By Margaret McNellis
Catherine climbed up into the attic. The pitch of the roof forced her to hunch over and walk the length of the attic in the center. The only light streamed through a small window that reminded her of a porthole on a ship. Her father’s trunk sat beneath the window; she knelt before it and eased open the lid. Rusted hinges groaned in protest. The smell of the sea—salt and mustiness—wafted around her. A contented sigh hissed from her lips. The clothes smelled like her father, and just sitting before the large wooden sea chest brought a smile to her face. She could almost feel his arms around her—his hugs after a long journey at sea always made her feel as though their colonial was a cozy home once more.
His wool coat, with buttons cracked from the salt air, was the first item she pulled out of the chest. A line of white stitching on the left breast contrasted against navy wool, from a repair following an accident at sea. She trailed her fingers over the cotton sutures that held the wool together. He never revealed the nature of the accident but said this was his lucky coat after that, and that it would keep him safe. I wonder if he wore this the day he died.
An hour later, she juggled three packages of clothes, wrapped in paper and tied with twine, out of her house. Thankfully, the General Store wasn’t more than a few minutes’ walk away. The brisk air brushed her face and hands, instantly removing the warmth of home, cooling her heated cheeks. Ever since being confined on account of the Great Blizzard the month before, the still air inside the house sometimes made her feel as though she couldn’t take a full breath. Despite the cold, the sun’s rays painted golden swaths across the sky. On a clear day like this, she could see all the way to the shipyards downriver, hear the distant clinking and clanking of so many hammers, as well as the rhythm of the grinding saws as they chewed through timber. The memory brought a smile to her face as she pulled open the door to the General Store, balancing it on her hip while she negotiated her way through the doorway, packages balanced on one arm. Her senses were happily assailed once more with the aromas that reminded her of being a child: candies and baked goods sunbathing in the window.
Uneven floorboards creaked beneath her boots as she walked toward the counter. She lay her packages down reverently, resting a protective hand over the stack. “I’d like to sell these,” she told the shopkeeper’s wife, Sara Footman. Every time Catherine came around to the store, Sara was alone behind the counter. In fact, she’d not seen Mr. Footman in well over a year. She didn’t ask after him though; there were rumors aplenty through the village that he was often besotted with drink. Catherine didn’t wish to offend the other woman, particularly as she came to sell several items.
A woman of a short, fragile stature, Sara’s gray hair and lined face made Catherine think of dried flowers. She wasn’t very old, but the weight of the world seemed forever pressed upon her brow. Knotted fingers untied the twine, allowing the clothes to spill out of their paper dressings. “A bit out of date,” she held up a pair of pants, “but I think I can accommodate you.” As she unwrapped the rest, she systematically examined the garments. “Oh, not this one,” she pushed the wool coat across the scrubbed-top counter. “It has a big tear there.”
“But it’s been mended,” Catherine argued gently.
“I’m sorry my dear, I can’t take it. The rest will do though. I can give you a dollar and a half.” Sara began stacking everything except the coat into a neat pile.
Catherine dug into her coat pocket to retrieve the list. “Well, I need a few items. I have ten cents I can spend in addition…so I will take as much of this as I can get for a dollar and sixty cents.” She placed the list on the counter and folded the paper and twine to be reused.
Nodding, Sara took the list and disappeared into the back of the store. While she waited, Catherine cataloged the items on display. Dolls, Jacobs’ ladders and other toys filled a caddy-corner shelf. Flour, sugar, salt and other spices lined one wall, and behind the counter were displayed various useful items: sewing kits, books and cooking utensils. Her breath caught when she saw a pair of buff kid gloves.
Sara returned and began wrapping up tea, white and black thread, potatoes, and various other odds and ends in the wrinkled paper and twine. “Those are seven dollars for the pair.” She tapped the corner of the box cradling the gloves.
“Oh, I couldn’t buy those today.” Or ever, Catherine lamented. “I best just take these things home.”
“Very well. Here you go–twenty cents left. I heard there will be fish this afternoon at the harbor. Ten cents for a filet of scrod. And I hope your mother is doing well.”
“She is, thank you.” Catherine lied, and left the shop, wondering when her brother would return. “He should be halfway around the world by now,” she said to no one in particular. “Hunting whales, just like Father.”
Margaret is currently pursuing her MA in English and Creative Writing, with a concentration in Fiction from Southern New Hampshire University. She earned her BA in Art History from Southern Connecticut State University in 2007, and has studied fiction writing with both Writer’s Digest Online and the Longridge Writers Group. Margaret writes literary, mainstream, and historical fiction, as well as poetry. When she’s not writing or studying, she is practicing and teaching Chinese Kempo Karate, in which she holds a 2nd black belt.