A MOTHER'S WISDOM PREVAILS IN THE END.
Peggy Miles had been practicing law for over thirty years so she was well acquainted with bereaved relatives. Peggy had a feeling that today's encounter would be difficult. She sat in the musty, gloomy den of the late Sara Adam's house and wondered if she was prepared to deal with the daughters. Peggy, in a weird sort of way, questioned if this house was ready for them.
The house had aged along with its late occupant—utterings were etched into the pale colored walls, held there by a secret thread of memory. Sara had loved the house, and by her own sense of reality had endowed the house with a female personality. Not that the late Sara Adams didn't like men—she simply wanted to have a womb called home. The house acted like a prism of emotions, marking time with the slow graying of its owner. Today Peggy sensed that the house was preparing itself for death. It clung to this fraction of time, and all the echoes of Sara's past would fade away—once the daughters had made the last obligatory curtain call. This was the impression that lodged itself in the lawyer's mind.
Peggy herself could feel the invisible tug of death with each passing day. She was old and feared the future. Sara had told her that leaving this world was nothing to fret about, but the lawyer was too much a part of man's law to find comfort in a mystical redemption. It was because of this dark, secret dread that she had stayed with Sara at the hospital. Peggy found comfort in her client's quiet courage. The two daughters had been called, but only one came to sit by the bedside of Sara Adams. Peggy silently watched as the daughter gave her mother strength and, at the same time, released her mother's spirit to the other side. Peggy had witnessed no tears, but the pain in the daughter's eyes betrayed her grief. Mother and daughter had communicated a psychic message meant for ears not of this world. Spirit to spirit they'd touched, before Sara left for that veiled journey all would eventually embark upon.
Sighing deeply, Peggy pushed her feelings back into their proper place and sat back in the faded armchair. The fabric was threadbare, and the arms reminded her of some long forgotten relic of love, waiting ever silently to be reclaimed—to be brought back into the land of the living. Maybe it was this house that caused her to feel these conflicting emotions. As soon as she'd opened the front door, a psychic window had been thrown open. Peggy shuddered, involuntarily, before remembering she wasn't alone.
She glanced uneasily at the middle-aged woman, perched like a black vulture, on the divan across from her. The woman returned her look with barely hidden contempt. Peggy quickly busied herself with the papers she'd carefully laid out on the coffee table. She sensed there was no love in the woman's heart and felt a nagging feeling of sadness. Peggy had met the other sister, Ashley, at the hospital. She had been kind and considerate, whereas this one was just the opposite. Peggy had remained quiet as this sister verbally attacked the other with each passing minute. Ringing in Peggy's ears were the words, "How dare she want this—what right does Ashley have to anything! I supported Mama all these years and helped out Ashley, too! Poor Mama! All the woman had by her side when she died was Ashley—the mild and meek!" Peggy blocked out the rest of her endless travail and prayed that Ashley would come walking through the front door. What the sisters didn't know was that Peggy had become their mother's confidante. She knew all about them. Sara had not spared herself or her daughters. She was frank about why she'd lived the way she did and about their shortcomings. Ashley was gentle but lacked courage. She was always there, and Viola wasn't. That, to Peggy, told the story.
Glancing over at Viola again, she saw an attractive woman—well kept. Her hair was perfect and colored a shiny dark brown, which gave inner depth to the icy blue eyes. The eyes were the first thing one noticed when meeting Viola. She had a look that warned people—she would suffer no fools. She was twenty pounds overweight but managed to hide that with a certain feminine flair. Money does have its advantages, and Viola made the most of it.
Peggy stood when Ashley made her entrance. Viola gave a loud sigh for the lawyer's benefit and shifted her position on the sofa so she wouldn’t be in direct eye contact with her sister. Viola was still angry with Ashley. She'd almost killed herself driving over here to avoid being talked about in her absence, only to find out that Ashley would be a few minutes late. How Ashley had survived this long was a mystery to her. Then again, Ashley had always managed to come up with a new dress for a party or extra money for whatever she demanded from their mother. Viola would never openly admit that she'd been jealous of her sister, but she did admit it to herself. Ashley had been her mother's favorite. Viola had decided that today would be the last time she had anything to do with her sister. Ashley was the past, and she wanted no part of that past—their past.
