I reached into the shopping bag, pulled out the tissue bundle and unwrapped it, drawing out the moment with anticipation. Was the little picture really so perfect, so evocative, as blurry with captured motion, as clear with individual power as it had appeared in the shop? Old photographs don’t usually appeal to me, but this one felt like a painting. Maybe the blur of the young woman in the group around the dissecting table turning her head at the wrong moment made it wondrous to me. A sense of life past, caught in the act of living.

I set the framed piece down on the counter, deliberately not looking just yet, felt the wooden foot on the back flip down into place to balance it upright. I swept the tissue into the bag, stepped back, realizing suddenly that I needed a sandwich. A busy, exciting morning, running around town to do my mailing, and then that impulsive stop at the cobwebbed antique shop.

I let myself look. The table of death, the women in their graceful but so impractical mutton sleeves and corseted slenderness grouped around the young central figure, with her hands lifting to point out some detail in the unfocused shape of corpse before them. Soft sepia tones, deepening to near black in the surrounding shadows. I admired it as an abstract then, composition and balance, began to turn away with the question of bread for my sandwich focusing my mind, but something in the beige on brown shifted and my attention froze.

She lifted her head with an odd serpentine movement and looked at me out of that photograph. You know how it is when you see the eyes level with yours and the pupils flare to hold you in a gaze.

It was like that.


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