The Estate

“Come and get it!” Jill calls out as she clangs the metal triangle that hangs from a rafter of the front porch with a metal wand. “Come and get it!”

The adults are congregated in the front yard where they cluster in small groups and confabulate on family issues and topics with the usual gotcha and told-you-so tossed in for jest. Their constant bickering and petty rivalries are probably the only family bonds left among them. Most of them are dressed in new, designer jeans and sneakers except for Ted, who always wears a dress shirt, tie and a sport jacket and William, who always wears sandals and cargo shorts no matter the weather or occasion. Since the family gathering is also a memorial dinner, being clean and groomed is commendable and I should give them that much. Otherwise, they are a coarse and unhappy lot, doomed to their ways.

The front yard is being used for the memorial dinner not just because it is a conspicuous place easily seen from the road and still far enough away from the house, but also because the backyard is overgrown with ivy and weeds from years of neglect. The only thing left in the backyard is the squalid remains of an aboveground pool that had been built on the hope that it would entice the younger family members to come and visit more often. The pool should have been drained and dismantled, along with its weathered decking, a long time ago and all of it should have been hauled off to the dump. But no one in the family had deigned to do such a menial and degrading chore, so the eyesore remains with just a flimsy sheet of plastic covering its putrid water.

Uncle Gerald would have enjoyed the family gathering, but he is dead and has been relegated to a post mortem position of guest of honor. A position as Stan would quip would not have been bestowed on him had he been alive. Uncle Gerald was the last of the older generation of the Lynch family and, unlike his departed brothers and sisters, never married and had chosen to stay on the farm. He ended up, as expected, nothing more that a country bumpkin and as Stan would joke his corn wouldn’t always pop. Uncle Gerald had been unknowingly buried and forgotten a long time before his death by this new generation who considered themselves savvy and sophisticated though, unbeknown to them, in spite of all their pretentious airs and designer clothes, were nothing more than country bumpkins too. Since Uncle Gerald never married and was childless, his siblings’ families had become his surrogate family, which meant he didn’t have much of a family at all. Visits from nephews and nieces were few and far between and there were many special occasions that went unannounced to him. Uncle Gerald did have the farmhouse and a few remaining acres plotted right in the midst of a sprawling suburbia. So there was that which finally gives Uncle Gerald the respect and attention of the family.

Uncle Gerald’s Last Will and Testament was a hand written document and, being a country bumpkin void of affectations, simply left everything to his nephews and nieces in equal shares. He had lived long enough to come around and reconcile with his own brothers and sisters, so he had felt that leaving what he had in equal shares to their children would be a fitting gesture of familial love and duty. He had chosen Cindy many years ago when he had all his marbles to be the executor of his estate. He chose Cindy because he found her unpretentious and had always been pleasant and upfront with him and, not being married herself, would not be bothered by all the fuss and ruckus of family ties.

No one was really sure why Jill, Cindy’s older sister, was given the executor slot there at the very end of Uncle Gerald’s life. Jill is, of course, another of Uncle Gerald’s nieces and did go out of her way many times to tend to Uncle Gerald while on his deathbed. The other family members took those visits as sort of a community act of commiseration on their behalf that their otherwise busy lives kept them from making and, after all, Jill had that scribbled codicil in Uncle Gerald’s feeble hand with an ‘X’ signature on it. ‘That Ouija board X’ as Stan would call it that removed Cindy and replaced her with Jill. It seemed authentic and was witnessed by Jake, an old, hobbled bloke, who was a part-time carpenter and fulltime transient. Jake had done odd jobs for Uncle Gerald during his stopovers on his way north for the summer and got cornered by Jill to witness the codicil signing just as the Northern Express was tooting its horn. It goes without saying, though, that Jake is gone now and not around to answer any questions about the codicil signing. All this suits Jake just fine, as he wanted to get as far away as he could from that ‘whole can of worms’ those city folks were getting themselves into. In a way, the other family members were all relieved that Cindy wasn’t the executor. Cindy owned and operated a restaurant downtown that catered to an array of cliquish townsfolk, bohemians, and intransient laborers whose boisterous obnoxiousness bellowed out onto the street until late at night. That was enough to give Cindy aloofness and conceit that the other family members grumblingly detested. Jill, on the other hand, was one of them with more to their liking.

