2 years ago
“How are you and Pamela going to handle it, Kim?” her husband Gordon asked the morning after the funeral.
“We haven’t really discussed it,” she replied.
Their father had always intended to rewrite his will after their mother had died five years ago, but he never found the time to do it, and now it was too late. The two daughters, Pamela and Kim, were the only remaining family and the state had declared them both to be joint heirs, to share equally in the estate.
“I suppose we will have an estate sale for the contents, and then sell the house.”
Gordon nodded and folded his buttered toast. “I’ll think I should talk to Roger today. I have no idea what we have to do, legally. I suppose everything will have to be inventoried and appraised. I don’t think there will be enough money to require you pay any taxes.”
“I hadn’t thought of that.”
“It’s a great house. Wish we could afford to buy it. Maybe Pamela and Richard will want it.”
Kim reached around Gordon’s shoulder and filled his coffee cup for him. “Not a chance. Richard might be interested but Pamela would never allow it.”
Kim knew her sister too well. Richard was a successful consulting engineer and Pamela was more than content living out in the valley in her big house with the high-column porches and her velvet lawns and her Arabian horses. For her, moving back to the city would be worse than driving a Mini, or wearing something off the rack.
Gordon, Kim and their two teen-age sons lived fairly comfortably on Gordon’s income as a repairman for the telephone company. The boys liked to visit Aunt Pamela’s horse farm. They had both became proficient riders and loved helping Pamela show her horses. She was sure one of them would someday track dirt onto her thick, white carpeting. So much so, she made them take off their shoes before they came into the house.
Gordon finished his eggs and reached for his cup. “If they don’t put too high a price on it, I’d like to have your dad’s table saw. Anything special you want?”
Kim smiled. He knew exactly what she wanted. Just the Clock. A six-foot tall, solid cherry, hand-made grandfather clock built in 1898 by her great-great grandfather. Every Sunday evening, when she was a little girl, Dad had let her help him pull up the three big weights. He taught her to count by the sound of the striker, and always said the clock would be hers someday. She already had a corner of the living room picked out for it.
Gordon toyed with his fork. “Yeah. The clock. It has to be worth several thousand pounds. That’s a lot of money though, Kim.”
“I’ll work it out with Pamela.”
“What if she wants it, too? She sure can afford it. Have you thought about that?”
She hadn’t. There was no need to. “She never paid any attention to it. When Kim was five, Pamela was eight and she considered fooling with those weights to be something babies did. Besides, she knows Dad promised it to me.” Kim frowned and decided not to wait for Pamela to call her.
Kim got Gordon off to work and the boys off to school, picked up the phone and dialled her sister. After the usual small talk she brought up the estate.
“Why don’t you just handle it, Kimberley,” Pamela said. “I’m much too busy to be bothered with it all at the moment.”
“I don’t mind doing it, but you should be there when we do the inventory. And if there is anything you want, we need to put it aside.”
“You can’t get enough money from that stuff to make a half-share worth my time. And I’m sure you wouldn’t want me going round pricing things. Here’s what we’ll do. I’ll take that old clock and you keep all the money from the sale.”
She would take the clock?
Kim was stunned. But before she could react, Pamela said, “I’m really in a hurry, Kimberley. I’ll talk to you later.”
“Wait a minute, Pam...” She was talking to the dial tone.
Kim didn’t remember cleaning up the kitchen. When she found herself dusting the same picture frame for the third time, she threw down the rag and ran upstairs to the shower. Under the warm spray she regained control of herself.
Pamela had always managed to get her own way, to get exactly whatever it was she wanted, and now she wanted the clock. Kim’s clock. No way was that going to happen. Not this time. This time she would stand up to her. Alone in the shower her resolution was strong, but what would it be like when she actually faced up to her?
That morning felt like it was a month long and by lunch time Kim realized she had nibbled her way through half a packet of biscuits. With a deep sigh, she went into the garage. She couldn’t put off talking to Pamela any longer.
