The Monthly Chapter: March, 2020 – Chapter 2

On the first of the month a new chapter is posted from an as yet to be released book. The current book is Tansy Moves In. This is the first book of the upcoming Oak Hill Series.

Chapter 2

Early the next morning, Tansy rolled out of bed and surveyed her available clothing.  Since graduating from college she added a plethora of office style clothes to her wardrobe, supplementing her mostly casualwear attire in an attempt to look professional. Thus far it hadn’t helped stave off the never ending string of minor calamities. She was beginning to think her carefully assembled office wardrobe might be cursed.

“Maybe jeans and a nice sweater for the lawyers,” she decided. “That should look okay for a Saturday signing paperwork.” She tried not to feel superstitious as she shifted her dress pants to the side. “It’s not like I’m doing anything that could…” 

Tansy clamped her mouth shut instead of finishing the sentence.  She decided there was no need to tempt fate by daring something to malfunction.  She dressed quickly and tied back her hair, imitating Ms. Abbott’s no nonsense style as much as possible.  She dusted her face with a light coating of powder and applied lip gloss before studying her reflection.

“Not bad,” she decided.  It wasn’t quite in Ms. Abbot’s league, but she was satisfied with the results.

Tansy picked up her purse, checked for her identification and wallet and went out the door, making sure to lock it behind herself. Despite the early hour, her car started up without complaint and Tansy frowned as she backed out of the space and pulled out of the parking lot. 

“I guess it is just the office you don’t like driving to,” she told it as she continued to listen for the absent morning grumbles.  Before hitting the highway, Tansy pulled into the nearest gas station. She filled her car’s tank and got a coffee for herself.

Early Saturday morning was not a heavy traffic time and Tansy sailed along the mostly empty highway.  She spotted few vehicles driving in either direction until she left the highway and turned onto the state road heading into Oak Hill.

“Well that would explain the increased traffic,” Tansy thought as she passed an enormous farmer’s market set up in a field on the outskirts of town. 

The field sprouted a city of tents and tables with farm trucks, bushel baskets of produce and coolers filled with other no doubt edible delights. The field was adjacent to an enormous Super Walmart and the crowds seemed to be frequenting each of the venues equally. The traffic around the Saturday shopping extravaganza slowed her down, but Tansy was soon past it and driving into the less congested downtown.

Here there were a few stores showing blank windows and empty interiors, but many of the shops and restaurants looked like they were doing well.  The professional offices looked quiet, but Tansy couldn’t tell if they were closed or simply more sedate in their clientele.  Over all, Oak Hill didn’t look any different from the last time, or even the last hundred times, she visited.

“It’s been a while though,” Tansy said to herself as she drove slowly down the street looking for the Weathersby Law office. A stab of guilt hit her.  “I should have visited more,” she said.

Tansy glanced down at the scrawled directions and then back at the side of the street.  She saw the sign where Fourth Street intersected Main and put on her turn signal.  When she reached the corner, she turned right. Tansy was planning to spend the past Christmas with her Aunt Eunice, but when she called to make plans, Eunice told her she and the girls were off to a winter trip to Mexico. Tansy promised to visit in the spring instead and spent a quiet Christmas at her apartment.

While Eunice loved talking to her on the phone, it seemed every time Tansy tried to make plans to come down, something else was going on. There was always the nebulous, soon, but nothing was ever finalized. She knew it wasn’t because Eunice was avoiding her as she stopped by the apartment on her routine visits to the city. Tansy joked that Eunice was trying to keep her out of Oak Hill.

“Of course not dear,” Eunice replied.  She offered her a wan smile and patted her hand before changing the subject.  At the time it meant nothing and Tansy forgot about it.

But if she was at the courthouse then maybe something was wrong,’ she thought as she drove. Maybe Eunice had been keeping something from her.

“But then the lawyers would have mentioned something wouldn’t they?” she asked the empty car.  “Of course I only talked to the assistant.  It could be confidential information. Maybe she didn’t know.”  Nervous butterflies began to dance in her belly. Eunice’s visit to the courthouse now seemed ominous.

While there was some traffic on Main Street, the side streets were almost empty and Tansy pulled her car into one of the many empty parking spaces on the street.  She got out and stepped around her car to reach the sidewalk.  In the strip of dirt between the sidewalk and the buildings Tansy noticed the green tips of what she suspected would be a few brave daffodils peeping out of the dirt.  Surrounded by the desiccated, straw like remnants of autumn’s final foliage, the new green looked savagely vibrant.  Tansy shivered as the cool wind sliced through her sweater. She felt strands of hair slide from her hair clip to wave about in the wind.