Viola tried to show no interest in their mother's posthumous legal charade. She'd buried her mother and shouldn't have to think about her anymore, but there was no avoiding it here. She tried unsuccessfully to push all thoughts of her mother aside and concentrate on what she was about to receive—her half of the inheritance! Viola was a person of the here and now. This existence had been finely honed with each passing year. Her contempt of people only added to her private misery. They never stopped to consider that she, Viola Campy, had paid a price for her wealth. They never suspected the fact that she only acted strong, but deep inside she'd always longed for the love of her mother and sister. Even her thoughts were at odds within herself. If only there was a sign that her mother truly cared!
Ashley entered the room with her head held high. After the death of her mother, she’d lost the feeling of inferiority she'd felt around her sister all of her life. She noticed Peggy right away and smiled as she motioned for her to sit. Then she focused her attention on Viola, her smile quickly fading before she spoke, "You're looking well, Viola. Grief seems to agree with you." Ashley sat down next to her sister and added, "I doubt you will want to see me after all of mother's affairs are settled. You see, I can still figure you out."
Viola stared straight ahead, ignoring her sister. In a slow, deliberate voice, she addressed the lawyer, "You can get on with this now, Mrs. Miles. Enough time has been wasted already."
Peggy looked at Ashley, who nodded her agreement. "Mrs. Campy, Mrs. Flynn, by now you are both familiar with the general terms of your mother's will, but right before your mother's death..." Uncertainly she paused—this part troubled her, and she wasn't looking forward to the daughter's reactions. Sara had insisted that Peggy set up the new terms of the will. It was important that Viola and Ashley leave this house with more than material gain, she had declared.
"Please continue," Viola commanded. "We haven't got all day."
"Quite right," smiled Peggy, thinking that Viola deserved what she was about to hear. "The will was changed, another clause was added. Apparently your mother wanted only one of her daughters to inherit her wealth."
“I see,” murmured Ashley, not surprised by the change in the will. She glanced at Viola and smiled. Yes, we do have a complication, and I wonder how you’ll handle this one, Viola? Her thoughts lingered on her sister. She’d never fully understood why Viola had ignored her once they’d married. Viola had married a man with money, and Ashley had married a man in debt. All Ashley could do now was smile at this woman who had removed herself from the family years ago.
“What are you so happy about?” demanded Viola. “Do you know something I don’t? Did you and Mama cook this up while she was dying?”
Ashley shook her head no. “This is news to me. I can’t help thinking about Mama and how this is just like her to add a twist to things—even after death.”
“You’re showing your ignorance! I think I knew Mother better than you did, and this is certainly out of character! We should have no problems making this insane clause invalid, whatever it says!” Viola spat out the words, as if by admitting the clause was even there, doubts were cast upon her own integrity.
“I see,” sighed Ashley. “We should hear this out before you start claiming that Mother wasn’t lucid at the time.” She had no intention of letting her sister change a thing. Yes, all would be done according to her mother’s wishes.
“Which one gets the inheritance?” Viola said, hatefully, focusing her anger on the lawyer. The audacity of her mother having hired a female lawyer made all of this even more intolerable.
Unperturbed by Viola’s sour attitude, Peggy kept her answers to the point. “That’s to be decided between the two of you.” Deliberately she placed a document on the coffee table in front of her. “Only one of you will sign this. This document states that you voluntarily give up all claims to the estate. If you can’t agree on which one of you will sign, then the estate goes to your mother’s designated charity.”
“This is unreal!” ranted Viola, as she sprang to her feet. She stormed about the room. “As far as I’m concerned, there’s nothing to discuss.”
“Viola, let’s talk about this in private,” said Ashley, calmly. “I’m sure Peggy will give us some time alone to go over this.”
