A Short Story by JannaTWrites:
Had it been any other year, under any other circumstances, Trish Howe could have appreciated the arrival of spring and the month of May. The absence of snow, leaves sprouting on bare branches and the thickening of grass provided a rare glimpse of hope; until this year.
She couldn’t believe it had been two weeks since her grandmother passed away. It seemed impossible that a life could end at the same time nature began to awaken after a dormant winter. Her dying from a heart attack while prepping her garden for flowers was ironic. Like much of life, Trish thought.
Losing the only relative who ever understood her left Trish feeling so…detached. The roots tying her to Colorado died along with her grandmother. She wished the wind would pick her up and carry her away like the fluffy, white seeds of a dandelion.
Trish waved a bee away from her face and dropped her arm back onto the armrest. To her own eyes, her bony fingers resembled a hawk’s talons gripping a tree branch. Self-conscious, Trish unfolded her fingers from the chair and curled them into a fist instead.
She returned her gaze to the newly planted courtyard, which she could fully admire from her second story apartment balcony. She had hoped it would make her feel closer to her grandmother, but it only amplified her loneliness. “I’m leaving,” she muttered before standing up and ducking through the sliding door into her living room. She wondered if the apartment was built for Pygmies because, in addition to short doorways, the countertops and upper cabinets were unusually low, too.
The phone rang as she closed the door. Trish wiped her eyes with the back of her hand and exhaled a lengthy sigh.
“Hello?” she answered on the third ring.
“Hey, sis! What’re you doing?”
Trish’s forehead creased in a frown just hearing Trina’s bubbly voice.
“Guess what? Mom got a call from some lawyer claiming to have Grandma’s will. What if Grandma was rich?”
“She had the house,” Trish said.
Trina snorted. “That’s not worth getting everyone together.”
“Why didn’t Mom call me?”
“If you were nicer to her, maybe she would have.”
“She wants me to be like you,” Trish said, the admission triggering a new ache in her chest.
“The family always said I was the sweet twin.” Trina’s voice had a joking tone, but the words stung like the whip’s end of truth. Trish understood the implication: she was the contrary, jealous, moody one; the deep scratch on the family’s polished veneer.
“Yoo-hoo, anyone there?” Trina asked in a sing-song voice.
“Mom asked me to make sure you show up tomorrow night. Seven o’clock at Van Clemens & Herstein’s office on Broadway.”
Trish grunted. “Do I have a choice?”
“You don’t have to get snippy.”
When Trish didn’t respond, Trina said, “You’re not the only one grieving.”
Trish started to argue, but remembered that Trina had been quieter than normal, and even skipped a gathering after the funeral. “Have you cried?” The words were more of an accusation than a question.
“Does it matter? Sadness isn’t measured in tears.”
They absorbed several seconds of heavy silence.
“You were Grandma’s favorite, but I still miss her,” Trina whispered.
“I never said you didn’t.” The words came out harsher than Trish had intended.
“Fine. I’ll see you tomorrow night.”
Before Trish could speak, the dial tone buzzed in her ear.
Trish arrived at the lawyer’s office at ten minutes before seven, dressed in navy slacks and a cream-colored, elbow-length sweater. At twenty years old, she wasn’t well-versed in proper will-reading attire, but upon seeing her twenty-eight-year old brother in chinos and a creased pale blue dress shirt, and her sister in jeans, she felt almost overdressed.
The injustice of her life slapped Trish in the face again as she stared at her sister wearing the same style of Bongo jeans she had, but filling them out much better. Identical twins should be the same. Trish had always wanted the ‘twin connection’ that other twins talked about, but she never had that with Trina. After years of not measuring up, Trish finally gave in to establishing her own physical identity. Her dyed chestnut hair and preppy clothes distanced her from Trina’s dirty blonde hair and denim wardrobe. Trish forced herself to look away.
Her gaze swept across the office, which seemed bigger than her studio apartment. Even with the large cherry wood desk and five leather arm chairs, it was not cluttered. The shelves of books accounted for the musty odor that permeated the room, but not the strong smell of aftershave. By the time Trish finished looking around, Tommy and Trina were seated.
Trish approached the semi-circle arrangement of chairs and sat next to her brother.
“Hey, Tommy. Did you get all the straight pins out before you put that shirt on?”
“Always the charmer, aren’t you, Trish?”
“You bring out the best of me.” She smirked. “What about the cardboard under the collar?”
He swiped a finger under his collar. “Funny.”
“Where’s mom and dad?” Trish asked, leaning away from Tommy. She wondered what scent he tried to mask with the soaking of Obsession cologne.
Tommy sighed. “They’ll be here any minute. Mom didn’t like dad’s tie.”
“Why not? They just bought it.”
