It was the Christmas of 1936. I docked from S.S. Emerald and found myself roaming about the roads of Middlebourgh—a town secluded at the south of West Sussex and had long preserved the customs of the old fashion. The ringing bells and the exciting carols of the children heard on the doorsteps of the wooden cottages were a reminder of the holidays of which I once cherished in Middlebourgh.
For me, it was a stroke of luck that my intentions were not to return but to settle a will reading with my family.
If only Daddy listened to my advice towards that diminishing health of his, perhaps this urgent demand for my presence wouldn't curse me with much fright and agitation. I was, however, encouraged by a hope for substantial inheritance to at least exhibit a friendly smile.
At quarter to ten, I took a carriage to the Chevrolet hall, the home where my childhood flourished.
On the doorstep of the hall, I saw Ms. Orchid Elliot. She was the head of Daddy’s maids, deemed excellent in fulfilling her duties.
She took my hand as I alighted.
“You’re a lady in a fine fettle, Lilith Dear—”
The wind struck suddenly and as suddenly, died away.
I stumbled on the snow, clinging onto my pillbox hat.
She stood me up with a soft chuckle. “And one who hadn’t changed a bit.”
I played with the fingers of my left hand that was concealed with a glove and doing so nearly shed me a sweat. I gave my pleasantries to Ms. Orchid thereafter.
“Please make yourself comfortable, Lilith Dear,” she said. “Do you fancy a cuppa?”
Ms. Orchid opened the doors for me. I was about to step inside when continuous blaring noises, apparently from a Cadillac, sounded at the gates. The driver of the vehicle had round scarlet lips, auburn hair styled into curls, shades of black, and on her hand, a tobacco pipe.
That woman, though reckless in nature, was my sister, Elise Chevrolet, and was the oldest among us siblings.
“Do hurry, will you?” she told the gatekeeper.
“I see your sister keeps well too,” said Ms. Orchid.
Elise skidded her vehicle at high velocity and stained the markings of her wheels on the pavement.
She ceased in front of us, put down her shades, and looked at me with crinkled eyebrows.
“Has Father gotten himself a new maid before he died?”
I rolled my eyes and teased her with a frown.
“Oh, yes.” she snapped. “Little Lilith. Still can’t say boo to a goose, can’t you, eh?”
A man with a bowler hat, six foot two if I were to assume, exited the front doors and called our names. His beard and mustache were those of Van Dyke.
I couldn’t get who he was at first, but soon realized he was my brother, Cillian Chevrolet. Unlike us, he didn’t leave town and stayed with Daddy until his final days.
I hugged him abruptly.
“Why, how’s life in the Netherlands, Lilith?”
He tensed his tone and aimed it at Elise. “And you, Elise? What have you done for the past years? Father and I heard of your scavenger hunt. Chasing men, I suppose?”
“That’s where you’re wrong, Cilly.” she put on her shades and drove away. “It’s the men who chase me.”
“I wouldn’t wonder if Father cuts that swine out of the will,” Cillian said. “An irresistible creature with no guilt at all—that’s what she is.”
I couldn’t hold my soft giggle.
“Come on inside, Lilith. Maxwell and Juliette await you at the sitting.”
“Oh yes. He’s been here since dawn.”
My other siblings, Maxwell and Juliette, welcomed me with their flattering smiles. With the solicitor and some tea at the sitting, we went with the customary ways of getting along after centuries of being separated. I was proud of Maxwell as he was now a doctor and to my sister, was saddened upon hearing her recent divorce. Elise later joined but didn’t say a word. She was too busy contemplating me with a smirk.
At a segment of our chatter, my sight dimmed and everyone in the room but me vanished into the air. I peeked at the window and saw day becoming night, winds severing into gales, and the falling snow turning into rain. Confused, I stood and walked about.
A shadowy man emerged from the sitting. His face slowly became clear.
“Daddy!” I screamed with utmost joy and noticed he was seated on one of the red couches, looking rather sick and tired.
I cuddled Daddy, but he didn’t reply as if I was the ghost, not him. I tried moving his arms but could only touch Daddy and even if that was my sole ability in this strange scenario, he couldn’t feel any sensation.
I then jerked and went to a far corner seeing he had a pistol in his right hand.
