Lizzie Bower waited on the second floor landing while the next load of furniture was hauled up the stairs. Decisions needed to be made: the contents of her mother’s apartment had arrived on Ellis Street.
“Oh, oh…so who is sending you these things? They are all so—so beautiful!” her landlady shouted up the staircase.
Lizzie didn’t need to see her face, she could imagine Mrs. Thorn’s mouth open as each item marched up the stairs: a five foot gilded lamp from a South Hampton estate sale, a small Chinoiserie desk, an iron Napoleon camp chair with brass arm rests and a leather seat. It was a seemingly endless parade of exotic furniture and boxes whose contents could only be imagined.
“Belated wedding gifts from my Mom,” Lizzie shouted back.
Turning toward the growing piles, Lizzie showed the movers where to place the excess of her mother’s life. The men positioned the alien furniture next to the Goodwill discards that decorated the apartment; they demolished any semblance of balance the room once held.
“Jeeze, whoever packed this … supposed to use the fourteen by fourteens for books, Miss, the little ones, yah know, the ones that say: BOOKS.” The mover gave Lizzie a look as he heaved himself through the door.
“Sorry, my mother…”
Lizzie raised her eyes toward the ceiling; she couldn’t expect him to be interested in the details of her mother’s move to London. It was difficult enough for her to explain her own life, but now she had to come up with a rationale for these castoff pieces of furniture. Slicing open one of the boxes with a knife, she found dirty ashtrays and cigarette butts.
“Boy, she must have been in some rush, she just dumped everything in any old box,” Lizzie said.
“Well, you know, that’s your mother; I always thought she was a little nuts.” Bill, her husband, smirked and shook his head.
Lizzie lifted one-year old Claire into her arms to get her out of the way, while Bill watched the new possessions enter into the cluttered apartment.
“This stuff isn’t really so bad, it’s certainly better than our Goodwill junk. Except maybe for that lamp—don’t you think that’s a bit over the top for Ellis Street?” Bill said.
The possessions sucked the air out of the room. Now her mother’s things, her accumulated trappings, would be judging Lizzie everyday. The mere contrast would be a constant reminder of Lizzie’s past. The only things Lizzie really wanted were the books. As she dug into a box, past another ashtray, a bag of dried flowers and a spatula, she found a few familiar volumes. Twisting her long hair into a knot behind her head, she leaned her back against the wall, closed her eyes and took a deep breath for the first time that day.
When one of the movers dropped the last box on the living room floor, Lizzie open her eyes, it was then that she noticed the book had been violated. She opened another volume and saw the same bookplate; it stated that the book belonged to Rick Leaster. Lizzie wound her way across the room though the stacks of boxes to sign papers the little man was waving in the air in front of her husband. As he signed the papers, she showed the book to Bill.
“Can you imagine—this guy probably glued his name in all of them? These were my mother’s books. They were just decoration to him, bet he never read one of them. I’ll have to steam them all off, what a pain.
“Steaming off his name in all these books is a big waste of time. I mean, who cares whose name is in a book? You have them now.”
Lizzie stiffened. She could feel Bill getting annoyed as he started to repeat arguments that would never end. Putting the book down, she walked to the stereo and flipped over ‘Nashville Skyline’.
The apartment was a mess: newspapers used as wrapping paper were tossed and crumbled on the floor next to opened boxes. Pieces of furniture were stacked against one another in the dinning room. Lizzie almost tripped as the cat crossed her path and rubbed up against her leg. She wanted to give it a kick, but didn’t. She stopped and looked at her husband.
He pretended not to notice her stare. “I need to go out for a while, babe. Maybe when I get back, we can just have a nice dinner, one without the New York third-degree?”
She watched Bill look around the room, pushing some newspapers out of the way with his foot as he walked to the closet where they kept their coats.
“Don’t worry, I’ll be back in a few minutes. I just want some air and need cigarettes. I’ll be back real soon, Lizzie.” He smiled at her.
“Once I had mountains in the palm of my hand…” Dylan whined.
She didn’t bother turning around; she looked out the window at the street below. “OK. Rick’s name just triggers a reaction, sorry. Don’t be too long, we’re going to eat soon.”
The door clicked behind him, and Dylan kept singing, but no one heard a word he said, no one was listening. She watched Bill cross the empty street and open their car door; he was so handsome. All he wanted to do, she thought, was to ride a “water-smooth-silver stallion”, but now he slid into the white humpbacked ‘62 Volvo and started it up. The cat jumped off the sofa and ran under the chair across the room. Claire pulled her leg with a hungry tug.
When Lizzie heard the front door close, she stopped reading mid-sentence and listened as the steps halted on the landing. Keys shook as Bill struck a match. Her teeth rubbed against each other and she could smell the tobacco. There was nothing Lizzie could think of saying to him, so she stayed silent, curled under the one lamp with a book. She focused on the words in front of her and reread the same sentence several times, as the door across the room opened.
“A peace offering. For all your hard work. Sorry I didn’t stick around to help.”
Lizzie didn’t look up. “The dinner is on the stove if you still want it. I got lost in this book. What time is it?”
Bill had been gone for three hours. Standing over her, he slid an envelope onto the open page. She moved it, placing the unknown gift at the end of the book.
“Aren’t you going to open it? I said I was sorry. I got lost in the record store, but you wouldn’t know what that’s like. How many times have I had to drag you out of a bookstore? Hey, aren’t we talking?”
Lizzie waited, the air was singed; she looked at him. He was smiling and standing a little too close. He forced her to change position: she tucked her legs up, pulled herself around him and stood up.
“It was your turn to read to Claire.”
Their faces were a few inches apart. She examined him in the dark room and waited for him to keep digging the hole they were in.
“Open the envelope, c’mon.”
Inside the envelope Lizzie found concert tickets for the next night.
“A little something for everyone,” Bill said.
She knew what he wanted: he needed to have it both ways.
This section, left on the cutting room floor, no longer needed for “The Last Daughter of Elizabeth Light“