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Spring/Summer 2021

For Carrie

Sheree Shatsky

     I look directly into the camera. I’m focused. Generations of family gather on the front steps of Rich Valley Presbyterian after visiting the gravesite of our Carrie, who passed of Spanish flu back in 1918, pregnant with twins.  Her eyes were Viking blue like mine, like her son, my grandfather. We can only imagine what color the twins’ eyes might have been. Everyone seated around me has eyes everywhere else but the camera. Blue, brown, hazel, a set of green.  I hold the lens in steady sight, come hell or high water determined my aunt get this photo on the first take.  My arms contain my baby brother's blue eyes, his profile in search of our green-eyed mother.

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     I sit at my piano, a sturdy huge upright, and think of losing Carrie and her twins in the flu pandemic one hundred years ago. The story goes she was so pregnant a coffin as big as a piano was built to bury her and the unborn.  My fingers sweep the keys and I hear babies crying.

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     My mother pays me two dollars a day to practice the piano an hour after school.  An allowance for doing something I hate for someone else.  I look back and think maybe she should have paid me three dollars, for Carrie and the twins.

     Madame Colette is my piano teacher.  She is French and applies her eyeliner with a heavy hand.  She boasts a long waiting list of clients seeking private lessons and tells me I waste her time with my wee hands incapable of reaching an octave.  My limits are skeletal. 

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     How to crate a piano.  “Step back and measure twice.  Round off to the nearest inch.  Curved pieces are more difficult to measure, add 2” if unsure. *FINAL CRATE WEIGHT is provided as an estimate only. Actual crate weight will vary due to content and materials.”[1]

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     My aunt snaps the Polaroid. 

     Chins confetti the photograph.  Our shared clefts stretch wide, a subtle slice of genetics, a dent in the curvature. Mine is poised and level ready.  My cousin juts his, a smirk on his face.  Chins of others tuck in thought, at children on laps, in repose, somewhere else but this moment.

     My mother cradles the chin of her niece and turns her face gently towards the camera. She will master the piano at a young age and will own a baby grand.

    The smiles vary.  Sharp, flat, some stretched full ivory, others at rest in an upward curve. My lips set in inpatient measure, a hint of up, a threat of frown.  A family seldom together, yet as at home as if we all lived in the same holler within shouting range.              

[Check out Sheree Shatsky's back porch advice]


[1] Kansas City Crates. (2020)