Flash fiction by Jessica Murphy
BANKING ON AUNTIE
The cottage looked so quaint from the road. The roof of thick cedar shakes now covered in moss, the wide porch with its gingerbreaded posts, the crazy-paved stone path leading to the rear kitchen door. It was a postcard. From a century ago.
Joe and Marcie got out of the pick-up, looked at each other, pulled on gloves, and marched up the drive –and the crazy paving—to the kitchen door. Joe used a key and they entered. The smell was evident immediately. Rats, mice, unused spaces. There was a ‘funk’ about the house.
They walked hesitantly into the kitchen.
“We should never have let it come to this,” said Marcie.
“But,” her brother responded, “Aunt Josie did not want help.” He laughed, almost hysterically Marcie thought. “In fact, she adamantly refused help. Said we were just after her stuff.”
Their aunt, who had lived alone for some forty years, had become a bit of a hoarder in her later years. Widowed and childless, she had been a kind and generous aunt to her eight nieces and nephews, the children of her five brothers and sisters. She was the last surviving sibling, the last link to the past generation.
At her ‘Service of Remembrance’ last week the cousins had all met for the first time in years. Gladys and her husband Ben could not spend any more time in the village, needed to get back to the city, work called. Cousin John, the eldest son of the eldest son, and who now owned the old family acres, was busy with harvest. His brother Jim and sister Meg were equally busy, teaching, in different schools of course. Even as children they never could get along. Then there was Uncle Matt’s son Dave, an RCMP officer stationed in the Maritimes—of course he was not expected to help. And Aunt Doris’s son Will, who did something in theatre in Vancouver. None of them could help clean out their aunt’s house. So the job came down to Joe and Marcie. As such jobs in the family usually did.
The cousins had been generous, in their own minds at least.
“Just keep anything you want,” said Dave. “It’s not worth the shipping to send anything to Halifax.”
“We will share the money from the sale of the house,” said Gladys, “But you two can take everything else. There is nothing I want.”
Will shivered theatrically. “There is nothing—I repeat nothing—in that house that I would allow into my condo.”
The teachers agreed. And their older brother John, with at least a semblance of reality, said “It’s not going to be any easy job, clearing that lot. You two deserve anything you can get out of it.”
Marcie gingerly touched the grimy kitchen counter.
“I guess I’ll get started with the counters,” she said. “Then I can start on the dishes and all.
She opened the kitchen sink cupboard door, and jumped back. “Ooh, there’s a mouse nest!”
She shivered. “I don’t mind cleaning but I can’t do mice.”
Joe knew of his sister’s fear of rodents and immediately came forward. “I’ll handle this.”
He reached down to the nest of wadded papers, and pulled it free from the floor of the cupboard. He began to stuff it into a plastic bag, then stopped.
“This is a scrap of a bank note.” He spoke quietly. “The whole nest is chewed up money. One hundred dollar bills, I think.” They both looked closely at the pale brown paper shavings.
“And some fifties. See the red?” Marcie pointed.
They looked at each other.
“If the mice made nests out of money, how much do you think is here?”
“No idea,” his sister replied. “But we are going to find out.” She grinned, for the first time today.
The siblings cleaned Aunt Josie’s house and prepped it for sale. It took some time. None of their cousins enquired about the progress of the job. Every niece and nephew received an eighth of the net sale proceeds of Aunt Josie’s house, just over $30,000.00 each.
Having gone through all the rooms, all the drawers and cupboards, even some banker’s boxes in the attic, Joe and Marcie had found over one hundred and twenty thousand dollars in Canadian currency. Even a couple of $1000.00 dollar bills, which were going to take some explaining at the bank, as they are officially out of circulation.
Neither Joe nor Marcie ever bothered to tell the others about the cash they found in the house. Apparently their cousins were not interested in anything from Aunt Josie’s house.