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Leeway Cottage: A Novelby Beth Gutcheon
The funeral is over. The ashes, in matching urns, are on the mantelpiece. There is no way to know whose last will or testament is in force, so they have decided to close the house as always, and leave it for the winter. Next summer, when the flood tides of memories and mourning currently swamping them have receded, they will be better able to cope.
They have decided that each of them will take home one thing from Leeway for the winter, for comfort. They are going through the house somberly, saying their goodbyes in their different ways, each looking for one object that will keep the dead alive and close a little longer.
In the back of a closet in the upstairs hall, Eleanor opens an ancient garment bag and finds a shapeless and tarnished handful of ribbons and tulle. She gives a shriek.
Monica and Jimmy emerge from back bedrooms. "What is that?"
"It's The Dress!"
"She kept it all these years?"
The three of them stare at it, the debutante dress of legend. It is more of a rag than the couture dream they had imagined. Eleanor puts it back on the hanger and zips it back up in its bag, where it will wait, ready to be called as evidence in a yet-to-be-settled case of outrage in which all the principal parties are now dead.
Although none of them has said so, what each of them most wants to take home is the houseguest book.
Monica finds it.
"I've decided," she calls from the dining room.
Eleanor comes in from the big living room where she has been scanning the bookshelves, and sees her sister holding the very thing she was looking for.
"Finders keepers," says Monica.
"Where was it?"
Jimmy is coming down the stairs.
"In there," says Monica, pointing to an antique tavern table their parents used as a sideboard. "In the drawer."
Jimmy walks in holding a framed picture of their father and mother sitting in the stern of The Rolling Stone. They are at anchor in some island cove, Burnt Coat, or Pretty Marsh. The sunset flares gold on the water behind them, and they are tanned and happy, holding cocktails and wearing sunglasses and smiles. Jimmy has been about to announce this as his choice when he sees the guest book in Monica's hand.
"I was looking for that!" he says.
"It turns out we all were," says Eleanor.
"Where was it?"
The sisters point to the tavern table.
"I say 'finders keepers,' " says Monica.
"Unless one of us owns the table." Their mother has employed her sunset years in wandering around the house promising things to people, often the same thing two or three times, and applying stickers delivering her orders from beyond the grave.
Eleanor kneels down to peer under the table. She pulls her head out and reaches for the glasses on a cord around her neck. She pokes her head under again and reads, " 'Property of James Brant Moss.' " She stands up and looks at her sister, and they both say, "Oh, surprise."
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