I believe my aunt knew she was dying long before the cancer finally took her that cold September evening last week. I do not believe it from prejudice or even knowing her well – no indeed, I barely knew her and honestly no-one did, not even in our family. My father’s sister – the one he called the ‘misfit’ and the black sheep of the family perhaps, but one we still circled like vultures as the prognosis was proclaimed, as she was very, very rich in the end. She’d had a knack for playing the stock market and built a small pension into a fortune. And just how she did it was another thing no-one knew.
But she knew she was dying and when. Of that I’m sure. Because she was so prepared. And she had the last laugh too, and in a way, despite everything, I rather like that.
Her lawyer called us – the estranged family – once she died. We gathered with faux solemnity at his offices and listened as he told us that we could have anything we wanted from her home. He said everything that matters to her was there, and that it had the key her fortune and whoever found it first could have it all.
So of course we all rushed over to her large estate with greed and excitement. Each of us thought, no doubt that we’d be the one to find the key to her fortune, the bank account documents and whatever else cloaked her in such money in her final years.
But when we entered her house we found…nothing. The place was empty – completely bare – no furniture, no clothes, no ..anything..and certainly no desk filled with bank details and deeds to her fortune.
There was only one thing, in her main living room, on the bare wall. A simple mask one might wear to a ball, hung on a single hook. My family cursed her name and stomped away, oblivious to the mask, but I remained, looking at it with a curiosity that moulded itself to suspicion. After all, the lawyer said the key to her fortune could be found here, so if this is all that could be found, then the key it must be. My family are far too literal and too greedy and my aunt had been too prepared for them and knew them far better than they knew her.
But still, but still, she had everything stripped from the house but this – this one mask on the wall. So perhaps her dying wish was that someone might understand and prove themselves worthy from our wretched family. Once I knew my siblings and parents were gone I approached the mask and lifted it from its hook. I turned it to look at its back, imagining putting it to my face. Wearing it.
Was it just a toy, a final joke played on us – with me the biggest fool of all – or was it something else? There would be only one way to know, but not now, and not here. I opened the empty briefcase I’d brought with me, hoping to fill it with bank papers and the like. I placed the mask in gently, closing the lid softly so it would not break or be marred in any way.
And tonight, tonight, I will wear the mask and finally know. Is it a joke or the key? Or neither, just a mask on a wall, from a woman who knew her family too well?
Ah well, we shall see….
(c). Helen M Valentina 2020