Jason Schwartz is the author of A German Picturesque. He lives in Florida.

Winter Register

posted Sep 22, 2009

The maiden name—and then a list of the sisters.

Eleanor, the youngest, is first. From afar—the distance between the fencepost and the road, say, or between you and the house—she appears to fall into a well. In fact, she vanishes in the bracken. Audrey is smallest. Fire-irons and a brown wall, a skirt with a nailhead pattern. Drawn curtains are rather less charming than a drowning—as the mother has it. While the sheets, according to an old saying, are the knives of the bed. Blanche, the eldest, is last. They imagine her struggling along, arriving at the wrong house. Or returning to the staircase, now more amply rouged.

The mother sits upright, apart from the father.

Whose brother—Edward, or perhaps Edmond—suffers quite elaborately. His humiliations, then—at a Western elevation, or as a boy, or one day in the fall. They part on a boulevard, at the far end, near a park. Or near a harbor the following summer. And so on, as it rains into the front room. Where his daughter—you might observe, from above, the route of her departure—sits without a suitor. Her name—Gertrude, in blue ink—fails to account for the portrait of horses, the lampshade in the fireplace, the hour.

The grandmother, on the father’s side, weeps in the greenery.

Her sister—Esther—lives on a finer street, east of here, near the river. She addresses herself to the brass doorstop—it is a rat in the purse, it turns out, rather than a mouse—and then to her husband’s ruined shoes. The husband—William, in cursive—is bedridden, or seems unwell, ill, if somewhat better now, curiously so, especially in the evening. On the huntboard is a hand of pork, garnished with black olives—though he prefers green. His plate resembles a gray face, the knife covering the eyes.

The grandfather, on the father’s side, points the blade this way.

His brother—the name is absent—returns at nine o’clock. Ten o’clock, as they imagine it—a train station and a lawn, a mishap on a bridge. Or a burnt hat-rack and a metal hook, his wife attired in a gown of some kind. The wife—Anne, or perhaps Anna—stands rather as your sister does, facing the drapery. Her possessions, then—on the windowsill, on the dressing table, in the bureau drawer. The bedpost, from a more sensible angle, might obscure a portion of the wardrobe, and divide the room in two.