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May 20, 2024

Transitions 13

By Sand Pilarski

Thirteen: Moulderings

"He kinda jumped to attention when you asked him that," I ventured to my aunt, once we were out of Redell's hearing.

"Dear heart, your father laid down the law with the staff the first time I visited here, before any of you were born. He told them I had equal status with the household as to requests or advisements. Redell has never forgotten that."

"He did? My father, I mean."

"Yes. I loved your father as though he had been my own brother, and I think that feeling was reciprocated. He was such a good man, and a dear, dear friend. You look more like him every time I see you, Owen." My aunt stopped before we re-entered the big downstairs study. "All right. We've got a globe-trotting archeologist in there, and we need to sell her on a dig before she gets so great with child that she can't waddle from the chair in the corner to the coffee table to get the TV remote. How do we engage her interest?"

"She's not as easy as you, Aunt, but I shall try."

"'Easy?' As soon as you are of an age to hear foul language, I shall speak it to you with great emphasis," she muttered.

"Oh, like I don't hear it from my dear sisters already." I arched my eyebrows at her.

"Generational thing, my dear. Once you attain your majority, you are going to be so Open Season."

"The years are too many," I whispered. "Shall we not promise to revile each other in secret only until then?"

"Stop," she ordered. "We shall not."

"Dang," I said, and pushed open the door to the downstairs study.

I rushed to the couch where Uncle Bodie formed the support of my mother's back, and knelt. My mother turned to me, amused, from under her comforter. Her grey-green eyes twinkled. "What," she said.

"Mother, this child of your womb has pondered a mystery, and requires the wisdom and magic only you can provide," I appealed, clasping my hands together.

She pulled the comforter over her head. Uncle Bodie said, "What is it, Owen?"

"Voice of My Mother," I addressed him, "it is the mystery of the attic."

"The attic?" both Uncle Bodie and my mother said at the same time, she appearing again from under the comforter.

"The attic," said Aunt Sully, backing me up from where she knelt on the floor, petting Gabe's face. "Redell's looking for records of an inventory. Have you ever been up there?"

"No, God, no," my mother said. "It's probably haunted. There are probably spiders the size of cows up there."

"There's a ton of shit up there under canvas tarps and sheets," Aunt Sully said. "Moldering."

"Moldering," my mother repeated, glowering. "Do you actually know that it is 'moldering'?"

"Mom," I said, "we saw the whole attic packed full of stuff. It has to have been up there for a long time -- might it be historically important?"

I did indeed know the magic words to stoke the furnace of my mother's heart, watching her face light with promise. "Aunt Sully said that stuff has been up there maybe since before Grandfather was born."

"Just today?" my mother asked, sitting up. "You were up there today?"

"We just peeked over the edge of the stairs. It's too dark up there to see much, and I didn't trust the floor because I couldn't see it. But there were piles of stuff covered, and stuff hanging from covered racks, too," Aunt Sully added.

"Do you want to get some flashlights and check it out?" Uncle Bodie asked my mother.

She shook her head. "We're going to wait and get some battery-powered lamps, heavy-duty hand-held flashlights, and multi-filter facemasks, as well as disposable exam gloves. It just occurred to me that the third floor might have been abandoned when influenza decimated the population -- we're not going to take any chances with some supervirus that's lurking in the 'moldering' piles of stuff." Mother turned to me. "Owen, do you have a spare legal pad kicking around in your stuff? All mine are at the office."

I did, and nodded, only to hear her shout "Stop!" before I could take three steps. "Both of you, go wash your hands, and your face, Sully. No chances."

Leaving Aunt Sully still climbing the steps, I ran into my room, scrubbed my hands with a lot of soap, and then took off for my father's office, where I kept my writing equipment. I not only grabbed three fresh legal pads from the stack in the supplies closet, but a some pens, a pencil with eraser, and sticky notes. I was back downstairs before Aunt Sully was done cleaning the smudge off her face.

"Thank you," my mother told me, the comforter now across her shoulders as she half-sat on the couch and half-knelt before the coffee table. "This is perfect." She handed a legal pad to my step-father, along with a pen.

