Bequeath My Estate
It was a peachy day in Milkshake World. Buddy Holly’s soul was brought out from shellac storage on the jukebox and pearly-white-smile waitresses roller-skated ice cool shakes to thankful customers. But beneath the skin of a harmonious mise en scène beats an anxious heart in middle America. A nagging feeling all is not well.
“I’ve got a bad feeling about today. I think it could be my last.”
“Dad, don’t be silly.”
“It’s okay. We’ve all gotta go sometime. It’s just that...Life isn’t what I thought it would be. I know it works out for some. And so it should. But I made too many silly mistakes,” the man in the suit replied.
“It's not too late to change,” his daughter said.
Her father shook his head sadly. “No. I think my number’s almost up.”
“What's gotten into you? You’ll probably outlive us all. Can I have your cinnamon stick?”
“Sure. Look, I don’t wanna die intestate. I’m gonna write a will on this napkin. I bequeath my estate...”
“Dad, stop that.”
“Please Martha, let me do this, okay?”
“Dad, what the hell’s gotten into you?”
“Think of it as your father having some morbid fun. Damn, my pen’s broke. You got some lipstick?”
His daughter rummaged through her bag noisily, handed him one and then folded her arms.
“Go on. You wanna say something,” her father said. “I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking I’m one dark, twisted individual.”
“Dad, something you write on a napkin in lipstick is not legally binding.”
“Who says so?”
“Someone who knows about these things, I imagine.”
“Oh, okay. Waitress.”
“Are you studying law by any chance?”
“Okay, never mind. I won’t hold it against you. I’ll just have to trust my wife to dispose of my worldly effects.”
The waitress glanced between father and daughter and retreated with a bemused smile.
“You think I’m one messed up son of a gun, don’t you?”
“Dad, you've always been a glass half-empty kinda guy, I’ll say that much.”
“You're damn right I have.”
“Life's like that. It's basically a yin and yang thing we've got going on here. Mom is philosophical when bad stuff happens and you're negative even when good things happen. And I'm fine with that. That's you. I just think you should know you're one of the good guys. Maybe one of the messed up good guys, but good all the same.”
Her dad suddenly looked wistful.
“You know, if there’s a heaven or an afterlife or whatever I don't expect to be let inside. I wouldn't want to be let inside.”
“Look, dad, forget all that stuff we talked about earlier.”
Her dad looked at her thoughtfully, then away and back again. “Growing up with super-loser parents isn't easy. I know you were teased at school some.”
“I'm proud of you both now. To me Accident-prone Woman and Accident-prone Man are just Mom and Dad.”
“Oh it’s easy to say that now but you went through some tough times. You went through some very tough times. You remember when I tried to pick you up from school, I mean literally pick you up, and I flew into those telegraph wires? Right in front of all the moms and dads.”
“I know. And the next time you do something super stupid I’m gonna act like you’re the superest jerk in the world for a couple of days, which you probably know because you can see the future, right?”
“Right. I wanted to be Premonition Man but I had the first costume made the wrong size and then the second one I left in a phonebox and then I saw the accident one going cheap and as I’m pretty accident-”
“Dad, it’s okay, really. I love you both for who you are.”
“You forgive us for the unplanned pregnancy?”
“Ssssh! Not too loud Dad! People are staring at us.”
Her dad nodded. “Drink your milkshake. We gotta get going.”
The loser hero paid the bill and went arm in arm with is daughter towards the elevator, stopping midway.
“I don't believe it. It's Texas Druther. What's he doing here?”
“Must’ve been shopping.”
“I doubt it. He can have anything he wants delivered straight to him.”
“Martha, he's the only guy I know who can stop people receiving junk mail forever. He's that good.”
“So what’s he doing here?”
“Only thing I know is, I don't like this.”
“Dad, it’s best you stay out of it.”
“You know I can’t do that.”
Accident-prone man approached Texas.
“Texas, what are you doing here?”
“Accident-prone, man. Thought you’d never ask. Seems a waste to sell all these people milkshake and not put something in it. What if all the milkshakes in all the Milkshake Worlds in the world had lethal doses of poison added to them at the same time? With my new automated drinks system, that is a very real possibility,” he replied.
“Texas, I'm afraid I'm going to have to put a stop to this.”
Druther gave him a withering look.
“Isn’t this one mistake too many for you, Mistake Man?”
Accident-prone Man opened his mouth to warn the Milkshake World customers not to touch their drinks but a lighting fixture fell on his head before he could speak.
Texas chuckled and shook his head. “Always wondered how he would die.”