The whole awkward situation over the last-minute codicil came to a head that afternoon in the kitchen when Cindy quipped that perhaps with the inheritance, Reggie, Jill’s husband, could pay off his bar tab at her restaurant. This came up right after Reggie had given Cindy one of his overly mushy and repulsive bear hugs he was known for and that nobody, particularly Jill, liked. He had felt that it was necessary at that time to smooth over whatever ruffled feathers Cindy may have had and, after all, he was practically the head of the family now and felt there shouldn’t be any hard feelings between them all. It was right after Cindy pried herself free of his embrace that she broached the bar tab issue. Jill bristled at such an insinuation and, in a haughty tone that was her wont when threatened, retaliated by lambasting Cindy with a litany of verbal accusations including how it was just sour grapes on her part and how she should just grow up and move on and, after all, for Cindy’s information, Uncle Gerald had grave concerns about Cindy’s financial ‘predicament’ that he somehow heard about from a friend that will go nameless. Jill ended her rant by calling Cindy a snob saying she should come down off that high and mighty horse and join the rest of them and then concluded that Cindy should kindly keep her paws off of her husband. As always, Cindy remained undaunted by Jill’s theatrics, and once given the opportunity to speak was able to ask curtly and with a smirk if Jill needed the key to Uncle Gerald’s safe-deposit box. Jill pooh-poohed the offer, as Reggie had already had the bank drill the box open and, for Cindy’s information, there was nothing in it.

In the center of the front lawn runs a long makeshift table that had been set up out of wood planks and sawhorses and extended by a few wobbly card tables all now covered by an assortment of flowery, vinyl tablecloths. An assortment of folding and patio chairs encircles the line of tables. Running the center of the table is an olio of dishes and bowls the families had brought for the buffet dinner. Jill, always the fussy hostess, makes the rounds and tells everyone that she knows they all must be ravenously hungry and entreats them all to go to the tables and settle down and eat before everything gets cold. Some of the adults begin to drift toward the dining area while others linger behind in conversation.

After further prodding from Jill, the last of the stragglers mosey over to the dining area. A few canines that were brought, though not invited, swarm about the feet of the queuing adults as they dish up their chow. The Lynch bloodline of big heads and scowling faces easily stands out from the in-laws gathering around the table. This abnormality is especially apparent in the three sisters, Jill, Chris, and Cindy. Chris is the middle-child and the compulsive worrywart of the three and busies herself trying to locate her only child, Alex, who she hasn’t seen for some time. Alex is Chris’ miracle child, as Chris wasn’t supposed to have children given health problems, but she gave birth to him six years ago. She named him Alex because it sounded intelligent and there were no family names she really liked.


“I’m getting a horsey, I’m getting a horsey,” Jill’s youngest child, Missy, sings out in a frivolous taunt as she prances about in her starchy new coveralls. “And you’re not, Alex Rudemeyer, ‘cause you’re a retard.”

Alex and Chad sit scrunched together on the stump of a sawed-off tree, sharing the buttery layers of a dinner roll. Alex offers Missy some of the roll and she stops her taunting, peels off a section, and stuffs it into her mouth. Both Missy and Alex have scrawny physiques with extra large heads. After eating the morsel, Missy clumsily leans over and places a big, mushy kiss on Alex’s mouth as her tiny fingers squeeze hold of his cheeks so she wouldn’t tumble over on him. Gradually, the other children begin to converge about the tree stump. Duff, who is built like a bully, but is a sissy at heart, oafishly strolls out to join the others. Then there is a flurry of commotion of Baldwin chasing Aaron about the area in a wild, catch-me-if-you-can romp. Aaron suddenly stops his crazed zigzagging and dodging right in front of Alex and, with a scowl on his face, snatches the last piece of dinner roll from Alex’s fingers and stuffs into his mouth. Celeste and Kari slip quietly in behind the boys to see what will happen next. Celeste is tall and shy and Kari is short and animated. Aaron shows Alex his mouth full of gook and begins laughing and then they all laugh.

All the kids are dressed from head to toe in brand new clothes just like their parents, except for Celeste and Baldwin, who wear faded shorts and sandals. It is odd to see such new wardrobes this early in the summer when new clothes are normally bought the opening of school a month or so away. The only cousin left out of the gaggle is Reggie Jr., the oldest of the youngsters, who is within earshot, but who chooses to be alone and brood about in the woods with his hands in his pockets and crudely spitting at the ground as he paces and listens to the other children. He is fifteen and at this age he feels he doesn’t fit in with either the children or the adults. Aaron senses the younger Reggie’s vulnerability and abruptly charges out toward him and chases him off, wielding a stick, hollering at him to get lost, and calling him a “freak”. Apparently, grudges begin early in the Lynch family and Aaron, three years younger than Reggie Jr., must have had a beef with the senior cousin to make such a bold foray. Kari quickly intervenes, scolding Aaron for picking on Reggie Jr., telling him to leave Reggie Jr. alone and to mind his own business. It is a standoff, with Kari, arms akimbo and a sneer on her lips, getting right in Aaron’s face with only Aaron’s manly etiquette keeping him from pouncing on her and wrestling her to the ground. The other children try figuring who will do what next and whose side they should be on. After all, life for them is still full of surprises and anything could happen. Chad coyly pulls the bottom of his shirt up over his nose like a bandit bandanna to hide his amusement over the whole who’s-going-to-get-what thing that is going on.