“I should have grabbed a coat,” she mused, sniffling a little in the cold as she opened the door to the law office. 

“It’s that wind that gets you,” a pleasant voice Tansy recognized as Patricia’s said.  Tansy looked up and Patricia smiled from her seat behind her receptionist’s desk. “It wouldn’t be that bad without it.  The weather man said there was the possibility of ice tonight though.”

Tansy mentally wished the daffodils good luck with their survival as she continued forward towards the desk.

“With that wind, I can believe it,” Tansy said.  “I’m Tansy MacDougal.  You called me about my Aunt Eunice.”

“Of course,” Patricia replied.  “And again I am so sorry for your loss. Mr. Weathersby, that’s Roderick Weathersby, not old Mr. Alan, is taking care of the paperwork himself.  Let me tell him you are here.”

Tansy nodded as Patricia picked up the phone.  She dialed far fewer numbers than were needed for a regular phone number and Tansy figured it was an in house line.  Her suspicions were more or less confirmed when she heard the phone ring on the other side of the door. 

Patricia informed Roderick of her arrival and when she paused to listen to the response, Tansy could hear a masculine voice talking on the other side of the door.  The door was thick enough to obscure the words, but not the voice. Patricia hung up and a moment later the door opened. 

Roderick Weathersby looked to be in his early to mid-fifties.  Gray was dusted through his brown hair making him look as though he was standing too close to a powdered sugar explosion.  He was a somewhat heavyset man with a rounded tummy he was attempting to conceal in a three piece suit. To Tansy it looked as though he was trying to smuggle a basketball and she wondered if he was ever stopped as a suspected shoplifter when leaving a sporting goods store.

‘He probably doesn’t visit sporting goods stores,’ she decided.  ‘But he really needs a pocket watch to complete the outfit.’

“Ms. MacDougal, a pleasure to meet you,” He said holding out his hands as he stepped forward.  One hand engulfed her own as though he intended to shake it, but the other hand clamped down as well and he sort of squeezed her hand between the two of his once in a warm, slightly damp embrace, before letting go. “I wish it was under better circumstances.  Old Miss Eunice told me so much about you. I am saddened that we finally meet only at her departing.”

“It is nice to meet you,” Tansy replied.  “Your assistant said that Aunt Eunice fell down some stairs at the County Courthouse?” She tried not to let her nerves show.

“Indeed,” he replied.  The man stepped to the side and gestured to his office.  Tansy walked in and he followed, closing the door behind himself.  “Like myself, your Aunt was a local history buff.  I believe she was doing some research in the archives.”  He shook his head sadly as he gestured to one of the guest chairs.  Tansy took a seat as he eased his bulk behind his massive mahogany desk.

“The archives are only accessible by stairs,” he continued as he sat.  “It was raining and the treads were slick.  She lost her balance and well…” He gave an expansive shrug. “A senseless tragedy. And here we are.”  Roderick cleared his throat and pulled a thick file folder to the center of his desk. “It is really very straight forward.”

Tansy wondered if she imagined her Aunt’s unwillingness to have her visit Oak Hill. Roderick cleared his throat, snapping her attention to him and pushing such considerations aside for the moment.

The lawyer opened the folder and they began to sort through the legal remains and requests of Eunice Catherine MacDougal.  Tansy’s signature was needed in several locations, as was her social security number.  Her driver’s license was photocopied for the records as verification of her identity. Even though the process took a little over an hour, the end result was the same.  Eunice was gone and everything she had passed to Tansy. At the end, Roderick Weathersby passed the file and a thick set of keys to Tansy.  To Tansy he looked almost as reluctant to hand her the keys as she was to take them.

Still, she held out her hand and felt the cool metal against her palm. It was only as he handed her the large key ring she always saw her aunt carry that Tansy began to feel that Eunice was really gone. Only then that it seemed real.

Tansy held the keys and refused to think about them as the lawyer called the local funeral home, confirming they were open and that Tansy could pick up the ash filled urn.

“They are expecting you,” he said as he hung up the phone.  “They are open until five this evening.”

