His job was boring. Paid well, but boring. But sometimes the people could be interesting. He peeked out at the waiting room at his 3 pm appointment. She was early, arrived at 2:25 pm.
She wasn’t much. His receptionist said she had been almost impossible to hear on the phone.
Her clothes were wrong. Borrowed, maybe, but no, they seemed too new. Stiff, black, with a high collar. She hunkered down in them, legs pressed primly together. She had attempted a tight bun but it hung like a limp topknot in a halo of soft grey whisps.
People always thought they had to dress up for law offices. It had occasionally led to some unique wardrobes, such as fluorescent green heels, a super short pink lace skirt, and an extremely sequined Christmas sweater.
She was also mumbling. It didn’t (he had learned) necessarily mean she was crazy. She could just be rehearsing.
He turned off his music, turned the air conditioner down, and let Abigail know to wave her in.
Mrs. Charlene June Liskey was very quiet, even with the air conditioner off. She shook his hand, then sat down, tight in her foreign clothes. She just looked at him for a few moments, her fingers worrying holes into her apricot silk scarf.
That’s alright, he was paid by time.
“You’re not from Brennan, are you, Mr. Scott?”
“Or related to the Brixbys? The red hair. Aaron Brixby, he has hair like yours, except his is a little brighter?”
“I’ve never met any of them.”
She sighed and settled, “I want to make My Will.”
“Certainly,” he got his notes ready, “first your full legal name, as well as any other aliases you have been known by, maiden name, etc.”
“Charlene June Liskey. My maiden name was Marrel, with two r’s, only one l. A lot of people called me Charlie. I don’t, I don’t like Charlie,” She was a bit louder now, “Grandma June is better. I’ve always liked June.”
“And your assets? What you own? Your property?”
She was relatively well-off. She didn’t seem to know she was rich. She could be doing a lot more.
Widowed, two sons, one with a girlfriend, nephews, and cousins, grandkids. The one son, girlfriend, and three grandkids lived at her house. She talked of them quietly. She did not look at him. She kept her eyes on the scarf in her lap and her fingers worrying in it again.
And what was she leaving them?
She straightened up and fixed her eyes on him, “Nothing.”
She nodded. “Nothing,” she repeated.
He sat back. He almost whistled, but remembered that he was a lawyer, in his fancy office, that played jazz music when his clients were around and country after hours, and he was wearing his tie. And his tie only goes with his serious face.
He needs to be serious. He also now will need proof that she is in the right state of mind. An official document. But it wouldn’t hurt to poke more into it.
“Who do you want to give it to?”
“I don’t know,” she said. “I like art and libraries. And gardens…I love gardens.”
He sighed. He knew he was expensive. He hadn’t expected this much dithering. It wasn’t right for him to take advantage.
“Ma’am, a will like that can’t stand without reasons.”
“But it’s my will.”
“They won’t like it.”
“Of course, they won’t. But it won’t matter. I’ll be dead. I wouldn’t have to listen to them anymore.”
“Ma’am, may I ask why?”
She looked down again and shuddered. She raised her head again and her cheeks were wet. “They took out my rosebush. My yellow rosebush. They burned it,” She wiped at her eyes before he could hand her a tissue. “My great grandmother planted it. Did you know that yellow roses mean friendship? But he destroyed it. Because it pricked him. Because it was old-fashioned.”
She sniffled. A little rabbit sniffle, almost invisible. “Roses are supposed to prick. They’re supposed to have thorns so they can protect themselves. So, they can stay safe and beautiful.”
“You could sue him, destruction of private property, historical and emotional significance.”
She shook her head, frightened, and ducked into her tall collar. “He’s my son. I can’t.”
“That doesn’t give him an excuse.”
“It’s because I was a bad mother. That’s what they say, you don’t raise your kids right and they won’t ever leave. And he didn’t even throw it out. If he had, I could have gotten a cutting, kept it behind my bed on the porch. But it’s all gone.”
Mrs. Charlene June Liskey, he realized, had been raised on the principle of “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all,” and until the roses burned, she had followed it almost completely.
She had heard “no” a million times, said it maybe only ten. After all, she learned it didn’t matter. Her son, John, and his girlfriend just showed up for a visit and never left. They threw out her nightgowns out to make room for their clothes. Her medications got buried behind lipsticks and mascaras strewn all over the counter. They stayed up until 11 am, blaring the TV, and arguing with all the lights on. She moved her mattress to the porch and still didn’t sleep well. She had talked. They didn’t listen. She shut up.
“You sound miserable. I can help you evict him.”
She shook her head, “But then I’d have to live with what they’d say. It would be worse. They’d, they’d say I was a b-word. He says that now, but then they would say it, the people at the library and the café, everyone. It’s not something a nice person would do.”
“Then, why don’t you leave?”
“I can’t. It’s my home.” But the rosebush was gone. “And they’d find me. They always do when they want money.”
His courses had covered tax evasion (it’s bad, complicated, don’t do it, don’t let clients do it), they had never covered runaway grandmas.
“You could change your name,” he said. She had no debt. It was unusual, sure, but he could make it legal. And this job was finally interesting again, “And you have enough money for another house.”
“But people might worry.”
“Tell them you’re going on vacation, rediscovering yourself. I’ll write to the police chief, let him know you’re missing on purpose and not to break your privacy. Don’t wait until you’re dead to be happy, Ma’am.”
She smiled, nodded.
The Will of the former Mrs. Charlene June Lixby sits in his file cabinet. It’s been attested to by Troy, the nice young man who works at the café next door. He hopes he won’t have to use it soon.
Ms. June Rose sends him registered letters from random places all over the country. She is looking for places and people to add to her will. There’s a garden down in Oklahoma, a little crochet place in Ohio, a librarian in Arkansas, a young teacher in Indiana. Troy gets some as well.
Her son hasn’t looked for her. He’s still spending her money. Mr. Scott puts a limit on the card and keeps a close record. He does look forward to the boy realizing he’s already spent all of his inheritance.
In the meantime, Ms. June Rose lives in a small blue house. She has a bed in a bedroom with windows that close and she goes to sleep whenever she chooses. She is growing yellow roses beside her door. Troy found them for her. They’re small right now, but if love really makes things grow, they’ll be fine.