Friends

05 June 2012

FAMILY HEIRLOOM


FAMILY HEIRLOOM

‘She lied.’ Rosa slammed her fist on the coffee table, causing the solicitor to look up from the paperwork.

‘It was your aunt’s wish,’ he said. His calmness irritated Rosa even more.

Rosa Mitchell looked at the family heirloom with jealousy eating into her soul. It had occupied the same position on the bookcase for as long as she could remember. From now on every time she saw it she would think of the treacherous aunt who bequeathed it to her brother instead of her niece. Worse, to a brother who died two weeks before Aunt Maud. Now the heirloom was to remain in the hands of the wife who had absolutely no right to such a beautiful thing. 

The heirloom was a delicate piece of glassware. Not the everyday run-of-the-mill sort of glass but a fine illustration of millefiore glass modelled into a giant paperweight. Not an ordinary run of the mill paperweight either, it was shaped like a pot with a long neck and a stopper in it. Rosa thought it looked more like a bottle, except there was no inside to it. She had coveted the ornament since childhood, when she would sit for hours attempting to trace each ‘flower’ with her finger, except the flowers were inside the glass and couldn’t be touched. Even then she marvelled at the exquisiteness of the design.

The piece had been in the family since goodness knows when, passing from one generation to another until it ended up in Aunt Maud’s possession. Her aunt had promised that Rosa would one day be the happy owner. Bitterness welled up inside her at the thought of that broken promise.

Looking round the room, Rosa caught the smirk on Rowena’s face as she sat with her two sons on the window seat. She was a highfalutin woman in a purple suit and veiled hat. The boys were dressed in smart blue suits with black bands on the sleeves. It was her husband who inherited everything, including the item that should have gone to Rosa, and he himself was dead. It was easy to visualise the valued item being confined to a back shelf never to be seen again.

Not one member of Rosa’s immediate family was present for the reading of the will. Her mother and two sisters expected nothing from their deceased relative. Rosa wondered what had happened in the family to make Aunt Maud leave everything to her only surviving brother, with the proviso that his family would benefit if anything happened to him.

Reg Mitchell was eighty years of age when he died so it stood to reason that, had he lived, he wouldn’t have derived much enjoyment from owning the family heirloom. Still, Rosa supposed that as Aunt Maud was older than Uncle Reg by eight years she would have expected him to last a bit longer. She wouldn’t expect him to die a fortnight before her, and with her suffering from Alzheimer’s she wasn’t in a position to change anything.

Rosa looked again at her uncle’s wife and wondered why she had married a man so much older that herself. Whatever the reason, she had fallen on her feet and the boys had the benefit of a decent stepfather from an early age.

The room in which they sat was what Rosa thought of as the Brown Room. It even had a brown smell, at least that’s how she thought of it. It had been a while since she was last here and she hadn’t noticed before how much the leather reeked. That and mothballs and old age! She termed it the Brown room because all furnishings were that colour, the leather three-piece suite was dark brown, cushions and drapes a shade lighter but still brown, even the cream flecks in the carpet did nothing to hide the basic shade of brown.  Other rooms in the house were nicely decorated but this was Aunt Maud’s favourite, and dull, room. How she had spent her days in it was beyond Rosa’s comprehension.  

At the end of the reading the solicitor rose to leave. Wishing the family members well and promising assistance with any query, he accepted Rowena’s offer to escort him to the door.

Rosa stacked the tea cups on a tray and carried them through to the kitchen, leaving them near the sink ready for washing. Right now, though, she needed time to think. There was a lot to do in the house but now that Rowena was the rightful owner it seemed only fair to let her start now.

Turning from the sink Rosa spotted her young cousins, twins Simon and Bob, lounging against the door. How long had they been there? For some strange reason Rosa felt guilty, as if she herself had no right to be there. Indeed, perhaps she shouldn’t. Without a word the boys crossed the room and entered the parlour. Rosa watched them go, wondering if they would mind if she followed. Quickly she rebuked herself for the unjustifiable thought, reminding herself that they were just fifteen year old boys who were unlikely to hold high and mighty ideas, unless of course they’d been drilled by Mama.

Without saying a word, Bob ambled over to the window, stood looking out at the rain drenched lawn. His dark hair flopping on his forehead made him seem quite unkempt whereas Simon’s curls gave him a neat appearance. As Simon collapsed on the couch like a workman at the end of a hard day, Rosa looked from one to the other. She was thankful they were not identical twins; if they were both as sullen as Bob she would be hard pressed to know how to communicate. Fortunately Simon was a forthright lad, he made up for his brother’s reserved manner.

‘Was you very disappointed not to get the paperweight,’ Simon asked, looking directly at Rosa?

 ‘Were you disappointed,’ she quickly corrected, then went on to ask if her annoyance was evident.

Simon slung one leg over the arm of the couch. ‘Not half,’ he chuckled. ‘You went red in the face. I thought you were having a fit. Even Mom jumped when you fisted the coffee table.’