As Kim left the suburbs and dropped into the valley, Gordon’s prophetic words came back loudly. ‘What if she wants it, too?’ Now, unbelievably, she did. But why? When they were kids it was just another piece of furniture she had to dust every week. Then it struck her. She didn’t want the clock, she just didn’t want to be bothered with the whole sale, and the clock was an alternative to splitting any money she had not helped to earn. Kim smiled and relaxed, and for the first time noticed what a lovely spring day it was.
The long, stone drive soon led up to the hitching rail behind Pamela’s big house and Kim parked there. As she got out of her car, Pamela appeared in the doorway of the enclosed rear porch, in tailored white slacks and a silky light gray sleeveless pullover. Her long blonde hair was tied back with a bright red bow and she held a cell phone to her ear. She motioned Kim in and held the door as she came up the steps. The room smelled of fresh lilacs. Kim sat down on the yellow-flowered sofa against the long living room wall. Pamela pointed to the bar, her eyebrows arched in question to which Kim shook her head and waited for her to finish her conversation.
“Thank you, Phylis,” she said finally. “We do appreciate your generous donation. Thanks again. ‘Bye.” Pamela tossed the phone on the yellow-flowered chair by the door and rolled her eyes to the ceiling. “Getting a penny off of that woman is harder than getting raw meat away from a hungry tiger.”
Kim just laughed. “What are you collecting for now?”
“The Art League. I’m chairwoman this year. We’re trying to raise the last few thousand pounds for the art show next week,” Pamela said. “Everything has gone wrong with it... That’s why I told you to handle the estate.”
“Gordon is going to talk to our solicitor today. We think there will have to be an inventory and we may want a professional appraisal of all the property. Don’t you want to be there?”
Pamela shook a long, thin cigarette from a package on the inlaid-ivory end table, flicked her lighter and inhaled deeply. “I just don’t have the time. Whatever you decide will be fine with me.” She blew smoke into the room and Kim slid down the sofa away from it.
“All right, I’ll do it.” Kim fingered at the antique lace doily on the arm of the sofa.
“About the clock, Pamela… I know you just wanted to be fair about the money, but the clock is really mine, you know.” Kim looked up at her. “I’ll pay the full appraised value for it.”
Pamela rested her elbow in the cupped palm of her hand and stared at Kim. She didn’t like the look in her eyes. “You don’t understand, Kimberley. It has nothing to do with being fair, or with the money. I want the clock. I don’t recall Father ever saying anything about it being yours.”
Kim felt a sudden flush in her cheeks. “Pamela, you know Dad wanted me to have it. Can’t you take something else? You can even have everything else.”
Pamela rolled her eyes again. “Everything else is just junk. Look around you, Kimberley. This house is the perfect setting for that clock. It will go in the foyer with my early American hall tree and my two colonial chairs. Where in the world would you put it in that little house of yours?”
The pink in Kim’s cheeks burned red and she rose on her feet. “My house is quite adequate, thank you very much, and where I choose to put my clock in it, is immaterial. You know Dad promised it to me. You know it.” She felt her nails biting into her palms.
“Ridiculous. If you’re going to be your usual difficult self, Kimberley, I’ll have to exercise my right as eldest child to take the clock.”
Kim could hardly speak. “Your right? What does being the eldest have to do with... you can’t be serious.” She swung around and marched to the door. “We’ll see who gets my clock,” she shouted over her shoulder.
Pamela followed her as far as the steps. “If you take it I’ll have you arrested for theft, little sister. You can bank on it.”
Kim heard the door slam.
It gave Kim an eerie feeling to walk through the empty house. The silence was oppressive. She went into the living room, sat down by the ticking clock and waited for her solicitor Roger to arrive. Pamela must have had second thoughts about the inventory after their confrontation yesterday because when Roger rang the bell five minutes later, her solicitor, Jack Wilson, was with him. The two solicitors had agreed on an appraiser and they all waited another ten minutes for him to arrive. Gordon left work early and came in around noon. The house wasn’t empty any more.