“Thank you,” Tansy replied.  She stood, paperwork cradled in one arm and Eunice’s key ring in her hand.  Roderick walked around the desk and placed a hand on her shoulder, guiding her towards the door.

“If you need anything, anything at all, you don’t hesitate to call,” he said.

Tansy nodded as he half propelled her out of his inner office and through the waiting room to the main door.  His hand was a constant pressure on her back and Tansy blinked, feeling vaguely surprised as she stepped out of the door and back onto the sidewalk. She had been asked to leave several law offices in the past year, but this was the first time she was ever actually ejected from one.

“I guess he has somewhere else to be,” she said to herself as she continued forward, walking to her car. 

At the door, she fumbled her own keys from her bag and opened the car door.  It was a relief to slide inside and close the door again.  The wind increased and Tansy could almost taste the ice on the wind. She thought of the people wandering the open stalls of the farmers market and wondered where the produce actually came from.

“Maybe they are just selling jelly and pickles,” she told herself as she started the engine and turned on the car’s heater.  “Surely things don’t grow in this sort of weather.”

As the heater warmed up the inside of the car, Tansy placed the folder in the passenger’s seat and put her purse on top of it.  She uncurled her fingers and looked down at the large key ring.  The key ring was a large silver circle that her Aunt often wore around her wrist rather than putting in her purse.  All of the locks on the house’s doors opened with one key.  The rest of the keys went to various cabinets, cupboard, chests and boxes located throughout the house. 

Tansy remembered teasing her Aunt about them, asking why she didn’t put her one house key on a small ring and leave the rest in a drawer in the kitchen. Eunice always replied with the same answer. 

“Because I never know when I’ll come across a box that needs to be opened on the spot,” Tansy repeated the oft heard phrase to herself.  She smiled sadly and ran her fingers across the keys, clinking them together.  She was fairly certain Eunice added any key she happened to come across to the giant ring.

“And I never once saw her use any one of them except the house key,” Tansy said. Tears prickled her eyes.  “And even that was debatable as she rarely remembered to lock the front door.” Tansy took a deep breath and gently placed the keys next to her purse.

“McClellan’s is on the way to the house,” she told herself as she fastened her seatbelt and pushed the sadness back. “I might as well stop on the way.”

The drive was short and Tansy arrived at a long white building decorated with Corinthian topped columns and a huge empty parking lot.  She parked close to the door and went into the building.  A soft spoken man in a gray suit greeted her, offered her condolences and sent her on her way with a plain silver urn and a reminder that her aunt wanted to have her ashes scattered in the clearing in her woods as soon as possible.

“She informed me she would feel claustrophobic if kept bottled up for too long,” he added with a sad smile. “I assume you know the place she wanted?”

“I do,” she told him. Tansy assured him that she would take care of it and after signing the necessary release forms, she left, pleased to be free of the building.  Despite seeing no vases, the air had the sickly sweet scent of dying flowers that made Tansy want to open the windows despite the cold.

Back in her car Tansy took a right onto Vine, then took the next right followed by yet another right onto Water Street.  Water Street took her back to Main and after completing her little loop, she turned left onto Main Street and began the drive to her Aunt Eunice’s house.

At some point Main Street became Rural Route 4862, but Tansy wasn’t entirely certain what point that was.  RR4862 was still referred to as Main Street by the locals. There was no mail service so there was no postman to contradict them and all of the people who lived on this end of Main Street had post office boxes and picked up their mail in town. The post office was located on Main Street proper and the phrase ‘going down the street’ was how a visit to pick up mail was usually termed.

The houses built on this stretch of road were older, many older than the actual town, and most were still owned by a member of the original family who built the house.  Those moving to town or looking to use Oak Hill as a bedroom community for the nearby city where Tansy lived and worked, lived on the other side of town closer to the interstate. While it could be claimed as practical placement, Tansy suspected there was some form of ancestral snobbery and possible collusion. 

“Probably a blood pact made by the garden club,” Tansy decided. 

The drive to the house was pleasant and not terribly long as it was one of the houses closest to town. There weren’t that many houses and each one came with a large plot of land so it was a bit like driving through a park.  Tansy knew Eunice’s house sat on the edge of twelve acres. She pulled into the driveway and drove up to the house. 