It is Celeste who finally intervenes, suggesting that they all play hide and seek. Her suggestion quickly captures everyone’s imagination and defuses the awkward standoff. After all, the children figure it’s better playing hide and seek than divvying up sides in a dispute or answering their parents’ incessant calls to come to dinner. The problem, though, is who is going to be “It” first. There are a number of ways of going about choosing who would be “It” first, some fair and, of course, some not fair. Whoever is chosen first has to be someone the others will want to hide from, but also a person clever enough to actually track them down and find them. Chad, Alex, and Missy are too young to start things off. Duff would need someone to assist him. Aaron and Baldwin would definitely want to seek each other out first, abandoning the others and ruining the whole thing. Celeste or Kari might do, but their hearts are already set on hiding and they each have a perfect spot already picked out. It was Reggie Jr. who volunteered to be “It” first as he strolls into the midst of the gathering. He would be perfect. Aaron wants to go over the rules first, but Reggie Jr. closes his eyes and begins counting out loud. There is no time for rules and it quickly dawns on everyone that it is time to scatter and hide.

The children stampede passed the dining adults screaming and hollering as though chased by a scary monster. Missy pauses a moment in bewilderment and then dashes off after Celeste and Kari across the driveway and disappears behind a hedgerow.

The adults are relieved that the children are getting along so well. Jill points Alex out to Chris and assures her not to worry because Alex is doing just fine and she should dish up some food for her husband, Stan, and join him there at the table to eat.

Stan is Chris’ husband for ten years and has been consigned to a wheelchair after a careless accident that left him a paraplegic. He is a jocular sort for an invalid and spends most of his time on the Internet or at the shopping mall. Stan has already wheeled himself up to the table and is joshing with William. William has his long, oily hair combed back into a ponytail and busies himself dishing out food and opining on sports. William has a big head and constantly cricks his neck when he speaks. This nervous tic, which he does even in his sleep, has worsen over the years just as his gambling debt has and he fears that one day something will slip and his wife, Sheila, will find out just how terribly in debt they are. He hopes that the proceeds from the estate will be enough pay off the debt and get him back in good graces. Sheila sits across from William and dishes out some soggy salad as she tells Remy Johnson, a neighbor of Uncle Gerald, how she and William will use whatever they get from the estate for home improvements and their children’s education.

Ted sits next to William and, for the most part, keeps to himself except when he asks for food to be passed his way. Ted has a big head and an Errol Flynn-like mustache atop his vitriolic scowl. His wife had suddenly taken ill again and did not attend, so he is left alone to quietly listen to the chatter while he somberly nurses a scotch and soda and tries to figure out how to keep the actual amount of the inheritance a secret from his wife. Ted wants to lean over and ask his cousin Tommy what he thought the estate was worth, but Tommy abruptly swivels away to boisterously ask Jill, who is standing behind him, why they all aren’t eating in Uncle Gerald’s huge dining room. Jill lets out a loud cackle as though Tommy is joking and retorts that the family would only mess the place up. Next to Tommy is his wife, Molly, who is from old money and quite bored with the whole affair. Molly was a forsaken woman went she met Tommy as she had just broken up with a beau whom she loved very much, but who treated her badly. Tommy was attentive and loquacious at the time and the two hitched up and married. She took to drinking after that, not because of Tommy’s carousing, which doesn’t bother her anymore, but because a sorrowful regret for not having had the courage back then to run off with that other cad that she did love.

Jill busies herself as she circles the table making sure everyone is properly settled in with plenty of food and drink. It is important that everyone is situated as Jill and Reggie have some unfinished business to take care of in the house and Reggie has already headed off toward the front porch. Jill finds an empty chair and sits and asks everyone to join her in saying grace. William has his mouth full of food and has to suffer through the blessing of the family, good health and prosperity and, of course, a special prayer for Uncle Gerald before he can continue his chewing. Jill reeled off her thankful platitudes as she silently cursed William for showing up early that afternoon and unleashing his unruly children in the house and disrupting her from finishing up the work she needed to do. Jill finishes grace and the gathering gives a group amen and commends Jill on her devout ways and how good the food looks then they go back to eating and drinking. Jill assists in passing the food around as she explains to whoever would listen that she needs to go and attend to Reggie’s left shoulder that had been bruised somehow earlier on that day. She finally is able to excuse herself graciously and goes to join Reggie on the porch where the two quietly slip into the house.

