CHAPTER ONE:

 

TO bellaserata@dmail.net
FROM collybell@dmail.net
SUBJECT Hello!
 Hello! Just got back from a trip to Kelowna. Just went down with Lavelle to pick up some strawberries. We are going to make jam this weekend. It’s been really warm this week, and everything is in blossom. Keiko is doing fine. She’s such a cute dog, but gets into so much mischief. I will take her down when I go to visit Aunty Kat next week. Lucky will have a girlfriend!  Lucky him!  Haha. Hope you are doing well. Haven’t heard from you in a while, so I worry. Oh, I started that pilates class. I hate it. But, I already lost six pounds, so better keep on trucking!

 Love, Mom 

 

TO bellaserata@dmail.net
FROM Nedbell21@goal.com
SUBJECT Happy birthday
 Happy birthday. You are old.

 

TO bellaserata@dmail.net
FROM Oldjoe58@goal.com
SUBJECT Re: Back safe and sound
 How’s my favourite niece? We’re doing well. Headed down to the timeshare this weekend. Will be nice to get away. Tak-Sin got a new job at a textile company. He gets to travel back to Thailand a couple times a year, so he’s happy about that. And I get to have a break!  Can have a nice scotch in peace! Your mom was down a couple weeks back. She’s looking good. Got her hair done…a nice layered ‘do. Suits her. Even got her to drink a couple glasses of wine!  I think she’s a bit lonely, but seems to be handling things ok. Don’t be a stranger!  Keep in touch! 

Love,Uncle Joe

 

 TO bellaserata@dmail.net
FROM Tifferbell@goal.com
SUBJECT Happy birthday to you!
 Happy birthday auntie! Dad says you are realy old but I told him he is only one year younger so he is old to! Did you have a birthday party? I hope sombody got you a cake. I am on spring break now. I am staying with dad because my mom went to alberta and I didn’t want to go. When are you coming home again? We can play barbies again. I got a haircut and I have bangs like yours. My mom doesn’t like them but I like them so who cares.BYE!!!Love, Tiffany

 Ps Grandpa took me to the mall with his girlfriend. She bought me a orange joolius but I still don’t like her so don’t worry. 

 

TO bellaserata@dmail.net
FROM rupabell@grandviewdental.com
SUBJECT Hey
 Do you know what your plans are for this Christmas? Ryan and I are thinking about going to Australia. But mom says you might be coming home. If you are, let me know. We can leave on Boxing Day if you are coming. If not, we’ll go a week earlier. Let me know!P.S. Ryan sends a BIG heart to you! P.S.S. No I didn’t. 

P.S.S. It appears my computer has been hijacked. He sends you much love and many kisses!

 

TO collybell@dmail.net, Nedbell21@goal.com, rupabell@grandviewdental.com, bellaserata@dmail.net
FROM texwes@dmail.com
SUBJECT Kathleen
 Hello all! Kathleen is in good spirits after her surgery. She had a bit of applesauce today and asked for a hairbrush…so that is a good sign!  The doctors here are absolutely fantastic. Her surgeon, some Middle Eastern fellow named Dr. Abdullah says she is doing very well and doesn’t foresee any complications. Lucky misses her like crazy, and I do as well. Thanks for all the prayers and wishes. 

Love, 

Wes, Lucky, and Kat 

 

TO bellaserata@dmail.net
FROM collybell@dmail.net
SUBJECT Grandpa
 Just thought I’d let you know, your grandfather was rushed to hospital last night. Guess he was having trouble breathing. His friend Ruby called an ambulance. It looks like a stroke. Ned and I are heading down to the island in a couple hours. I’m taking my cell, so you can call me if you need to. Ryan and Rupa are going down tonight.  I don’t know if Kat will come, but says she will try. I will let you know when I find out more. Love, Mom 

  

TO bellaserata@dmail.net
FROM collybell@dmail.net
SUBJECT Re: Granpda
 Hi,Grandpa passed away last night at about 11. It was peaceful. I guess his body just gave out. We were all there. Kat managed to make it up just in time. I don’t know if you will get this email in time. Wes will pick you up from the airport. Glad you’re getting a flight to Victoria…saves time with the ferry and all. The funeral will be on Thursday. He took care of things in the will I guess, so there isn’t a whole lot we need to arrange. 