"Daddy?” said a lass. She entered the sitting holding a stuffed unicorn. It made me smile as that girl was my younger self. Another girl walked in. It was young Elly. She hid behind my back with a somewhat unhappy expression.
Daddy replied with his cavernous voice: “It's past your bedtime. Why are you both awake?”
“Where’s Mommy?” Elly asked.
Daddy paused to a great extent, and then an outburst of tears wet his cheeks and reddened his eyes.
“She’s gone,” he murmured.
I woke up from what I thought was reverie. Elise and everyone else returned.
At half-past eleven, we gathered for the reading at the round table in Daddy’s study. I recalled the days Daddy would work with his typewriter while I would lie on this very desk, reading a book and listening to Mommy’s violin. We were once a joyous family until Mommy passed. Without her, no music fluttered the air, no energy stimulated the house.
The solicitor coughed.
“Shall we begin?”
“If you’re ready, Mr. Edward,” said Juliette.
Mr. Edward tore the seal off the will’s envelope and commenced the reading. It ended with Cillian inheriting all of Daddy's fortune, properties, and estates. The solicitor also reported to us that Daddy's supposed will was surprisingly changed on behalf of his dire request only a week prior to his death. If it weren't for that, Maxwell and I would originally possess all of what Cillian owned now.
Maxwell placed his fists on the table.
“Poppycock! Father wouldn’t do that.”
“Cillian,” Juliette said calmly, “Did you coax father to do this?”
His reply hung above us for a little while and then made its way out the window and flew with the snowflakes.
Juliette and Maxwell leaped into their defense and argued with Mr. Edward. Elise, however, only had a gaze locked on Mother’s ship bottle displayed atop one of the shelves. I gave no interest in the conflict either, although deeply, I was upset. Cillian was in disbelief too. He was frozen.
“Are you sure about that, Mr. Edward? His signature wasn’t plagiarized, or any sort of that matter? It doesn’t do justice. Especially to Dear Lilith. She did no wrong to deserve this,” said Juliette.
Mr. Edward flung his shoulders.
"It's all perfectly true."
Maxwell knitted his brows on Cillian.
“Now playing the guilty party?”
“Maxy, might that be too harsh?” Juliette tried calming him. “You heard what Cillian said. It’s not his fault. Father did it because he wanted it to happen.”
“He treated Mother and Father as if they were ready to be thrown out to the rubbish,” he sat with a palm on his forehead. “Mother wouldn’t allow this.”
I must confess my brother’s outrage had a few points I could agree with. Cillian, at his young age, was an unruly boy. He was Daddy's favorite as I was Mommy's. Our father even sewed a multi-colored robe just for him.
“What now?” Elise whispered, gnawing her nails. “Murder Cillian?”
“Sometimes I wish to put my dear scalpel against his neck and just slit it open.”
"Gracious, Brother! You're going too far with your inanities," said Juliette.
“What will wounding him gain you?” Elise walked from her chair and halted in between the gap of the doors. “Satisfaction? Anyway, I’ll be heading straight off to London.”
“So, you’re going to skip Father’s funeral just like what you did to Mother’s?” said Maxwell.
Elise tipped her cloche hat and continued her way out.
Maxwell abandoned us inside the room and was followed immediately by my other sister, perhaps to make certain he was alright.
I laid myself on Cillian. He wrapped me in his arm and rubbed my shoulder with eyes on the vast portrait of Daddy in front of us.
“Such a charming, innocent, woman, you are, Miss Lilith.” Mr. Edward tidied the desk. “How come you haven’t married yet?”
“Mother prohibits her unless she’s twenty-six,” said Cillian.
“I see.” He took his suitcase from the floor. “I do wonder why your Father would make a bold move. He often spoke of you to me, so it seems you’re fond of him.”
Ms. Orchid knocked timidly on the doors. We informed her that the reading was finished and since it was, she offered Mr. Edward to have lunch with us, but he couldn't agree because of his appointment with the barber. Ms. Orchid called a carriage for the solicitor instead.
Cillian cupped his chin in the palm of his hand. “I’ll join you in the dining later, Lilith.”
“I’ll be in my bed if you need me.”
“You’re not going to have lunch yet, Mr. Cillian?”
“No, no, Ms. Orchid.”
I wandered about the room for a moment and whilst wandering, I came across Daddy’s furnace. On the black charcoal wood was a torn parchment labeled with two peculiar words: From Elise.