The house is an old, two-story box-style farmhouse with antiquated furnishings and yellowish lace curtains that reeked from Uncle Gerald’s cigar smoke. To the left of the entryway is the parlor with frosted glass shaded lamps resting on curve legged rosewood tables and a pair of wingback upholstered chairs. Straight down the darken hallway is the large octagonal dining room with its draped French doors that lead out to the backyard. Skirting the hallway is a flight of varnished stairs with a thick and faded brocade runner centered on them that leads to the upstairs.

“Let’s get on with this,” Jill presses anxiously, which is her wont when she is distressed. “The only thing left is that box, which I could have been taken care of this afternoon if my dumb cousin and his brats hadn’t shown up so soon. He should’ve stayed and viewed the body with the others,” Jill nervously grumbles as the two slowly ascend the stairs. “What an ass! Sheila should poison that fool and do us all a favor. Are you sure everybody is out of the house?” she warily asks Reggie as they reach the top of the staircase.

A narrow, dim hallway enclosed by shut doors divides the upstairs. At the end of the hallway is a large, high-ceilinged bedroom with drawn shades, lit only by an old chandelier hung in the center of the room. The room has a mildew odor and is meagerly furnished with just a bureau with a leaded mirror and a porcelain washbowl atop it and a four-post bed covered by an oversized paisley bedspread of rust and gold that is draped over it. There is a closet door with a facetted glass doorknob. In the musty closet, on the floor behind a dresser is a shoebox. Jill takes the shoebox from the closet and sits on the bed and places the shoebox on her lap. The shoebox holds the contents from the safe deposit box that included some photos of Uncle Gerald and a lady friend viewing fair exhibits or standing in front of landmarks, some documents and coins, some old watches and a small wrapped gift box with a faded bow ribbon neatly tied about it. Affixed to the top of the gift box is a small envelope. Jill slides the card out from the envelope and on the card, in Uncle Gerald’s handwriting, is written, ‘Dear Doris, if you would be mine forever how happy I would be. I love you, Giggy.’ Jill drops the card back into the shoebox and rotates the little gift box in her fingers for a while and then excitedly tears the wrapping off the box. Inside the gift box is a velvety jewelry box and inside that box is mounted an exquisite, radiant solitaire diamond ring that captivates both Jill and Reggie until the stunning stone brings Jill to tears.

“What a gorgeous rock,” Reggie declares, breaking the silence. “Must be two… maybe three carats and worth ten…twenty thousand dollars.”

“This is a keeper,” Jill claims as she stares at the ring. “What they don’t know won’t hurt them,” she adds.

There are footsteps running down the hallway that alarms Jill. She worries that perhaps they are on to her or that there is an emergency that will interfere with her plans. The steps grow closer and louder until Reggie Jr. exhilaratingly bursts into the bedroom startling both his parents and himself. He quickly subdues his demeanor and impertinently enters the room and ogles his parents and then asks what they’re doing.

“None of your business,” Jill sharply snaps back at her son.

Reggie quickly intervenes and tells Reggie Jr. to go along now and play with the other children.

Reggie Jr. lingers and snoops about the room as Jill stealthily slides the ring down in her pocket.

“We’re just going through some of Uncle Gerald’s papers to make sure everything is in order,” Jill advises her son in a calmer tone as she waits for him to leave. “Then I have to tend to your father,” she curtly adds.

Reggie Jr. gives them a disgusting smirk and shakes his head at their shenanigans, then he kneels down to check underneath the bed and that spooks Alex out from where he was hiding. Alex crawls out from the other side of the bed, pops up like a jack-in-the-box, and squeals as he prances in his nervous little jig then darts out the door and shrieks down the hall. Reggie Jr. hollers at Alex that he is going to get him and puts on a ghoulish countenance and stomps out of the room after the tyke in pursuit like a Frankenstein’s Monster.

Reggie goes over and quietly closes the door and then suggests that they should put everything back and rejoin the gathering before they are missed.

Jill direly glowers at Reggie in utter bewilderment. “Don’t you know what just happened?” she berates. “Are you that dense?” she adds in a huff as she scrunches up the wrapping paper and ribbon that littered the top of the bed. “That little cretin just saw everything,” she contends. “I have to come up with a story to throw them off. Take the box and wrappings and get rid of them,” she orders. “Don’t throw them in the trash. They’ll look in the trash. I’ll think of something. Just follow my lead and don’t screw it up.”

