Two weeks after Alec’s funeral, Beatrice Hunt finally found the ring of keys he’d hidden. They were stashed in a hollowed-out Bible, in the bottom of a box of oily rags, on the top shelf of the garage. She pulled on her thin gumboots and slogged through the mud to the shed behind the silo. Four tries later, a rusty key coaxed the lock open. The door groaned shut behind her as Beatrice entered the dusty sanctuary.
By the wan light of the naked bulb she looked at the world she’d been forbidden to enter for over forty years of marriage. A threadbare armchair nestled close to the cast iron stove. Beside it, an old hubcap overflowed with cigar butts on top of a leaning side table. Beatrice pulled her patched winter coat closer and stared at a lifetime’s worth of hoarded finds. Alec had foraged for books and magazines everywhere: garage sales, school fêtes, waiting rooms, library sales, recycling bins. How many loads would she have to haul away in her broken down Datsun before the door to the shed would open fully?
The real estate agent told her to clear out the house and all the outbuildings. Leave only the essentials. She sensed that the realtor meant the less of her shabby furniture around, the better. She wasn’t sensitive about how poor she was. Anyone could see the crumbling front steps and the window fixed with plywood.
The town people moving out here didn’t care. They were buying places that had been in families for generations, regardless of condition. These people needed plenty of room for their cars and boats and weekend visitors.
Beatrice had been begging Alec for over ten years to sell but he refused. Now it was all up to her. The kids didn’t want the place. They had smart city jobs in faraway countries. They weren’t coming back to plough the land and pick the crops.
She sank into Alec’s chair and the cigar-sweat smell of him wreathed her like a hug. She picked up the hubcap and emptied its contents into the stove. A few strong tugs opened the drawer of the side table. Beatrice jumped back as if slapped. Piles of erotic magazines bulged inside. Well-thumbed magazines.
She grabbed a handful and shoved them into the stove. With trembling hands she struck a match and lit them on fire. When they were almost burnt to an ash, she reached for another stack but they slipped from her fingers and fell to the floor. Business-sized envelopes drifted out of two of them. Return address: Janus International.
The most recent one was less than a month old and it showed that the investment account of Alexander Raymond Hunt was valued at $516,423 on that day.
Photo from Wikimedia Commons: Cast Iron Wood Stove by Victorgrigas