Rosa grabbed one of the dining chairs, turned it to face her cousin. Adjusting her skirt she sat down, sighing with the remnants of her frustration. She explained that for many years she had thought the paperweight would be hers. ‘Since I was a little girl I believed that one day it would be mine. I weaved stories around it. I desired it so much and it was promised to me.’ She chose not to say too much about her aunt since it would be indelicate to speak ill of the dead to a young boy.

‘Why don’t you tell her what we overheard?’ Bob uttered the words from his position by the window.

‘Nah!’ returned Simon. ‘It would get our Mom in trouble.’

For the first time Bob turned to look at his brother. ‘She wouldn’t be in trouble. She didn’t do anything wrong. It wasn’t her fault Dad died before he could inherit the family heirloom.’

‘No, but she knew about the blackmail.’

Bob had lowered his voice but Rosa heard it quite clearly. She was horrified. Blackmail? What on earth did he mean? Had something been going on in the family that she didn’t know about? What sort of yarns had their mother been spinning? She always was one for fabricating the truth. It wasn’t the first time she’d come out with a pack of lies but to talk such rubbish to her sons was unacceptable.

Ringing her hands together she rose and crossed to the fireplace. Bob’s words were jingling around in her head. Blackmail! Normally she was reluctant to discuss family matters with the young lads, but the word blackmail had driven discretion right out of her mind. ‘What are you talking about?’ she asked, part of her already rebelling against what she might hear.

Simon’s voice penetrated Rosa’s thoughts. ‘Okay then. Did you know Uncle Sergio was a jewel thief?

Rosa felt nausea rise in the pit of her stomach. She felt decidedly faint. Leaning heavily against the mantelpiece, gripping the shelf for support, she murmured, ‘Jewel thief? Then raising her tone, she asked ‘Have you lost your minds?’

‘No! But Mom told us she knew Dad helped Uncle Sergio get out of trouble over some stolen jewels.

With a deep frown on his face, Bob interrupted his brother. ‘You’d better shut up, bro. We only know half the story so it’s not fair to go on. You’re only upsetting Rosa by keeping on.’ Turning to his cousin, he said, ‘Why don’t you talk to Mom about it?

Without answering, Rosa started fiddling with the objects on the shelf, a small tabby cat, an old pill box, a small cut glass bowl, treasures from long ago. Carefully she rearranged the sympathy cards. Talking to Rowena wasn’t something she fancied doing, especially now. Rowena wasn’t the easiest person to talk to. She had such a mocking nature; there seemed to be something wrong with everything she came across, and nobody ever seemed at ease in her company. But it looked as if she had to do it; blackmail wasn’t something she could sweep under the carpet.  

~~~

The boys had gone out for a walk and to buy the evening paper and it was a good hour before Rowena appeared. Since saying goodbye to the solicitor she had gone upstairs to change into something more comfortable, a short dress in soft lemon cotton. Rosa felt suddenly overdressed in her black two-piece. She waited until Rowena had closed the door before speaking. However, Rowena beat her to it. ‘I guess it’s time we sorted out the mire this family has been wallowing in,’ she said.

The expression disturbed Rosa yet she felt unable to chastise the younger woman who had become her aunt-by-marriage.  ‘Perhaps we could go into the kitchen,’ she said.  ‘It seems more comfortable there than in these big rooms. Warmer, too.’

Settling herself in the rocking chair that was once the favourite of Sergio Bellini, Rosa waited. She felt very warm, as if every pore was oozing perspiration. Even her blonde hair felt damp. The heavy funeral clothes felt even more uncomfortable and she wished she had thought to bring a change. It hadn’t been a good idea to see the solicitor straight after church but he said it was better to get it over with straight away. At least he’d had the sense to give them a few hours grace.

Reaching across to the low coffee table she picked up a framed photograph of Aunt Maud and Uncle Sergio. It was taken when they were on honeymoon. A long time ago, she thought, and both now dead.

Although Sergio Bellini had been dead for a number of years her memory of him was quite clear. A swarthy Italian and jeweller by trade, he was Aunt Maud’s second husband. Her first had lasted just two years. When Sergio died, the family joked that she was ‘seeing them off’ although at the time Rosa didn’t understand what they meant. Her uncle-by-marriage was a good looking but extremely angry man.  Rosa remembered being quite terrified of him. Not that they met very often since his profession frequently took him overseas. Only later did she learn that the childless Maud Bellini had survived the long absences by engaging in promiscuity.

When Rowena came into the kitchen she went straight to the sink as though she was going to wash up. Instead she turned away and suggested they partake of some coffee. ‘Or would you prefer something stronger?’

Rosa thought a double whisky would go down a treat but she didn’t think there was any in the house so she settled for coffee and offered to make it.

With cups of steaming coffee in place on the table, the two women pulled their chairs either side so that they faced each other. Although Rosa thought it seemed a bit official she felt it advisable to look Rowena directly in the face. That way she could tell if she was lying. ‘Right,’ she said. ‘Let’s sort this out. What did the boys mean by someone being blackmailed’?’

Rowena had the grace to look guilty but she didn’t let it affect what she had to say. ‘It’s true. My dear husband blackmailed Maud. Oh not for money, he did it by threat.’

Rosa waited, feeling that if she interrupted the truth might never be told.

‘During one of his visits to the Far East Sergio stole a very valuable collection of jewels from one of the richest families in the country. In his capacity as jeweller and with Reg’s knowledge of glass he was able to hide the jewels beneath the millefiore in the paperweight.’

Rosa was dumbfounded. ‘You’re making this up!’

Rowena smiled. ‘Not at all,’ she said. ‘I’ve known about it for some years. When Reg heard that his sister had promised the paperweight to you he threatened to expose Maud’s infidelity and tarnish the memory of her husband if she didn’t change her will.’

‘Aunt Maud knew about the robbery?’

‘Oh yes, she knew.  She also knew where the jewels were hidden.’

‘So if she hadn’t changed her will, the jewels would have come to me?’

‘Naturally.’

‘And I would never have known?’

‘Oh my dear, I would have told you sooner or later. The old lady dying so near to dear Reg’s demise brought everything to a head, so to speak.’

Her words seemed a bit harsh yet Rosa couldn’t fault Rowena’s logical approach. Her mind in turmoil she gazed across at the window. It had stopped raining and there was a hint of sunshine. The twins were outside, Ben watching as Simon jumped to grasp a tree branch. She hoped he wouldn’t injure himself. Not today, when there was so much going on. ‘When did you find out?’ she asked.

‘Several years ago,’ Rowena said. I heard the men talking one day and eavesdropped. I got the full story afterwards. That’s what made me stay so long in the marriage. I knew that one day I could be quite wealthy.’

This was another shock for Rosa and she wondered how much more she could take.  ‘So what do we do now? We must inform the police. Oh dear, I can’t take it all in.’

Rowena eased out of her chair and walked round the table. Leaning over Rosa’s shoulder she spoke so softly Rosa couldn’t be sure she was hearing right. ‘Rosa, my dear, just think how rich we can be if we keep this to ourselves. I know just the man to remove those jewels from the paperweight.’

