Willow Chapter 8: The Picture

Claudia Stack

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Photo by Helena Lopes on Unsplash

However irrational she knew it was, Sonia could not shake the connection that had been made in her mind. The image of Sarah Brown as a girl driving the carriage hitched to a beautiful white horse, and the uncanny similarity of that horse to her beloved Willow, stayed with her. So much so, that she found herself thinking of reasons to return to Miss Sarah’s apartment for another look at the picture. The opportunity came sooner than she expected.

The New York City summer continued day after sweltering day. Each afternoon seemed the same. Sonia sat on the front stoop of the building and watched the traffic. It was too hot even to ride her bike. A yellow taxi pulled to the curb. To Sonia’s surprise Carlos, who as usual was dressed in a heavy wool doorman’s uniform that must have been stiflingly hot, ran to open the taxi door.

Miss Sarah Brown emerged from the rear seat and leaned heavily on his arm. They walked slowly toward the front entrance to the lobby, and Sonia could see that Miss Brown looked very pale. A bandage wrapped her right forearm. Carlos paused to let her rest before they took the big step up into the lobby. Without thinking, Sonia rose, wanting to help, but unsure of how.

As Carlos slowly helped Miss Brown to the elevator, an oil truck delivery pulled up outside, and the driver came to the door of the lobby.

“Hey Carlos, you gotta unlock the back gate for me.”

Carlos looked around, caught between obligations. Then he saw Sonia, as if for the first time, and nodded in her direction.

“You take Miss Brown upstairs please, I help the oilman.”

So it happened that Sonia took Carlos’ place and, very slowly, helped Miss Brown to her apartment door. The elderly woman fumbled with her key until Sonia gently took over, and the door swung open. Sonia helped the woman to her favorite chair.

“Dear, would you mind getting me a glass of orange juice and sitting with me awhile? I hate to trouble you, but they drew blood at the doctor’s office and I’m feeling a bit lightheaded.”

Sonia rushed to reassure her. “Oh, it’s no trouble, I’ll be right back.” She went toward the kitchen, passing the old photograph of Miss Brown on the carriage that hung in the entryway to the hall. Sonia wanted to pause and study it, but she knew it wasn’t the right time.

Returning with the orange juice, she set it down on the side table and gingerly sat down on an antique loveseat opposite Miss Brown.

“Thank you, dear, I should have had the nurse’s aide come with me, but I thought I could manage the doctor’s appointment by myself.” Miss Brown sipped the orange juice and leaned back in her chair with her eyes closed. Sonia was uncertain of what to do, but after five minutes Miss Sarah appeared to be napping. Sonia got up and tiptoed over to the wall with the old photos.

This time, she studied the horse with Willow in mind. She noted the broad forehead that tapered elegantly to the horse’s delicate muzzle, the large intelligent eyes, the beautiful arched neck. Her eyes then strayed to the man seated next to the young Sarah Brown. He sat with an erect spine, wearing a coachman’s uniform. She could not quite see his hands, but studying the bend in his elbow she thought his hands must be resting on his lap. Still, there was an aura of readiness about him. She had no doubt the man could grasp the reins in an instant if something went wrong.

Miss Brown, on the other hand, appeared carefree, a young lady anticipating an enjoyable outing. The open carriage she drove had a sporty look, with graceful fenders over the wheels. She sat tall on the carriage seat holding the whip and reins confidently and appeared to be seconds away from urging her beautiful mare forward.

“Sonia?” Miss Brown’s voice came from the living room, and for a moment Sonia felt that time collapsed, and it was the young Sarah Brown who called her. She took another quick look at the picture before returning to the living room.

“Miss Brown…” Sonia began

“Please call me Miss Sarah,” her host interrupted, “it makes me feel younger.”

“Miss Sarah, what was it like to drive a carriage when you were young?”

“Dear, you would never believe it now, but there were lots of people in the city who drove for sport. We had clubs, and competitions, even the ladies. I had the loveliest mare and a very nice phaeton…” Miss Sarah trailed off, remembering.

“Who is the man in the picture?” Sonia pressed, nodding toward the old pictures on the wall in the entry to the hallway.

“What? Oh, the coachman. We called him Mack because he was Irish. I don’t know his real name. That was so long ago… but he was very good. He took care of the horses, and my father always had him go with me when I drove. I was quite good at driving” Miss Sarah said with a smile. “Mack only had to take over one time, when Maggie was hanging laundry and the wind from the Hudson blew a sheet off the line and over towards my horse.” Miss Sarah laughed at the memory. “You should have seen how it spooked my poor Willow, she must have thought it was a ghost!”

At the mention of the ‘ghost’ spooking the horse, it was Sonia who turned pale.

“Wait, Miss Sarah, what did you call your horse?”

Click here to read Willow Chapter 7: The Celtic Cross

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I am an educator and filmmaker. My documentary films on historic African American schools have screened at film festivals, colleges, libraries, and other venues. In Fall, 2017 I completed SHARECROP and SHARECROP: DELTA COTTON, documentaries that showcase oral history of the South’s “forgotten farmers.” These films have screened at festivals in major cities including London, Atlanta, Detroit.

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