I’m doing ok…so don’t worry. He lived a good, long life. Kat is really taking it hard, and I am finding it really difficult to cope with her. Joe has been quite quiet about it all. But he had a nice talk with grandpa before he passed away. Tiffany’s mother will bring her down on Wednesday, so she will be here when you arrive. 

I told grandpa that you were coming. He tried waiting for you. But it just got too painful for him. So I told him you would understand. He left you grandma’s wedding ring. I have it for you. Just don’t let Kat or Selina know. Landon will be here too. We are all happy he got rid of that girlfriend of his.

See you soon. 

Love, Mom 

 

 _______________________________________________________________________

“Hello there stranger!” Uncle Wes grabbed her to his side. He smelled like wet dog.

“Hi there.”

“You must be plain tuckered out!”

“Oh, I popped a pill that knocked me out. Slept all the way here.”

“Good one!  Well, I’m parked just over there. This all you brought with you?” He grabbed Sara’s small suitcase and headed out the glass doors. It was a beautiful day. The sun was out and a slight breeze blew the scent of the sea and freshly cut grass up Sara’s nostrils. It was the perfect time of year for a visit to the island. Spring flowers were still out, everything was a bright green, and tourists swarmed about like clouds of foreign mosquitoes. Sara climbed into Wes’s “vintage” Lincoln Continental and was immediately jumped on by a heavily breathing, sweaty dog.

“Lucky!  Get the hell off of her!  You damn nuisance!” Wes swatted the dog into the back seat.

“Everyone is staying at the old house. Ned’s here. Joe should be there as well. Kat and I brought the motor home up, so I think there will be room enough for everyone to sleep. Still haven’t heard from April.”

April was grandpa’s sister. The two of them hadn’t spoken in nearly 20 years. Nobody really knew exactly why. Grandpa would just clam up any time anyone brought up the topic.

“Okay.”

“And your dad will be down as well. Isn’t staying, but is coming for the funeral service.”

“Oh.”

“I see you let your bangs grow out. Your mom will be happy about that.”

____________________________________________________________________________________

The old house had been painted since she’d last seen it. It was now a sea-foam colour, with dark grey trim. As always, the flowerbeds were in immaculate condition and the rose bushes were just starting to form small buds. New brass railing had been installed on the front steps leading up to the front door. The stained glass oval in the door was still there…two hummingbirds sipping nectar from open blossoms. The whole place reeked of Victorian ladies having tea. The motor home was pulled up into the carport on the side, and a skinny Yorkshire terrier was tied up to the RV’s steps.

“That’s your mom’s new, little, rat. Hardly can call that thing a dog. It’s quiet enough but dumb as a post. Strange. No cars here. Maybe they all went out somewhere. Anyway, just go ahead and head on in. Sure they’ll be back soon. I’m just gonna take these two mutts to the park and let them run around a bit.”

“Okay.”

The front door creaked open. The house smelled the same as always. Almost like almonds. The furniture hadn’t moved in decades. Pictures of dead people, in black and white, filled ornate frames on the left wall. The photographs of the living were delegated to the hallway in shiny, chrome frames. The curtains were fading floral and matched the covers of cushions that sat on two ancient sofas. Grandma’s letterbox still hung on the wall next to the 1960s telephone. The same mother-of-pearl letter opener rested on the coffee table. They boys had loved pretending it was a sword when they were kids…and always got yelled at and told it was “dangerous.”

The portrait of Nana Bell still hung next to the archway leading to the kitchen. She wore a large, white hat with ostrich feathers and cherries on it. Everyone always said Sara looked a lot like her. Nana Bell had a very small mouth, and thin lips. Apart from that, Sara could find no other similarities.

She set down her bag on the kitchen table. One it were several glass cases containing jewellery.  Grandma Bell’s jewels. A double strand of pearls. A coral, cameo brooch. A pair of silver and sapphire earrings. A ring with a small pearl and ruby…grandpa and April’s birthstones. An assortment of hair and hatpins. Some cocktail rings. A small note lay next to the case.

We have just run down to the mall. Needed to pick up some stockings and get hair done. Will bring supper home. Sara, you can stay in my old room at the back. Call my cell if you need anything.Mom

  

She left the note on the table and crossed over to the China cabinet. She took out a Waterford tumbler and then opened the bottom middle door and pulled out the mysterious bottle. It had been there since Sara could remember.  She’d always loved exploring all the nooks and crannies of the old house. Mom had gotten after her and the boys for it, but grandpa had always said “they’re just inquisitive Colleen. Better than being dull. Leave them be.” One day, she’d found the mysterious bottle and asked what it was.

