Monday, October 26, 2009
The Talisman - Part 1
Aunt Lilith was taking her last breath. If I were to add “finally”, I would be considered ungrateful, but I couldn’t help entertaining that adverb, somewhere at the blurry periphery of my thoughts.
The houseboy who came to fetch me was livid and panting, and seemed to have somehow lost the cheekiness with which he habitually addressed me. Was he perhaps acknowledging in me the new Mistress of the house? I threw a shawl over my achy shoulders and followed him as best I could, though didn’t force my injured leg overly.
When I reached her bedroom, her doctor came to meet me and I knew then, by his countenance, that I was too late. He resembled a grimy carrion bird, his complexion sallower than usual, his narrow shoulders stooped under the brown jacket.
The canopy bed, on the far wall, was lost in the mist of light filtered by the heavy curtains. I limped to it, passing covered mirrors (does the soul go into mirrors?) on ancient massive commodes, the sickly sweet odour of medicine and dried flowers almost overwhelming to me.
She lied on burgundy sheets, serene in her eternal sleep, still unbelievably beautiful and youthful looking. Even in death, she hugged tightly the small mahogany chest that never left her.
“She gave me this for you,” the doctor said, handing me an envelope.
I had no expectations now, more than I’ve ever had. Aunt Lilith has treated me fairly well, though barely above a housemaid. I have been tolerated, not loved. Provided for, not nurtured.
An old maid with one hand. An orphan who became a burden for her vivacious aunt.
At ninety-five, her organs failed her but she’d been lucky to have a lucid mind and physical independence up to the very last moment. Come to think of it, luck was something she’d had plenty her whole life, and with a capital L. I’d never really thought of it, but it had been present in all the circumstances of her life.
She’d lost her husband at thirty-five, in the car crash that had also cost my parents’ life and my right hand. But her husband had been a nuisance and, through his death, she avoided the divorce she’d been planning and inherited his whole fortune. She’s never remarried and has never had children of her own, but took many lovers, one richer and better looking than the other.
Throughout the years, she has miraculously escaped fires, car crashes, bankruptcies, epidemics that have thoroughly destroyed the other people touched by them.
I haven’t been that lucky. I lived, it’s true, when my parents died, but the price of my survival had been a life painted in shades of grey, a life of infirmity and renunciations.
What could she write to me? I opened the letter.
Yes, despite all the perceptions and the adversities that we, or rather you, have misconstrued over the years, you were my dear girl, my dear deceased sister’s girl, the one I couldn’t have and raised as my own child.
So, dear girl, no time to waste now. Death presses me – I know - and there is one last thing I must ask of you, one of immense importance for both of us.
After you fulfill my last request, you will be a greatly rich woman, but I trust that the wisdom you acquired during all these years of modesty will continue to guide your steps.
I am grateful to you for what you have given me – if you are surprised by this, be patient a little longer and you will have your answer.
What I give you now – what dr. Abramian will give you when the time comes - are my precious chest and a pouch.
On the seventh night following my demise, you must take them and go to the crossroads at the abandoned mill. You must light a fire and, precisely at midnight, scatter the powder you’ll find in the pouch over the flames and pronounce the words carved on the side of the box.
You will have no difficulty with them, I am sure, for you are such an erudite girl. (She must have meant they were written in some dead language – these had no secrets for me for I have been “buried” for decades in the museum’s Antiquities department.)
After that, and only then, I cannot emphasize it more, you can, you must open the chest.
I conjure you to do this and give me the last peace that my soul longs for. It is a small thing to you, but something of utmost importance for my beliefs. After that, all my fortune will pass onto you.
There’s even a special gift in there for you, my dear girl, one that I know you will appreciate for the rest of your life.
After all, we have always enjoyed longevity in our family so you will have many more years to benefit from your great fortune.
Your loving aunt,
to be continued...