My sight dimmed again.
“Burgundy!” A voice, that of a man, yelled and nearly pushed a scream out of me. It came from behind.
I looked back and a woman with a fine shape, eyes of amber and hair of black, walked into the study. She met me with ignorance and walked through my body as if I was invisible. I recalled the name Burgundy a myriad of times and later remembered it was the nickname of my mother. I was worried about Mommy as she seemed distressed and infuriated.
She continued her way to the mantel of the furnace, unzipped a case, and then brought out her violin.
My father followed.
Mommy ignored him and began playing her violin. She increased the volume of the instrument the more my father spat gibberish at her face.
This response of hers deteriorated Daddy’s patience. Daddy grabbed her instrument and Mommy tried to reach for it but her strength was of no reliability, thus, her violin ended up being fed to the inferno.
Mommy, wailing, collapsed to the carpet and watched the wood of her precious Stradivarius burn into ashes. Daddy was suddenly aware of what his actions had led him to. He froze and stared at Mommy.
“There’s nothing!" my mother yelled. “There’s nothing I can do. It’s all over—it’s done. I’m sorry, but there is nothing I can do.”
Their argument arrived at a minute of calmness.
“This is the last call. You will agree or—"
“Abortion or not, I can't do anything about what I did. It’s better to raise—"
Daddy was maddened. He pulled Mommy from the hair and dragged her out of the study. I wanted to help, but I winded up giving her a mere touch. She was dragged along the hall of the second floor. Young Elly and I, watching them from our room's door, perceived the pleas for mercy from our mother. From the study, I saw Elise bending further, clinging to the door.
We were seen by our Father, but he didn't mind and instead went on with pulling Mommy.
“Look, Lilith!” Elly said and pointed at Mommy.
My younger self gasped.
“Where are they going?” Elly took my hand and delivered ourselves outside the bedroom.
Young me resisted and showed her the time on the clock.
“Come on! It’ll only be awhile. The maids are asleep. They won't catch us.”
Ms. Orchid spoke, snapping me back to reality.
“And you, Lilith? You must be starving.”
I convulsed to a jolt and flashed a smile.
“I’ll be at the dining once I finish cleaning this room. You go ahead.”
I was the earliest to arrive at the table with silence keeping my company.
I suffered in deep thought with fear for Cillian. Witnessing Maxwell and his jarring dialogues left me anxious, however, his words appeared short in genuineness to me.
Elise and Juliette came at half past noon. They were quiet until Juliette sparked a conversation.
“Could Father really want this?”
“He wouldn’t cut us out for fun. That’d be absurd.”
Juliette snared. “You’re one complex lady, aren’t you, sis? Whenever it’s positive, you’re negative about it and vice versa. You deserved to be cut off.”
Juliette paused and looked at the fingers of her right hand.
“Maybe I—Maybe I do too, but Maxwell and Lilith?”
“Cillian’s Father’s favorite child. Do you recall the robe Father gave him?"
"You should be content, sis."
"Who blabbers about the will?"
Elise turned to me.
“About you, Lilith? What are your opinions?”
“You ought to speak more often. Feels like I’m being watched by a ghost.”
From the back doors of the kitchen, Ms. Orchid entered and dusted her apparel.
“Why, where are your brothers?”
“I’ve just lost track of Maxwell. Maybe at the lake. How’s Mr. Edward, Ms. Orchid?” said Juliette.
“Took a long time for the carriage to come. But he’s on his way back to Endbourgh. Hopefully.”
“I was just at the lake,” Elise chimed in. “Neither Maxwell nor Cillian were present there.”
“Room? They're in their room?”
“Cillian,” I said to Juliette.
She launched herself up the stairs. In a matter of seconds echoed a scream trailed with waves of hiccups. It aroused us three.
The three of us went to the second floor. Before Cillian's door was our sister, deeply rooted beside a sculpture of Escamillo from Bizet’s opera. She tried to withdraw but dread remained her intact.
I took a peek at Brother’s room and was paralyzed by drastic shock. Cillian was on the carpet. Tears clouded my vision as I gripped Elise’s dress. In my sorrows were a blend of rage because of Maxwell's presence. I cleared my eyes a dozen times, yet still, there he was, sitting inside with fists clutched on a knife and a shirt now damped with Cillian’s blood.
