An image came to her of her stout old body bursting forth, flesh escaping the unyielding cage, and it made her laugh. The sound rumbled up from deep under the rolls of ancient silk skirts.
With liver-spotted hands, she lifted the vague cloud-coloured wisps of hair that floated uncertainly about her solid shoulders, and pulled them up on top of her head. She twisted them loosely and pushed in an ivory comb. It was missing some teeth, fallen victim to years of dressing up; the veil long since grown brittle, torn and discarded in some long-forgotten childhood game. In her heart, she heard the echoes of her daughters arguing about who would wear it, her own voice soothing and fluttering, helping them hold their vibrant orange locks. Jim's hair. Her granddaughter had the Clarkson red hair too, though hers curled in tiny silken question marks about her ears and she stamped her foot when the worn comb slithered out.
The satin slippers lay forlorn in the bent cardboard box, the tissue soft and faded. She thought they looked like little bodies whose souls had flown. Then she thought that growing old was no excuse for thinking such morbid horseshit and it was well past time for a belt of something strong. She kicked the box under the carved wooden bed.
On bare, swollen feet, she shuffled down the half-lit passage, holding her skirts under one arm with an unconscious grace, and made her way downstairs.
Jim stood at the bottom, holding a small red glass; her mother's set that only came out at Christmas. He must have gone all the way up in the outside loft to find it. It was not the sight of him in his suit, the one that had done service for his own and his daughter's weddings, as well as too many funerals to bear, that made her breath catch and her throat hurt. It was the thought of him methodically unfolding the ladder and making his careful, unsteady way up it. She looked away too late, the huge tear spilling down into the soft ravines of her cheek. Above the too-large knot of his tie, she saw him swallow. His voice was gruff.
"You look beautiful. Now drink the goddam whisky and let's eat. Happy anniversary."