Wednesday, 25 May 2011

The Bequest

This story is written in response to this week's TIC TOCC challenge, in which Kat posted the above picture, and the following prompt:

'The executor of the will placed four things on the table. An elaborate floral brooch, pair of miniature shoes, a CD and a sealed envelope. What does the envelope contain? What's on the CD? What's the story behind the shoes and brooch?'
Use all or some of the objects as inspiration or focus on the envelope's contents. Keep the idea of these being presented at a will reading or make up your own story behind these objects. Write, draw, paint, collage, compose....create in any way you wish in ten or twenty minutes.

Regular perusers of 'Tales' will have noticed story production has been rather scant of late, but 'ta-da'!!! Today I am inspired, so I hope you enjoy it.

The Bequest

It’s raining by the time our bus reaches its stop, the rain turning Aberdeen’s grey pavements and granite buildings appropriately sombre. I screw up my face, pull up my collar, and totter as quickly as is possible in these heels, cursing my choice of peep-toes. Not the most appropriate footwear for a day like this, but they are the most sensible and respectable pair of shoes I own. I want to look smart for Aunt Julia.

Beside me, Reece glares up at the rain as though it were falling in some personal vendetta against him. This causes his face takes on a rather bovine quality. It is the tip of my tongue to say so, and to ask him to glaring, but I desist. He is, as my mother would say, no oil painting. Asking him to stop looking unattractive is a waste of my breath.

Finally, number twelve Rosemount Terrace, the offices of Lennox, Finchingly and McMurdo, Aunt Julia’s solicitors. I spring up the shiny stone steps, and ring polished brass bell. There is a hiss as the intercom crackles into life.

“Good afternoon, do you have an appointment?” A woman’s voice asks.
“I’m Morven McLeod. I’ve got an appointment to see Mr. Lennox.”
“Miss McLeod. Come in please.”

We are shown to chairs in Mr. Lennox’s office, a cold room with dark mahogany panelling, shelves and shelves of ancient legal texts, and gloomy, dark green walls, hung with oil paintings. Had the light been turned on, the room might have seemed more welcoming. Instead, with the watery grey seeping through the windows, it is an appropriate setting for the execution of Aunt Julia’s last wishes. She would have approved.

Beside me Reece shuffles. He is uncomfortable in his chair. It is too small to support his expanding bulk. When we first met he was plump in a kind of jolly way. Now he is fat and sweaty. When he lies on top of me, he squashes the air from my lungs. Not that I let him lie on top of me very often these days. I pretend to be asleep.

He nudges me.
“Reckon the old bird was worth much then?” He breaks off into asthmatic laughter. My expression remains ironed in place, as though I hadn’t heard him speak, as though nothing inappropriate had been said. Once upon a time he was funny. Now he is just childish. I am glad Aunt Julia never met him. She wouldn’t have been impressed.

The door opens. It is Mr Lennox. He looks exactly the same as ever he did, as though he’s studied how to appear wise, dignified and sober. He shakes my hand. He doesn’t shake Reece’s. I note this slight, and smirk to myself.

“Julia McLeod left a number of items for you, Miss McLeod,” he says, and bends down to open a drawer. He pulls out four things; her favourite brooch, the dolls’ shoes Aunt Emily brought back from Canada, a CD, and a padded brown envelope. Reece makes scoffing noises at the brooch and the shoes, he doesn’t know how much I played with them when I was a child. He doesn’t know what to make of the CD, but his interest picks up at the sight of the envelope. I should think he’s imagining it stuffed with money; lots and lots of lovely money.

“Open it,” he urges, with all the excitement of a child on Christmas morning. “Open the envelope. Let’s see what’s inside.”

I tut. I’d prefer to do this alone, to see what Aunt Julia has left to me, for there can be no doubts I was her favourite. The others were terrified of her. My father used to visibly quake whenever she marched up our garden path, plaid shawl falling off her shoulders, wild grey hair sneaking from its messy bun. But I loved her. She was the purveyor of fantastic stories, the source of illicit bon-bons when my parents weren’t looking, and her island home was a retreat to which I wish I could still escape. But her mind was the thing which finally ran off, and she’d spent the last twenty years in a nursing home in Portree with no idea who or what she was.