Reggie tries to reassure her that Alex is a certified space cadet and no one will ever take him seriously, especially his doting mother, who is the queen of the space cadets. Jill isn’t listening and is preoccupied with figuring out all the angles there are, after all, this diamond ring is for keeps, but she knows her family will try to take it from her and she can’t allow that. She has to be ready for all their tricks and lies or she’ll lose everything. The two leave the room and Reggie switches the light off and closes the door behind them.

Once outside the house, Jill is briefly overwhelmed by the dimness and suffused shadows of dusk and the loud chorus of chirping of crickets. Tommy notices her re-emergence to the front porch and calls out to her to turn the outdoor lights on as they are all in the dark now. Jill reaches back in the house and switches the lights on to illuminate the front yard. She tells Reggie to go on ahead as she needs to get the large trashcan from the kitchen and bring it outside.

The kitchen is dated though quaint and smells of broccoli. She goes to the broom closet where the trashcan is kept. She looks around then pulls the resplendent diamond out of her pocket to sneak a peek at it. The kaleidoscopic dazzle of the ring lights up the whole kitchen and she quickly puts it back in her pocket. She swings the closet door open and is startled by a ghoulish aberration resembling Uncle Gerald. It is only Duff, hiding in the closet and cloaked in shadows. Jill tells Duff he’s a spook as she coolly grabs hold of the large trashcan. Duff shushes Jill and tells her she is a spook and to close the door and not let anyone know he’s there. Jill pulls the trashcan out into the kitchen and closes the closet door.

On her way out, she stops at the foot of the stairs for a spell and looks up at the dark and foreboding landing of the second floor. That sinister upstairs is all behind her now. No more of that stench and morbidity she had to suffer during all those visits at the end of Uncle Gerald’s life. The things she had to put herself through, all the sacrifices, and now she deserves her just reward for all the drudgery she had to endure.

But it was poor Uncle Gerald, on his deathbed and just wanting to die in peace that had to endure Jill’s incessant and invective attacks on Cindy and her confrontational pleading and imploring that she be made the executrix of his will. Jill wore the poor, emaciated old man down to the bone. It was a cruel and nightmarish scene that Uncle Gerald had to witness as he lay dying. But that is all behind her now and she pleased for being such a caring niece during those last days of his life. She tells herself she’s a good person and does many things that the others just do not appreciate. She congratulates herself on how well she has handled herself through it all as she tugs the trashcan out the front door and plops it down each of the steps and drags it toward the dining area.

Half of the adults are standing about the table and others are seated. They’re chatting with their wine glasses or beer bottles in hand when they all look over at Jill as she approaches them. Candles aflame on the table cast flickering lights and shadows on their faces. Their stares rattle Jill for a second and she buttress herself against their gazes. She has decided to keep the ring no matter what she faces from them. She doesn’t need the ring to buy bread or pay the rent though heaven knows she and Reggie have dug themselves into a deep fiscal hole. No, she deserves the ring now as a gift for all she has done and sacrificed…and the hell…the hell with them all.

Jill sits down next to Remy Johnson, the neighbor and dear friend of Uncle Gerald. Reggie is seated across the table and is awkwardly squeezed in next to Tommy. After some chitchatting on the ampleness of the meal and Jill reaffirming that Reggie’s shoulder had needed attending to, Jill asks Remy to share some of Uncle Gerald’s past relationships just as Tommy queries Reggie about whether he has gotten an attorney yet for the estate. This flusters Jill as she wants to answer for Reggie, but she is politely listening to Remy Johnson who spends what seems to be an insufferable amount of time trying to recall any special relationships, except, perhaps, Doris Mitchell, but that was a long time ago. Gerald had been sweet on her and had a hankering to marry her, but alas, Doris didn’t have the same feelings toward him and finally moved out west leaving poor Gerald’s heartbroken and miserable for the longest time.

“That’s great,” Jill incoherently comments to Remy and then turns her attention to Reggie and Tommy just as Tommy was recommending an attorney he had used during some legal mess he had gotten himself in. Jill breaks into their conversation to announce that they have an excellent attorney already picked out. “Very highly recommended,” she adds in a haughty and dismissive air.

At the other end of the table, Stan is telling folks what a wild imagination Alex has at times, but there is a boisterous outbreak of laughter from the folks in the middle of the table and Jill can’t hear the rest of Stan’s comments. Jill is beside herself with all the wayward conversations going on about her. And to add to her frustration are the loud racket of crickets and whooping and hollering children running uncontrollably somewhere behind her.

