The attic in the house we just bought from the old man is alive with antiquities and memories he refuses to take with him. Dusty old portraits showing sour-faced old men and women in their early Eighteenth Century best. A Civil War diary written with a cursive flourish by a young girl pining for her true love, a young boy named Tom who has gone missing at the Battle of Antietam just months after handing her the bluets, the Quaker ladies, now pressed and faded within its pages, which go blank on September 23, 1862, the news too painful to record. A box of glass-plate photographs of dirigibles flying by the Washington Monument. A Rolls Royce shaving kit. An Atwater-Kent radio. The desiccated bodies of grackles that had nested under the eaves and never found their way out. Photographs of the house when it was new, in 1908, showing the family that lived there, a multi-generational family of German immigrants: a man and wife sitting on a porch now gone; a young man hanging out of an attic window, his entire arm a blur as he waves at the photographer; three daughters posed in height order, the youngest holding a kitten now long dead; two boys running by an oak sapling that now towers over the house.
And then there’s the photograph of Eleanor, a young woman so beautiful I can’t help but gasp at the first sight of her. She is sitting on the lawn, her dark dress flounced about her, hands resting demurely in her lap, looking up at the camera with a smile that suggests she knows the man behind the camera very well. Or at least that’s my first impression. But the more I look at the photograph, the more I think she is looking at me, speaking to me from another century. No, the more I look at her picture, the more I want her to be looking at me, to be in love with me and not the unseen man behind the camera.
This is me, she says, when I was a young woman, and so much in love. Deliriously in love. Deliciously in love. Without a worry about what might happen next. Before my life unfolded and ultimately ended, leaving me here in this attic, poised between Earth and Heaven, looking up at you. We’ve never met and never will, of course, but you know me. I am Love.