A tableau is a kind of freeze-frame--a still picture that strikingly embodies much more than just a single moment in time. An example of a literary tableau is seen here in William Faulkner's short story, "A Rose for Emily." The author even uses the word tableau in his description:
The Griersons held themselves a little too high for what they really were. None of the young men were quite good enough to Miss Emily and such. We had long thought of them as a tableau: Miss Emily a slender figure in white in the background, her father a spraddled silhouette in the foreground, his back to her and clutching a horsewhip, the two of them framed by the backflung front door.
The literary tableau is a unifying device in the story, as the changing tableaux of Emily and her father are used to frame the story and reflect the passage of time.
I had a tableau moment last night. It was 7:00 p.m. I was in the middle of washing dishes, enumerating in my head the things I still needed to do before the day was over: 1) go to my mom's place (in the snow) to check her mail and feed the bird; 2) go see my mom herself at the rehab center where she is currently recovering from a fall; 3) put sheets on the 6-year-old's bed; 4) oversee 6-year-old getting ready for bed; and 5) work on an editing project that is way overdue (not because of me!) and must get done this weekend.
Of course, also flying around in my head were all the other things that also need to be done but that I was reconciling myself to not checking off the list on this particular day. So the last thing I needed was for the aforementioned 6-year-old to sidle into the kitchen, smile winsomely, and ask, "Would you play hide-and-seek with me, Mommy?"
Talk about a big heart-sinking moment. He didn't have much mommy time yesterday. But it couldn't be helped. I told him No. Mommy doesn't have enough time for you. Visiting hours at the rehab center are over at 8:00. Maybe your brother can play hide-and-seek with you.
There's another tableau for you, one that is representative not of my days but of Evan's.
Oh, that I could take an editing pen to my life!