|Aunt Gillian's porch. dee|
I park the Volvo in Gillian’s driveway. I sit and stare at the three story Saltbox that holds much of my childhood. The roses out front are forming buds, blossoms will not be long in coming. There is an ancient Magnolia tree in the front that has always been a favorite of mine. When the flowers form, they are so showy and extravagant that I make it a point to walk by everyday until the last velvety petals have dropped.
My cell phone is ringing. I fish it out of my purse. It’s Declan. I can’t, I won’t talk to him at this moment in time. I feel too ragged and raw.
I notice tears keep spilling over my lower eyelids. I peer into the rearview mirror. There is nothing I can do to stop them. I unlock the door and swing my legs out onto the ground, Standing up isn’t as hard as I expected. Walking is harder. I am aware that the Earth has changed. Gillian has left her mark, but she is gone, gone, gone. I am being far too melodramatic. I use my cell phone to text a message to my office, I include a brief statement to send to Community Relations. They will deal with the press release and the obituaries. I know Gillian wanted it posted in the New York Times. Any of her remaining friends that could read, would read about her death in the Times.
As we get older, there are fewer and fewer people left to witness our passings.
Gillian’s porch has a swing, two rockers and a chaise. I settle into the chaise. I sit still.
I watch the squirrels chase each other. I observe the birds; in particular, a pair of wrens care for their young in a nest above the header on the porch.
Looking at my hands in my lap, they are folded like the wings on the wrens. I reach down for the manilla envelope that I brought from the hospital. I am careful when I unclasp it, then spill out the contents onto my lap. My skirt is pulled as taut as a drumhead. Using my skirt, I spread apart the collection of my aunt’s few possessions that she took to the hospital. There is her Medicare Care, her Blue Cross Insurance Card, a key ring with a miniature flashlight holding three keys, a small change purse with two twenties and two quarters, and a picture of her with me when I was sixteen. I hold that picture for several minutes, studying it. Then, the dam breaks. I can’t be seen, Head of Whately Prep sitting on Gillian Dickinson’s porch sobbing inconsolably. The third try is the charm and I let myself into Gillian’s house with her own key. I wail, filling the silence with my grief. I kick off my shoes and leave them by the door then keep moving. I collapse in a pile on the sofa in the living room. Gradually, I cry myself out. I lay on my side inventorying the room for memories. I practiced piano on that piano, Aunt Gillian did needlepoint in that chair, I climbed in through that window one night, I broke the handle off of that bowl -- I can see the glue marks where we reattached it. Doing this allows me to tie the past to the present. I am having a very hard time contemplating the future.
I wander through the first floor rooms. In the kitchen, I notice she must have had a cup of tea last night. So like her to clean and rinse the cup, saucer and spoon before calling Security for help. I turn on the water and let it run until it is cold. I fill a glass of water and guzzle down twelve ounces, then fill it again. I am thirsty from all the crying.
The dining room looks like a showroom. The chairs are neatly arranged around the table. The side board displays her favorite Willow china. One swinging door is open, the other is shut. I push through the shut door into the center hall that divides the house.
Across the hall is Aunt Gillian’s den. A small room with wooden shutters on the windows, it is always dark. I flip on the overhead light. Without touching a thing on her desk, I know everything will be in perfect order. It was her way. I pull open the top desk drawer about two inches and peer in. Elastics, scissors, paper clips and stamps are arrayed in a tray. Curious what else she might have organized in the drawer, I pull it open a bit wider. Between the lip of the tray and the back of the drawer is a small manilla envelope labeled “key.” I open it and find an old-fashioned skeleton key. It reminds me of the Tiffany key Declan gave me for my birthday last year. I know that it is a significant key. Nothing Aunt Gillian ever did was capricious. I wonder what lock the key might fit.
As proof that I am more capricious than my aunt, I pick up my cell-phone and scroll through numbers. I dial one.
“Hi, I’m at Aunt Gillian’s. Are you free to come over and help me with something?”
I move back into the kitchen and put the electric kettle on for tea. Just as the whistle is reaching its full head of steam, I hear a knock at the back door. The screen swings open and Carl steps inside.