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Grey Sparrow Journal

Issue 30, July 31, 2017
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Inheriting From Hattie

 

by Diana Crane

 

 

 

After great-aunt Hattie died, the couple emptied her place.

 

               She’d never married. Kicked the bucket at ninety-five, taking her turn in a long line of deceased: parents, siblings, nieces, nephews, cousins, and second cousins. Tina was the last, newly-wedded, strapped for cash, but Hattie had no money to leave. All that remained in her savings account was owed to Lakeville Hospital, whose staff had overseen her demise.

 

For two days, they picked and packed. Kept two small table lamps. Terrible taste but useful. Wrapped the old-fashioned china tea set though Tina knew she’d never use it. The creamer and the lid of the teapot missing. Six silver-plated teaspoons. Black with tarnish.

 

Riffled through clothes.

 

“Did she make these dresses herself?”

 

Sorted linen. Sheets meticulously darned. Towels shredding at the edges.  Shuffled through papers. Bills and receipts, carefully preserved, decades old.

 

Laughed at paint-by-numbers on the walls and at titles on the bookshelf. The Bible. Bodice-rippers. Self-help. Travel. A cookbook in which she had scrawled here and there. Pot roast. Pumpkin pie. Elderberry jam.

 

“Keep that!”

 

Skimmed her photo album, meticulously labeled. Relatives young, they had known old.

 

“That’s not Uncle Jacob!”

 

“Must be.”

 

Tried on her armchair and sofa-bed for size. Took the sofa but disagreed about the chair. Its upholstery sagged. The rug was worn and stained.

 

“Disgusting,” they said.

 

                By the end of the second day, there were three piles. Salvation Army. Keep. Undecided. They argued.

 

                “Are you nuts? We don’t have room for the sewing machine.”

 

                “You’re keeping the needlepoint cushions! Get real!”

 

                “We can throw things out when we’re tired of them.”

 

               As they worked, they heard her voice on the phone. Gravelly. Hoarse. But loquacious. Calling a few times a year. They weren’t sure why. Talking about relatives long dead, whose existence Tina could barely remember. Grandparents. Great uncles and aunts. And how she hated being old! Her bad knee. Her failing eyesight.  Occasionally, she invited them for tea but they never went. Too busy. Every day hurtling past them like an express train!

 

They hadn’t known her as a person. Only as a voice on the phone and a presence at funerals.

 

“Anyway, we’ll have her things to remember her by,” they said, as they delivered her stuff in a U-Haul truck to the Salvation Army, to trash bins and to their apartment. But, after a few weeks, they didn’t think of her at all.