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Theresa Starkey

The Will


My great aunt lived next to Grandma. A stretch of woods and a cornfield separated the two houses. When I was little I spent my time running back and forth between Grandma's house and Aunt P's.

The upstairs was furnished with antiques and fine wood tables, chairs and a fancy sofa, but Aunt P and Uncle B lived in the basement, where it was cooler. There was a full kitchen upstairs, but there was a cooking area in the basement, too, along with two giant La-Z Boys and two large iron beds covered with quilts. Faded family photographs in heavy frames hung on the basement walls. In the evening P and B sat in their leather recliners and watched TV.

The reading of the will took place upstairs. The tiny living room and dining room were cramped with family. Every one sat around whispering, waiting for Great Aunt P's wealth to be parceled out. Family members strolled through the back bedrooms and rustled through dresser drawers and peeked into the closets. Uncle D and his son J sat across the room from me and made verbal jabs at one another. J sat on a footstool, slightly hunched over. He held a four-pronged metal cane upside down and twirled the upright bottom like a propeller. He twirled the cane faster as he looked at his father. He leaned in and whispered, "I want to grind your face off with this cane."

The perky, sandy haired executor of Aunt P's will preformed her duties quickly and efficiently. She passed out folded checks to each family member. There was no solemn performance or attempt at modesty as the participants received their windfall. My Aunt S and Great Aunt L walked around quizzing everyone on check amounts. In the corner of the living room my Uncle B, Aunt P's surviving husband, sat in a recliner. In a hoarse voice, he demanded to know what was going on. He was half-blind in one eye and wore a patch over the other. He was hard of hearing and unable to get around on his own. The executor tried to soothe him. The rest of the family was too distracted. No one noticed the nervous old man or remembered whose house they were looting.

Jack and I sat on the remains of a small brick wall in the backyard and tried to figure out when to leave. We both agreed the sooner the better. Uncle D and Cousin J joined us. When Uncle D discovered that Jack worked in television, he tried to persuade him to make a TV show about antique cars. He explained that antique cars were the sort of thing that people were interested in and wanted to watch on TV.

Minutes later, as we sped down Highway 5 in our primer-colored station wagon, we were both quiet. No matter how fast I drove, it wasn't fast enough. I drove like a criminal on the lam, desperate to cross the county line.

Theresa Starkey is a doctoral candidate in the American Studies program at Emory University.

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