“Bob, I’m sorry to leave this to you.” Barbara whispered the words slowly pausing to take shallow rasping breaths. The clear oxygen tube snaked around her lined face and off to the unit in the corner of the crowded room.

    The small gray-haired man patted the hand gripping the blanket edge. “It’s OK, Barb. With this video, you have taken most of the pressure off me. It will be Sarah handling the disbursements who will get the abuse. I’m just sorry it came to this.”

    “Don’t be. It’s my fault.” She continued with a shadow of her former spark. “I made them. I tried to give them more, but it was never enough. The Bible says you reap what you sow.” She stopped to cough, an ugly rattling sound, and then caught her breath. “I guess I’m a bad gardener.”

    He laughed softly as he touched her again. “Maybe for some of your crops. Others have flourished.”

    The bedroom door eased open and Bob turned at the sound. Debra, the next-door neighbor stuck her head in. She signed silently asking if Barb was asleep. And when Bob looked back at the raised pillows, he realized she was.

    With a final squeeze of her hand, Bob collected his equipment from the bedside table and turned off the overhead light. Stepping out into the hallway, he spoke softly to the young woman. “Give me a call if you need anything.”

    Deb nodded, “It won’t be long now. She’s grown so weak in the last day or two.”

    “I agree. What does hospice say?” Bob drew a deep breath as he listened to the projected timeline. “She might have been hanging on to make the video.”

    With commiserating looks, they each moved to continue their final assignments for Barbara. Deb to provide comfort in the last hours. Bob, the attorney, to record with the county, the video codicil which had been added to her legal documents. The goal was to stave off a possible challenge to the will.

    The porch door slammed as he trudged out of the shadowed house. As he drove away, he glanced back and felt it was brooding while it waited for death.


    The midnight phone call initiated action on many fronts. Newspapers were notified. The legal process began. Invitations were issued to the private memorial and reading of Barb’s will.

    On a day bright and clear, though chilly, the group of people gathered on the back porch of the old house. The view over the fields and flower gardens made it Barb’s favorite spot to sit and relax.

    Bob acted as host of the event and made sure to introduce everyone. Then he sat at a table which held a metal urn and a laptop with external speakers attached. The screen saver, facing the gathering, showed a looping color pattern.

    Clearing his throat, Bob began to read “…the last will and testament of Barbara T. Mattison. Being of sound mind…”

    The small group arranged on metal folding chairs was restless as the legal jargon continued. Barb’s three children looked at around, each pondering how long it would take to put the property on the market and split the proceeds. Their attention snapped back to the present at the attorney’s next comment.

    “Before I read the actual disbursements named in the will, I am going to play the codicil Mrs. Mattison recorded a few days ago, just before her death.” As he started to reach around the computer to press a key, a fracas ensued.

    “Is that legal?” Julia, the eldest asked. “I thought codicils were addendums placed at the end of wills.”

    “How can something recorded right before death fall into the ‘sound mind’ category?” Lyle said. He was the youngest and most spoiled of the children. “She must’ve been on a ton of drugs…painkillers at the end.”

    Bob answered in a calm voice. “The addition only adds clarification. It doesn’t change the actual will which was written more than ten years ago and updated last week.”

    The middle child, Carl spoke up. “Just get on with it.” He shifted in his chair and took a swig out of the can of soda he held.

    Pressing enter, the screen saver dissolved into a scene from Barb’s bedroom. She stared at the camera, a pale almost translucent face with eyes burning into the audience. The shot panned in closer to better capture her words as she slowly spoke. Each syllable measured. “Thank you for coming. I should have held a practice funeral a while ago since it appears to be the only way to get you to visit.” The siblings squirmed in their seats, darting quick glances at the non-family members present.

    Barb coughed and an off-camera hand passed her several tissues which she pressed to her mouth. She continued in a whisper. “I raised you and I am partly responsible for your life choices. I wanted you to have more than I did, so I bought you things. Fixed things.” She struggled through several breaths. “I also can’t take all of the blame. I want you to know your bequests will be given in relation to when you last came to see me without a demand. I didn’t ask for much but I wasn’t a cash register. Remember that in the future.” The date stamped video ended with another spell of coughing. Bob closed the computer lid.

    “What the hell does that mean?” Lyle shouted.

    “It means you always had your hand out,” Carl responded. “And she didn’t like it.”

    “Be quiet, both of you.”  Julia sat with a rigid face as she stared at the metal container which she felt was staring back. She dreaded the next words the lawyer would speak. Apparently, their mother had not felt the need to warmly embrace her family at the end.