“So you and this lawyer address each other like old pals! Maybe you two came up with this crazy plan!”
Ashley ignored her sister’s outburst. “I think we can easily settle this matter. Is that okay with you, Peggy—a private discussion?” Viola was about to launch another protest when a warning look from Ashley stopped her.
“Certainly. I’ll be out front—getting some fresh air,” answered Peggy, crisply, grateful for the opportunity to escape this oppressive room. Now the two daughters could fight it out alone. Ashley did take her by surprise when, with only a disdainful look, she was able to stop Viola from speaking. Ashley had class, and Viola was still trying to buy it, she realized.
Viola waited until the door closed behind the lawyer before lashing out at her sister. “What do you mean this can be settled? Are you as crazy as our mother was when she came up with this plan? One of us gets nothing, and you can bet your life it’s not going to be me! I told Mama over and over that when she died, I wanted a few special things. In case you don’t know, some of these items,” she pointed to an antique clock standing in the far corner of the room, “are worth a lot of money! Mama knew how much these things meant to me! You never cared for them! You’ve said as much!” Viola stood in the middle of the room waving her arms around. Greed had taken control of her emotions, and she became as ugly as the atmosphere enshrouding them.
Ashley laughed—she couldn’t help herself. Viola simply couldn’t see beyond the present. None of these things were worth losing your soul for. The clock would still be chiming, wherever it ended up, long after their bones had turned to dust. Viola struck her as comical with her social graces stripped away.
Viola was jolted back to the situation at hand by her sister’s laughter. She stared at Ashley in confusion.
“Close your mouth, Viola. It’s not very becoming. Now that you appear to be in control of yourself again, we can talk. First of all, you can relax. You can have it all—all but one small treasure. It was Mama’s, isn’t worth anything in terms of money, but means something very special to me.”
“What is it?” she asked, suspiciously.
“I have it with me. Mama gave it to me before she died, but she made me promise…” Ashley halted, fighting the swell of tears. She did not want Viola to see her cry. Why can’t I stop grieving, she thought, sadly? I know Mama is in a better place. She’s not suffering anymore, but I feel so empty! Glancing at her sister, she felt sorry for them both. “Mama told me not to let you see it,” she finally blurted out. Then, slowly opening her purse, she removed a velvet ring box.
An uneasy expression crept across Viola’s face. She wanted to believe there wasn’t anything of value in the box but, at the same time, thought there could be. What if this favorite child was given something small but priceless so that she, Viola, wouldn’t come away with the true wealth? Did she want to see her sister financially solvent? Ashley and her were worlds apart, but money made everyone equal. Viola shuddered at the mere thought. All these years she’d held her wealth over Ashley’s head, helping out her sister just enough to remind her that she was the better of the two. No, she would have to think this through before giving Ashley the upper hand.
“Sit down, Viola,” Ashley patted the sofa, “and I’ll give you some insight concerning our mother. I can see you’re worried that I might have something of value in this box.”
Viola sat next to her, while trying to study the velvet box. “I don’t trust you, and I never trusted our mother. You might come across as the honest one, but we both know better, don’t we?” she smirked.
Ashley glared at her—Viola’s words had hit a nerve. It took all of her willpower to keep from smacking the self-satisfied grin off her smug face. “I will not let your words hurt me,” she whispered. “That would lower myself to your level. Mama loved us both—you wouldn’t or couldn’t see that. She took in sewing to make ends meet. She wanted to give us all the things our friends had. Notice how it all comes down to ‘things’? It was rough after Daddy died. She taught me how to sew so I could earn some money. I earned all my extras, working after school alongside Mama, until the wee hours of the morning. You never knew this because you always lived in your own little world. Mama gave you her extra money, money you didn’t bother to earn yourself.”
Viola shook her head in disbelief. A memory suddenly, painfully surfaced, and she felt the loss of her mother—the loss of love. Pushing aside such unpleasant thoughts, she said, “I need to know about the box and its contents! You don’t understand me, or my way of life. Things are all I have left.”
