A week ago I went with a girlfriend to a local flea market – set up in my old high school's parking lot, it is usually strong in jewelry, weak in books. I rarely find anything there of note, but the sight of the vendor's tents – weighed down with blue petticoats, faux leopard jackets, polyester dresses; their trays sparkling oceans of costume jewelry – is madly uplifting. I always have hope.
I bought a vest with dice for buttons; Isadora Duncan scarves that lapped my ankles like affectionate cats. Then I found an – unexpected – box of postcards and photographs. I didn't think twice and thrust both hands into that tinted and sepia collection of forgotten lives. And I found this:
The back is undivided and there is no white margin, which dates it at around 1900-1910. It features a woman dreamily looking at a row of Chinese lanterns floating and bobbing like pink and turquoise planets above her. Her body is pushed forward and pulled back: a vision of the whalebone's last hurrah. A blooming vine branches with care around the windows, inside which are seen the patterned triangles of summer curtains: feminine and dainty, drawn aside to let in the painted light.
Glitter, dim after 100 years of callous storage, spells out a message: "a note from Pittsburg, PA" (the 'Pittsburgh' spelling was introduced in 1911). Below the announcement is a tiny envelope, possibly just a whimsy of the sender. I know that messages were not allowed on the address side of the card – perhaps the note was also too personal for a postman's eyes? Why, then, did he not send a letter? Did the image hold a special significance?
Holding my breath, I reached into the envelope, hoping that the delicate billet doux was still there…it was:
"Ere I close my eyes in sleep
And when I'm wrapt in slumber deep,
Do I dream of happy days
Days not far beyond my reach
How I dream of you my dear
Always wishing you were near."
Not only are the author's initials written, they are stamped as well. Romantic and business-like. The postcard is addressed to Miss Gertrude Brocker. I hope she appreciated her doting and efficient lover.
At first I thought the image on the card a little off-center, the expression hard to read. But perhaps she was only listening to the clumsy, affectionate little poem being read to her – or watching the words fluttering down confetti-like from the paper lanterns.