"Oh! Do you remember this one?" Laura holds up a sketch of her and Mary on a picnic blanket. He scrambles up from his hunched position and sits down next to his wife.
That was the first time they went on a picnic. One of the first - perhaps the first ever - time he went to Somerville. Where he had seen Laura. When he had fallen deeply in love with this remarkable woman.
"Mary found a praying mantis." He said, taking the drawing from Laura and studying it closely. "Late summer. Crusty bread and salty cheese and milk from your own cow." He put the sketch down so he could brush a stray lock of hair behind Laura's ear. His hand lingered on her cheek.
"That was a good day." She says, leaning into his touch.
"I like to think many good days followed." He jests, avoiding the rift he had caused between them, the explosion and the few awkward weeks when he tried to regain her trust. He had felt elated when she had asked him to dinner again, he had even managed to get in Mrs Clark's... Well... not her good book, but a better book.
"Oh, there were many good days. Look..." She passes him a drawing of Mary in her new dress, especially made for the wedding. Mary had been so excited and he smiled by the memory of his big girl bouncing through the house after the wedding, telling all who'd listen she had a father now.
He had been proud to be called Mary's father. Still was. He remembered the few stray tears that had escaped him during Mary's own wedding ceremony. Laura had grabbed his hand, but said nothing. She had understood. Like she had always understood before and would for a long time after.
He picked up the folder that held the sketches Laura was going through. On top now was a portrait of his wife. Her hair down, her eyes sparkling, the line of her neck vanishing into nothingness, leaving the impression she was nude.
Well, that had been true.
He had sketched her the morning after their wedding night, wanting to capture the light in her eyes and the contented air. He had wanted to draw her laying in the bed, still sleeping, partially wrapped in the cotton sheets, but he had found she was an early riser and she sat at her vanity when he woke up.
Wearing nothing but a smile.
He had grabbed his pad and pencil and had set this up in five or six minutes, before he had flung off the covers and dragged her back into their bed. Not dragged, not truly. She had not needed any persuading whatsoever.
“Oh...” Laura pointed at the sketch of Mary and her friend Ruth sitting in the field by the house, making daisy chains and laughing. In an age that cameras were not for the common, he had quickly taken to making rough sketches of all the things he would normally have snapped a picture of.
“Look how young she is there...” Laura’s voice was full of wonder. Her amazement over the smallest things was one of the things he loved most about her. Her curiosity paired with a genuine wonder of the world made her not only a great journalist, but an engaging partner and a fun mother.
“Your mother.” He handed her a pastel of Mrs Clark sitting on the porch, knitting.
“She didn’t hate you that much, you know.” Laura said, her amusement evident in her voice.
“Just a little.” He nudged her and she giggled. “Only a little. And hardly any by the time she passed on.” She kissed his hair, nuzzled the grey locks.
“Hmmm... It’s a good one though, it’s incredibly her. I don’t think she knew I made it.” He put it on the pile of the sketches they had already seen.
“Now... this is one of my favourites...” Before he pulls the drawing out of the folder, her helps Laura up from her knees and together they sit on her hope chest. “Here...”
The sharp intake of breath tells him she hasn’t seen that picture before and that she is partly shocked and party overwhelmed.
“I didn’t know you did this...” Her finger softly traces the outline of the figure on the paper.
“I had to. I watched you everyday, blossoming, growing, changing. I had to sketch you at least once and I knew you wouldn’t let me.” He put his arm around her and together they stared at Laura standing in the tub, washing herself with a flannel while water pools around her feet. She is partially turned towards him, giving him a glimpse of the soft bulge that keeps their child safe as it grows.
“I had never seen anyone as beautiful as you then. You were radiant and so at ease with everything, with yourself. I was so proud of you and just couldn’t believe it was happening, that we were going to be parents together.” He hears his voice is close to breaking point when she cuts in.
“Again.” She lays down her head on his shoulder again. “You were Mary’s father long before we knew Vera would come along.”