Ashley jumped to her feet with her fists clenched. Struggling to control her frustration, she took a few deep breaths to calm herself. She was beginning to understand why their mother wanted the contents of the velvet box to remain a mystery to her sister. What goes around, comes around, she silently mused.
“I’m waiting for an explanation, Ashley.”
“You will not, even now, try to feel for someone other than yourself! Mama loved us both equally—there were no favorites. She saw the good in both of us. I wish she had loved only me, then you wouldn’t have been able to hurt her like you did!” Ashley was now towering over Viola and would not let her sister look away. “You always assumed that Mama favored me, and you always did this when you wanted her to prove her love to you by buying you something. There she was dying, and you wouldn’t even come to the hospital! The last few months of her life, when she needed you most, you didn’t even call to check on her! Viola, she needed you! Don’t say she didn’t, because she told me so herself. She also told me not to be too hard on you because Viola, the long-suffering daughter, couldn’t stand to see her mother in pain!” she added, sarcastically.
“For heaven’s sake, Ashley! Will you stop your wailing and tell me what’s in the box!” interrupted Viola, her sister’s words starting to disturb the fragile psyche carefully hidden from all who knew her. “I do have a dinner engagement this evening, and it’s very important I arrive on time.”
“Okay, it’s settled then. I want what’s in the box and nothing else.” Ashley picked up the document Peggy had left, quickly read it, and reached for the pen.
“Not so fast!” Viola cried, jumping up and taking the paper from her sister’s hand. “I might decide to take what’s in the box instead.”
“It’s not worth anything to you. This is no trick, I assure you.”
Viola laughed as she stalked around the room. “You’ll give up all claims to the estate for some sentimental artifact?” She wanted to believe her sister, she really did, but there had to be more to this. Why would Ashley treat her fairly? She wouldn’t be that considerate to her. Was it worth more than the estate? Had their mother actually worked out a plan ensuring that her beloved Ashley would end up with a lot of money? A key to some hidden fortune could be in that box! I will get an answer from Ashley, she thought smugly, and it will be the truth. Coolly she returned the paper to the table, smoothed out the wrinkles in her silk dress, and carefully sat down on the divan. Viola felt good in silk, it gave her ego a feeling of superiority. She had wealth, and with this came the determination to take what she wanted. Ashley, looking defeated, had collapsed on the sofa. She was clutching the box in her hands like some priceless jewel. When she saw Viola eyeing the box, her grip grew even tighter.
“I’m not going to grab your precious little box,” she hissed.
“It belongs to me, Viola. It was Mama’s and will mean more to me—and my children.”
“Whatever’s in that box must be valuable,” mumbled Viola, thoughtfully.
“I would really like to have this,” responded Ashley, softly, “because to me it was a part of Mama—a part that lives on. She worked so hard to take care of us.” Ashley’s voice shook with emotion as her anger towards Viola threatened to consume her. I’ve got to keep my composure or she’ll win, she admonished herself. Oh, if only I could explain to her what I’m feeling! How can we be so different? We were treated the same, regardless of what Viola imagines. Sighing in frustration, she said, “Whenever I would visit Mama, there at the last, she always wanted to know if I’d talked to you. Of course I lied and said we often spoke on the phone. She would smile, but I think she knew the truth.”
“So? Most siblings go their separate ways after they marry. Why should you and I be any different?”
“I give up,” cried Ashley. “You haven’t understood a word I’ve been saying! There’s no way I can reach you!”
“I couldn’t agree more,” murmured Viola, smugly. “It’s too late to try and have a sister relationship now. We have nothing in common.”
“Then I’ll just sign the paper. Take this,” Ashley held up the box, “and get the hell out of here!”
“Not so fast. There’s still the unanswered question—what’s in the box?”
“You’ll have to take a chance if you want to find out.”
“I can’t agree to this unless I see what you have in there.” Patiently she waited a few minutes for Ashley to open the box, but her sister still clung to it, refusing to let go.
“If we can’t agree on this then neither one of us will get what we truly want,” said Ashley, at last, breaking the silence.