It was late afternoon and they had finished the downstairs inventory when Richard stopped by to see how it was going. Pamela seldom visited them but they often saw Richard. Twice a month Richard would pick up Gordon for golf. Gordon was a beginner and Richard enjoyed teaching him.
Richard looked at Kim. “Pamela tells me you two had some strong words about the clock yesterday.”
Kim blinked a few times and touched Gordon’s arm. “She wants my clock. She can’t have it.”
Richard wiggled a thumb in the direction of the three men in the next room. “What do the legal minds say?”
“Well,” Gordon said, “they started out talking about how silly it was for two grown sisters to be fighting over a daft old clock. And when it became apparent that neither of them would back off, they got serious. They’re trying to work it out now.”
“Something profound, no doubt. I’m sure Jack will tell us when they get it solved.” He looked at Gordon. “No hard feelings?”
“Of course not, Richard.” Gordon extended his hand.
Richard shook it and grinned. "I'm late," he said and waved as he went out the door.
“Did you have to be all Mr. Friendly with him?” Kim asked sharply. “Whose side are you on anyway?”
Gordon stared at her. “Listen to yourself, Kim. Richard didn’t do anything.”
“He lives with her, doesn’t he?” She looked away from Gordon’s frown. “He just isn’t...”
Gordon shut her up with a kiss, and in spite of everything she responded to his embrace. “I guess he’s not so bad,” she said grudgingly when he finally let her breathe again.
“Let’s go home,” Gordon suggested. “They won’t get to the upstairs until tomorrow.”
Kim agreed and Gordon went to tell the lawyers they were on their own.
At ten minutes before nine the next morning, Kim was standing in the middle of her parent’s bedroom. The lawyers had not arrived yet and the house was so still she felt the pressure of it in her eardrums. She knew Roger and Jack Wilson would be upset if she didn’t wait for them but she didn’t care.
The first bureau drawer was mostly socks and underwear. Another drawer yielded a half-dozen shirts, some still in their clear plastic wrappers. Among Dad’s things in his jewellery box Kim found a pair of Mum’s favourite pearl earrings. He had kept them. She went into the bedroom closet and looked around. There were the usual things, suits, jackets, slacks, shoes, belts, ties... then she noticed a package standing against the back wall. It was about three feet by two feet, only a couple of inches thick, and wrapped in brown Kraft paper. Curious, Kim carried it out and laid it on the bed.
The string knot untied easily and Kim began to unfold the paper. It was a canvas tacked over a frame, face down. She turned it over.
Oh, my God! Kim cried. It was the living room downstairs. And it was her and Dad. And the Clock. Dad was guiding her hand as she grasped the chain holding one of the weights. She had no idea Dad had taken up painting, but his initials were boldly painted in the corner. She tipped it up and leant it against the wall. It was primitive, but it was beautiful. Kim sat down on the bed and just stared at it. She was smiling, but the tears came anyway.
Heels clicked on the hardwood flooring in the hall and Kim quickly jerked around. Pamela stood in the doorway. “What in the world is that?” she said as she came into the bedroom. Kim dabbed at her cheeks with a pillowcase. “It’s me. Dad painted it. I just found it. Isn’t it great?”
Pamela looked at it. “It does have a certain charm I suppose. Why do you think it’s you? There isn’t the slightest resemblance.”
Kim laughed. “Of course there is. Trust me, Pamela, It is me.”
Pamela stepped back. “I can’t believe Father painted that. I never ever saw him with a brush in his hand.”
Neither had I. “It must be something he did recently.”
Pamela came closer and peered at the canvas. “Amazing.” She stepped back. “That’s not why I’m here, anyway. I came to satisfy Richard and Jack. Jack and your solicitor, what’s-his-name, have decided you and I must draw for first choice at the clock. I think it is all ridiculous, but Richard says I have to do what the lawyers say.”
