Flames of Misfortune
By Robin Lindzer
Kelli Cook wiped her eyes as she walked out of the mausoleum. Her brother, Vince, walked beside her with his head down. “Well,” Vince sighed, “now we get to deal with the house.” “Is that all you can think about, cleaning up mom’s house?” Kelli asked, stopping to stare at Vince. Her eyes flashed with anger. “Not even fifteen minutes out of the funeral, and you’re worried about that damned house. Unbelievable!” “C’mon,” Vince replied. “You have to admit, it’s a pit. And since dad’s gone, it’s up to us to get rid of all that crap. Personally, I say we take everything out back and burn it. Without a reply, Kelli hurried to her car and drove off.
Two and a half weeks later, on a Saturday, Vince and Kelli met outside their mom’s house. The lawn was crisp and brown, the flowers long dead in their flowerbeds. Their mother never watered; she said couldn’t afford it. “Look,” Vince said, digging into his pocket for the house key. “I’m sorry about what I said back at the funeral home. But I still say we need to just take all the books and magazines out back and burn them.” “We can’t just burn everything,” Kelli said, shaking her head. “Some of that stuff’s got to be worth money. There are magazines going back to the twenties, from when grandma used to save them. And what about Dad’s Civil War book collection? Someone must want those. Can’t we try eBay?”
Vince put the key in the lock, turned it, and opened the door. Magazines and books were stacked to the ceiling all around them. He stepped into the first pathway and sighed. “Kelli, there is no way we can afford to haul this crap out and pay for storage while you try to sell it. This house is being put on the market at the end of the month, and we have to have it ready.” They walked through the maze until they reached the kitchen. Even there, books and magazines were stacked up to the ceiling. There was a path leading to the fridge and stove, another leading to the sink. There was no dining room table; their mother had taken it out after their father had died, to stack more magazines in the dining room.
“You know something?” Vince asked, moving toward the back bedroom. “It just amazes me she never burned this place down when she cooked. It’s lucky she and dad never smoked.” Kelli walked with Vince, trying to decide what to do. She knew she’d regret getting rid of everything in such a final fashion, but Vince was right; they had no money to haul out everything and store it. It could take months–maybe years, to sell everything. “Okay, Vince. You win. Let’s start hauling this stuff out the back door, and we’ll have a nice big bonfire. I hate it when you’re right.”
On Monday, early evening, the fire was winding down; the pile of ash still glowed hot. Vince and Kelli had worked on the house all weekend, lugging books and magazines out the back door in wheelbarrow loads, until there were no more left. Kelli tossed all but one of the last magazines onto the hot coals, and watched as the curly black ashes rose into the air. She thumbed idly through the last magazine, and was startled when a twenty dollar bill slid out of one of the pages and fluttered to the ground. Snickering, she bent to pick up the bill, and tossed the magazine into the fire. Good old mom. Probably used the money as a bookmark before paying a bill, and forgot all about it.
Vince pushed his wheelbarrow out the back door with the last load of books, which he had taken from the shelves in the living room. Groaning with exertion, he threw six heavy volumes into the fire. “I hope I never have to see another book or magazine again,” he said, dusting his hands off on his jeans. “That’s the worst clutter I have ever seen in my—” “Knock, Knock,” said a voice behind them. Vince and Kelli turned around and saw a well-dressed elderly man enter the back gate beside the house. He appeared to be looking around for something. “No dogs, I hope? I’m not fond of dogs.” “No dogs,” Vince said, walking over to the man and shaking his hand. “Our mom was a cat lover, and the last of those passed away about a year ago. I’m Vince Cook; this is my sister Kelli. What can we do for you?”
“David Haden, Attorney at Law. I represent your parents’ estate.” “I’m sorry, Mr. Haden,” Kelli said, joining them. “You must be mistaken. Our parents were broke. They didn’t have a dime to their names. The only thing left is her house that dad left her, which Vince and I started cleaning on Saturday.” “I get that quite a lot from people,” David chuckled. He placed his briefcase on the picnic bench next to the dwindling fire, and unsnapped the latches. From inside, he withdrew official-looking paperwork entitled “Last Will and Testament,” along with an accounting ledger. He sat down at the bench, and motioned for Vince and Kelli to sit on the other side. “Let’s see now,” he said, “this one is pretty short and sweet, so I’ll just read it to you two, and you can sign it. We can wrap this up before the sun completely sets, and I’ll be on my way.”
David cleared his throat. “To Vince and Kelli: There is something your old mom never told you; something I’ve saved for you after I’ve passed on. When your grandma Maxine was a young girl, she began collecting books and magazines. It wasn’t just for the collecting, either. No, she used them for a purpose. She stored her hard-earned cash in them. She did this to keep her money protected from thieves who might want to take her money from her; she counted banks as being among the thieves. When I was a young girl, I started doing the same. When your grandma passed on, I received her collection. I never did spend any of her money, but kept a running tab of what she had, and what I’ve added since. I’ve never needed much to live on, so I tucked away money for you, my precious children.”
Vince and Kelli turned to each other, a dawning horror written on their faces. Kelli looked at the twenty dollar bill she was holding, and her face turned white. David, not noticing them, kept reading. “Your father, knowing how I tucked money away, bought you two several savings bonds, and tucked them into his favorite Civil War books, which you’ll find on the living room shelves. May our gifts help you toward a lifetime of happiness.’” David put down the paper, and reached for the ledger. “So,” he said, smiling. “From what your mom has written in her ledger that she’s kept all these years, you should find in all her books and magazines two point five million dollars. Kelli clutched the twenty dollar bill to her chest and screamed, while Vince floated off the picnic bench in a dead faint.”
This story illustrates the old saying, “haste makes waste”. Don’t be so quick to rid your lives of family treasures, for they held onto those things for very good reasons, reasons you may not understand, until it’s too late.
Robin Lindzer is a graduate of Writer’s Digest School, and Long Ridge Writers Group. She lives in beautiful Tacoma, Washington, where she reads and writes almost every waking moment. She also loves spending time with family, and playing with her golden retriever, Briana.