“What have we here?”
Ruan wasn’t so much talking to herself as she was talking to the hodgepodge she was looking through. Her Aunt Tansy hadn’t been, as they say, The Aunt – she was a paternal aunt, for one thing, totally not the right sort, and Ruan’s Aunt Elenora was still alive and well – but the family tradition seemed to hold anyway. Her father’s sister had taken a long walk into the ocean, and it was left to Ruan to clean up her mess.
To be fair, the woman’s attic wasn’t actually messy. Aunt Tansy had had, like Ruan’s father did, a very tidy mind. Everything was on its own shelf or in its own cubbyhole, labeled tidily in a left-leaning cursive that was probably Tansy’s. (she had been told, by her father’s other sister, that nobody had been allowed past Tansy’s sitting room in twenty years. The sister had seemed offended that Ruan had gotten the job.) There was even, in the same leggy script, a catalogue.
That was what intrigued Ruan. Her mother’s family was known to collect some strange things, although not nearly as tidily as Tansy had. But the descriptions here were less descriptions and more names.
Imogene Octavia Workman – red cloche hat with blue ribbon – June 7th, 1905
Cleo Bond – broken bootlace (in manila envelope) – July 15th, 1905
Olivia Twila Saunders – Left shoe, black leather with buckle – October 12th, 1912
Duncan Levy – 3 red buttons, metal (in cigar box) – December 25th, 1914
Willard Ellison – cigarette holder, ivory with ebony inlays (in silk purse) – March 2nd, 1916
Rhoda Burks – three beads from a fringe, glass, peacock blue (in wine glass) – October 27th, 1929
There were well over three hundred entries, each corresponding to a place on a shelf and an object to match. The three beads from the fringe were the last entry, the day before Black Tuesday.
Several entries had check marks next to them – perhaps five, out of the entire book. Ruan picked one of those – the red cloche hat with the blue ribbon, high on a shelf between an ice skate and a primer, and pulled it down, using Tansy’s surprisingly-sturdy stepladder to reach.
The hat nearly jumped at her, pushing her off the ladder and landing her on a rack of winter jackets. The ribbon seemed electric, sending shocks through her fingers, while it tried at the same time to twist around her wrists. Faintly, as if from very far away, she heard: “I’ll get you, I’ll get you, you nasty old harridan, can’t stand to see others having fun! Let me out! Let me OUT of here!”
“Peace, peace,” Ruan said hastily. “This isn’t Tansy. Peace.”
“I’ll give you peace, you… what? Not Tansy? Who?”
“Her niece. Tansy… is gone. Hrmm. Imogene? Imogene Workman?”
“Yes?” Now the voice sounded cautious.
“All right, Imogene. I’m going to work on getting you out of there.”
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