“Does this make you proud, Brother?” Juliette hissed.
Maxwell had no reply. He trembled.
Ms. Orchid ran to the other room to phone the station.
Elise threw away my grasp and walked down the stairs with poise. I followed her with the slightest pace so as not to be caught.
She weaved herself through the kitchen and traveled to our lake at the back of the hall. She ceased to the fore of the waves and threw snowballs to the water.
I expected to be successful in my approach without her gaining any suspicion, but then she stopped and didn’t say a word.
I went closer to Elise and stood by her. We both looked at our reflections cast on the gentle current.
“You.” she snuffled, “You ought to get back inside, Lilith.”
Her eyes were carmen and her voice was croaky.
I disapproved of my sister’s order and cuddled her in efforts to deliver her warmth and comfort by virtue of the horrendous scene. Seeing Cillian’s body must’ve touched her soft spot.
“No,” she pushed me aside and turned her back on me.
“Go inside now, Lilith,” she said strictly and took out her revolver. “You wouldn’t want to see this.”
I was appalled. I ran to grab it but tripped inches from her.
She pointed the gun at me. “Lilith, inside!”
Her index on the trigger twitched.
“Elly?” My voice quavered.
Elise exhaled and pointed the gun away. She picked up a snowball and shot it at the dense woods.
“I did,” she murmured, “I did it. I knew from the start that Cillian would have everything. I couldn’t hold myself and had to attend the reading. He may be a chimp, but isn’t he the only one who accompanied Father till death? Juliette, I,” she chuckled lowly, “Even you... You... avoided him. I know that Lilith.”
My lips quaked. I threw buckets of snow at her to express my fury. Even if I saw how irked she was, I didn’t stop.
She slowly turned back to me with her gun to my stomach. “You think you’re so innocent, Lilith, just like what people say you are? The woman who cares for everyone? One thing you failed to realize—”
“Is what you hide underneath those gloves of yours.”
I lifted my hands, positioned them before me, and looked at them without awareness of what she spoke of.
“Don’t play dumb.”
She grabbed my wrists as I tried to grapple, yet my grand attempts were impotent against her might. My gloves slid out and there she and I gazed upon what I kept secret from my family for years—my wedding ring.
“Indeed, I knew, and I had to write to Father. You can never stay clear from the papers, Lilith, no matter how discreet you and your duke is.”
I was devoured by an inner consuming blaze and couldn’t help but to drown her in my rage. We pulled each other’s hair, inflicted scratches upon each other’s faces.
We heard the sirens ringing in the front yard and Juliette scouring for us in the house, yet we both ignored them. Then, Elise above my body, a thunderous bang was set off. My lower abdomen burned and fire clustered in it.
Her shadow shook me and repeatedly called my name. Her voice was becoming deeper and blurred.
My sight dimmed for the third time, and probably the last. It transformed into night and was stormy like the first two. I looked to my left and saw our parents covered in mud meters away from us.
Our mother shrieked and shrieked, protecting her stomach while struggling to escape Daddy above her.
"Please! I beg of you," Mommy said breathlessly. "I can't—I can't breathe, Lawrence."
Daddy was deaf. He hurt her at the behest of jealousy and his utmost aggression that worsened until he decided it was time to end Mommy for good. He took out his pistol and aimed it at Mommy but conscience thought better, hence changing his plan. Instead, he dragged Mommy once again and to the wharf he brought her. My Father tied a heavy stone with a rope and tied the other end at Mommy’s feet. After a slight hesitation, however, moments before he disposed of our mother, Daddy realized Mommy was no longer uttering a word nor feeling any pain. She went silent.
"Burgundy?" Daddy whispered, shaking her.
I looked at the Hall—blood still flowing in me—and spotted young Elly and I just staring out the window, watching Daddy lament on Mommy's breast.
We were witnesses to a crime we could’ve attested to. How stupid of me and Elly to stay quiet. If only the sun came and swept away the thunders, we would be at liberty to step outside—blind to fear that cripples.
The curtains of memories furled.
I did my best to have a glimpse at Elise one last time.
“I didn't— I didn’t mean to,” Elise mourned. “Lilith, Lilith, I’m sorry—”
I closed my eyes, and then she spoke: “The ordeal is finished.”
There was stillness… And after that came another bang.