“Go on Morven, open it!” Reece’s greedy enthusiasm is as ugly as his face. I puff my cheeks and let out a long sigh. Both he and Mr. Lennox assume this is sadness on my part at losing Aunt Julia, but really, it’s the weight of what must be done to get through to Reece that I’ve had enough. Subtle hints will not pierce his hide.

I slit the envelope, and my fingers delve inside. They do not feel wads of money, and for a second, I’m caught in the wash of disappointment. There is a single sheet of paper in the envelope. I pull it out. It is an old photograph.

“What is it?” Reece’s excitement ebbs away as his eyes see it is a photograph of a mountain; nothing more, and nothing less. Even Mr. Lennox’s cultivated air of superiority softens into disappointment. But my heart skips first one beat, and then another. I can feel my cheeks growing hot. And in that instant, I know I am not going to tell either man what this means.

“It’s Aunt Julia’s favourite mountain,” I say. “Morven. I was named after it.” An idea comes to me, and I run with it, guiding them away from the truth. “She took this photograph on the day I was born. I always wondered what happened to it,” I smile, looking down at it. But it’s much, much more than that.

I turn it over as Reece harrumphs, and Mr. Lennox shuffles his papers. And there, in the corner is what Aunt Julia has bequeathed me, a reference number. It is the number to the vault where she put the picture Salvador Dali painted of her mountain when he visited the West Coast. She said they were lovers; I don’t know for sure. The truth went with her mind into the same chasm as my love for Reece. I really must tell him that it’s over.

[please note this is fiction - I have no idea if Salvador Dali ever visited Scotland!]

If you are interested, this story was inspired by a poem by one of my favourite poets, the late Norman MacCaig. He wrote this poem 'Aunt Julia', which I adore.

Aunt Julia
Aunt Julia spoke Gaelic
very loud and very fast.
I could not answer her -
I could not understand her.

She wore men's boots
when she wore any.
- I can see her strong foot,
stained with peat,
paddling with the treadle of the spinningwheel
while her right hand drew yarn
marvellously out of the air.

Hers was the only house
where I've lain at night
in the absolute darkness
of a box bed, listening to
crickets being friendly.

She was buckets
and water flouncing into them.
She was winds pouring wetly
round house-ends.
She was brown eggs, black skirts
and a keeper of threepennybits
in a teapot.

Aunt Julia spoke Gaelic
very loud and very fast.
By the time I had learned
a little, she lay
silenced in the absolute black
of a sandy grave
at Luskentyre.
But I hear her still, welcoming me
with a seagull's voice
across a hundred yards
of peatscapes and lazybeds
and getting angry, getting angry
with so many questions

Norman MacCaig.


  1. I loved your descriptions of Reece from Morven's point of view. It is easy to feel her emotions and understand how she must feel. Your imagery cleverly shows how our perception of someone we loved changes when it's reached the end. I was quickly caught up in the story. :)

    In the second paragraph, second sentence, you may want to change it to "...causes his face to take on a rather bovine quality" (versus the plural form of "take"). And in the third paragraph, second sentence, I believe there should be a "the" before "polished brass bell".

    Utterly enchanting story! :)

  2. Great story, love the color and mood and Reece. I was excited when she opened the envelope and love what it meant, all around wonderful!

  3. Love your story, and the poem Aunt Julia is a bonus! I didn't know about the TIC TOCC challenge; looks interesting. Glad I dropped by here.

  4. Fantastically drawn characters. I love the way Reece is brought to life and Mr Lennox and Aunt Julia are illustrated wonderfully in such a short piece of writing. You manage to let the reader get a feel for character and emotions without wordy descriptions and instead beautifully weave detail into the narrative. Genius idea with the mountain and Salvador Dali.

    Great piece of writing and extra impressive to have been finished and polished in such a limited time.

    Thanks for playing along and sharing.
    Kat Xx

  5. Zaiure, Missy, Chris, thank you for your nice comments, and Zaiure, thanks for spotting the typos xx

    Kat, you know I'm a terrible cheat... I couldn't type fast enough to finish the story in twenty minutes, so I took a wee bit longer xxx


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