“It was my brother’s. He was a medic in the Korean war. He survived the war and came back home, only to come down with leukemia a few months later. He bought that the day before he went into the hospice. Said we would share it together once he’d recovered. He never did…so it just sits there. Be careful with it, though. It’s worth quite a lot of money now.”

It was a 1956 Crown Royal Canadian Whisky 4/5 quart. Sara opened the seal, and poured some of the amber liquid into the tumbler.

“Here’s to you grandpa!” she said out loud, and then took a generous sip. It was poisonous Heaven. She walked down the hallway and out the back door into the backyard. As always, it was stunning. The rhododendrons were just beginning to lose their springtime lustre. The birdbath was filled to the brim. It looked like grandpa had used some of the leftover paint to give the two benches a new coat. Sara sat down on one and had another tickle of whisky. She let the rare, Victoria sunshine pet her skin and closed her eyes, taking a quick catnap, yet too wound up to fall asleep.

“She’s out back Colleen!” Kat’s screech shook her out of the daze.  Her plump aunt smiled, and slowly walked down the back steps. She didn’t bounce over with hugs and kisses as usual, but just ambled over slowly, sat down next to Sara, and put her hand on Sara’s knee.

“It’s so pretty out here!  I always said that this is what the Garden of Eden must’ve looked like.”

Sara quickly looked at her aunt’s face. The woman who cried at the death of a gnat, sat stone-faced to the world.

“I hope whoever buys this place keeps the garden up.”

Sara patted Aunty Kat’s hand.

“Hi there,” Colleen walked down the back steps. She wore a long, khaki skirt, a low-cut, orange top, a darker orange cardigan and a stunning, chunky necklace of agates. Her hair feathered the sides of a perfectly made-up face. Sara had never seen her mother looking so beautiful. She stood, and gave her mother an embrace.

“I’m so sorry mom. Are you doing okay?”

Her mother pulled back and smiled. “I’m fine. Really!  Oh, I like your hair!  It looks so much better when it’s long. Phew!  Gosh, you smell like a tavern! Have you been drinking?”

“Yeah. I opened grandpa’s scotch.”

“Uncle Roland’s Scotch?” Aunty Kat asked.

“Yep. And I don’t care if I am in trouble for it either.”

“In trouble? That sounds like the best idea anyone has had all day. Let’s go get some Colleen.” Sara stared at her aunt in amazement. The woman had always proudly proclaimed that “not a drop of alcohol has ever touched my lips!”

Mom laughed and followed her sister’s large ass up the back steps. Aunty Kat pushed Sara into a chair in the kitchen and she and Colleen started getting glasses, an ice-bucket, and washing off some strawberries they’d picked up “from this old guy selling them from his truck.”

“You’re looking really good mom.”

“Thank you!  Yes, I decided I’d had it with my old clothes. So I up and went to The Bay one day and spent nearly two-thousand bucks.”

“Wait’ll you see her fancy earrings,” Kat added.

“I’ve been selling a lot of stuff on E-Bay. I figure ‘why not’?  And there’s a lot more room in the house now. I still have tons of stuff to sell though. You know what your father is like…all that crap he collected.”

“She’s made the basement into her business!” Kat added.

“Yes, I have! I do all the packaging there and have it all set up. Your dad shops around for more crap and drops it off. Then I put it on E-Bay. We split things 40-60. I took 60 percent because I figure I’m doing more of the work. Plus, half the garbage your dad drags home can’t be sold, so it ends up going to the Sally Ann. But we’re making about $1800 a month,  so that’s good. And he’s going to set up a stand at that flea market in Enderby this summer. You know, the tourist one on the highway?”

“You’re doing this WITH dad?”

“Oh, it’s not like that Sara. I might see him for a total of a couple hours each week. He can’t do the computer stuff. He never even learned how to type.”

“Why can’t he get his girlfriend to do it?”

“I don’t mind. And I like the extra cash. Plus, the snooty woman won’t allow him to keep ANY of the stuff at her house. So, we don’t really have a choice.”

“Is she coming?”

“Who?”

“The girlfriend.”

“Where? Here? For the funeral?”

“Yeah.”