“Don’t ask.” Tommy checked his watch. “How long do these things last, anyway?”
Trish shrugged. “Why?”
“We’ve got an eight o’clock hoops game.”
“You can’t be serious.”
“Why not?” he asked. “The courts are lighted.”
“Don’t you care that Grandma’s life is being given away tonight?”
Tommy looked away. “Yeah, I know. I went to her funeral.”
“What a burden that must have been.” Trish crossed her arms over her chest and faced forward. She could hardly swallow.
“You’re right. No one loved her as much as you did.”
“What do you mean by that?”
“You treat me like I’m a heartless monster because I’m not moping around like you.” He stared at his clasped hands, his jaw clenched.
Even though he tried to hide it, Trish had seen the wetness on his cheeks and under his red-rimmed eyes at the funeral. She conceded that he may be hurting, but remained sure that her pain was greater.
“You’ll never make it. Besides, you’re not dressed for it,” Trish said, her voice wavering. She felt Tommy staring at her and hoped he’d take the olive branch without any questions.
“Yes, I am.” Tommy responded at last. He nudged Trish and un-tucked his shirt on one side. He tugged on the waistband of his gray sweat shorts. “My t-shirt is in the car.”
Trish looked at her brother’s grinning face. “Ever the Boy Scout.”
“He’s always prepared for basketball,” Trina said.
Trish leaned forward to see her sister, not realizing she paid any attention to the banter. Before she could say anything, the door clicked behind them and they all turned toward it.
A man wearing a dark suit carried a cedar box, about the size of a compact microwave oven. A brown expandable folder slid, but did not fall off, the box.
All eyes followed the man as he ambled behind the desk without saying a word. Trish turned back to the door when she heard rustling in the hallway outside. Her dad entered the room as her mom tugged at the back of his suit jacket and smoothed it across his shoulders.
“Sorry we’re late,” he mumbled, without making eye contact with anyone. Her mom still fiddled with his jacket. “Beth, please,” he whispered and clasped her hands in his.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “It’s just-“
“I know.” He put his arm around her shoulder.
Her dad looked out of place bound inside the stiff suit and tie. His tanned – almost leathery – face and calloused hands conveyed the truth that he belonged in jeans and a flannel shirt with dirt under his fingernails. “A working man has no use for clothing not made of cotton,” she’d heard him say often. In reality, he was a college-educated man who could have use for them, but he chose not to. He owned Howe-To Landscaping & Design, but preferred to work the soil rather than paperwork. He left that to her mom.
Once everyone was seated, the man behind the desk cleared his throat. “I’m Stanley Van Clemens. Thank you all for coming. Maribelle has been a friend and client for many years; a sweet woman who will be missed.”
“How many years?” Beth asked. “Mom never mentioned having a lawyer.”
Mr. Van Clemens smiled. “I suspect there are many things about your mother you don’t know.”
Beth tilted her head, confusion washed over her face.
Mr. Van Clemens didn’t elaborate. “I have a signed copy of her will. Maribelle wanted her main residence on Yale Avenue to go to you, Beth – her only living child.”
Beth looked down at her hands folded in her lap and bit her bottom lip – but she didn’t cry. Trish suspected she thought of her younger brother. No one ever talked about Uncle Robert’s death. All Trish had been told was that he died at age twenty-two of natural causes.
Trish’s mind drifted to her senior year in high school. She had balked at the assignment to trace her family tree for History class. Her interest piqued after finding her great-great grandfather was associated with Billy the Kid. Discovering her Uncle Robert was found dangling from a second-floor window with a rope around his neck came as a shock. Trish didn’t see anything natural about that.
“And finally, there’s Trish.”
Mr. Van Clemens’ voice brought Trish back from her thoughts.
“Trish, your grandmother spoke very highly of you and appreciated your weekly visits.”
Trish looked down and bit her lip – at once realizing she must look just like her mother. She forced her chin up and made eye contact with Mr. Van Clemens.
“I normally don’t take possession of property, but Maribelle begged me to keep this and give it to you after her death.” Mr. Van Clemens tapped his hand on the wooden box.
“Is that all she got?” Trina asked, almost laughing.
Trish glared at her sister.
Ignoring Trina, Mr. Van Clemens looked at the papers. “Maribelle asked that trust be managed by her son-in-law, Marcus Howe.”
Twenty minutes later, the family filed out of the lawyer’s office and stood in silence.
“I can’t believe Grandma had all that money,” Trina finally said.
“Yeah, if you did, I bet you would’ve found time to visit,” Trish snapped.
“Please, not now!” Beth said, touching each daughter’s arm. She glanced at Trina. “Trish didn’t mean to hurt your feelings, dear.”
“Did you have any idea?” Tommy asked, before Trish could say anything.