Meantime in grey ole England, a discernably Asian man with furrowed jowls sat at his desk with hands pressed together, as if in prayer. Then Mr Ganasanga pressed a button that summoned his assistant. He wandered over to the window and looked at the 95 metre shyscraper opposite. That was fine. 1960s buildings were acceptable as part of a balanced diet. Then he looked at a will framed on the wall. It began ‘I bequeath my estate’…That was fine too. He looked at it almost everyday, it reminded him why he was there. The spoils of a mega dollar Greeting Card empire bequeathed from father to son had funded his dream- with a few conditions- to correct things that annoyed him. In particular, he liked things to be tidy. There was a Marathon wrapper on the window sill, left by a decorator. Also a folded copy of the National Echo, with its (last in series) comic strip The Adventures of Accident-prone Man turned face up. That wasn’t fine, so he put it them the bin.
Then Melissa Strove knocked and walked in.
“Miss Strove. Please remain standing. Here’s this week’s agenda.”
Miss Strove had pen at the ready.
“The Far Right in Western Europe has received much more attention than its recent performance in elections would apparently warrant. I wish to know its prospects.”
Miss Strove dotted an i and crossed a t.
“Second. Find me a good hotel in Bophuthatswana. I fly there next month.”
There was an uncomfortable silence. Then Mr Ganasanga added, “B.O.P.H.U.T.H.A.T.S.W.A.N.A.”
“Thank you, sir.”
Mr Ganasanga stood with legs clasped and shoulders rigid, staring at nothing, as if he were a soldier on parade.
“Mr Ganasanga? Is there anything else?”
Mr Ganagsanga took a bottle of HP sauce from his desk drawer and, arm shaking with anger, slammed it down.
“What is this?” he asked.
Miss Strove, as you might expect, informed Mr Ganasanga it was a bottle of HP sauce.
Miss Strove gingerly approached, as if the bottle might explode at any moment and had it thrust into her hand.
“Read the label.”
“Add a good dollop of HP sauce whilst cooking meat and it will give a rich, tangy, spicy flavour.”
“Not that label. The other one.”
“By appointment to Her Majesty the Queen, purveyors of Heinz Products...”
“H.J Heinz Foods UK Ltd, Hayes...Middx.”
“It’s a county sir.”
“I know what it is. It’ s a Saxon settlement. I know that. I’m not a fool. The first recorded reference to it was made in 704. Also, the year that the Chopanid ruler of Qastamum died and the year the Giant Wild Goose Pagoda in Xi’an was re-built. I know that.”
“Yes sir. 704 was a leap year starting on a Tuesday,” added Miss Strove.
“I didn’t know that,” Mr Ganasanga replied, twitching a little. Miss Strove sympathetically attempted to lighten things.
“Have you been to the Wild Goose Pagoda, sir?”
“No, I just went to the KFC next to it. It’s not worth going, it’s just a spartan brick tower. Well?”
“You think I’m gonna let you forget about Middlesex! What do I pay you for?”
Mr Ganasanga replied with accelerating irritability.“Middlesex does not exist anymore. Not as a postal county or jurisdiction. I want to know why it’s still hanging round like a ghost on address labels and so forth.”
“Yes sir,” Miss Strove says, hurriedly writing down the last instruction and scurrying away.
“Dismissed,” said Mr Ganasanga, after she’d already disappeared.
Mr Ganasanga sighed and clasped his forehead, his hand sliding half-way down his face. Why was life still shit at 68? He was comfortable financially, which wasn’t to be sniffed at, but it’d been too long coming and he had a poor relationship with his children and phoney friends, none of whom he could really stand. Like his father before him. Would he break the cycle and insure his daughter had some quality of life whilst quality of life was worth having? Ha, why should he? She was waiting for him to die. She wanted his money, but didn’t respect him. She’d called him every name under the stars, including a ‘narcissistic, super-loser’ who’d ‘swallowed an Encyclopedia but knew nothing about the human heart.’ Would she feed and bathe him when he was too infirm to do so himself? Chance would be a fine thing.
He’d be more than prepared to welcome Gemma with open arms if their relationship was on equal terms. Still, the fact was the wily will did stipulate- amongst one or two other things- that to be eligible for the handsome salary paid to him from a trust he must bounce up and down on a trampoline for fifteen minutes each day whilst talking to his daughter on the phone. She in turn would have the rent on her one bedroom flat paid if she participated. This arrangement took place every morning at 10.30 and there must be no cross words between them. Prior to the beginning of this arrangement they’d not spoken to eachother in seventeen years.
Mr Ganasang’s train of thought was interrupted by the telephone.
