The door creaked open and we were in a long entrance hall. The dust on the carpet was visible and a thick film of it coated a hall table holding a dead, brittle succulent. There was an overwhelming smell of must and neglect and something intangible too – loneliness.
“Doesn’t look like he did a whole lot of cleaning,” said my sister, Glennis. “Ian, put the light on.”
I flicked a switch and the weakest yellow bulb flickered into a kind of half-life, making little impact on the gloom.
We proceeded into a corridor where the lighting was a garish strip-light, by contrast, but at least we could see the row upon row of dust-covered books that filled shelves from floor to ceiling. Little doubt about what our brother had spent his money on over the years. They were nearly all hardbacks, some with streaks in the dust at their feet, where they had presumably been extracted in recent memory. I pulled one such out. A Practical Guide to Qabalistic Symbolism by Gareth Knight. It was in four parts, The Lesser Mysteries, The Greater Mysteries, The Supreme Mysteries, and, The Tarot, the latter coming as somewhat of a surprise. It looked complicated. And expensive.
“Oh, the rotten sod!” exclaimed Glennis, holding up The Folk of the Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton and opening it to show her name written on the endpaper. “He said he hadn’t got it. All these years and he had.” She sounded like she was going to cry.
“It’s only a book,” I said.
“Yeah, two bits of card and a sheaf of paper in between, yeah, I know,” she said, sarcastically, reigning the emotion in.
We proceeded through small rooms crowded with antiques and bric-a-brac. Small tables everywhere, covered with pots full of knick-knacks. Then there were ornaments, empty vases, porcelain cups and plates, some used and left to desiccate, crystals, and packs of playing cards. You name it. And everywhere, the look and smell of abandonment. Even the kitchen had a pile of unwashed dishes in the sink. “Looks like dear Mac never threw anything away in a hurry,” I said.
“His office is a bit tidier,” said Glennis opening another door and sounding surprised.
Then it was my turn to get indignant. “The bastard!” There on the wall was a large map. I knew it was made of silk and given to paratroopers in the Burma campaign during the second world war. I knew that because it was mine, lent to my brother twenty years earlier and, in the rare contacts he had with us, vehemently denied being in his possession.
Now Mac, MacGregor to give him his proper – ostentatious – name, had gone and died of Covid-19 and, of course, snuffed it without any sign of a will. Our parents were both dead so that left me and Glennis to sort the mess out. Though at least we could reclaim our possessions. But as for the rest of this hoard, Christ knew what would become of it.
“Ian. Look at this.” Glennis held up a card. It showed a small bird with a yellow breast and a blue back, with the legend, ‘I’m sorry for being a tit.’ “Maybe he knew he wouldn’t come out of hospital?” On an envelope was written ‘To I and G.’ “Why couldn’t he write our full names?” She held the card open. There was nothing written inside.
Who knows what went on in that head? But it looked as if the old bastard had at least felt some belated desire to patch the family feud up.
“God bless him,” I said. And I meant it.
Featured in the book, Flash Friction: To Cut a Short Story Short, vol. III: 72 Little Stories
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