“Draw? What does that mean?” enquired Kim.
“I have no idea. They dreamed this up between them. Cards, I suppose, or slips of paper.” She shrugged. “Maybe they will flip a coin. It’s ridiculous.”
Kim didn’t like it either, but what could they do? Since Dad had left no will, it was only Kim’s word that he promised the clock to her. If Pamela won the draw, or the flip, or whatever else they might come up with, she would get the clock and Kim didn’t think she could bear that.
God, she wished Gordon was there. She went into the bathroom and washed her face. And when she came out Pamela was examining the painting again. “It really isn’t that bad. In fact, in an amateurish way, it’s pretty good. I’m sure I can sell it at the art show. Have you found any others?”
Kim hadn’t even thought about that. And as she started back to look, the doorbell rang. Pamela went down the hall to the stairs. Kim re-wrapped the painting before she followed her downstairs.
The two solicitors were in the foyer. They were all business and after polite salutations they all seated themselves around the big dining table. Jack Wilson, with his wavy silver hair and his perfect teeth, took over the proceedings. He explained that seeing that neither Pamela nor Kim had any special rights to anything in the estate. They now had to find an equitable way to settle it. Roger produced a deck of cards. He broke the seal, slid the cards out of the box and began to shuffle them. After a few riffles he handed them to Jack Wilson, who riffled them again and set the deck in the centre of the table.
“Whoever draws the higher card gets first choice,” he said. “The choice will alternate until one of you has no remaining selection. Then the remaining sister may take anything she wants from what is left.”
“Of course everything must be recorded at whatever price you and the appraiser agree on,” Roger reminded them. “The balance will be sold at auction and you will split the total minus anything you have already claimed. Do you both understand?”
Pamela and her sister both nodded.
Jack Wilson then looked at Kim. “We have decided the elder sister should draw first. Is that satisfactory to you?”
Kim glanced at Roger. His head dipped a fraction of an inch as if to confer.
She smiled. “Of course. Someone has to go first.”
Wilson pointed to the deck of cards. “Go ahead, Pamela.”
She reached to the cards and put her fingers around them. Then she pulled back, licked her lips and started again. This time she went less than halfway down the pack, squeezed her fingers around the cards and lifted them. She kept them face down, pulled them toward her and looked at the bottom card. Her expression didn’t change.
“Now you, Kimberley,” Roger said. Kim took a deep breath and reached for the cards. Her fingers closed over a short stack and she lifted them. As Pamela had done, she kept them face down, pulled them to her and looked at the bottom card. She tried to keep her expression even.
“You don’t look very well, little sister. Want to show us why?”
Kim turned the cards over and showed her the ten of diamonds. Pamela’s lips curled into a tight smile. She leaned back and laughed. Jack Wilson turned over her cards. Pamela had drawn the seven of spades. Kim exhaled audibly.
When Kim had finished brushing her teeth and came out of the bathroom, Gordon was watching her from their bed.
“I guess I will never understand you women,” he said.
“What’s to understand?” She folded her robe over the chair. “I won the draw and I got my clock.” Kim smiled as she slid under the sheet.
Across the room, between the two windows, hung her Dad’s painting. Gordon stared at it. “You mean you got a picture of it. That’s not the same thing.”
“You’re right Gordon. It’s better. Dad knew, but it took the painting to make me realize it. It wasn’t about the clock; it was the closeness I felt with him because of it.” She rolled over next to Gordon. “If I had taken the real clock, Pamela would have taken the painting and sold it at her art show. It was the only other thing in the house which interested her, and I would have lost it forever. I couldn’t let her do that.”
“So, Pamela got the clock after all?”
“Not really. She got some wood and some brass and a lot of shine.” Kim rolled over and turned out the light. “All she got was the body. I got the spirit. The clock will always be mine this way.”
And Kim wouldn’t have had it any other way. It had been a wonderful day for her.
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