Zest Lit Issue 2, October 2013 - Page 34

Oxidation | Rebecca Hodge

It was Tuesday afternoon, the luncheon dishes had been washed, dried, and returned to the glass-fronted cabinets in the dining room, and it was time for Mary Elizabeth to polish the silver. For all of the eighteen years she had worked for the Dempseys, the silver was done on Tuesday afternoon, and her routine for doing it had developed a ritualistic rhythm. On the rare occasions that Mary Elizabeth gave conscious thought to her job, she recognized that this quiet task was her favorite part of the week.

But today, she set about the job with grim determination. Today would be the last time.

She laid out the cloths and the small tin of polish, then slid the big split-oak basket from its niche in the pantry and pulled the green wool blanket down from the high shelf, letting it cascade into the basket in thick folds to cushion the items she would collect. She swung the basket to her hip then climbed the narrow back stairway to the third floor, moving from room to room, adding pieces of silver to the basket one by one. From the nightstand in Mrs. Dempsey’s room, she retrieved three silver picture frames. One showed Mr. and Mrs. Dempsey together, she, young and pretty in nurse’s kit, he, tall and solemn in his Air Corps uniform, the tones of the photo more grey and beige than black and white. The second was of Patsy when she was seven, posing stiffly in front of the red-maple tree out back, her yellow dress starched and ruffled. The third, a photo of Patsy’s wedding from twenty years ago, showed her face smooth and happy, not rigid and etched in frown lines the way it was now.