Here is a third short story based on the prompt, “Inheritance”. Comment and let me know if you’ve inherited something that changed your understanding of your family history.
“What am I supposed to do with that?” The lawyer hands me a set of keys and the title to this old, lonely cabin.
“Well, it’s up to you. Keep it. Sell it. The will doesn’t specify what you should do.” The lawyer checks his watch, then his phone, then flips out his own shiny Mercedes key.
“Your grandparents wanted you to have it, that’s all I know.” I’m polite enough to know when to excuse someone who’s ready to leave.
“Okay, then. Thank you very much. I’ll go in and look around.” I offer my hand, he shakes it gratefully and hurries toward his getaway vehicle.
Keys in hand, I inhale and prepare to unlock the front door, then exhale and look around. I had been too distracted by the lawyer’s rushing of papers and signatures that I hadn’t taken in the area.
Nestled in the crook of a mountain’s arm, hills surround the entire property. Pine trees stand tall and proud on the slopes, quaking aspens whisper in delight as a breeze cools the air. I hear a creek minding its own business out behind the cabin. While birds are the only animals I can hear, I’m certain there must be moose and deer nearby as well.
Two hours from the nearest city and 45 minutes from the nearest gas station, this property belongs to nature as much as it did to my grandparents. They lived here for 30 years. After their kids had grown and had kids of their own, my grandparents went “off grid” as they say. Growing up, no one seemed to understand why they’d recoiled from society and nested together in the mountains.
“They don’t even like each other.” I heard from my dad, and my aunt, and my cousins. We tried visiting, but the air dripped with passive-aggressive oil, making each effort at conversation slippery and dangerous. It wasn’t long until the grown kids stopped visiting and the grandkids didn’t think to.
I remember one time as a small girl, I was putting together a puzzle at the handmade kitchen table while my parents went to the gas station for missing charcoal – it was barbecue season, after all. Grandma brought me a cup of chocolate milk, “Here you go, sweetie. Some brain food for your puzzle.” Delighted, I looked up at her and said, “Thank you!”
She replied, “You’re welcome.”
Then, glanced at Grandpa and said, “See, even a little girl knows how to say, ‘Thank you’.”
He rolled his eyes and sat down at the table with me. He smiled and said, “Can I join you?” His gray eyes were the most grandpa-esque you can image, soft and warm. He did that puzzle with me for a solid hour while we waited for the charcoal. He let me gab and talk about little girl things. I remember feeling surprised that he would find me so interesting. When my parents returned, I gave him a hug and we went outside for the barbecue. But he stopped and hollered at Grandma, “See! She likes having me around! I’m not so bad!”
I haven’t thought of that visit in 20 years, but standing on this porch is making me feel 10 years old again. They were always so nice to me, I couldn’t understand why they didn’t like each other. After 9 years of marriage, I’m now starting to understand.
I fill my lungs with mountain air and prepare to step back in time. I test the doorknob; of course, it isn’t locked. A gust of cedar-infused air greets me as the door swings open.
The small sitting room waits for guests on the left-hand side. On the right side, the even smaller kitchen waits to provide a family meal. The wooden staircase divides the two rooms and ascends to a bedroom loft. I step inside and place my left hand on the railing, I absentmindedly trace a notch in the wood before taking another step. Then, I remember. I’m tracing initials in the wood.
I look down and see an S, woven together with an H, set over the year 1980. Sam and Heather, they finished building this cabin in 1980. They must have at least liked each other then. Grandpa thought enough of Grandma to entwine their names together forever. I wonder if she stood in this spot, tracing the letters before climbing to bed every night. I imagine Grandpa’s gray eyes beaming toward Grandma, “Look here Heather. Here’s our initials.” Maybe she smiled and said, “That’s wonderful Sam.” Or, maybe she complained, “Oh, Sam. Who’s going to want our initials there after we die?”
I climb to the loft and looked around the room. At least my “off grid” grandparents didn’t have too many belongings I’d have to sort. They’d taken care of their junk long ago. Antiques were gifted long before the will was needed, photos were sent away to be digitized for anyone who cared. Everything here was essential.
Under the bed skirt, a small wooden box peeks out at me. Perhaps it straightened its posture and stuck its nose out when I walked in, waiting to be noticed. I walk toward it, bend down and pull it into my arms.
This must be Grandma’s side of the bed. Her silk pillow looks untouched, as if she had made the bed assuming there company would be here soon and heaven forbid they see a mussed bed. I fold my legs and prepare to open the box.
Would it be old jewellery? A diary? There isn’t a lock on it, so perhaps it’s not exactly special. I lift the latch with my thumb and peer inside.
There are little wooden carvings in there, hand-painted and immaculate, so obviously cherished. I pull one out, it looks like my dad. I pull out another, it resembles my aunt. And still another looks like me. Grandpa had carved each and every one of his children and grandchildren, wrote their birth year on the bottom and gave them to my grandmother.
Surely, placing them in a cedar box, also crafted by her husband, meant she loved his handiwork. And, hopefully him as well?
I sit up and glance out the window above the bed. Did the sky bear witness to our comings and goings? Did it know our secrets? While I muse about the nature of nature, another box catches my eye.
This one is sitting out in the open, on Grandpa’s side table. I heave myself up and carry Grandma’s box with me around the bed and over to the side where Grandpa slept for so many years. I assume his will be empty. He might have been kind, but was he the sentimental type? I settle myself down onto the bed and nestle Grandma’s box nearby.
I lift Grandpa’s box up and open the lid. Inside are scraps of papers, maybe 50 of them. The writing isn’t Grandpa’s, it’s hers.
“March 3, 1982 – Thank you for finishing the deck.”
“June 9, 1993 – Dinner was wonderful.”
“January 1, 2006 – Happy New Year.”
I pivot to my knees and dump the box of notes onto the bed. Who knows how long I’ll be here, but I’m reading every last one of them.
I lift the final note, “May 9, 1994 – Happy birthday” and place it in its chronological home on the bed. Her last note was from 16 years ago. But, he kept them. He wanted them. Maybe, he loved her too.
Maybe they forgot how to say it. Maybe they spoke in different languages.
I now know how that feels, when your common language devolves into two foreign tongues.
So, in addition to the cabin, I’ve inherited a love story.
What am I supposed to do with that?