Michel and Kelsa came over. "You were up in the haunted attic?" Michel asked.

"It's not haunted. Ask Aunt Sully, she was with me. All that's up there is old stuff and dirt."

Mother turned to the younger twins. "Do not even think about going up there. I wouldn't have allowed Owen and Sully to go up there unprepared if I had realized what they were doing."

"Justine told me that the third floor and attic were haunted, and that was why the door was locked, because someone got killed up there, and the ghost of the murderer was still there, and if anyone was up there after dark, their body was found dead and chopped up in the morning," Kelsa said, her eyes wide.

"Well, now we know at least one of the reasons that Justine was fired, now don't we," said my mother, obviously irritated. She handed another legal pad to Aunt Sully, who had returned, her face clean once more.

"Thanks," my aunt said. "What am I noting?"

"What ever you think is noteworthy," my mother said. "You'll catch things I don't." She pointed her pen at Uncle Bodie. "Exam gloves. Masks -- the half-face respirators rated for asbestos work -- we can get them online and Priority Mail them. Battery powered lamps -- ten of them, that can be hung or set on the floor. And we need some to carry; Coleman has a good handheld, they can serve as a spot or a lamp. Go ahead and put on the list a top of the line digital camera. I'll look into which one later. We'll have enough light with the batteries that we can take initial photos of what we find for assessment, without moving all the pieces."

She had been scribbling even as she made Uncle Bodie scribble. "I'll assemble a team on Monday -- I've got grad students crawling all over the department with not enough to occupy them. I'll talk to someone at the museum this week as well, and see if anything we find might interest them. Appraiser, art house, antiques dealer -- I know a good one in San Simeon -- "

"How about a carpenter to see if that damned floor is safe?" Aunt Sully offered.

"Yes, but not until we have the equipment," Mother answered. "No one goes up there alone or without the proper gear."

"Tell Redell that," Aunt Sully muttered as she noted it on her paper. "And talk to Claire."

My mother went on, taking more of an interest in the house than I'd ever heard before. "If we do find anything of value, it will all have to be professionally cleaned. There's a firm up in Sacramento that specializes in antique restoration; I'll contact them and have them ready after we can catalog what's up there." My mother's cheeks were rosy and her eyes sparkling. She liked teaching at the University, but this kind of thing was obviously her joy.

"You're not going up there until someone says that floor is safe," Uncle Bodie warned my mother in a low voice.

"No one is, don't worry. I'm not going to risk anyone's life, let alone our baby's," she answered him. She continued scribbling onto her pad. "Now, what does the attic look like, in terms of dimensions, approximately? Is it a low ceiling?"

"No," Aunt Sully said. "Your attic is about twice the size of my house. At the edges, there's about three feet of clearance, but in the middle, at least fifteen feet. I couldn't gauge the length in the light of the windows. They're only about a foot square."

"Where were you?" interrupted Marca's voice, addressing Aunt Sully as she entered the room. "You promised to make me lunch."

"That I did," said our aunt, standing. "I'll be back later, after violating the kitchen once again." As she exited the room with Marca, whose workout outfit was damp in places with sweat, she mentioned, "Marca, there are better ways to ask about plans, let alone ask a favor."

"Well, you said ... " Marca's voice carried from the hall.

"I'm your aunt, not your servant. Making lunch for you is a favor, not a requirement..." What ever else was said was lost in the hallway to the kitchen.

"I love it when Sully's here," my mother smiled. "Everything runs so much more smoothly."

"Are we done adventure-planning for the time being?" asked Uncle Bodie.

"Yes," my mother replied. "We've got a basic framework, and some specific tasks before we can proceed." "When can we do this?" I asked, not hearing a timetable.

My mother looked up from her notes. "Three weeks, a month, maybe. Maybe longer, because then we're into the holiday season. Why?"

I decided to not let my heart yearn for something I could not have; either I could get what I wanted or stop wishing and turn my thoughts to something else. "Because I would like to move to the western suite on the third floor and have that place as my own."

Article © Sand Pilarski. All rights reserved.
Published on 2009-05-11
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