They both smile over a picture of Mary holding her baby sister and of Charlie himself with his family: his beautiful wife and two daughters, one doing incredibly well in school and one so tiny he can hold her in one arm.
“I cannot believe you drew that.” Laura’s voice is trembling with shock. She pushes the drawing of herself feeding Vera in Charlie’s lap. He daren’t say it is one of his better pieces, that from an artist’s perspective it’s great in composition, colouring and technique. All Laura sees is her partially exposed breast and the back of her newborn’s head and he understands.
“No-one has ever seen that and no-one ever will. It’s been here in the attic for years and years. Don’t worry.” He caresses her cheek, hopes she will forgive him and sighs when she does. Like she always does. She isn’t a moper nor does she hold a grudge. She is strong and knows you cannot move forward if you let yourself be anchored by anger. But while he knows he is forgiven, he also knows he had better tread carefully. He hopes he hasn’t made more sketches of her in various state of undress, but he is afraid there might be more.
Laura bends over, picks up the next piece and smiles.
Vera is crawling under the table, Mary is chasing her and they are both laughing. Laura is in the doorway, looking at them, heavily pregnant with Lilian, her dress is draped over her growing stomach and she is laughing.
She stares at the piece of art, says nothing. He can feel she is thinking up a storm and few of those thoughts are particularly happy. Charlie remembers how Mrs Clarke had passed away sometime before Laura got pregnant again and that she had felt so guilty for feeling slightly relieved of having her home to herself and her family. He didn’t blame her, never could, in her old age Mrs Clark’s sharp tongue turned acidic. Her friends didn’t come over much as they grew feeble and weak with age themselves. Mrs Clark enjoyed getting her daughter’s temper up, telling her the way she was raising Mary was a disgrace.
On the other hand it was Mrs Clark who had congratulated him with warm wishes and kind words when Laura had told her she was going to have a baby and it was Mrs Clark who took care of Mary and Vera when Laura had to go to the Gazette and Charlie had an appointment in the city.
“Look...” He showed her a drawing of all their children together in a bed, curled up together as Laura told them a story. He felt her sigh deeply, shifting.
“Are you uncomfortable?” The hope chest was not the couch in the front room by a long shot. He was starting to feel a bit stiff himself and hoped she would allow him to take the other folder downstairs with him. The light was going as well and they would be able to see better downstairs, with the lamps on.
“A bit...” She admitted. “But there’s only two more in this folder.” She added and picked one up. Laura with Mary and Vera in front of her and holding Lilian on her hip, all standing in the stream, their skirts hiked up, wet patches on the fabric.
“The last one!” It was Laura. Alone, at her vanity, taking her hair down. He had always adored the gentle curve of her neck, the soft lines of her shoulders, the way she didn’t feel in the slightest bit embarrassed as she undressed before him. During their honeymoon she had given him happy smiles, smirks and seductive glances and she hadn’t stopped since. Even now their children were grown, she undressed as easily as she had done that first evening. It made him feel proud that she felt so safe with him, but he never commented on it. She would think him ridiculous.
He watched her as she carefully put all his artwork back in the folder and tied the string.
“How about we recreate that picture of me in the tub...” She whispered in his ear.
He turned to her and smiled.
“Lead the way, Mrs Lattimer...” He took her hand and pulled her in his lap.
“This is not the tub, Mr Lattimer...” She admonished, but the look on her face was one of sheer delight.
He covered her lips with his and she slipped her arms around his neck, pressing herself against him. For a fleeting moment he thought how much he enjoyed the changing of the fashions over the years, the ability to feel the supple flesh of his wife under his hands whenever he held her close was utterly wonderful.
She pulled herself away from him.
“Come... we’re getting too old to do this on a pile of pillows and blankets on the wooden floor, honey...”
He followed her willingly, allowing himself to be intoxicated by her scent, the sway of her hips, the looks she throws him over her shoulder.
This year they would be married thirty years and their youngest child had a baby of her own on the way. As he undressed Laura, kissed the creamy skin of her shoulders, stroked her back with the palm of his hand, he remembered how he should thank the Conductor if he ever made it to Heaven.