“Family Portrait”, 1860

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Buttons to close.  Buttons at the back of the collar, not the front.  Habit draws my fingers frontwards, beneath Sister’s chin. But no. Not Sister’s buttons, not this dress, Sister-sewn in loneliness and candlelight.  The dark silk a vanity, never to be worn. So I lift Sister’s chin. Her eyes are blank. O, Sister. How could anyone mend your griefs, finer than the needle’s eye? So many holes, uncinchable.

Now, a photograph for the mantle. It is our first. We are arranged on the photographer’s loveseat: Brother, Sister, me. Brother envies the photographer’s moustache, his purposeful hands. The photographer’s fingers tidy my curls.  Later, he will invite me to watch the plate develop. For you, Sister, I will.

We pose. Your head falls against mine. I want to feel your breath inside my ear, hear you whispering: What do you make of his rickety knees?

But of course you are quiet. The peace is not unwelcome. All night, I sat through a terrible clamor, the ice beneath you dripping into pans.

Now, your head tilts, shadowing my face. It will not do, tilted. The photographer will not touch you. Brother wants this to be finished.

So I hold you, Sister, thinking what you must have thought as you swallowed all the bitter spoons: No man will ever reach his arm around your shoulders so tenderly. No man will lift your hair, this velvet curtain, see your skin beneath like moonlight. No man will place his hand here, and here, to steady you. Not even the camera catches my kiss, your cheek so deeply cold. Brother and I lock arms behind you, holding hard, a bridge. A brace.

 

Photo By: brianna.lehman

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About Author

Rebecca Meacham's short story collection, Let’s Do, was published in 2004 as the winner of UNT Press's Katherine Anne Porter Prize in Fiction, and the book was a Barnes & Noble “Discover Great New Writers” program selection. Her fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Michigan Quarterly Review, Indiana Review, Necessary Fiction, Paper Darts, Sundog Lit, Wigleaf, and other journals. Currently, she is an associate professor of English at University of Wisconsin-Green Bay and a blogger for Ploughshares.

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