“I don’t really know. Maybe. It doesn’t matter. During times like these, those things don’t really matter.”

Kat and Colleen set everything on a silver tray then they all headed out back into the garden. They heard Uncle Wes yelling at the dogs.

“You leave the rat alone Lucky!  You’re gonna fuckin’ kill the damn thing!”

“Wesley!  Language!”

“Whadda ya got there? By God is that your dad’s whisky? Pour me one of those too woman.”

Kat poured her husband a drink without a second thought. They all settled down on the benches. Colleen picked up her new rat and held him on her lap while Lucky whined for his new playmate to come back down and continue being molested.

“Wesley, did you make reservations at the motel for Selina and the girls?”

“Mm-hmm.”

“I hope you did. I promised them we would do that for them.”

“I said ‘yes’ woman!”

“Good. I don’t hardly ever drink, ya know. But I guess this is a special occasion.” Sara watched as Aunty Kat nearly choked on her first gulp of whisky.

“Take it easy!  It’s not God damn Koolaid!”

“Oh!  It really burns!”

“That’s what it’s supposed to do!  Puts some hair on your tits!”

Kat continued to cough, then stood up and headed up the steps squealing “I just need to get some water!”

“Good grief,” Wes muttered.

“Give her a break Wes. She’s having a rough time,” mom whispered.

“Yeah, I know. Don’t think she slept a wink last night. Tossed and turned. I went and slept on the foldout. Strangest thing is that she hasn’t cried yet, Sara. Not a drop. And you KNOW that she knows how to turn on the waterworks.”

 Sara couldn’t help but smile.

“Maybe she’s just in shock?” Sara almost asked.

“Course. But mark my words…it’s a comin!  Those floodgates are not very strong. Lucky!  Fuck off!  Leave that poor rat alone!” Wes swatted the pug who went flying off the bench.

“The dog’s name is Keiko, Wes.” mom snapped.

“Yeah, your mom gave her little rat a Nip name. Guess cuz you live over there in Nipland. But nobody calls her that. We all call her ‘Rat!’” Wes laughed.

“And I wish you would stop it.” Mom stroked the poor, shivering rat.

Eventually Kat recovered and, much to Uncle Wes’s chagrin, found that mixing her whisky with Diet Coke made it more palatable. Sara got caught up on all the gossip about “that tramp Sherry,” Selina’s wonderful (but according to grandpa fat and dull) daughters, Lavelle’s trip to Honduras, Tak-Sin’s new job, Tiffany’s sudden interest in boys, and mom’s pilates instructor. They suddenly realized it was six, and that Kat and Colleen had failed to pick up anything for dinner. Wes said he would order some pizzas and went inside to make a call. Kat was on her third whisky and Diet Coke.

“Oh, where’s mom’s wedding ring?” Kat suddenly asked.

“Um, I have it.” Colleen replied.

“Oh good. I was scared it was lost. You can hold onto it for me.”

“Actually, dad asked me to give it to Sara,” mom shyly responded.

“He did WHAT?” Kat slammed down her glass on the bench, spilling her drink onto the lawn. “Tha horrible, old, awful, GOAT!  That ring was for me!  Mother said it wass s’posed to be mine! How can he be so mean even when he’sh dead!”

“Aunty Kat, you can have it. Really, I don’t mind.” Sara soothingly added.

“No. NO!  I don’t want it!  Orrible old man. We wans you to have it? Well, it’s yours!”

Colleen rolled her eyes, “Kat, just calm down. He probably didn’t even remember any of that. He was hardly himself at the end. You know that.”

“Oooooh. That jus burns me up. DAMMIT, DAMMIT, DAMMIT!  See? He’s even making me swear! He’s dead and he can still just make me feel like a pile of poop!  Yep…just like a big, ole turd!” Aunty Kat’s arms were now flailing. Then she suddenly stopped, and her body dropped limply. All the ruckus had caused Lucky to start barking, then the little rat jumped off the bench and joined in.

“He was an AWFUL man, Colleen. But boy oh boy do I miss him.”

As Wes had predicted, the floodgates weren’t that strong. Colleen put her arm around her sobbing sister and pulled her head toward her shoulder. Sara picked up the glass from the grass and set it on the tray. She never did know what to do with crying people. So, she just held fat Aunty Kat’s hand. Wes popped his head out the back door, said “What the Sam Hell?” and quickly disappeared back inside the house.

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