Tommy shouts over the noise at Jill about a box…a box in the basement that he thinks has a silver teapot and tray in it that is some sort of heirloom or antique and must be worth something. Jill is startled by Tommy’s threatening tone and she stammers a bit before she tells everyone in ear shot that Uncle Gerald’s illness meant that he had to dispose of many items to help pay for his treatment. Remy takes exception with all that and interjects that Gerald didn’t have any financial problems. Jill quickly answers that it is a pity Uncle Gerald couldn’t confide in everyone the secrets of his financial woes. Chris comes up behind Jill and leans in placing her hands on Jill’s shoulders fretting over Alex’s whereabouts. Jill has to reassure her again that Alex is just fine and not to worry and, oh, by the way, Jill adds, what a marvelous imagination Alex has and how just the other day he had told her about some magic rocks he found in a box and how she told him to keep it a secret or they would lose their magic. Alex is such a blessing, Jill tells Chris and sends her on her way.

Jill becomes withdrawn and glum for a moment as she stares down at her plate and idly picks at her cold food. She prays for the lord to deliver her from this maelstrom she finds herself in. She has suffered so long with all the craziness of the family and they are suffocating her now. They make her sick, sick at heart, and she deserves better. She was to have such a glamorous life and travel and entertain her wonderful friends. She glances over at William, who is a slob and his dowdy, doormat of a wife, Sheila. She finds Tommy and his snotty, soused wife totally repulsive and she despises Stan’s buffoonery that probably crippled him and Chris’ sniveling over that pansy little boy makes her nauseous. And then there’s foppish Ted and snippy Cindy who are out to get her and even Reggie, yes Reggie, who is, after all, well, useless. Why is her life turning out so terribly? She deserves better. She deserves the ring.

“You all keep eating” Jill instructs as she stands, “I’m going to tidy up a bit.”

Jill picks up her plate and then solemnly announces to everyone how wonderful it is to have the whole family here tonight and how precious having a family is to her. The whole table is quiet for a moment and considers the sentiment and then goes back to their chatter and eating. Jill gathers up some more empty plates and greasy, plastic spoons and forks and stacks them one atop the other and heads to the trashcan to toss them out.

“Everything seems to be going quite nicely,” Jill says as she joins her sisters whom were talking off from the other adults.

“Yes…yes, everything is going super nicely,” Chris nervously answers as she and Cindy exchange knowing glances. “Wasn’t all the dishes delicious?” Chris continues uneasily. “I think I ate just about everything there. Delicious! Delicious wouldn’t you say?” She asks diffidently.

“Have I missed anything?” Jill quizzes. “What is everyone talking about?” She suspects that the two where talking about her before she joined them. They often talk behind her back and that always bothers her to no end. Jill is the oldest of the three sisters and feels she carries the weight of the whole family on her shoulders and any hint of disloyalty or disrespect must be squashed immediately. This is especially true when it comes to Chris who is the middle child and should know her place better. Cindy is the baby of the family and, for the most part, a lost cause that Jill has to simply put up with.

For a brief second, Jill gets an inclination to show her sisters the ring and let them share in on her brilliant coup, but then decides it would be best to wait.

Alex rushes up to Chris as though someone is chasing him. Chris lifts him up and gives him a big hug while dusting off his overalls and then she puts him back down and straps him tight to her legs with her forearms. She tells Alex to say hello to his aunts. Alex squirms in her embrace and then bashfully greets Cindy and gives Jill a menacing glance that scares her. Cindy squats down to remind Alex that the two have a date tomorrow to visit the train museum. Chris bends over and gives Alex an approving kiss atop his head and then releases him to run off. All this is done before Jill can get a word in edgewise.

“The museum, huh?” Jill warily asks. “Why, won’t that be wonderful?”

Cindy and Chris begin discussing the next day’s plan that leaves Jill out of the conversation. Jill wants to mention something about magical rocks that Alex found the other day, but can’t find an opening to bring that up without looking foolish. She is peeved with this intentional snub, but is more worried about Cindy having the whole day with Alex to wheedle the whole sordid story out of him. Time is working against her and she needs to act soon.

Flustered and disgruntled, Jill leaves her sisters to mingle with the other family members. Stan catches Jill’s elbow as she rounds the table and wryly tells her in all seriousness that she needs to come clean and tell everyone the treasures she’s found hidden in Uncle Gerald’s attic. Jill is stupefied and isn’t quite sure what the obnoxious buffoon is getting at. Stan adds for the whole table to hear that he is certain Uncle Gerald had gold bullion or priceless heirlooms or at least little boy magazines hidden away somewhere in the attic or buried in the basement. It is that daftness of Stan’s inquiry and the silly, dumbfounded grimace on Jill’s face that set the whole table into jovial laughter. Jill finally catches on from the laughter that Stan is just joshing her. She smiles and tells Stan that if she does find any little boy magazines, she will definitely pass them on to him for his collection. The table roars again at Jill’s repartee that leaves Stan speechless and blushing.