    Looking over his reading glasses, Bob continued. “To each of my children, I leave a cash sum of $10,000 to be given on a schedule. Julia will receive her money in seven years. Carl in eight. And Lyle must wait a full ten years before he gets a check.”

    “My neighbor and part time caretaker, Debra Skillings will receive the bulk of the remaining cash. The Ag Stewardship Land Trust will receive the real estate holdings including the household possessions. Sarah Knighton from the Bank and Trust Company will oversee the disbursements as executor and will work with Robert Waddington, Esq, until the estate is fully settled.” Bob folded the document and returned it to the manila envelope lying on the table.

    Three sets of eyes swiveled to pin the major beneficiary with their laser focus. The younger woman sat quietly in her worn fleece jacket, a shocked expression on her face. In the next breath, chaos erupted as a wall of sound.

    “How could she do this? We are her heirs!”

    “This can’t be legal.”

    The loudest sound rose from Lyle. “You manipulative SOB, you preyed on an old woman. Twisted her around your finger and cut her real family out of her life.” As he was shouting, he surged up to tower over the woman shrinking into her chair.

    “Stop it.” Bob spoke calmly from his seat while he motioned to the door. A sheriff deputy stepped out onto the porch. “I think you all need to take a breath while I explain the final instructions of Mrs. Mattison’s estate.”

    The group stared at the uniformed deputy who stood, in his mirrored sunglasses, staring back.

    “As per her request, the locks and security codes were changed on all of the buildings upon her death. A box of personal items, chosen for each of you, is currently sitting on the front walkway. Please take yours when you leave.” He paused and then continued. “Before you think about banding together and wasting money to challenge the will, please know Mrs. Mattison underwent a cognitive mental acuity test less than a week before she died, and she passed.” Bob looked around the porch at each guest. “You won’t succeed.”

    The shocked silence lay heavily on the group.

    “But we…I…was counting on that money.” Julia gripped the strap of her designer purse. Her white knuckles showed her agitation. “How will I pay the college tuition for the kids this year?”

    Lyle scoffed, “Tell’im to get loans. That’s what most kids do.”

    Carl sat stone-like. His soda can dribbling as it slipped from his nerveless fingers. “I can’t believe it. This has been Mattison land for almost a hundred years and she is giving it away.”

    “It will be conserved and protected from future development. The land trust may use the house for rental income for future preservation or it can house a family which farms the land.”

    “I still can’t believe this is legal.”

    Bob looked at each of them and said, “It is. Your mother frequently quoted your grandmother to me. ‘You can’t take all of the credit for how your kids turned out. But you can’t take all the blame either.’” He stood and said, “You are all adults. You have jobs and lives. Your mother was not obligated to leave you anything, no matter what you wished for. She cared for you when you were young, but you gave her no support or respect. She decided to reward the people and things which brought her joy.”

    The deputy escorted each of Barb’s children out to their vehicle, picking up their box on the way.

    Bob stopped Deb as she prepared to leave. “While the land trust is getting the contents of the house, if there is anything you would like, I am authorized to give it to you.”

    “No, thank you, sir.” Deb shook her head. “I have the pictures we took in the garden last year. And Barb already shared some of her plants with me.”

    “Then will you help me with her final request?” Bob picked up the urn and the two stepped down off the porch. “She told me how you used to come over as a little girl and visit.”

    Deb smiled, “Yeah, her kids were just out of the nest, off to school or marriage. I think she was lonely.” She thought a minute. “And I missed my grandma. It was nice having someone to talk with who wasn’t yelling at my brothers or the dogs like my mom.”

    Walking across the lawn, the pair headed toward the Japanese maple which was Barb’s pride and joy. It’s feathered red leaves shaking in the breeze.

    “She taught me things and encouraged me to try hard in school.” Deb wiped at the tears flowing down her cheeks. “She wanted me to be better.

    “Valuable lessons,” Bob said as he opened the top of the container and began to sprinkle the contents around the tree. “Too bad her own kids couldn’t learn them.”


September 04, 2020 23:45

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A K Woodhouse
04:47 Sep 10, 2020

Sandy, this a powerful story. The description from the outset is confident: I like how the oxygen tubes snake around her face. The children’s reaction to the will is strong too. I liked the interaction between their characters. The only very small suggestion I have is that when the children were escorted out by the deputy, it felt a little abrupt. Even just a line or two more would bridge that section to the ending of the story a little more smoothly. Otherwise this is a lovely story told beautifully x


Sandy Buxton
18:04 Sep 10, 2020

Thank you, Ann...I will have to think on that. While I wasn't going for shock and awe, I did want it to be no nonsense. Thnx.


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