It could have been a Great Depression photo taken by Walker Evans or Dorothea Lange that Zette held. Taken in Barrington, some time in the thirties, the bed of the pickup was sided with the rough-hewn planks of a farm fence, while a large craggy man with two children either side — one boy, one girl — sat on the running board. A smaller boy sat between the man’s mud-caked boots. This younger boy’s black eyes stared somewhere beyond them, pain etched in his face.
Zette had heard the stories of how Andrew’s father had forced his sharecroppers to show Andrew how to work the land, extorting more of their crops in the bargain. In that photo that Zette held, Andrew was a small boy, but Moira could see he’d already turned from the light.
All the photos around Zette were of Andrew. Some were in gilded, others in cardboard frames that peeled at the edges. She had propped the frames up on the piano, side tables, and on the bookshelves that encircled her chair.
On the way to Zette’s, Moira had warned Lexis and Jake, “No matter what Zette suspected, this will be a shock. Let her talk. This man was her whole life. Let her talk.”
So now, they drank tea and listened.
“I first met Andrew at Classical High. Of course everyone knew of Andrew. After all the Vaughns had several portraits hanging in the State House, and he was lead in all the plays and the most handsome boy in school. I was a sophomore and helped out with the sets for Our Town.”
Lexis fidgeted, then picked up her tea, only to put it down. Moira saw the outrage build within her. She stared at her, shook her head, and gave her a look that said, “Behave.” Lexis settled back.
“He was the Stage Manager. I’ll never forget his line, ‘Now there are some things we all know, but we don’t take’m out and look at’m very often.’ It still gives me chills. He pulled it down from somewhere I couldn’t imagine. Right there, I fell in love with him.”
Jake asked, “Is that when you started going with grandpa?”
“What?” Zette’s concentration broke. “My goodness, I suppose he is your grandpa, isn’t he?”
“I didn’t mean anything. I’m sorry. I …”
“God knows boy, you may not want him as your grandfather, but he is. Just like for fifty-something years, he was my husband. But to answer your question, no, that’s only when we met. I painted each tombstone in that sad little graveyard with a quote from Spoon River. Andy popped up from behind the one I had just finished, gave me a kiss, and said I was the prettiest girl in the entire school. He was always such a flatterer.”
While Zette talked, Moira noticed that several of the photos were of Andrew on stage. Hair combed back like a young Errol Flynn, suave, but underneath still the small scared boy on the farm-truck running board.
Zette went on, “Andrew and I began to date at Providence College. Already a junior, he surprised me at my freshman dorm with a clever bouquet of marigold and late-summer roses. The card read, ‘I can’t believe my luck, Zette Rixen. I was sure you were off for Hollywood.’ Soon Andrew and I were engaged.”
In other photos Andrew held a mike and spoke to an audience. Had he run for office or campaigned for someone else? Moira wondered. She couldn’t tell if the photos were taken before or after his fall at Veteran’s Memorial.
“Were you happy, Zette?” Lexis asked.
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