The flimsy stairs wobble beneath my feet as I climb into the attic, which
smells of must and mold. A single, hanging lightbulb swings overhead. I pull
It is like being in the hold of an old steamship. Wide wooden planks
panel the walls; cobwebs turn the creases silver and hang in skeins from
the indentation between the planks. The ceiling is so steeply pitched that
I can stand upright only in the center of the room.
I see the rocking chair I used when my grandchildren were young, then
an old crib and a ratty- looking rocking horse set on rusty springs, and the
chair my daughter was refinishing when she got sick. Boxes are tucked
along the wall, marked “Xmas,” “Thanksgiving,” “Easter,” “Halloween,”
“Serveware,” “Sports.” In those boxes are the things I don’t use much anymore
but can’t bear to part with. For me, admitting that I won’t decorate a
tree for Christmas is giving up, and I’ve never been good at letting go.
Tucked in the corner is what I am looking for: an ancient steamer trunk
covered in travel stickers.
With effort, I drag the heavy trunk to the center of the attic, directly
beneath the hanging light. I kneel beside it, but the pain in my knees is
piercing, so I slide onto my backside.
For the first time in thirty years, I lift the trunk’s lid. The top tray is full
of baby memorabilia. Tiny shoes, ceramic hand molds, crayon drawings
populated by stick figures and smiling suns, report cards, dance recital
I lift the tray from the trunk and set it aside.
The mementos in the bottom of the trunk are in a messy pile: several
faded leather- bound journals; a packet of aged postcards, tied together
with a blue satin ribbon; a cardboard box, bent in one corner; a set of slim
books of poetry by Julien Rossignol; and a shoebox that holds hundreds of
black- and- white photographs.
On top is a yellowed, faded piece of paper.
My hands are shaking as I pick it up. It is a carte d’identité, an identity
card, from the war. I see the small, passport- sized photo of a young
woman. Juliette Gervaise