Wilt Thou forgive that sin which I have won
Others to sin, and made my sin their door?
The following day, Nan wanted to cancel her afternoon lecture to drive her to the lawyer’s, but Hailey was adamant—she wanted to face this alone—Otherwise, how would she ever make it through the rest of her life, relying on friends to hold her hand through every crisis?
Mother was like Nan, except she would scold, rather than encourage, but was always dead-on in her advice: “You’re an adult now, Hailey, and quite capable of meeting life’s challenges.”
“You’re loveable and capable,” Nan would say sarcastically, in her perfect Miss Fidget voice.
But Am I? she asked herself. I’ve never felt either statement about me was true. I slept for years on the floor of Birdie’s room, terrified The Painted Lady would sew my lips shut, and half-wishing she would, so I’d never be embarrassed again about crying out in my sleep.
She parked at a meter outside Thomas Gunn’s Oakville office.
Breathe in to a count of three: breathe out to a count of four.
Was it working? Not really. She had already bi-located and was watching her aunts seated around the huge oak table in the large conference room.
Agnes, Thomas Gunn’s secretary, was quietly playing hostess and serving tea.
She could see Aunt Alicia, dressed in black, clutching an embroidered handkerchief in one hand, and with the other, grasping tight to the arm of the chair, the grip of her yellow-veined hand firm as a hawk’s talon.
A shudder of fear ran through her.
Would she be able to do this—why hadn’t she caved and allowed Nan to accompany her?
The despair that drove her to the shore that fateful day returned—it had never really left—only receded somewhat.
It reminded her of a massive glacier waiting, biding its time, until conditions were right for it to inch up slowly, grinding and scraping all in its path.
She longed to possess the strength of her aunts: their flinty fire, their granite hearts. They were survivors.
They reminded her of the pines she saw back in B.C. on the highway between Whistler and Squamish—impossibly growing out of rocky cliffs.
Whatever her mother had in mind for her today, if the aunts opposed her, she’d stand no chance.
There was a light rap on the window.
She looked up to see Birdie, bent over at the waist, peering in, smiling.
The sight of her friendly face was like a burst of sunlight on a dull day. The glacier melted and receded again. She got out of the car, ran to her and hugged her tight.
“Careful, Miss Hailey! You’ll squeeze the life right out of me.”
“Oh Birdie, I’m so glad to see your friendly face. I forgot that you’d be here.”
“I was hoping to catch you, so we could both go in together—hold each other up, I suppose.” She wiped at a tear.
“Let’s do that,” Hailey smiled. “Let’s both of us go in together and be strong.” She looped her arm around Birdie’s and tugged her toward the door.
As they entered, Thomas Gunn’s cheery voice called out to them. “Hailey and Birdie, good to see you! The family’s already gathered in the conference room. Why don’t I accompany you?”
“Thank you, Mr. Gunn. I think we’d both appreciate that.” Hailey eyed Birdie who flashed back a nervous smile.
They followed the lawyer back through a corridor to a large mahogany-paneled boardroom. The three aunts were already seated at the table along with an older, distinguished-looking man who was obviously Alicia’s attorney.
“Good day, ladies,” Thomas Gunn nodded to the aunts. “Good to see you again too, Marcus,” he said to the other man as he rose to shake his hand.
He waited while Birdie and Hailey sat directly opposite the foursome. Not a word was said. He cleared his voice. “Shall we begin?” The aunts nodded in unison.
“I’ll read the will as written, asking that you reserve questions or comments to the end. Is that agreeable to all?”
Again, three heads nodded.
I, Beatrice Victoria McAdam, being of sound mind and memory, do hereby make, publish and declare this to be my Last Will and Testament, revoking all Wills and Codicils at any time heretofore made by me.
I name Thomas Dawson Gunn as my Personal Representative and empower him to administer my estate independently, without adjudication, direction, or order of any court. He alone is to carry out the provisions of this will for which he will be compensated as previously arranged.
I direct Thomas Gunn to pay all the expenses of my last illness, burial or funeral expenses as soon as practicable after my death. Also, I direct him to pay any debt or claim that he determines to be legally enforceable against my estate and to pay all taxes owing.
I hereby give and bequeath to Dorin Segal the sum of five hundred thousand dollars, on condition that she remain as housekeeper for one year carrying out the same duties for which she has been employed.
Alicia gasped and sputtered, “incredible”. Her hard black eyes sifted Thomas Gunn, demanding explanation, but he sat unmoved, as if waiting out an expected storm.
There must be more, Hailey mused, and she sat calmly, waiting for the other shoe to fall.
Oblivious of Alicia’s reaction, Dorin was weeping quietly, pressing a balled-up Kleenex to her eyes.
“For God’s sake, stop sniveling,” Alicia hissed, but Dorin made no response other than to bow her head and continue to dab at her eyes.
Lil glanced at Ev who rolled her eyes and waved her hand as if to say, get on with it. Alicia nodded, sat back in her chair and sighed. She raised the fingers of her right hand slightly in a gesture of resignation. Thomas Gunn took a sip of water and continued methodically, as if he planned for the brief hiatus.
I give and bequeath all the rest, the residue and remainder of my estate to my daughter, Hailey Christine McAdam, on the condition that she live for a period of one year in my Lakeshore house, making it her principal residence. All furnishings, papers and personal effects are also bequeathed to her under the same conditions as outlined above. If my daughter Hailey refuses to accept the terms of this will, or fails to live in the house for the full year, the estate will be split in the following manner: the house will be sold and the proceeds given to Hailey. My sisters will then be entitled to dispose of whatever furnishings, papers or personal effects they wish and if they cannot agree on a settlement, the said items should be auctioned off and the proceeds from the sale divided among my surviving siblings.
In witness whereof, I sign my name as testator on this twelfth day of October 2007 and execute this instrument as my free and voluntary act for the purposes declared herein. I attest that I am of sound mind and under no constraint or undue influence.
Beatrice Victoria McAdam
The silence in the room was ominous. Hailey was afraid to look at her aunts, so she focused instead on Dorin, sitting, head bowed and sniffling, and she watched mesmerized by the woman’s agitated efforts to extract a fresh tissue from the small plastic package.
Alicia glared at her, opened her mouth as if to speak, and then seemingly changed her mind and swiveled in her chair to face Hailey.
“Well, Child, what is your reaction to this document?”
“I hardly know what to say, Auntie. Frankly, I’m surprised—it’ll take some time, I suppose, to come to terms with Mother’s wishes.”
“I’m sure it will take more than mere adjustment on your part, since Beatrice insists you live in the manse for a year. I really don’t see how you’re going to accomplish that feat, knowing that you couldn’t stand being there more than a few hours at a time.”
Hailey wanted to object, but if the truth were told, she was feeling the same thing
© 2017, John J Geddes. All rights reserved.