Here is the next installment of Beatrice Allen Page’s unpublished manuscript, Still Life with Figures:
“Yesterday, shortly after I’d written those pages about searching, Great-Aunt Louise, whom I haven’t thought of in years, stepped into my mind and seems determined to stay. Perhaps she has come back for the sympathetic understanding I failed to give her when she was alive. Be it to my shame, at that time I looked upon her, with the callousness of the young, as rather a comic figure. I try to tell myself now that if she had been a beloved aunt whom I had always known, I should have felt more compassion. As it was, I saw her only briefly, at long intervals, until those last months of her life when she came to stay with us.
She was in her late eighties then, tall, thin, erect, and she never seemed to tire physically. Her mind, however, had grown old. In the words of that warm, tender Jamaican woman, Hallie, who was with us that winter and helped care for her, she had ‘a whimsy in the head.’ Her mind wandered and so did her body; she roamed about the house all day, upstairs and downstairs from attic to cellar and in and out of every room, groping around in every closet, cubbyhole or cranny she could find. She, too, was preoccupied with a search but in her case it must have been more of a frustration than a fascination.
At first when we asked her what she was looking for, she answered a little petulantly that it was something she’d lost. When we asked her what precisely, thinking in terms of spectacles, thimble, handkerchief – everyday objects one might easily mislay – and offered to help her search, her face took on a secretive expression.
‘Oh, nothing,’ she used to answer, and she’d walk away with those prim, quick little steps of hers. We weren’t certain for awhile whether she meant it was nothing worth our bothering about or whether it was none of our business.
When we realized this endless searching was a private obsession and that whatever she was hunting for had either been lost long ago or had never existed, we ceased to question her and pretended not to notice her pathetic quest. If she herself knew in the beginning what she was looking for, I think she eventually forgot what it was and only knew there was something she wanted desperately to find. On and on she went, probing under sofa cushions, behind books, rummaging through old trunks, prodding behind the furnace with a yardstick, down on all fours tapping the bricks in the fireplace with a big kitchen spoon, until one day in an apparent effort to pry up a lose floorboard in the attic, she collapsed and died.
Sometimes I have the feeling that I, too, am doomed to go one searching for something the rest of my life and never finding it because I don’t even know what it is – like looking for the answer to a question without knowing what the question is. It makes me feel rather like a character out of Kafka. I suspect a lot of people are troubled by the same feeling.”