The sole male child born to our family in three generations was Uncle Hiram. In more than a hundred and twenty-five years since, no male children followed. In accordance with our ancient family history, male ascendancy placed our esteemed uncle in the “catbird seat.” Whether fair or unfair, by default, our childless Uncle H inherited every item of value collected by family members over many generations.
When Uncle Hiram’s child-bride died, the ninety-nine year old man had reclined six feet underground for twenty-six years. Nobody missed the unpleasant fellow. Not even the adorable Adele.
Our eyes remained dry at Uncle’s funeral, but for Adele our tears rained. Most likely it was because we were sorry for ourselves. For the past quarter century, we held our own lives in suspension while we waited to hear the codicil to Uncle Hiram’s will. Not one of us had gotten any younger. And, a few of us had moved on to the great beyond.
Ten days after Adele’s funeral, females of all ages filled the large meeting room at the lawyers’ offices. Excitement formed a conga line and wove among happy mourners. At last we would know the distribution of our family’s wealth. The “rrrrip” of a letter opener against aged paper brought the room to silence.
Lawyer Martin read.
Some of us gasped. Some cried. Some exploded angry expletives.
Lawyer Martin laid the codicil on his desktop. With his two hands, he smoothed its creases. “I’m sorry, Ladies, except for that gilt framed portrait of your Uncle Hiram, the considerable family fortune has been left to the Good Old Boys’ Club. The last person to leave this room will get stuck … will need to take Hiram home with her.”
“I’ll take it.” Softhearted Bon cried into her hand-embroidered hanky.
While the others hurried from the room, I sat next to Bon and wondered about her mental capacity. “I, for one, could use a stiff drink,” I said.
“In a bit,” she said.
As soon as everyone, including Lawyer Martin, left the room, Bon brightened. Dry-eyed, she smiled at me and stood. “Grab the picture and let’s get outta here.”
Nearly too large to fit into the back of the VW, gentle maneuvering kept both frame and upholstery intact. More careful handling got it out of the car and into the house.
“We’re not hanging that thing,” I said. “It’s freaky. I don’t think it’s humanly possible for corners of a mouth to draw down far enough to touch jawbone on both sides. The artist must have had some sense of humor.”
Bon looked at me. “I know an artist who could use this gold gilt frame.”
“My art would be out of place in such a frame.”
“Sell it and buy what you want.”
“What about Uncle Hiram?”
“Paint over him. I don’t think he’ll mind.”
Bon laid the painting face down on the tabletop and extracted the old fashioned clips. When she removed the back, she gasped. “Ah, there It is.” With loving care, she extracted an impressive number of thousand dollar bills.
“How did you know about the money?”
“You were a baby when Uncle Hiram died. I helped Adele take care of him and he kept muttering something about how surprised we would be when his will was read. He kept looking toward the picture. He laughed and babbled about its being worth thousands. I knew Adele would never do anything with it and made up my mind to have it when both of them were gone.”
“What if he’d given it away?”
“Well, he didn’t.” With a laugh that bordered on hysteria, Bon held her right hand high in the air and waved the cache.