Tommy intrudes on Jill again about his friend who can help with the estate. A lawyer he knows, who is quite good and reasonable. Of all the Lynches, Tommy’s pudgy scowl is the most deformed. When he scowls it looks as though his mouth is twice as long as his lips. Tommy is jittery and repeatedly glances down at his watch. Family gatherings make him nervous and since his new lady friend is out of town for the weekend he is stuck here for the duration. Everyone knows about his sordid affairs he has had over the years, though they all pretend not to know.

“Is it the same attorney your wife was just asking about?” Jill mischievously asks and that stifles Tommy and he sullenly puts his drink down on the table and staggers off in his usual inebriated swagger.

Jill turns and bumps into William who is quietly swaying back and forth next to his wife, Sheila, and nursing his drink. Tommy and William are brothers and each is possessed by his own demon that Jill and everyone else can easily exploit. William is a gambler and not a regaling gambler, but a fainthearted chap waging out of a dreadful panic, like a drowning man trying to find a lifeline. Jill finds him despicable and useless. All she has to do is tell William that someone named Rocco called and needs to see him tomorrow and William would shrink off in silence and disappear.

Chris drifts by the table looking for Alex. Jill tells her that Alex is having fun and not to worry. She tells Chris that Alex is probably looking for more magical rocks that they had found and how precious he is. Chris tells Jill if she sees him to have him check in with her adding that Alex had something important to tell her, but was shy and stammering and ran off before he could tell her.

Jill locates Reggie who stands by a tree trunk and is feeding off a plate loaded with food. She asks him if he got rid of the wrappings and Reggie answers that he had thrown everything away in the trash. Jill upbraids Reggie under her breath for being an imbecile as everyone knows that people go through the trash and might find the wrappings and start asking questions. Jill is angry at such an asinine blunder by the man she married and lets him know how she feels about it. Reggie has given up listening to her yammering a long time ago and has noticed that her scowl shrinks her pudgy, little face into something resembling a catcher’s mitt when she goes into her tirades. The nagging and ugliness is probably the reason he spends so much time now at Cindy’s restaurant. Jill senses this estrangement and desertion and resents it. She had such high expectations about their marriage but now feels she will have to go it alone. She ceases her useless prattle and quickly tidies herself up and puts on a more refine countenance and leaves him.

Things are getting rowdy around the dining table with boisterous and intoxicated voices booming out meddling and unsettling bravados. A voice recalls a gold watch and fob Uncle Gerald had and then another gravelly voice adds that Uncle Gerald had two gold watches and chains. Forget about the watches a female voice cackles and then mentions something about Uncle Gerry silverware set. Don’t forget that old civil war sword Gerald has in the attic…and the old tiffany lamp in the den.

Jill skirts the table area, remaining in the shadows as she listens to the treachery unfolding and sees the darting glances from the conspirators over at her. It is difficult to hear all that is being said as the racket from the crickets and the distant hollering and shouting of the children drowns out much of what is being said. Jill senses, though, that things are getting out of her control now and she needs to take matters into her own hands.

Celeste and Kari come shrilling down to the dining table area chased by tiny Chad who, for some reason or another, has the girls in a tizzy. The girls skittishly circle the dining table area until they run smack into Jill nearly knocking her over.

“Stop it!” Jill shouts at them as she grabs the arm of Celeste. “Have you two seen Alex?”

The two girls shrug. “He’s hiding, I guess,” Celeste meekly answers and then the two girls dart off just ahead of Chad who follows in close pursuit.

Remy Johnson is heading out and stops to tell Jill she is leaving for the evening and to compliment Jill for such a special memorial dinner and how Gerald would have been so grateful for everything she has done. She then mentions that there might be a ring somewhere in the house that Uncle Gerald had bought for his lady friend years ago though it may be gone or lost by now. Jill assures Remy that no such ring exists or she would have found it when she was cleaning.

Remy’s comment fills Jill with dread and anxiety and she takes some deep breaths to compose herself. She knows there is much to do and she needs to keep her wits about her. The others are settling around the table and Jill knows they will remain there for some time. She espies the shadowy silhouette of Alex scurrying toward the back of the house and she figures she can intercept the little cretin there and talk to him about the magical rocks they found.

