There Was an Old Woman

There Was an Old Woman by Hallie Ephron Read Free Book Online

Book: There Was an Old Woman by Hallie Ephron Read Free Book Online
Authors: Hallie Ephron
dining room, and on to the living room with windows looking out over the water. The footprint and floor plan of the house were identical to her mother’s, and yet it felt utterly different with its mahogany paneling and thick cove moldings that belonged more in a manor house than in what had started out as a beach cottage.
    â€œGo ahead,” Mrs. Yetner said. “Have a look around. The tea needs to steep, anyway.”
    Evie got up and walked through, pausing to touch one of the fluted columns mounted on a half wall separating the dining room from the living room. A memory flickered. Before the fire, her parents’ house had had columns separating the rooms, too, only theirs had been plainer, not topped with these Doric scrolls—volutes, to use the technical term.
    Mrs. Yetner followed as Evie walked to the fireplace in the living room and ran her hand across the cool, voluptuously carved marble mantel. “This is so lovely,” she said. Her parents’ fireplace surround was plain brick that someone, in a misguided effort at redecorating, had painted fire-engine red.
    â€œMy father salvaged that from a mansion in Manhattan,” Mrs. Yetner said. “But it’s far too grand for this house, don’t you think?”
    â€œYour father was a builder?” Evie asked.
    â€œHe was. And a businessman. And an attorney. That’s him,” Mrs. Yetner said, indicating a framed sepia family portrait on the mantel. “Thomas Higgs.”
    â€œHiggs?” Evie asked. “As in Higgs Point?”
    Mrs. Yetner smiled and nodded.
    Evie examined the photograph. A man in a suit and tie was seated before the same marble mantel, his slim, severe wife standing behind him. Two children, little girls maybe six and eight, stood rigid and unsmiling beside him. Only the baby sitting in the father’s lap, wearing a long white dress and holding an old-fashioned carpenter’s plane, seemed at all happy to be there.
    â€œThat’s me.” Mrs. Yetner pointed to the smaller of the two girls. “And that’s my sister, Annabelle. The little one in my father’s lap, that’s my brother.”
    Alongside other pictures on the mantel were an oyster shell and the dark, leathery, helmetlike shell of a horseshoe crab. Propped up at the other end was a small white plate with a decal of the Coney Island Parachute Jump. Beside it was a metal paperweight of the Trylon and Perisphere from the 1939 World’s Fair.
    But the keepsake that caught Evie’s eye was a metal miniature of the Empire State Building. Evie picked it up. From its silhouette, Evie realized it had to be old. Its top was stubby, the way the building had looked in the 1930s before its owners abandoned the fantasy that gigantic, cigar-shaped dirigibles could come nose to nose with its mooring mast and disembark passengers onto a gangplank more than a thousand feet in the air.
    â€œYou must have gotten this a very long time ago,” Evie said.
    Mrs. Yetner blinked, and for a few seconds she seemed at a loss for words. She picked up another framed photograph from the mantel. “This is me and Annabelle again. A little bit older.”
    Evie looked closely. Two young girls stood barefoot on a beach. Their long skirts and the scarves on their heads were being whipped around by the wind. Each had her arm around the other’s waist.
    â€œWhich beach is this?” Evie asked.
    â€œRight down the street, if you can believe it. There used to be a beach there. Saltwater meets freshwater. It was lovely for swimming.”
    Mrs. Yetner put the photograph back. Evie was still holding the little replica of the Empire State Building. Cast out of pot metal, what must once have been crisp details now blurred and melted, almost like candle wax. When she looked up, Mrs. Yetner was staring at it, too.
    â€œI used to work there,” Mrs. Yetner said.
    â€œI bought that the day I interviewed for

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