“Your tea, Mr. Fletcher.”
I gazed up from the blurry pieces of paper on which I began to pen down my will. “Thank you Jenna.” I beamed at her round glassy-eyed face.
“And your glasses.” She gingerly set them down beside the tray of morning milk biscuits.
“Ah yes…I knew I was missing something.” Despite being hired just as a part-time house help over the years, Jenna had become somewhat my daughter.
“Now you finish all o’ that breakfast, ya hear?” She fixed her wavy black hair into a casual bun above her head. “I’ll be goin’ out in a half-hour…I have a class at the training hospital. Call me if you need anything.”
“Yup…just two more months and you’ll have your nurse qualifications right?”
“Yeah…I’m so excited! We are so taking a weekend vacation when I get my first salary…I know you’ve always wanted to visit the cathedral up-town.”
“Alright dear,” I chuckled. Being a retired architect, I had always wished to go touring monuments especially Dutch colonial designs. Jenna knew I loved those and I had taught her a thing or two about architecture as well. I had lost all my inspiration when I lost Anne but Jenna had kept me together and hopeful. She turned towards the door.
“Breakfast—getting cold!” She exclaimed, pointing towards the tray before exiting the room.
Jenna was an orphaned twenty-four year old nurse-in-training who used whatever earnings she gained from being a house help to pay her tuition fees. She was my sunshine child and I was the closest to a father figure she’d ever had. I must definitely leave her something. I knew my children wouldn’t approve of it but I couldn’t just leave her empty-handed now that she was such a huge part of my life.
I hadn’t told anyone I had begun my will but the Doc had said I only had about six months left. It was time for me to accept that the tumours were getting progressively larger and I was losing the battle against lung cancer. It was best if I used this time to get all my affairs in order. This was still a secret, of course as I hadn’t been able to break the news to my family. I was too afraid of seeing Jenna’s smile falter when she would find out. And I had no idea how either of my two sons would react. But it would happen soon. Well, I can’t buy time forever.
I put on my glasses and took a sip of the honey and ginger tea I didn’t really like but I needed. Still too hot. I returned my thoughts to the tragedy before me in the form of paper on my desk. Okay…so property, car, heirloom watch, bank savings, pension—and what else? I began making a rough list of all my possessions of worth. I’ll figure out what goes to whom later.
“Hey Dad.” My sleepy headed son strolled into the room haphazardly ruffling his light blonde hair with one hand and munching through a sandwich in the other. “Claire just made sandwiches so—” He stared at the tray on my table and swallowed the morsel in his mouth. “Oh I see you got your breakfast already.” He acknowledged coldly. “Anyway whatcha doin’?” He peeked around my back at my papers.
“Just writing son.”
He furrowed his eyebrows. “Well I’m off to work—I’m taking the car okay…don’t feel like walking to the taxi stand today.”
“Alright.” I wheezed, choking on a half-swallowed biscuit.
“Oh and Dad?”
“Yes son?” I coughed.
“Tomorrow I’m getting my salary so Claire and I are going out for dinner—and we’re planning to take a week off on vacation somewhere.” He muttered under his breath looking around the hallway. “You know how Claire is—always nagging me about two years we’ve been together and no romantic trip yet.” He rolled his eyes playfully. “I’ll see you later then.” He nodded towards me.
I hadn’t really absorbed any of what Samuel said as my mind was latched on getting the biscuit out of my throat. Fits of hacking coughs overwhelmed me before it emerged. Great, it’s out. One of the great accomplishments in my old age was figuring out how to stop choking over any kind of food. It usually exacerbated my pre-existing cough.
Okay—the will. I realised I was trying to postpone writing the tragedy as much as possible. I reached for the glass of water hearing Claire’s morning tantrums. “Finally, a vacation. It was about time—I thought we’d have to stick around the old man forever!”
“Hush Claire, he’s up!” Samuel warned.