She starts off toward the house just as her daughter, Missy, comes scampering up to her and stumbles and falls and scrapes her knee and begins bawling. Jill scoops her up and quickly passes her over to Cindy to comfort. Jill tells Missy she will get a moist cloth for her knee from the house and to stay there with Cindy, and then she dashes off. Missy watches as her mother shrinks in size as she heads toward Uncle Gerald’s house.

Ted stands at the top of the steps to the porch and obstructs Jill’s path. He had been aloof and despondent the entire evening and is now brooding on his own diabolical scheme that would surely lift him up out of the quagmire he finds himself in and deliver him into the suitable world he deserves. In a huff, Jill stops and asks Ted if he is enjoying himself. He reminds Jill that he wants to be called Theodore and not Ted. Why does everyone insist on calling him Ted? It is bad enough he has to tolerate such degenerates and vulgarities, but he expects some level of respectability and decorum and be called Theodore. Jill listens with a haggard and probing look on her face. Then, out of nowhere, he asks Jill if she believes in hell, which stuns her and leaves her disconcerted and bewildered. He goes on to explain that what he means is whether or not she believes that there is any deed out there that can be so evil and hideous that it would lead to eternal damnation. Jill concludes that he’s had one too many scotches and is about to excuse herself without answering when Ted grabs her arm and demands she tells him how much the estate is worth. He needs to know the precise amount and how much his share will be. It is very important for his…his future plans.

“Well, Teddy,” Jill responds testily as she firmly grips his hand and removes it from her arm. ‘You’re a sick and morbid man and will just have to wait like all the others,” and she sidles past him and goes into the house.

Inside the house, Jill comes across Chris who is calling up the stairs for Alex. Chris is anxious and asks Jill to keep an eye open for her son as it is getting late and she hasn’t seen him for such a long time. Jill tells her she will and for her not to worry and go back outside and rejoin the family.

Jill continues down the hallway to the dining room where she halts in front of the draped doors that go to the backyard. She parts the heavy drapes and intently stares out at the blackened structures of the backyard. Behind her are the muffled voices of the family. Maybe they know of her larceny and are plotting now among themselves to drag her down and expose her. They’d love to do just that. They’re just jealous, envious hicks who have always been out to get her. There has been so much that Jill had to put up with. She has to put up with that disloyal, prissy little nanny and her snotty idiot who could now ruin everything. And she has to put up with her dykey sister and her haughty and disrespectful attitude toward everyone. And then there is Reggie, so untrustworthy and useless. What did she ever see in him? How much better her life would have been if she never married him. She deserved better. She deserves the ring.

Jill catches sight of a scrawny shadow with a large head that scurries along the narrow deck of the pool. She quietly gazes out as the shadowy figure stumbles and slides silently beneath the pool cover. She gasps and splays her fingers on the glass of the door in apprehension. That should teach her for betraying me, she thinks to herself as she holds her breath and watch as the glob frantically swish and roll beneath that grimy plastic sheath that should have been removed and disposed of a long time ago.

She has hurt for so long, she says to herself as she slowly exhales. It has all become so unbearable for her now. The dark creases beneath her cheeks and her droopy eyes and pursed mouth make her ghoulish scowl reflected in the glass look tired and old. She thinks of Jerrilee, her childhood friend, who lives now in Singapore in a plush apartment with servants catering to her every need and adoring children attending private schools with bright and rosy futures and a princely husband that worships her and entertaining worldly visitors with luxurious cuisines and mingling in fashionable society wearing designer cloths and sparkling with exquisite, glittery jewelry. It should have been her. She’s a good person, deserving and lovable, a devout woman, a wonderful mother and exceptional hostess, a good conversationalist and deserves a better life…she’s as important…as special…as….

Chris’ footsteps rummaging around upstairs intrudes on Jill’s reverie and she panics and grabs the knob of the door, then pauses to check the outside. There may be someone out there in the yard, watching her from the shadows, waiting to see what she does next. She suspects Remy, the nosy neighbor that knows too much or Tommy urinating in the shrubs, as is his wont to do. She opens the door a tad and takes a step out. The din of the crickets is deafening. A breeze rustles along the shrubs that border the yard and there is a faint crunching sound of a wheelchair moving up the gravel driveway. Her fingers strokes the embossed shape of the ring ensconced in her pocket and its possession fills her with wonderment and elation. Maybe it’s a trap, she figures with alarm, a trap to catch her in the act so they can drag her out into the open and pummel her down to the ground and force her into submission and to confess she sinful ways. In horror, she retreats back into the dark room and shuts the door. She hides there in trepidation until the tumultuous commotion in the pool melts away into an eerie, tranquil stillness.

“Good, it’s quiet now,” she utters in a whisper. “Shush…it’s all going to work out just fine,” she concludes and then steps back from the shrouded window.