I felt the pause that followed, and the silence that accompanied it. It mirrored my own mind, which I think had actually blinked in shock when she said that. This certainly seemed like an out-of-the-way place but for no one to have moved here in forty years seemed almost impossible. Maybe she was just exaggerating for effect, or pulling my leg. I mentioned both but she just shook her head slowly in reply.
“Yes indeed. Curious isn’t it?”
“You know I ran into a guy who lives down Cemetery Road, kind of a big guy. He lives in a trailer over there. He didn’t seem to be more than thirty or maybe thirty-five.”
“Was that you he was shooting at yesterday?”
“Well, yes. But still, he seemed younger than forty for sure.”
Eyebrows got up and refilled both of our coffee cups, her hands trembling a little bit as she did. It seemed to offend her that I noticed so I looked back out the window toward the side yard which was lined with Large-toothed Aspen’s that framed a magnificent Chestnut tree. I heard the kettle click against the stove top as she set it down and turned my attention back to her.
“He was born here, right in that same trailer. In fact his father died right on my kitchen floor here a long time ago. He’s not a very friendly type is he?”
I shook my head and she continued.
“You know, I expect that you think maybe all the folks around here aren’t so friendly, and in that you might be right. But I would caution you against judging the lot of us too harshly. This is a strange place to live and it kind of turns you into a rascal after awhile, even if you set out to avoid it. Do you believe that?”
“I hadn’t really thought about it other than what I told you about this being a spooky and weird place. I don’t think I am judging you all as one. I mean you seem nice enough.” I gave her what I thought was a convincing smile to back that up but the old woman did not seem to buy it. She stirred her coffee for several long moments after that and then spoke.
“So, you want to know about this place then?”
“Well, let’s go look at some pictures.” With that she led me into the living room area and bent over to pull a large chest, covered in chipped yellow paint, out from underneath a table. I made a move to help her but caught the look she gave me and backed off. This was a woman who was both strong and also unwilling to deal with whatever frailties may have crept in on her over time. She sat down with a small grunt on the yellow and green sofa and motioned me into a armchair. As she opened the chest I expected to catch a hint of mothballs or old paper but instead smelled rosemary, which was quickly explained by the sachet the woman pulled out from the inside. She waved her hand toward the chest.
“Go ahead, look around in there. I keep all my pictures in this chest, every one I ever took since we moved here. It might help you understand this place.”
Reaching down I picked up a few of them, mostly three-by-five inch black and white photos, many of them posed images of people. I turned one toward her.
She smiled. “My husband. Doesn’t he look grand in that suit? He only ever had two, the one he married me in, and that one. He had just bought it about two weeks before the picture was taken. That’s later of course, back here about ten years after we moved in. He’s standing on a pile of railroad ties that we walked past one day when they were doing repairs. Isn’t it silly how you can see my shadow in the picture too? I wasn’t much of a photographer, was I?”
I had not even noticed that so I turned it back to look again. “Oh, well, I wouldn’t feel too bad about it. It’s nice picture. What was he all dressed up for anyway?”
She sighed before replying. “He always wore a suit on Sundays. I buried him in it too of course.” She was rubbing her hand along the arm of the sofa, another awkward silence building, so I returned to the pictures. I went through the entire set of them, hundreds if not close to a thousand, and asked questions once she seemed to be paying attention again. I got a lot of information but it was mostly just people’s names and sometimes a reference to how they knew someone else, or were related to them. I pressed several times for more details, asking about the few pictures that showed old buildings, or large groups of people, but Eyebrows usually deflected those questions with stories about her husband. When I had finished I could tell that she was tired, her eyes closing slowly a few times before jumping back to focus on me. I was about to shut the top of the chest when something struck me, a fact which had been skipping around at the edges of my mind while I poked around in her pictures.
“You know, I didn’t see one single picture in there of a child, at least not a young one. I mean, all the younger people in those photos must have been at least sixteen I think. What is that, some kind of other rule around here? Don’t take the kid’s pictures because you steal their soul or something?” I laughed but stopped when I glanced over at the old woman. She looked angry and was standing up now, very straight, her angular features darkened by the shadows from the partially closed curtains. I took two steps back toward the kitchen and stopped, caught in-between fear and incredulity. We remained there, locked in a stare-down, for a full minute before she collapsed back onto the sofa, clearly exhausted. She said something but in a voice too low for me to hear. When I failed to respond she motioned me closer, which I declined to do, instead eyeballing the distance to the door. I looked back at her and she looked so frail, so old and weak, that I obeyed her second summons, kneeling down next to her.
“Do you know where the red crow goes?”