Knocked out a good 2200 words on this, which is rapidly stretching towards novelette length, plus a flash piece, and another 500 words on something that may go anywhere, not sure at all with it. Hurray for productivity! Anyhow, here you go.
There was nothing else to do but tackle what I’d put off for so long: Grandmother’s suite. It occupied a good half of the Tudor house’s second floor – bedroom, lavishly appointed bath, sitting room. The high ceilings might have been lovely but they also allowed her to stack the boxes even higher there.
I’d avoided this spot even though it made no sense. If there were valuables, this was the logical place for them. No, it was something else that deterred me. Elsewhere in the house I could explore and pretend that my grandmother had just stepped out for a moment. To invade her bedroom, that was a different thing.
That was to acknowledge that she was dead.
I don’t believe in glorifying the dead. I will not pretend that my grandmother was a nice woman. I will not pretend that she was a kind woman. In truth, she was self-absorbed, strong-minded to the point of being a force of nature.
But she loved me. I was her only grandchild and when I was smaller, I could have done no wrong in her eyes. That was, perhaps, one of the things that divided my mother and I. She’d tried so hard all her life for her mother’s approval while I’d gotten it without even asking.
When someone loves you like that, deeply and unconditionally, it’s very hard not to love them back. My grandmother may have coerced me into the college of her choosing, but we’d both known the truth: while she’d do plenty to hurt my mother in the long and complicated game they’d been playing all their lives, she might have threatened to keep me hostage, but it was a strategy that would have worked for either side. My mother had not used it, but I wasn’t sure through unawareness or some moral scruple. I’d never understood all the currents of emotion that ran between them.
I paused in front of the oak double doors. They weren’t original to the house – she’d brought them back from somewhere in Bavaria and they were carved with willow trees and Rhine maidens. The handles were brass swans. I laid my fingers on one’s neck and tried the handle: locked. I sighed and began trying keys from the vast loop of unmarked ones I’d found in the kitchen. After ten minutes of trial and error, the lock clicked and I swung the door open.
I flipped the light switch on one side back and forth, but the bulb had long ago burned out. You couldn’t see the room for all the boxes. A narrow passageway led between the stacks of cardboard cartons – some old liquor boxes, others from thetrical supplies. The one at eye level to my right read: White Feathers: 1 Gross. White tendrils still clung to the tape along one edge.
I pushed my way forward through that cardboard corridor, so narrow that my shoulders brushed it on either side. It went straight for a few steps then branched, one side leading towards the window and (I presumed) the bed area, the other snaking towards her sitting room.
I opted for the latter.
At the threshold between the two rooms, I sought another light switch, but it was just as fruitless. The air smelled of dust and perfume and ancient cat pee. There had always been a cat around when I was a child, but in later years, Grandmother had renounced them and turned her nurturing side to the succulents out in the courtyard.
I was using my cell phone as a flashlight by now, holding it out between my fingertips. It startled me when it rang.
I glanced at the screen. My mother. I answered, standing there in the dusty darkness that smelled like Grandmother.
“I need you to pick me up at the airport at 3:23,” my mother said.
“Of course today! I’m about to get on the plane. I’m flying on United, flight 171. Do you need me to repeat all that so you can write it down?”
“Why are you coming?”
“So I can help you, of course.”
Suspicion seized me. “Where are you staying?”
A pause, as though my question were in some foreign language that required translation before it could be processed. “With you, of course. Aren’t you staying there at the house?”
I imagined my mother “helping” me. It made my throat tight. All my life I’d watched the two of them do battle. Now my mother had come to crow over a victory that consisted of simply having outlived the other. Or, worse, like the others – the agents, Eterno – she wanted something here but would not tell me what.
I steeled myself and said, “No, you can’t do that. I’ll find you a hotel.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. Why on earth can’t I stay there?”
My mind cast about for excuses. There must be some reason.