“So what…it’s my freedom of speech, let him hear whatever I say—it’s not even like I’m hurting his feelings because he’s never liked me,” she rebuked. “Two years of my life in this family and all he’s given me is that hideous necklace your mother probably wanted to get rid of.”
I felt the goosebumps come as cold chills ran down my spine. Anne cherished that heirloom necklace. Before her death, she had specifically instructed me to give it to the girl Samuel would marry. “I know I won’t be there to give it to her myself,” she had lamented.
But we were fairly simple folk. Claire was a product of refined, wealthy socialites whom I had given up trying to match. I felt uncontrollably guilty now. I really should have given Claire more attention so she would have felt accepted into the family but I had just received my stage two cancer diagnosis then. And perhaps I was selfish but I was struggling to pay for my chemo sessions and radiotherapy. I just never thought of celebrating Claire’s arrival until it was too late.
My head was spinning. I needed to clear my mind outside. And what am I going to do about this will?
I slurped the last of the now-cold tea outside on the garden bench. I became reasonably self-composed but decided it was better to wait until Claire’s grumbling was over. Alright, Samuel and Claire would definitely need the car most. The heirloom watch should go to Samuel, my first son. But what about Daniel? My second son was still studying abroad and very rarely contacted me over the last year or so. Calls went unanswered and messages ignored. He was one of my recurring causes for concern. How am I going to split the property between two sons? And something for Jenna.
I knew Anne would have been much better able to handle this and I really missed her at judgement-call times like these. I reverted my attention back to the house. Silence. I decided it must be safe enough to return now. I clambered up the stairs into the hallway. Empty. Where are they? I heard the sound of water gushing from the upstairs bathroom. Well, Jenna hadn’t left yet.
I turned the corner to my room to find the screen door left ajar.
“Let him come—just let him come,” Claire snarled.
“Claire,” Samuel said nudging towards me at the door. I froze seeing Samuel standing grimly beside my bed and Claire sitting at my desk holding what seemed to be—the will.
She rose slowly. “I knew it…I just knew it!” She exploded, waving the paper frantically in the air. “You’re writing a will in secret so we don’t inherit anything! Wh—Why are you so against us?” She crumpled back into the chair. “It’s me…he’s never liked me,” she sobbed.
I searched Samuel’s stony eyes. “Please son, I never—”
“Dad. I asked what it was.” He stated quietly. “Why would you hide it from me if you were planning to leave something in our names?”
I shook my head. “No son. I just needed more time to think it out. Everything just happened too fast. I—”
“Excuses,” Claire blurted. “All excuses. You had a bucketload of reasons not to celebrate our wedding.”
She turned to face Samuel. “And—and we’ve done so much for him.” She eyed me with disgust. “We don’t have any great desire to come visit you. But we still do.” She huffed, “He’s probably planning to gift that Jennie the entire house.”
I felt resigned now. “Her name is Jenna and she does a lot for this house—with minimal pay,” I added.
“And I don’t?” Claire snapped.
“Oh please Dad.” Samuel looked hurt and finally made an outburst. “You—you’ve never cared about us at all!” He asserted. “So you can keep all your property—we’re leaving!”
“But son,” I exhaled. There was a stinging pain at the back of my head. A wave of nausea filled my body.
“Wait so you made me come here just to leave…why did I get married into this family?” Claire planted her face into her palms.
I clutched my forehead. The headache had translated throughout my skull into a dull throbbing pain. Suddenly, the world was spiralling. I faintly heard Jenna’s hurried steps down the stairs. “Wh—what’s going on?” She looked from me to Samuel and Claire. “Why is there so much screaming?”
“Why don’t you ask your dear Mr. Fletcher?” Claire mocked.
This is it. I didn’t really recall hearing much of the argument that followed but the last thing I saw was the will ripped into bits fluttering down from Claire’s hands. The lights in my head switched off and I collapsed onto the floor.
“Mr. Fletcher!” Jenna’s shriek behind me pounded into my ears before I passed out.