We perched precariously on the edge of his seats. Dust and the stuffy atmosphere of the room weighed in on us. Drenched in the truth of it all, I fixed my gaze on the great bookshelf across the other side of the room; a second skin to the wall. The tall sash windows streaming sunlight through that half of the library, splintering the shelf with solid shards of light: the collections of various works obscured. Their spines were dark emeralds, royal blues, and rich red wines. Gold embossed titles glittered sharply through the blocks of amber where disturbed motes spiralled: ghostly unsettled pools of spinning, lost particles. The solicitor cleared his throat. My attention snapped back to the cold reality of the room; and my dead uncle's affairs. In this moment, I saw the look of bewilderment on my cousins' faces, all directed at me. The leather upholstery of Uncle Barty's chair grew warm beneath me. “Did you hear me, Miss Devonshire? The entire estate?” I swallowed, my throat catching on the dust. The vastness of the room and circle of seething relatives suffocated me, as if someone was replacing the air with steam. Outside, I touched the lion's head. He lay on his belly in the entranceway, sightlessly surveying the gardens. A patch of moss had grown over his eyes. Lightly clutching his cheeks, I stared into his old grey face as if my uncle was in there somewhere; turned to stone by the coldness of our own family. Uncle Barty had always loved my thick, curly blonde hair. When I was little, Barty would to lift me up on to the lion's back and laugh at how I'd stolen his mane. I stood there, welling up, my forehead gently pressed against the lion's. The closest thing to our last hug. He was cold, and cooled my burning head, slowing its panicky buzzing. I let out a long-suppressed sigh and pulled myself up straight. As I walked back through the hall, turning left at the long corridor of rich silk wallpaper, I heard raised voices. I thought of the lion and walk faster, stalking, gathering pace, taking deeper strides; until I pushed past the big oak doors into the library. It fell into a stony silence. “Ah, Miss Devonshire, you're back. Would you like some water? I've poured you a glass. It must be quite a shock, understandably, but Bartholomew always did say that you were-” “She coerced him. You made him write that, Cassie. You used your smile and tossed your hair about like you always do, and guilt tripped him into leaving you all this. Why would he choose you over his own children, fucking hell?” my cousin burst out, the one who flew in yesterday from halfway across the world. Not a moment too late to hear the will. “Michael,” I began, not knowing if I could finish without cracking. “Michael, when was the last time you saw him? Any of you?” Another silence. “Checked up on him?” Nothing. “You're his own children and you couldn't even pick up the phone, could you? He loved you and you just did nothing!” I choked, frustrated by how emotional I sounded when I wanted to roar in their faces. Michael and his sisters twitched in their seats, dry-eyed. Taking a sip of water, I seethed at how they had left their last living parent to die, alone. Michael sunning himself into a thick leathery tan out on a veranda; Judith and Suzanne blissfully spending their trust funds. I would have done anything to see mine again, to embrace them and feel their warmth on my skin, just one last time. The years I had taken to contemplate how precious each particle of my parents had been; from a hazy, half-forgotten vision of an idyllic childhood together. Soon, the Pride dispersed. I climbed on the lion's back and watched them leave our kingdom. They stepped into lined up cabs and trailed away, ant-like. Going on to God knows where; the solicitor too.
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