“If that’s how you want things to turn out…” answered Viola, uncertainly. She was beginning to believe in the little velvet box. Ashley was willing to lose everything for it!
“Okay, I’ll get Peggy and tell her what we’ve decided.” Ashley stood and calmly walked towards the door, determined to call her sister’s bluff. Viola didn’t disappoint her.
“Good grief,” moaned Viola, “what an actress! Come back here, Ashley! I’ve had a change of heart.” She waited until her sister had resumed her previous position, before telling her what she’d decided to do. “I think I’ve figured all of this out. You want what’s in that box way too much for it to be worthless. You and Mama wanted to pay me back—that’s what this is really all about. Therefore I will sign the paper, and you can have everything else. Mama was smart, and I’m willing to gamble that there’s more to be found in that box, money-wise, than there is in the rest of the estate.”
“You’re wrong about this,” Ashley protested. “You’re letting your greed blind you.”
“Maybe so, but I’ll take that chance. So you were Mama’s little helper, big deal. I had more important things to do than sit around watching you two sew. Mama wanted you to have that (she pointed to the velvet box) and that’s why I’m going to take it. You see, Ashley, I did hear what you were saying.”
“Viola, you are so very wrong about this—about everything. Mama knew us both very well, and she knew you wouldn’t let me have this. Don’t you see? She’s trying to reach us—to help us—by forcing us to choose!”
Viola had grown weary of Ashley’s sanctimonious attitude. She was so like their mother—full of hope and nothing else. Yeah, they thought she was selfish, but if she’d not left them, she would’ve always felt unloved. Besides, Ashley had never refused the money she’d sent, along with the other handouts. She understood her sister—Ashley was no different than all the other fools walking around poor on this planet. Turning her attention to the document, Viola reached for the paper and pen. “I’ll sign this now, and you can have the honor of taking it out to that lawyer. I’ll never understand how our mother could have a female lawyer handle her affairs!”
“Viola, I…” stuttered Ashley.
“Hold your pleading—my mind’s made up. If I’m wrong, it will be my mistake, not yours. But I’m not wrong,” Viola added, with a smile, and quickly signed the paper. “Now take this and close the door on your way out.”
Ashley, her face drained of color, still held onto the box. “You should have listened to me, Viola. Mama knew how this would turn out! You didn’t open your heart to my words!”
“Will you get out of here!” screamed Viola, as she snatched the box out of her sister’s hand. “I want to view this treasure alone.”
Ashley took the freshly signed document, not attempting to hide the sorrow she felt—a sorrow not only for herself but her sister as well. “Remember this, Viola, you decided what you wanted to take from here. Perhaps it’s not too late for us after all. I love you—I’ve always loved you.” Without further words, Ashley took the document to Peggy.
Viola’s hands shook as she slowly opened the box. She gasped out loud upon seeing what it contained. At first she was furious, but after a few minutes of struggling with her emotions, she laughed a good, deep laugh that seemed to restore her soul. Her mother had finally reached her after all these years!
Removing the thimble from the box, she held it up in the amber light. It had been well used and bore many scars. This was the only thing Mama had received from her mother. She could almost feel her presence pulsating through the metal. Deeply shaken, she struggled to recover that part of herself she’d lost such a long time ago. But she’d taken a chance, lost, and now there was no going back.
Viola returned the thimble to its resting place. Thoughtfully she snapped the box shut and placed it on the coffee table. Her hand lingered over the precious box, but she caught herself before picking it up again. No, I’ll leave the thimble here—where it belongs. I need no reminder of what I’ve learned about myself today.
Viola walked out of the den, away from her mother’s house, and never looked back. The door softly closed behind her, as shadows danced across the velvet box.
Want to review or comment on this
Click here to login!
Need a FREE Reader Membership?
Click here for your Membership!
|Reviewed by Karen Lynn Vidra, The Texas Tornado
|Excellent and compelling write; thanks for sharing, Gail! Enjoyed~ (((HUGS))) and much love, your Texas friend, Karen Lynn. :D|