It was a rough day for Clara. The surprisingly heavy urn she carried up the porch stairs seemed like a poor consolation prize for love denied. This was her first time back in her mother’s house since the night Minnie cut up all her short skirts, called her a trollop, and threw her out. She was all of 17 then, and the closest she’d ever gotten to trollopdom was letting Billy Boyd sneak a wet kiss at the church picnic. It wasn’t even a good kiss.
But tonight Minnie was gone, and Clara was about to sleep in her old room again. She’d get a fresh start tomorrow deciding what she wanted to keep now that she was moving back. Even after all these years, she smiled to see things she remembered in the old house – things that she had once dearly loved. Like the two heart-shaped, hand-sewn silk pillows on the sofa. She used to play with them when her mother wasn’t looking. She hugged them now, letting long-held tears flow.
Minnie didn’t believe in wills. When anyone asked, she just smiled and said she’d take it all with her. Now Clara had it all, including the house – and a slew of half-forgotten memories she was just now coming home to.
Clara awoke about 2am. She hadn’t exactly heard a noise, but there was a sense of something being off. She wrapped the blanket around her like a protective shield, just as she’d done when she was little to ward off the night monsters, and stepped gingerly into the living room.
Bracing herself for whatever might be waiting, she snapped on the light switch and quickly surveyed the room. But there was nothing there. Except perhaps — and she had trouble explaining this later — the faint shadow of laughter.
The next morning, both heart-shaped pillows Minnie had made “with my own hands,” as she always reminded everyone, had the word “mine” spelled out in unraveled threads. Clara traced the letters with her fingers, knowing full well who had done this. And what the meaning was.
For the next 14 nights, even as she slept soundly in her bed, Clara sensed things being claimed. She dreamed of Minnie’s icy laugh wafting throughout the house, as threads continued to unravel. The sofa. The drapes. The rug. The towels. Even the blue and gray woolen afghan little Clara had dragged with her everywhere for protection, until Minnie told her she was too old to be
a baby anymore. All now had the word “mine” on them. In Minnie’s handwriting.
The townsfolk were abuzz over this ghostly happening. They tried to get Clara to leave the house, since lord knows what else Minnie might do as she slept. But somehow none of this especially surprised or frightened Clara. It was just more of the same as far as she was concerned. She was now even more determined to hold on to what she felt was rightly hers.
On the 15th night, before going up to bed, Clara walked calmly into the living room, where the portrait of a youthful and uncharacteristically smiling Minnie watched as always from above the fireplace. Looking right into her mother’s steely blue eyes, she almost felt a shard of pity for her.
“You’ve got to let go, mom. You denied me my home once. You denied me your love. You denied me even an ounce of warmth. Yet I never did one single thing to you to deserve any of that. And I do NOT deserve to be treated this way now. Please let go, mom. This house is MINE now!”
She awoke at 2am to the smell of smoke, barely managing to get herself out of the house before it was awash in flames. The rest of the night was spent at a neighbor’s house, where she felt cold, even under the woolen blanket. Her dreams were filled with laughing shadows.
As she stood on the charred embers of what had been the house she knew, she saw something glistening in the pile of black cinders, right where the fireplace had once stood.
There, clearly spelled out among the ashes, were the carefully etched words “No, Clara dear. THIS is yours now.”
This is a short story I wrote for the 2014 The Stella Kupferberg Memorial Short Story Prize. The theme this year was “tales after dark” (I may have stretched that a bit), and the story had to be 750 words or less. I didn’t win. Never have. But I always enjoy creating an entry and sending it off to the world of possibilities!