you can see the base there, behind Brother. It held him up. I had to stand between them. They propped Mother up in a chair and she was tied there, so her head wouldn’t flop. They made me hold both of their hands. They were so cold. And that’s Tramp, sitting at Brother’s feet.

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