I could see the windows reflecting in the gloss of his eyes. What was that look? Bewilderment? Fear? Anger? I still couldn’t predict which way it would go.
‘Honestly, don’t mind the camera,’ I tried to reassure him one more time. ‘It’s just so I can show we did this. The other option was to have a lawyer sat here drinking your coffee too, which would be pretty awkward,’ I laughed but I wasn’t joking.
He looked to the camera then back to me. He was right, this was just as awkward.
I moved my hands nervously around the edges of the small black book on my lap. Surreptitiously, I checked my exit route noting the slightly lifted floorboard just before the door. I remembered how angry Uncle Frank had got and shuddered at what could have happened if I’d tripped as I fled. It wasn’t a chance I could take.
‘Are you going to tell me what all this is about?’
‘Sorry, Uncle Walter.’
‘Son, you’re a grown man, just call me Walt.’
I nodded a response and pulled myself into focus. It didn’t get any easier. Hearing that Aunt Winnie had been admitted to hospital afterwards hadn’t helped.
‘Ok, Walt. So, mum died,’ I didn’t need to tell him that. She was his sister. He’d been at the funeral. He’d been at the will reading when all this started. $20,000 and ‘some personal effects’ she left me. An inheritance, that’s what the lawyer called it. An obligation is what it was. A burden bound in fabric.
‘Well, she left me this book,’ I paused. ‘And she asked me to visit you,’
‘Did old Sue ask you to bring me some of that twenty grand?’ Uncle Walter was laughing now. He meant it to set me at ease but it felt like a knife being held against my ribs. I gave a stunted giggle.
‘What it is,’ I persevered. I could feel a bead of sweat on my temple. ‘Mum. Susan. She wrote some things she wanted me to pass on. To say to you, and Winnie, and Frank, and Peg,’ I’d deliberately left Aunt Peg until last. The man opposite me had stiffened now.
‘I need to stress, these are Mum’s… Susan’s words, not mine.’
‘I’ll just read, shall I?’
I opened the book, clumsily found my way to the right page, cleared my throat, and read. I read each page steadily and without breaks. Uncle Walter didn’t move or speak. He let me talk until I’d clogged every crack in the room with tension. He let me close the book, and he let the room tighten with silence.
‘So that’s what Sue really thought, is it?’
I said nothing. I was transfixed by the single tear swelling in the corner of his eye and the way his body seemed to have folded into itself.
‘I think you should leave now,’ he spoke with splintered authority but it was enough for me.
The next time I exhaled I was standing outside with the notebook in one hand and the camera in the other. My heart thumped so fast I shook. Behind me, the curtains drew closed.