Growing up the family next door was husband, wife, four children, and the live-in servant named Edith.   Edith, a Scottish foundling, was given to Mrs. Brooks as a wedding gift in 1919.   Human chattel.   Mrs. Brooks was sixteen years old on her wedding day, and Edith was fourteen years old.   Edith served for life.

 

Growing up the family next door was husband, wife, four children, and the live-in servant named Edith.   Edith, a Scottish foundling, was given to Mrs. Brooks as a wedding gift in 1919.   Human chattel.   Mrs. Brooks was sixteen years old on her wedding day, and Edith was fourteen years old.   Edith served for life.

Much later the husband was dead and the four children had grown up and moved away to start their own families.  Just Mrs. Brooks, aged 84, and Edith, aged 82, left in the house; linked by time and experience for sixty-eight years.

On a blistering hot July day an air conditioner salesman was summoned to the house.   Edith polished the wedding gift silver in the glass case before he came.  She had been polishing this goddamn silver monthly for sixty-eight years.   Anyway, he explained that they needed an air conditioner in the bedroom of Mrs. Brooks, in the livingroom, and in Edith's bedroom.   No, Mrs. Brooks said; we don't need to buy an air conditioner for Edith's bedroom.   She's not family.

Edith came next door to my mother's kitchen to cry.   As a Scottish orphan sixty-eight years ago she had not had any rights and now after a lifetime of service and love she had no dignity.   Two days later she was back in my mother's kitchen all smiles and holding a picture.   It was a picture of a mallard duck standing on a rock in a pond.   Her camera club had sponsored a nature picture contest and her picture had one first prize.   People smiled at her and clapped in support of her photographic skills at the meeting.   She received a prize and she explained how the picture was taken.   People solicited her opinions and listened to her when she talked.    She was respected and treated as an equal.

At the next month's meeting of the camera club someone stood up and pointed out that careful examination of the picture showed a strand of fence wire.   Nobody else had noticed it but there it was so the picture was not really a nature picture because something man-made could be seen.   A vote was taken and Edith's first prize for best nature picture was taken away.

Two days later Edith came next door to my mother's kitchen to cry.   She had the picture in her hand.   Hot tears fell on the mallard duck standing on the rock in the pond.   I stood and watched.   Edith died while I was away at college.   Later I wondered which one of the grown up children from next door got the picture and if any of them could connect the picture to a woman's heart.