|Gillian's Flowers dee|
Carl’s face is grim when he returns to the kitchen. I light a Kringle candle and the kitchen almost immediately smells like lavender. My mind flashes upon the fields and fields of lavender that I saw growing outside of Paris when Gillian took me there for my sixteenth birthday.
I know enough about grief to know that I am in for a roller coaster ride. Memories of the past will be evoked but things from the present, magnifying the sense of loss.
Carl reaches for the mug of tea I poured for him; I eschewed a tea cup in favor of a mug simply because his hands are too large for the delicate porcelain.
“What is it? Why the face? You are scaring me, Carl.”
He doesn’t answer. “What did you find upstairs? I’m going up to look.”
In a flash, his hand shoots out and gently, but firmly, urges me to be reseated. Now I am
more worried than ever.
Carl seems to be collecting his thoughts, then he speaks. “Your Aunt was a complicated woman Gillian. I know this by the state of her rooms upstairs. There is a god-awful smell coming from one of the rooms, Julia. It has a trunk and a rocker in it. I believe something dead must be in the trunk.”
The possibilities strike me at the same time as the wave of nausea. I make it to the kitchen sink just in time to vomit the tea and what was left of last night’s dinner. I run the kitchen faucet for quite some time. Finally, I splash my face with water and snare some paper towel to pat my face dry. I notice that, on the window ledge over the sink, Gillian had picked a small bouquet of flowers. The flowers were from the gardens around the perimeter of her house. The properties on Whately Prep do not have much land of their own. The houses are owned by the school. Residents may be granted life tenancy, as was the case with Gillian, but ultimately, the land is not their own. Some people find that a bitter pill to swallow until the septic fails or a towering tree has to be removed - on the school’s tab. Others delight in having a patch of earth to tend, even for a short time. Gillian was in the latter category.
“Look, Julia, whatever we find in that trunk, you have to know your aunt wasn’t herself. I still think of her as the most terrifying teacher on campus, and it’s been thirty years since she taught me. Do you remember the penalties if you missed a homework assignment? But I leaned so much about literature and history from her. She informed my mind. Clearly, a toggle switch in her brain short circuited at some point. However, Gillian knew enough to keep her oddities away from prying eyes. I mean, when was the last time you were actually upstairs?”
“I was a child.”
When I lift the tea pot to refill my cup, my hand wobbles. Carl takes the pot and pours for me.
“You don’t need to deal with this at all. I can sort things out and bring down anything of value for you to look at, Or, if you want, we can come back at another time and go upstairs together.”
I roll my lips together, a nervous habit that I carried over from childhood. I do it when I am worried.
From out of nowhere, I have a plan.
“We will leave things exactly at they are for now. The windows are not open enough to allow circulation, but not enough that it will rain in. I need to get to the funeral home now. Let’s just lock up. Here’s the key. Could you or one of the guys in the shop bring over some big fans to work on airing this place out? If you are free, I will meet you back here around 6pm.. At that time, we’ll empty the refrigerator and deal with whatever we find upstairs. I simply can not do it at this moment.” I look at his face for reassurance. I desperately need reassurance.
Carl says, “Sounds like a plan to me.”
We both head toward the front door. I lock it and hand Carl the key. He slips it under the flower pot to the right of the door.
I shake me head. “It’s been a long day and it’s just past nine a.m...”
“Do you want to call Declan and have him come back?”
“I will call and talk to him, but I don’t want to bring the kids back at this point. I’m going to keep my options open until I figure out how to proceed.”
Carl’s hands settle on each of my shoulders. He leans forward and kisses my check.
“Remember, Jules, I am here for you.” He springs off the porch, jumping over the two steps rather than using them. In an instant, he disappears around the corner of the house and he is gone from view.