“Mr Ganasanga, it’s time for your trampoline diplomacy.”
“So. Gemma. What are you doing today?”
“I’ve been writing a short story for Happy Hour magazine. Wanna hear it?”
“Yes, yes of course.”
“Okay, let me read. ‘Charlotte brushed the crumbs of her morning slice of toast with Philadelphia off her sleeve and narrowed her eyes at the court summons that stared back at her unfazed, with an intimidating array of words spewing legal terminology. She sighed and took out a red pen from her bureau, bequeathed to her by her tight-fisted aunty, carefully removing the top and placing it neatly on top of the faux-antique furniture. She’d done everything she could, against the odds, to save her local hospital, but the voices of unreason- ”
“Yes, yes. Very good. Hope it wins.”
“You don’t sound very interested in it.”
“I’m very interested. How much longer?”
“Keep jumping,” said the adjudicator, who had to ensure Mr Ganasanga kept jumping.
“Three feet minimum.”
Then Miss Strove walked in.
“Sir, the reports on far-right parties, Bohof-thingymergig, and Middlesex, which lives on in people’s hearts, like an echo. And there is no KFC outside Da Yan Ta. And my resignation.”
“No KFC? There will be. Mark my words, there will be. Dismissed.”
But Miss Strove had already left.
Meantime, Francis Collins of Shakespeare Solicitors, Uxbridge (Middlesex) closed his copy of The Middlesex Affair on page 4 and checked over the will. 'I bequeath my estate...'
I knew as I threw the handful of dirt onto the lid of your coffin that I too was no longer immortal. I don't believe in fate, but I doubt I have long now. Endless years stretching into the future have now been condensed into the length of a short term love affair. One of those lost weeks in bed with a handsome stranger. If only.
In the space of one day, the house feels no longer mine, in limbo to be passed on, but to whom? Annie, did you not want all this? Last year, when I knocked at your door and you pretended not to be at home, when he made you pretend not to be at home, did either of us realise that I could no longer give you what should have been yours? I sat in that hotel, seven minutes walk from your house, and knew I had lost you. You could have come to see me, you could have found an excuse. There's no longer any time to get you back, and I'm damned if he's getting any of this. You should have answered the door. I'm your mother. I'm eighty two.
I cross to the hallway, and wander as if in an art gallery. Of course, this could be an art gallery, I made it that way. The lighting is perfect for the row of gilt framed paintings of the loyal and affectionate hounds I have owned over the years. I run my fingers over the thin ridges of paint, feeling in my memory the soft landscape of their coats. One by one, I am transported to woods and fields, in the Cotswolds, the Chilterns, the Black Forest, and the Mar Estate. Finally, the last two sit in the Peak District, Winston poised to bound up Shuttlingsloe, Clementine lying in the summer sun of the Goyt Valley. It was the light I loved.
Into the living room, which I have not changed in any way since John died seven years ago. If I sit in the dark green Chesterfield and pour myself a whisky from the decanter that has survived since our wedding day, he could still be there, always content, always smiling. But he was a bastard at times. I'm not sure I would have left him the house had he survived me.
There is a photograph in the spare room, upstairs, and I'm standing facing it. The date is the tenth of May, nineteen forty three. It is the final photograph from my primary school. Of course it is black and white, but I have inked in a boy's hair in the shade of brown that I remember. The spare room faces north, so the hue has never faded. The names are listed below, but I do not need to read the names to recall the young faces. As always I am drawn to the inked hair. Jonathan Hardy. How does it feel to have your heart broken at ten years old. Few can understand; it's too young, can't you see?
The sun beat down. We were running through the fields, close to where I lived. We were four or five of us, free and wild in the expectation of eight weeks of summer. He took my hand, and we stopped under an oak tree. In that moment I knew, I felt my heart compress, and even at ten I wanted him to kiss me. There could never be a moment so perfect again. And then you, Annie, you ran past and grabbed his arm, and whisked him away in a screaming whirling adventure that lasted all summer.
But he was mine first, and if he knocked on the front door, I would bequeath all of this to him.
The chipped Woolworths plates,
The over-heavy cut glass vase,
The rose-patterned canteen of cutlery,
The spinning clock on the mantelpiece,
The frayed faded orange curtains, two inches too short,
The collection of donkey ornaments cluttering the windowsill,
The candlewick bedspread,
The tablecloth from that Spanish holiday still tightly encased in its brittle cellophane,
The raffia Chianti bottle lamp- we never managed to get the second one, did we?
And finally, the blousy begonias spilling out of that French wheel barrow-
was that our last holiday?
I leave these to you....
So your memories are forever filled with