Despair licked hungrily at the edges of my soul destroying the last remnant of resolve as the flames in the small stone fireplace devoured the last piece of wood. The mercury, hovering just above twenty-five degrees, had yet to reach a low point for the night.
“Well,” I said out loud to Handel, my faithful canine companion, “it’s going to be a three-dog night, pal, and there’s only the two of us.”
With a hearty, “Woof!” he offered his agreement to my assessment and inched closer to my side.
It had come to this, as I always feared it would and, as such, it was no surprise. But surprise or no, this was misery plain and simple. Oh, I’m not talking about the lack of combustible fuel wherewith I would be able to stave off the encroaching cold. I’m talking about the sad and sorry pickle into which I had been plunged part and parcel one week ago to the day.
The drunk driver had come out of nowhere, my parents never had a chance. Once at the hospital they had lived just long enough to scrawl their signatures on the hastily drawn will my father had dictated to me and which I had hand written on the back of a blood pressure chart.
If I had known then what I know now, I would have just let my two sisters and brother have whatever they wanted from the estate rather than insisting that our parents’ wishes be honored faithfully. I did not ask to be the executor of their will and had, in fact, resisted.
“Firstborn,” my father whispered just before crossing the “great divide,” as he put it. And my mother, who had followed him within minutes, had merely squeezed my hand and smiled her special smile and then she was gone.
Firstborn or not, upon hearing the conditions of the will, all of my siblings had aligned themselves jointly and severally against me.
“Audacious,” was the word they used to describe my position.
“Look,” I said at one point when emotions were running high. “I can’t help the fact that the house was left to me. It was their choice! I didn’t ask for it and they were in no condition to hear any discussion on the matter.”
A silver-tongued lawyer had called me earlier in the day and outlined the challenge to the will. Of course by then my blood was up and I had determined to fight said challenge with all I had. Unfortunately, all I had was the house; a house that was no longer a home but a battleground, and one that was upside down at that…upside down to the tune of two hundred thousand dollars thanks to my father having mortgaged it to the hilt.
No heat; no electricity and the water scheduled to be turned off tomorrow morning…it just kept getting better and better.
Turning my head slightly to the left I could just pick up my reflection in the frosty glass of the large front room window that looked out upon an empty street where those same siblings and I used to play when we were all young and full of days. Now, however, the emptiness was just a mocking metaphor of the state of my soul.
“Honey, wash your hands and come in for supper.”
My mother’s ghostly, clarion call rang in my ears along with a childish echo of, “Aw mom! Can’t I stay out another ten minutes?”
I wondered if I would see the morning…better yet, I wondered if I cared one way or the other.