May 2, 1988
Cape Hudson, Virginia
In coastal Virginia on a warm spring day, Mrs. Catherine Buchanan settles tired bones into her cane rocker. She carefully adjusts her green knit dress with gnarled but precise fingers. She is dressed for this occasion, but no amount of fussing or preening can approach the reckless beauty of the girl sitting across from her.
The girl has straight blonde hair and sharp blue eyes that remind the old woman that once her thin white hair was an unruly red mass of thick curls that tumbled down over tanned shoulders and full, high breasts. She was filled with hopes and dreams, and she too knew a man’s sensual touch. She was never as stunning as this girl, but she turned her fair share of heads.
The girl’s name is Elizabeth Kincaid Jessup—Beth to her friends. She has asked Mrs. Buchanan if she can record her stories with a camera borrowed from the high school library. It’s a living-history project, she says, and then adds quickly with refreshing honesty that she needs an A, so don’t hold back on the good stuff.
Youthful hands carefully unfurl the microphone wire attached to the camera. She has a devilish smile that reminds the old woman of another girl who lived here so long ago. And like the other girl, there are whispers about Beth. She runs with a fast crowd, drinks, and has been seen with several boys in town, some not so nice.
Girls like Beth think they have invented rebellion. They believe they’re the first to ignore the rules, but they are simply reinventing a wheel that has been rolling for hundreds of generations.
“Can I clip this to your collar?” Beth asks. “It’ll pick up the sound better when you talk.”
Beth’s gaze is drawn to the chandelier and then to a portrait of a young woman dressed for her wedding day. The painting hangs over the pearl marble fireplace embellished by a French mason with flowers, scrolls, and greenery.
Mrs. Buchanan doesn’t need to glance to see the portrait. She is the woman in the painting wearing a white satin dress fitted with a beaded bodice and an apron tunic of lace. Woven through red curls are strands of pearls and a waterfall of tulle that graces the floor behind her. The portrait was painted in this very room.
“Do you remember when it was painted?” Beth asks.
The old woman’s coy smile is for the man she loved. “Yes, I remember it all.”
The girl adjusts the focus button as she peers into a lens and then settles onto the floor, easily folding and crossing her legs. “You’ve lived by the bay for nearly a hundred years.”
“I have, for the most part.”
Beth grins. “I heard you know where all the bodies are buried.”
Beth shrugs. “A figure of speech. I don’t mean real bodies. Just the juicy stories about the area.”
Mrs. Buchanan straightens but keeps her expression in check. “Yes, I have stories. And buried in those stories is perhaps a body or two.”
Secrets bubble up as time loosens the bindings. There is no one left alive to protect now. “Shall we begin?”
© 2018 Mary Burton