I said I wasn’t doing Flashback Friday any more. Then events of this week made me think of all the things I needed to do, and I remembered this story: Guilt in Greyscale, from 2015.
Guilt in Greyscale
Noelle closed the bedroom door and dragged sacks labelled “Charity”, “Recycling” and “Compost” down the stairs behind her, adding them to existing stacks or throwing them in the skip. Some of the clothes would find good owners. The dressing table accoutrements might help a theatre group needing 1950s props. You could probably guess the age of any person in a house by what they had on their dressing table, she thought, realising that the same would apply to her own.
A couple of hours later the house was done. The rest of the furniture would go tomorrow to the auction place. It would swell the surprisingly large fund to be divided between her and the strange charities her father had specified in his will.
Back home, she looked through the ‘Home’ box, having second thoughts on some things and throwing them out. She tackled the paperwork, and put the ornaments out in her own apartment. It took her six more years to get around to the ‘Attic’ box.
Snow fell for three days straight. Noelle vacuumed, cleaned, dusted and tidied, and finished her library book. She had electricity still, but the internet was down. She read her third ebook of the week and wondered what to do next. Outside it was the same: dull, grey and murky. The only movement was when some snow slid from a black branch of the bare trees standing sentinel outside. The tableau in black and white reminded her of old photographs, and that reminded her of the box in the attic.
It seemed heavier than she remembered. Back down in her living room, with its cosy fire, she settled in and looked through the old family albums, reliving childhood, laughing at the fashions, remembering the ice-cream on the boardwalk that year they’d visited Atlantic City…. She put three albums on the shelf next to her own, part of her life as much as they had been her parents’. The later ones were either duplicates of her own or interminable panoramic views of their later holidays. Occasionally her father had placed her mother in the shot, artistically looking over a balcony, or staring grumpily at the camera, or was it just squinting at the sun? Grumpily, Noelle decided, taking a closer look. She grinned, remembering how much her mother had hated having her picture taken.
She put the later albums into her trash, and turned to the rest of the contents. Some of the ornaments might have some value, but she didn’t want them. She wrapped them in newspaper and put them in a smaller box, marking it “auction”.
She might as well have someone look at them. Diaries and a handwritten notebook. These were in her father’s hand, and she flipped through them idly.
The notebook seemed to be accounts. She couldn’t decipher what was being bought or sold. Why would her father have a private code? Maybe his stationery shop had been a front for something else, she thought, laughing at the idea. By the time he’d sold out to the big book store which was opening in the new shopping mall, he’d done well enough to retire.
She frowned. She turned the notebook over in her hands, wondering. Had his store been a front? Realising how much money he’d squirreled away in tax-free accounts, she wondered. He’d been far richer than their comfortable but unflashy lifestyle suggested.
The last thing in the box was a cardboard shoebox of loose photographs, with strips of negatives in little cardboard folders. Nothing in the attic had been her mother’s. In all the house, the only things she associated with her mother had been on show. Why had he kept these old things?
Most were small photos, 3 inches by 2. Larger or smaller ones were always of people. The greyscale held up well, but the contrast wasn’t good. She took them over to a better light and got a magnifying glass too, one that had been in her father’s bureau.
The larger and smaller photos were all clear shots of people, all men, occasionally with a woman. She didn’t recognise them. There was a code on the back. She remembered the notebook. Yes, the codes were similar – and this one matched an entry for 7th June 1962, with $1500 in the business column. That was a heck of a lot of money. Had this person paid her father for something? She laid the headshots (mostly) out in front of her, face side down so she had the codes on display, then went through the notebook with the accounts in it, moving the photos into the order they were in the book. She turned them back up. She’d never seen these people.
The regular sized photos were more of her father’s scenic views, but they weren’t very interesting. Views of buildings, sometimes taken from upper windows, by the angles. Some buildings had identifying features – a hotel name, the Dallas National Bank, Jury’s Theater. Noelle was starting to enjoy this puzzle. Each photo had a number on the back, and she quickly realised it was a date with no punctuation, in the European style. Her father had nearly always used the European style at home. She sorted the photos into date order. Just as with the notebook, the dates ran from 1960 through to 1975, many at first, then only one every two or three years towards the end.
She matched her father’s photos with the notebook and the people photos.
One date stood out for her. Her father had noted $200k in his account book. K meant 1000, didn’t it? A cold shiver went down her spine as she turned over the scenic photos. They included the one with the bank. If only the internet were working, she could Google this. She hesitated, turning over the photo of the person. She couldn’t possibly have failed to recognise… It wasn’t. But…
She wondered what Lee Harvey Oswald looked like.
(c) J M Pett 2015