It sat as it always had looking like a sprawling three story Victorian house done with Queen Anne details. When she was little her Aunt explained that it was ‘the new house’ as the original was no longer deemed grand enough for the family.  The first, older house was still on the property.  It was built further away from the road and the newer house closer.  She and Aunt Eunice visited it occasionally during her trips to Oak Hill.  The old house was a simple gable roofed building with small boxy rooms that was used for storage more than anything else. It was a far cry from the scaled down fairytale castle that this side of her family called home since the 1860s.

Tansy glanced to the passenger’s seat.  Having no idea where else to put the urn, Tansy placed it on top of the lawyer’s paperwork and then used the seatbelt to strap it into place. As she drove, the urn tilted towards the passenger’s side door as though longing to be released.

Tansy was certain there was some sort of ritual she should do associated with the scattering of the ashes, but she couldn’t think of one.  On this side of the family it was just the two of them so there was no one to call; No one who would want to join her in any form of ceremony. Even if she knew how to reach her mother in Aruba, Tansy knew that she and Eunice never got along.  Asking would only make her mother come up with an excuse not to come.

The only thing Tansy could think to do was to honor her Aunt’s wish not to stay in the urn any longer than was absolutely necessary. Tansy unfastened her seatbelt and then the one holding her Aunt in place and picked up the urn.  She took her aunt’s keyring, slipping it on her own wrist as Eunice always did and slid her own keys into her coat pocket.  Everything else she left in the car.

The wind picked up, but the air still had that cold bright look to it that really cold winter afternoons tended to have.  It was as though the air was somehow solid, yet brittle like thin glass. ‘And if we get ice then tomorrow is going to be miserable,’ she reminded herself.  Skirting around the house, Tansy let herself into the gate blocking off the back yard. 

The large gardens were dormant under the mountain of compost and mulch Eunice always covered them with at the end of season to ready them for the following spring.  Tansy could see a few more dots of green peeping out in the flowerbeds close to the house.  She knew there was a veritable boatload of bulbs planted around the house and wondered if the green signaled the crocuses or daffodils.  Then the wind sliced through her thin sweater and she decided to leave such questions until later when she had either found a coat or was inside the house, her hands wrapped around a mug of tea.

Tansy followed the meandering garden path through the dormant gardens and into the depths of the property.  The gardens ended and the trees sprouted up, but the path remained the same.  As she walked Tansy remembered walking with her Aunt and listening as Eunice told her about the types of trees.  She was allowed to hold the basket as they walked and periodically Eunice would stoop down and harvest some wild herb or mushroom from the woods, all with a brief explanation before moving on.

Tansy found her mouth watering at the memory of her Aunt’s homemade mushroom soup. Her belly rumbled, reminding her that she had given it nothing but coffee. She pushed aside her own discomfort for later and concentrated on the memories of Eunice.  In time, she reached the clearing.

In reality it was less of a planned clearing and more a space where the ground sported too many solid rocks beneath the thin layer of dirt covering to support more than shallow rooted wild flowers. Today the grass was little more than dry and brittle bits. In the shadowy tree line there were little glimmers of white and green where the snow flowers remained, but that was the only sign of life.  Here even the trees looked dead rather than just sleeping off the winter.

She moved to the center of the clearing and looked at the urn. She knew this was the spot and she knew this was what Eunice wanted, but now that it came to it, Tansy wasn’t quite certain what to say. Nothing she could think of to say seemed adequate. Deciding to plan something more official sounding at a later date, Tansy filled her mind with her fondest memories of time spent with her aunt.  Tears prickled her eyes even as a sad smile eased to her lips at the thoughts.  Her cold fingers pried the lid off of the urn and opened the less glamorous plastic bag inside.

“I hope I didn’t keep you cooped up too long,” Tansy said. 

She emptied the remains onto the ground in the center of the clearing.  She expected only ash to fall out, but the remains were less like the sweepings of a fireplace than she expected and weren’t a uniform size.  There were varying bits and Tansy thought it looked a little like kitty litter.  Given Eunice’s dislike of cats Tansy found it oddly amusing. 

The wind blasted through the clearing and the lighter bits of ash dispersed.  Tansy stepped away, shivering and not wanting to be covered in her Aunt’s remains.  The wind continued, growing in strength and even the larger particles were soon scattered, or at least hidden in what little growth was on the ground.  Tansy tucked the now empty plastic bag back into the urn and refastened the lid.  “I’ll miss you Aunt Eunice,” she said.  Tansy turned and stepped out of the clearing, returning to the pathway.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s