snap shot (1)I still cannot descend a steep flight of stairs or sit while someone leaves the table to fetch a camera without thinking of that Christmas fifty years ago, right after Great Uncle Earl had said the blessing in his Baptist deacon’s voice, when Great Aunt Velma (seventy-two at the time, my mother’s mother’s sister) got up from the dining room table—gloriously set with Great Aunt Nellie’s finest bone china, her tatted linen table cloth pressed, the crystal goblets sparkling—with all the mothers and fathers and aunts and uncles and cousins and brothers and sisters, eighteen of us in all, waiting in anticipation for the bird to be carved so we could eat our Christmas feast, complete with chestnut stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, green beans cooked in cream of mushroom soup, a molded aspic salad, cranberry ice, and for dessert, two kinds of pie with whipped cream, but no, wait, Great Aunt Velma (who was a little overweight and perhaps a little tottery but for the most part still steady on her feet) had to take a photo of that golden turkey, such a beautiful bird, it must be immortalized on film for future generations, so she went to fetch her camera, which she’d left in the hall closet in her purse beneath the choke of heavy winter coats, but opened the wrong door, the basement door, and because it was so dark without the basement light to show the stairs, she stepped inside, fell and landed with a dull thud at the bottom of the steep dark flight.

The silence of the fall through empty space vacuumed up all crumbs of happy expectation and after a frozen moment, two uncles descended that dark staircase, while the aunts huddled and shivered and started crying, then Uncle John came up to say that she had broken her neck and was dead, which caused such an unholy keening that icicles fell off the eaves and shattered on the frozen ground, but instead of weeping, all that I could do was pull out a phone book, stare hungrily at the neat columns in black and white, and call the ambulance while flatly wondering why anyone had thought the stupid turkey had been worthy of a photo, why someone hadn’t locked the damned basement door (or at least left on the light), why Great Aunt Velma (the youngest of five sisters and by far the sweetest) hadn’t kept her shitty little camera with her in the first place so that instead of all this sadness and weeping we could be sitting down and enjoying turkey dinner—I mean, good lord, I was only twelve, still a child, and Christmas had been ruined, and the turkey had been abandoned, and all the aunts and uncles and mothers and fathers and cousins and sisters and brothers were crying except for me and Great Aunt Velma who was lying dead in the basement at the bottom of a steep dark staircase.

After Sharry Wright earned her MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts she co-founded Inkspell Writers, offering adult and young writers’ workshops in San Francisco. Sharry has organized a number of writing retreats and conferences, works as a moderator for mother-daughter book clubs and as a book reviewer for BookBrowse. She writes long and short fiction, creative nonfiction and poetry. Her young adult novel, The Lies And Illusions Of Lucy Sparrow won Hunger Mountain Journal’s 2015 Katherine Paterson YA Category Prize and can be read in the current online issue.

Photo by Marcia Krause Bilyk