~~~

A year later, on a hotel balcony overlooking the Bay of Naples, Rosa admired the view. The warmth of the sun on her bare shoulders felt so good she wondered why she had never visited Italy before. The water shimmered in the swimming pool, the colour so blue Rosa couldn’t decide whether it was due to the cloudless blue sky or the painted surrounds. From where she stood she could see Vesuvius on the far side of the bay. One day she would take a trip to see it close up but in the meantime there were other matters to see to. 

A year had passed since her aunt’s funeral and there would soon be another one. This time, though, it might be more appropriate not to attend.

Putting her sunglasses on the wrought-iron table, she sat down and pulled the package towards her. She had been here for a week now and only today had the package arrived. The anxious wait had made her nervous. She couldn’t help feeling that something had gone wrong and the parcel had gone astray. It arrived forty minutes ago but the porter had only just brought it to her room. He was rewarded with a worthwhile tip.

She couldn’t wait another minute to see her beloved paperweight and inspect it for signs of damage. It was too bad Rowena wasn’t there to share the moment with her, after all if it hadn’t been for her aunt-by-marriage she wouldn’t be indulging in all this luxury. It really was too bad that the taxi had put on speed just as Rowena was crossing the road. On a pedestrian crossing, as well. 

10 comments:

Akelamalu said...

Amazing isn't it how the death of a relative can, too often, bring out the worst in folk? ;)

Brian Miller said...

oh my...some family here huh...lots of secrets in the closet, over a few little jewels....smiles...

An English Shepherd said...

Yes it sometimes does bring the worst out in reatives :-(

Valerie said...

Pearl, that is so true.

Brian, I think every family has secrets in the closet.

Ron said...

" It really was too bad that the taxi had put on speed just as Rowena was crossing the road. On a pedestrian crossing, as well"

Ooooo, Valerie, that last bit gave me CHILLS! What a faaaaaaaaabulous ending!!!

Reminds me of a similar ending in the movie, "The Ghost Writer", did you ever see it? It's an incredible movie based on the the book, "The Ghost." If you ever get a chance, please watch it because I think you will really enjoy it.

Excellent story, dear lady. I so love the way you write!

Have a terrific Tuesday!

X

Valerie said...

Good afternoon, Ron. I knew you'd pick out the last line. I suppose it was a bit creepy coming so unexpectedly at the very end...lol.

I haven't seen The Ghost Writer... I'll check it out immediately.

Jenny Woolf said...

Great story, Valerie! Money certainly does bring out the worst in folk, sadly. Sigh.

HermanTurnip said...

Heh...yes, too bad indeed... Nice one, Val! It's funny what money will make some people do...

Mel said...

Oh.

Well, that was a 'grabber' for my attention from the first paragraph! Seriously!

Well done.
Well constructed and well executed!

What a craft family--

Bernie said...

Couldn't have happened to a nicer person....heheheh