An hour later, I pulled up our driveway a few towns over, the gravel crunching beneath the wheels of my car. Except it still didn’t really feel like ‘our’ driveway yet. I stared at the front windows of the house a while, lost in my thoughts. They stared back. My aunt was never a particularly likeable woman, judging by the way my mother had spoken about her, but now I wished I had known more about her, made an effort. It must have been lonely after her husband had died. All alone in that house. And then to just disappear off the face of the Earth, no more Christmas cards, no more of her sad, stooped figure at family gatherings. My dog’s face appeared in the living room window, a couple of minutes too late. She was getting on in years, so I had probably caught her napping. As mum had always told me, It’s impossible to think sad thoughts when you’re looking at a dog. Even the thought of attempting to wipe her eager nose juice off the windowpane later couldn’t suppress the wave of affection I still felt every time I came home.
When I got in the door, I knew Freya was home. I could see her schoolbag dumped on the stairs. Sometimes I still forgot which days she stayed for netball club. I tried to remember if she still went because she hadn’t mentioned any matches recently. I fended off Mabel’s amorous greeting and hung my coat on the stair rail. Despite my best efforts her breath still consistently smelled like old herring. It was autumn but still warm, and I was sweating under my layers.
“How was school today?” I yelled down the hallway, half-expecting her to be installed in front of the TV.
A few seconds later, a white-socked pair of feet appeared at the top of the stairs. One of her toes was sticking out through a frayed hole.
“It was fine, I guess. I had maths with Mr Harcourt though. He stinks.” Freya was fourteen and already very eloquent. “Where were you? I thought you’d be in your office. I had to walk Mabel before it gets dark.” Freya was pouting. Mabel was busy sniffing my boots.
“Thanks for your willing contributions to this household,” I said with mock grandeur, “but I was out. You know your Great Aunt Isabel has been declared legally dead. Well, it turns out everything now goes to me and your Uncle.” My scarf slid off the stair rail. I repositioned it, this time more central. It stayed put.
“Oh, yeah. Should I feel sad? I tried to feel sad, but I don’t.” Her socked feet wriggled uncomfortably on the step. “What did she leave you anyway?”
“You don’t have to feel sad, honey. You only met her once or twice and you were so young. Do you even remember her? She left me a few premium bonds and some antiques from her attic. Lord knows what’s in those boxes. Chris got her savings.”
“No, I can’t picture her face. Uncle Chris got a better deal, then” Freya said matter-of-factly. What a cynic. She should be a lawyer herself.
“That’s a harsh way of looking at it, but you might be right. The solicitors said it was divvied up equally, but I can’t see how they’re right. I have a feeling Chris just got there first.” there was a bitter edge to my voice. Chris had always been a charmer, in the right place at the right time. I was under no illusions about why he had wanted her declared legally dead. “And you need new socks again. Do you have razor blades for toes or something?”