Beth shook her head.
Trish shifted her weight to keep the awkward cedar box from slipping.
“Let me carry that to your car for you,” her dad said.
Trish let him take the box and smiled when she noticed the tie missing from his unbuttoned shirt collar.
“Hmpf. That’s heavier than I thought.” He peered at the antique brass plate on the front. “It’s got a lock. Are you going to be able to open it?”
“I’m meeting the guys for a game,” Tommy said. He’d already slipped off his khaki pants and his shirt was half unbuttoned. “See you guys later.”
“I’m gonna head out, too. Big Chemistry test tomorrow,” Trina said.
“Like you’d study for it,” Trish muttered under her breath.
Trina smirked. “You’re just jealous because I got a condo and a car – and you got a stupid wooden box.”
“Enjoy your Crown Vic.”
“Girls, that’s enough,” their dad interrupted. “This is a hard time for your mother. Can you at least make an effort to get along?”
“I’m leaving now,” Trina said.
Trish led the way to her own car, which was parked at the side lot. Her dad’s heavy footsteps fell close behind her. She popped the trunk and opened the lid wide. After her dad set the box inside, Trish slammed the lid shut and gave him a hug. “Thanks, dad.”
He hugged her and then stepped back with his hands on her shoulders. “Can you try to be nice to Trina, for your mom’s sake?”
Trish’s lip trembled. She couldn’t speak because it would crumble her already weakened composure.
She fell into his chest and the tears she’d tried to hold back soaked into his polyester blend dress shirt. Several minutes later, she pulled away.
“I’d better get back to your mom.”
Trish nodded. She expected him to walk away but instead, he stepped aside and watched as she backed out and exited the parking lot.
Trish sat cross-legged on the couch, elbows on her knees and her chin resting on her steepled fingers. She stared at the wooden box on the table in front of her. For five days, this had been the routine. She slid her fingers along the slender shaft of the four-inch long brass key that her grandmother had given her years ago. Just as she had promised then, Trish knew what to do.
“It is time.”
Trish straightened her back. She swore it was her grandmother’s voice, but knew that wasn’t possible. She said a quick prayer, and for the first time, the thought of opening the box felt right.
Her shaky hands fumbled with the key, but she finally slid it into the lock and gave it a quick turn to the left. She heard a click and the lid creaked as it separated from the box. Trish eased up the lid, releasing the musty scent of old air, and then gasped.
She picked up her grandma’s burgundy leather-bound Bible. Underneath, she found a two-inch square box. Trish knew what it was, but hadn’t seen it in years. She set the Bible down beside her and picked up the box. The lid squeaked and then snapped open, revealing her grandmother’s sapphire and diamond anniversary ring. Trish popped the band from the slit that held it in place and slid it on her right-hand ring finger. Much too pretty for my bony hands, she thought.
She lifted out a tattered violet-colored journal notebook. She flipped through the pages and found her grandmother’s ornate handwriting filling the white pages. Trish felt happy for the first time in weeks because it felt like her grandmother was still with her. Trish saw her name on the back cover and read:
My sweet Trish,
I pray your faith will lead you to a life overflowing with love, and that your gratitude will illuminate all that is good in life. Always remember to love others as you deserve to be loved.
Trish’s emotions filled her eyes and made it hard to focus. Through blurry eyes, she noticed the bottom of the box was only about six inches from the top. The box was taller. She tugged at the corners of the velvet covering and discovered a knotty pine false bottom.
Against her mother’s instructions growing up, Trish ran from the kitchen with a knife in her hand. She dropped to the floor and wedged the knife in between the pine bottom and cedar side of the box. The pine splintered and Trish pulled at the wood like a young child opening up a gift at Christmas. When the wood piece finally gave way, Trish’s breath caught in her throat and she understood why the box had been so heavy.
Trish brushed her fingers over the glossy surface of two large gold bars. When she picked up three blue leather coin holder books, she saw two bundles of one hundred dollar bills. She flipped open one of the books and found an assortment of one cent coins from the 1800’s and 1900’s. Her gaze rested upon the 1943 bronze Lincoln cent. Her grandmother always told her to look for that one.
With a bowed head and closed eyes, Trish said a prayer for her grandmother’s gift. She asked for freedom from the guilt of being a failed daughter, tethered to a family so unlike her. With years of resentment flowing down her cheeks, she asked God for the strength to leave with her memories and start a new life full of hope, in a city that didn’t flaunt everything she had lost.
This is the first story I’m sharing that is about a character in my second novel. It takes place fifteen years before the novel story, with the goal of creating a “full” character. Character development isn’t easy for me, but I do hope my skills improve with practice. Please feel free to share any comments. If you don’t like the story or character, it is helpful to know why. Thanks for reading 🙂