Harleen Quinzel’s Aunt, the one still living and older sister to the deceased, was the one to receive them at the train station and ferry them across the river to the estate. The funeral was yesterday; a little affair, with nearly ten whole people in attendance. Across the country, Harleen Quinzel’s mother, the younger sister of the deceased, sent her regards, but regretfully, could not attend.
Harleen shudders a little. She can’t remember the last time she saw this house, but it slowly dawns on her that it hasn’t been since she was very young indeed. Out in the yard, well-dressed pensioners drift like lost souls through the estate sale, picking and combing through her aunts’ belongings, spread on outdoor tables like a Roman Bacchanal.
Standing on the porch It strikes Harleen how bizarre the whole process is.
Aunt Maureen: . . . Ah and those were the not bad ole days. They don’t make vacuums like those anymore.
Digger: Aye, quite, Sheila.
Harley stands from her wicker seat: If you guys’ll excuse me, I’ll be right back.
Aunt Maureen: Of course, dear.
Before her companions can say anything themselves, Harley loosens her scarf and wanders into the house. She wracks her brain and tries to dredge up memories of her time here. She knows they’re there, but she just can’t reach them. A vase, green and striped, sits empty on a hutch. There’s something there, she can feel it, but she can’t decide what. Pictures of her history line one wall, the corridor tight and wood-paneled. She rests against the opposite walls and scans for a bit. Her mother, her father, her aunt, right now cold in the ground, her aunt on the porch, rocking steadily between two killers, her two friends. Finally her eyes rests on something that shakes her to her core.
Or rather, it’s a twelve-year-old Harleen, her hair already in pigtails, her glasses askew, and braces lining her teeth. The sweater strangling her is a hideous pink color, and was since long-lost in a warehouse explosion, with so many other possessions once so dear to her.
She sinks to the floor, stunned suddenly by how many things she’s lost over time. All her paperwork proving she spent five years in grad school: Lost when her apartment was blown out in a gas leak that she always suspected was sabotage. A locket with a picture of her long-gone grandparents: Found and confiscated after her 2nd imprisonment in Arkham. The dress she wore to her brother’s marriage: Torn and burned away by . . . by him.
Harley holds her head in her hands for a minute, and simply stares blankly at the floor. Then she hears it, her Aunt Maureen, out on the porch, laughing, with the raspy chuckle of Floyd Lawton and the boisterous guffaw of Digger Harkness. She smiles softy, and stands. She caresses her own face for a 2nd, peeks out the door, then goes upstairs.
There’s a grandfather clock she knows she’s seen before, but she can’t place when, and she can’t quite touch the memory in her mind.
She steps into the bathroom and is overwhelmed by pink lace. Doilies sit on a little wooden table; floral stickers dot the mirror, and from the curtain rod, a cascade of roses are printed to the curtain, spilling like arterial blood spray. Harley splashes her face in the pink plastic sink, fixes her lipstick, and stares deep into her own blue eyes. It occurs to her the Harley’s eyes in the photo downstairs are electric, and sparkling blue. The Harley in the mirror’s are so far faded, as if they’ve been left in the sun for far too long.
She leaves the bathroom, her mind half-whirring with fragmented memories, dashed upon the rocks of years of abuse, and a song she can’t remember the name of. It’s notes ascending smoothly through her mind. She’d have an easier time remembering what it was if she could remember the words.
The thought of him, she realizes, set her off a little. A part of her brain, unrelated to the fragmented memories and forgotten song, is trying to shut down. To scream and lash out. To take a kitchen knife, and add to the complex red pattern of the curtain with her own veins. She drowns it out with the unknown tune, and presses on.
She steals into her Aunt’s room, she won’t mind, she’s gone. A void in Harley’s world that she never accounted would be there until it opened up and swallowed her heart whole. The room, by right now, is mostly bare, the contents either spread on the decorative tables in the front yard, or pawned off already. What’s left is spartan, but elegant. Harley sits on the bed and gazes around at the vaguely-pattered carpet, the right now-empty dresser, and the skeletal nightstand. She lets herself lay on the bed, still made, but cold, and gazes up at the ceiling.
The bed is wildly uncomfortable.
Harley sits up and strolls over to the dresser, not expecting to find anything. From the bottom drawer, she produces a shoebox. She sits down on the bed, and curiously, pops it open.
Floyd: Knock, knock, kid. You in here?
Digger: Maybe it’s a ghooooosst!
Floyd: Naw it’s Harley. Whatcha got there?
Harley doesn’t say anything at 1st, she’s too busy staring at the box’s contents to register their appearance at 1st. Finally, she closes the lid and looks up.
Harley: Nothin’ just a box o’ tissue paper and some laces. How do you guys like Auntie M?
Floyd: She’s charming.
Digger: Charming, nothing, that biddy’s a right riot, she is.
Harley smiles: Yeah I figured you’d get a kick outta her. She’s got some wild stories. She tell you that she’s an ordained minister?
Digger: She bally well didn’t!
Harley: Ha! Well, she is. Has been for decades.
She looks at Digger’s arms, laden with goods; old trophies, statues and packages of baked goods, and Floyd’s single item, tucked under his arm.
Harley, smirking: Are you guy’s contributin’ to the sale or just looting?
Digger: Naw we paid for em all upfront. ‘Cept for Floyd there. He’s makin’ off with a gift.
Harley: Oh yeah? Whatcha get, Floyd?
Floyd pulls the item from under his arm. It’s a painting, simple and dark, of a tiny outdoor café. Somewhere European in the midday.
Floyd: Never was much for art, but your Aunt insisted it be mine. Startin’ to grow on me.
Harley: It’s lovely, Floyd.
Digger: How about you, Jesterbells? Taken anything to remember your ole Auntie by?
Harley stands and walks the box over to where she found it, and returns it quietly to its tomb.
Harley: Naw, none of this stuff really means anythin’ to me after all. I thought seeing all these things again would have some kinda impact on me, but the truth of the matter is I don’t really remember any of this stuff. But I remember Auntie D, and I think that’s what’s important in the end, y’know?
Harley heads to the stairs: C’mon, we should probably get back soon.
Floyd and Digger watch her go for a moment, standing in the doorway.
Digger: Was the Sheila always like this an’ we just overlooked it?
Floyd: Honestly, I couldn’t begin to know.
Goodbyes are said, and embraces exchanged all under the watchful eye of the great, looming house. The sun has begun to set, but it’s a cold cast of colors, and it goes unnoticed by the group below. Aunt Maureen ferries them back across the river, and together, with their brand-new possessions, the three board the return train, and begin their journey back.
She doesn’t know about Floyd and Digger, but all Harley can think about is the dried spring flowers and the powder-blue shoes, sized for a twelve-year-old, hidden away in a drawer of an abandoned dresser.
More from Wedding Gift
Identifier: sixoneabroad00thom Title: Six and one abroad Year: 1914 (1910s) Authors: Thomas, Sidney J., 1868- Subjects: Publisher: [Austin, …