For Carrie By Sheree Shatsky

Photo by June Crabtree Nottingham, author’s aunt

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 impatient 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.

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Sheree shares her inspiration for this piece:

“For Carrie” is a flash memoir written in response to a photograph of Carrie’s descendants gathered on church steps following a visit to her gravesite. I “met” my great-grandmother through the stories of her son, my grandfather, who grieved her loss until his death at age ninety-two. For them, I pass the story forward.

“For Carrie” was first published in Wraparound South.

Sheree Shatsky writes wild words. Her work has appeared in a variety of journals and her novella in flash, Summer 1969, is forthcoming at Ad Hoc Fiction. Sheree calls Florida home and is a Tom Petty fan. Read more of her writing at shereeshatsky.com and find her on Twitter @talktomememe.

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[1] Kansas City Crates. (2020)

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