This story is by Shannon Sacoman and was part of our 2019 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Fuschia and green floral, really? The two women thought simultaneously. Mirabel felt like her shirt had just come out of a fire; it was all wrong and her shame burned. She lamely gestured everyone into the multipurpose room, while tugging at it self-consciously. Its tropical pattern and flowy, delicate sleeves that had felt so uplifting this morning became abruptly wrong.
She sat in the firm armchair, appreciating for the first time its somber color, near the sturdy couch where Abe’s family sat. The three wore black. Each sat stiffly, each in their own way, one like a coiled spring, the next blank and neutral, the last detached and defensive. She had thought they’d pick seats at the conference table. The sleek stainless clock she’d picked out online consistently sounded its overly intense tick as each second passed, an unfair reminder.
Rachel, her notebook in her lap and pen at the ready, sat nearest to her and began harshly, “I can’t understand why you won’t let us in to our father’s apartment.”
Mirabel, the complex’s manager, lost in this unexpected role, slumped and let her eyes slide out to the pool through the window behind them, “I am so sorry again for your loss. Your father was such a fun-loving and generous neighbor. To address your question, I was surprised too, if I’m honest. This is a new issue for me; The Ridges is a pretty young community. A lot of graduate students and people just starting out.” A wan smile, “it suited Abe though. He spent a lot of time with his neighbors: giving advice, playing games with their kids, teaching cribbage, and learning new games. He even joined our weekly Dungeons & Dragons table.”
Rachel held her breath. In the middle, Daniel had rolled his neck back and looked at the ceiling breathing slowly, while Noah, hanging slightly over the arm of the couch, worried a molar.
“I’m sorry, I’m rambling, but he was beloved here. Again, this is not something I’ve dealt with as a property manager, so I asked about the proper procedures. The corporate lawyer made sure I really understood protocol. None of you are listed as an emergency contact on your father’s lease.”
“We all live out of town, it wouldn’t be sensible, but he is-was still our father,” Rachel cut in, the tips of her ears heating.
“I understand, but, unfortunately, you also aren’t listed on the rights to access form our parent company requires.”
Rachel gaped at her brothers, seeking explanation or a scapegoat. She received a shrug from Daniel and an unreadable exhale from Noah. The lonely ache in her chest flared.
Quickly, Mirabel insisted, “He simply didn’t put any names on that one, actually. He signed it blank. It’s the kind of thing I would have asked about, personally, but this was from my predecessor’s time. I’m sorry. It seems you all will have to wait for his attorney. If you’d like to use this room, I can make it available for you.”
They came fumbling through the door. The lights of the pool glittered in the dark window. He tried to glance around when her mouth wasn’t on his. Seconds ticked by lustily from some wall.
“Wait, where are we?” he whispered.
“Don’t care, just opened a door,” she mumbled into his ear, dragging her teeth down the lobe.
Kissing him again, she unhooked his belt. Her thoughts were quiet, but her impulses thrummed. She pushed him away from the window into the shadow against the door, narrowly avoiding the bright hallway light. Just enough danger, her assessment more desire than reason.
Danger! Anyone could walk by, he thought, stopping her hands there, spinning the two of them around reversing control of the multipurpose room’s door. He kissed her in the way that is both consuming and grateful. Tempted, he placed deep, brief kisses on her neck, her collarbone, the tops of her breasts, then whispered in her ear, “Not here, we’re almost to my apartment.” He grabbed her hand and the doorknob.
Disappointed and bored, she let him lead.
This is it, the two thought simultaneously.
This feels so fucking weird, thought Madison, checking her laptop again, making sure that the
webcam on the chair on the conference table showed her and the white board but not the pool window behind her. She double-checked the screen sharing function, and she double-checked her hair. Oh god, she checked her shirt, yes tucked in, no not sheer, no button gap.
Her shoulders slumped for the briefest second, before popping back up and back. She did tiny jumps in place from foot to foot, like an athlete keeping loose. Breathing deep, she put her hands in front of her and pressed palms together.
In for seven, hold for three, out for eight. She did this five times and sighed; her body relaxed but her mind spun on, emboldened by the incessant resounding ticking clock. Just too weird talking to a camera, my bosses & coworkers on their laptops somewhere & not seeing them or their reactions. Should have taken Liz up on her offer to sit in so I had someone to look at & get feedback from. How quickly can she get here? Not in five minutes. Oh god, five more minutes worrying before I can start. Maybe she can be here in five. Text her. She said she’d be around. I hate asking. You have to ask or you will never get what you need. It’s her job to say no. I hope she doesn’t think it means anything. Doesn’t it, though? Stop. Not the time. No room for hope right now.
She tapped messages and selected the top conversation.
Shit you were right, I’m freaking out. Come?
She put her phone down. Face down. Pretending to be chill. Looking across the table towards the couch area, she reminded herself, Be grateful this space was available. Otherwise, I’d have had to rent some space downtown. Or worse, tried to do this in the apartment. Disgust. Plus, since Liz also lives here, she might actually make it. Hope surged, distractingly.
Of course, coming now, don’t put me on camera–def not professional.
Relief, that’s all this is. Relief. But she was glowing, super-charged, ready to kill this presentation.
She’d barely read Liz’s text when she heard the door open and turned, “Sorry, I have this room reserved, Oh. Oh!”
Liz hesitated there, towel-draped in flip-flops. Madison’s brain was suddenly scrambling again.
Liz blushed, “Sorry, I rushed from the pool. Is it okay?”
Is she blushing, or is this just a friends thing? The two women thought simultaneously.
After Death, Redemption
Three days later, Rachel and her brothers sat in the room again, now at the conference table with their father’s lawyer. Mr. Franklin was the man who had helped him create his last few business ventures, who he golfed with, who he played cards with.
“Your father didn’t give anyone access because he wanted to avoid disruptions to his will.”
He screwed up his face in that way some men do when they are trying not to emote. His heart ached for his friend and he hated adding professionalism to his empathy, considering them family, not work. “Largely, he hated how he and his siblings quarrelled after your grandmother died, and endeavored to avoid that for you three, considering your somewhat contentious recent history.”
Rachel’s shoulders drooped and her face sagged. She glared at the cruelly ticking clock before turning apologetically to her brothers, lamenting, “He was right. It’s been … rough already. Sorry, guys.”
They shifted uncomfortably in agreement.
“Well,” Franklin croaked, “he specified sentimental items for you each and that the rest of his belongings be sold. You will split the monetary value three ways. The items are sorted, labeled, and boxed where applicable, and will be all you find upstairs. From the rest of his estate, he gave modest gifts to a few others, but the bulk is yours. When settled, each of you will be mailed a certified check.”
The adult children mumbled thanks, and with shame, gloom, and regret stood together to visit their father’s apartment for the first and last time.
I miss him, the four thought simultaneously.
I can’t follow them. Sometimes their exit is relief. Mostly, their hope or joy or grief or earnestness engulfs what there is of me. But their stories, even when complete, are rarely fulfilling.
Still I sit, four thin walls, stark, with a loud clock, a bit of stuck streamer from a birthday party, and a scuff from a cheap chair. I endure every tremor and twitch of my visitors’ emotions; their anticipation, heartache, delight, boredom, and fear become mine, too. I hear every thought, and every purpose.
I am stuck unmoving, apart. No interior world to call my own, only to share in theirs. They fill me, then I am empty.
I wonder if there’s anything else out there like me.