Halfway to the basement, I noticed a framed vintage photo of a bearded man, one who looked particularly intimidating. The sepia-tone photo showed him wearing a three piece suit with bucket boots, a stovetop hat, and a glassy stare. He sat in a chair, holding a bible and leaning against a tall table with an undeniable air of solemnity to him. His eyes were fixed dead ahead, through the picture, through time, into my soul. Before I even realized that I’d stopped, the old woman’s crepitating voice snapped me back to reality.
“My great grandfather-in-law, Admiral Augustus Sebastian Bedside. A true visionary, stern but fair parent to twenty children, and a hero of the highest order. This photograph was taken shortly after the Splendid Little War, where Admiral Bedside gave his life so that the rest of his men could escape certain death.”
She turned and took a step down.
It was such a minor detail, easily attributable to the wearing effects of age. I could have let it go. I should have let it go. But I needed to know if she’d simply misspoken, or if I had grounds to begin panicking.
“Wait,” I said. The old woman reversed her motion with eerie symmetry, taking the step up backwards before turning to face me. “You meant this was taken before the war, right? I mean... if he died in battle, then how...” I let the question trail off.
“In those days, it was customary to pose the remains for posterity sake before the funeral. The embalmer did a wonderful job preserving Augustus. His youngest daughter, Mercy, had a hand for art. She drew the eyes upon his closed lids with such exactness that few can discern any difference.”
Okay, I thought to myself. They Weekend-at-Bernie’sed him. Nothing weird about that.
“Come along,” she commanded. “We’ve spent enough time here.”