The phone rang. It was still dark out. I fumbled for the handset. “What.”
“Is this Miss Barton?” a man asked.
“Who is this? Do you have any idea what time it is?”
“I am sorry to inconvenience you, miss, but I have some bad news. Your parents died.”
I sat up in bed. “Both of them?”
“Yes. I’m terribly sorry for your loss—”
“Yeah, whatever. Did you just call to inform me, or is there something else?”
“Well, I…yes. There will be a reading of the will in a few days, and the service will need to be scheduled. You are the nearest next of kin, miss.”
“Fine… I assume you have my address if you have my number. Mail me what’s necessary. Goodnight.” I hung up the phone before he could reply.
You might think I’m being cold and callous. Well, I have good reasons to not be sad my parents are gone.
My father left bruises on me, and my mother once changed the locks on me because I was worried she was three hours late coming home. I don’t know what they were doing in the same space to die together since they were separated, and I don’t care.
They were sadists that lived to make my life hell. Getting away was the only way for me to survive, or stay out of prison. Started to scare myself with dreams of their murders. It was them, or my soul.
Ten years later, they’re pulling me back in. I’ll try to refrain from dancing on their graves.
It was only a two hour drive, but the lawyers sent me a plane ticket to hop back to my hometown. I considered it a likely attempt for my mother to control me from beyond the grave.
Whatever. Perks were perks, and I had a top-of-the-line seat.
Some young guy was waiting with a sign with my name on it in front of a Town Car. I tossed him my bag and got in the front passenger seat.
“Welcome home, Miss Barton.”
“This stopped being home a long time ago.”
The lackey didn’t know how to reply to that, so he stayed silent, and pulled the car out into traffic.
Twenty minutes on the freeway, five on surface streets, and we stopped at the nearest motel to my parents’ houses. They never lived very far from each other, though they hadn’t shared the same house for several years.
I was never sure whom it was that couldn’t let go.
“The reading is in the conference room here tomorrow morning. Do you require anything, miss?”
He nodded, and left me with the key to a room.
“Home sweet hell…”
Only three others were attending besides me. My parents each had one brother.
My father’s brother was the only one married. I actually liked my mother’s brother. He lived in the
now, though, so I hadn’t seen him in years.
He’d always been kind.
I was the last to walk in. My aunt and uncle looked disapproving. They never believed how awful my father really was and saw me as an ungrateful child.
I hugged the good uncle and sat down next to him.
Since my parents had never finalized the divorce, some of their assets were still co-mingled. The lawyer explained a lot of mumbo jumbo, then got down to the list of specified inheritances.
The only thing my mother left me was her jewelry and the family photographs. Everything else was to be sold or given away, the assets used to pay off her debts. What was left over would be split evenly between me and her brother.
If anything was left.
My father’s list was the surprise. The bulk of his assets were to go to his girlfriend. I was amazed any woman would want him. He left his investments to his brother, and I got shafted. No surprise.
The lawyer handed me two letters, one from each parent. “I’m sorry for your loss, Miss Barton. Your father’s service is already being arranged. Your mother wanted to be cremated and asked that the ashes be given to her church for a ‘proper ceremony’. I don’t know if those letters contain any last instructions”
“No, they just want one last attempt at screwing with my head. Burn them.”
“Are you sure—?”
“Look, you seem like a nice guy doing your job, but my parents were horrible people. At least to me. I don’t want anything to do with this. I’ll get a few mementos from my mother’s house, and then I’m going home.”
“As you wish, of course.” He handed me a business card. “If you need anything.”
I didn’t bother staying. Agreed to have dinner with the good uncle before leaving town, then left before the other two could corner me. They got what they came for, anyway.
Mother’s house. Looking just like I left it. It had been a home, until I was sixteen and my mother started going wacko in the head.
It built gradually, until one day, I didn’t know who my mother was anymore. It was like a demon had taken up residence in her body. A mother that had been a best friend was now the enemy, and I knew one of us was going to kill the other. It was only a matter of time.
We had one last argument, then I came home to find my stuff outside and all the locks changed. It didn’t stop there, though. Mother would track me down to harass me, giving crazy conditions for coming back. It went on and on until five years ago.
Then, she only tried to relay messages through my uncle who didn’t want to be in the middle.
I stood on the front porch, key in hand, trying to psych myself up for crossing the threshold. This place held so many memories. So much pain.
I finally put the key in the deadbolt, then the doorknob, and let myself in. The house still smelled the same. The carpet had been changed, but the furniture was the same.
Two cats came running to greet me. “Wow, I didn’t know you two were still alive.” I sneezed. “Maybe Uncle D can take you.” I checked their bowls in the kitchen and changed the water.
The collector plates on all the walls would fetch a nice sum, but I didn’t have any interest in them. Same with the extensive Beatles collection. I could take some of the books, though.
I walked toward the hall, passing the home office, bathroom, and my old room. It looked nothing like when I had lived here. A futon sat in there for guests, and there were more bookshelves pushed against the walls. The final room was the master, her bedroom.
Here, the scent was the strongest, of lotions and perfumes and leather shoes.
The dresser was to the right. I walked around the bed and opened the far left drawer. In the back, under the clean underwear, was the good jewelry, the special occasion stuff. Mother owned a large collection, though. There were two jewelry boxes, plus a tray for the rings. I put the smaller items in a backpack and stacked the two boxes to carry out. The costume pieces were in the bathroom. I selected what I wanted – some of it mine at the time I was kicked out – and left.
Hoped the garage would have an empty box or two for the books. The photographs were stored out there, provided nothing had changed. I was doing fine, until I found a box of my old dolls.
A tear slipped down my cheek. I wiped it away with a dusty hand. The Cabbage Patch Dolls had been a game for us. I never played at being a bride, but I was a mommy to all my dolls and stuffed toys, and my mother had played along as grandmother. The CPDs all had personalities, and I eventually sent them off to school. They were very smart children, of course, and rarely misbehaved. But, when they did, I would say things through them I never would say myself.
It was a way of venting without getting in trouble for it, of testing boundaries.
The dolls would come home with me, too. Finally finding the box of photos, I carried everything outside.
My uncle waited with the car. “Find what you wanted alright?”
“Yeah. The rest is yours. She left the cats, you know.”
“Yup. I can take them home. Sorry the dogs weren’t here to greet ya. They died a couple years ago.”
“I remember. Are you going to need help boxing everything up?” I didn’t want to stay any longer, but it was the polite thing to offer.
He saw through the gesture. “Nah. I have the time.”
“Retirement. Right.” I stuffed the boxes in the trunk. “Thanks.” It occurred that no one had told me, yet. “Hey, how did they…?”
“Multiple car pile-up on the way back from your cousin’s wedding. Drunk driver hit both cars, sent them into traffic.”
I suppressed the urge to laugh. An odd thing. “Some timing.”
We drove to a mail center where I could ship the boxes home, then he dropped me back at the hotel.
I retrieved my car from the airport storage lot and drove back to my apartment. Dropped my keys on the stand by the door and flopped on the couch.
“Was it awful?”
I leaned into my boyfriend’s shoulder. “A little. Thankfully, nobody wanted me involved, so I scavenged a few things and escaped.”
“Wish you’d let me come.”
“Only had one ticket.” I lay across his lap. “I could use a massage. Couldn’t tip my seat back on the plane.”
He slid his hand up my shirt. “Naked massage?”
I grinned. “The best kind. I need a shower. I’m dusty.”
“Get started. I’ll scrub your back.”
Now, when a man left bruises on me, they were left in ecstasy.