To be published in February 2018 by 1932 Quarterly

“Who’s Rick?” Alicia holds up a fist-sized pewter whale breaching gracefully from a block of varnished wood.

Jerry looks up from where he is awkwardly packing a teapot into a box of their mother’s china. “Beats me, Cissy. I don’t know any Ricks. Why?”

“He seems to have signed Mum’s whale.” She holds the whale up so her brother can see the “Souvenir of Cape Cod’ on the front of the block, then turns it over. “On the bottom,” she says, “it reads ‘For Helen. Love, Rick.’”

“I’ll be damned. She had a lover?”

“Easy, bro. We don’t know that. It could be just someone at the church. She helped a lot of people.”

“Sure. Or maybe that’s why she’d wanted to clear those shelves herself.”

They hadn’t expected to be emptying her house today. A week ago, Alicia remembers, Mum seemed hale and hearty. Her zaftig Scandinavian frame had changed little in the four decades since the divorce. At 70, she was still a pretty woman; thanks to her hairdresser, still a redhead. At the funeral, their father – God knows why he came — looked ten years older, and Judith, the younger, hourglass-shapely woman for whom he left Mum, had become an overweight train wreck.

Mum said at their Christmas gathering that she ought to pack up some of the bric-a-brac that lined shelves throughout the little house. “I don’t want to leave you all with that burden,” she said. “I’m going to downsize, sell the house and move into that new retirement community the church is building.”

The heart attack came before she’d even started.

Today it almost seems she is still here: the house is faintly redolent of her famous beef bourguignon, which she made in big batches and froze into meal-size containers to thaw and reheat in the microwave. Earlier, packing her down comforter, the feel of the satin cover reminded Alicia of tucking Mum in for an afternoon nap in her later years, giving her a kiss on the forehead and tiptoeing away.

Come back to read the rest in February when I get the copyright back


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