He runs after Nora, but she is shockingly agile in her light pink socks pulled all the way up under her knees, her billowy white cotton nightgown stopping just short of the top of them. It is winter and their house is getting dark now since they started to play, but he doesn't stop to turn on any lights. The rooms are dull, devoid of colour, just black and white like an old movie. Nora is like a ghost slipping in and out just past his field of vision.
He walks with his arms out in front of him but trips over something low and dark enough to blend into the shadows when she darts out.
"Nora!" he shouts after her and it's just the two of them in the house so his voice shocks him even as it cuts through the quiet, but soon after he calls for her, he
hears the balls of her feet beat hard against the floor as she bolts down the hallway towards the kitchen. As he walks slowly after her, he remembers that she has a knack for fitting herself into small spaces. She is very smart.
In the kitchen, the garage lights glow through the french paned windows above the sink making cubes of grey light on the counters and floor. He zeroes in on the lower bank of cupboards, sliding his eyes from one to the next and without surprise he notices exactly four cupboards from the sink a door just slightly ajar.
He trudges quietly in his stocking feet, works to stifle his smile and bends to kneel on the floor. He's not a young father. Nora was born when he was 44 and he winces as the ceramic tiles bite and pinch at the thick curves of his knees. He reaches for the door handle, it's shaped like a branch of a tree, when he is startled by a noise directly behind him. He loses his smile when a thought comes to him that his wife has come home early, they haven't been face to face in weeks, and immediately sweat prickles his underarms.
He slowly turns, but it is only Nora. She laughs, her head tilted back, her white teeth glowing in the dark and he has to splay his hand on the floor to keep himself from losing his balance.
He starts to smile back at her, goes to laugh with her and suddenly, without warning, he sees how little she is. Just a girl still with nubby teeth, silky hair that is kinky mostly underneath, by the back of her neck. She leans in and fakes a serious face. Her boney elbows poke out of her sleeves as she puts her little hands on his shoulders and begs him to tell her that she scared him, that she fooled him good. She has his strong nose and squared chin and even in the dark he can see that her face is shining with pleasure and he indulges himself for a moment, imagining how she must feel in her triumph. She will never be a beauty like her mother is, but she is sharp and ruthless and always wants to win and he knows then, maybe it feels like he’s always known, that she'll never forgive him. She will grow and when grown, like all women, she will develop a long memory. He feels himself get tired, his temper shorten. It can't be perfect, it's too late for that.
It's time for her to go to bed and goes to grab for her, arms outstretched as if asking her for a hug.
Inside the small grey church, a few old women were setting up flowers at the altar. Nora watched them for a bit with one eye through the crack in the door while she waited outside. She was standing on the top step where it was the windiest and the November gale whipped her hair in clumps so she must've looked like Medusa, but she didn't move as she didn't want to give the impression that she was leaving.
She was dressed in her only black dress, it had been somewhat expensive, but was low cut and tighter than what was perhaps warranted, considering the somber occasion. She kept her coat shut tight against the cold so for now it didn't matter, but she already regretted her choice of clothing. She was considering a brief thrilling thought that she could simply just leave when she noticed a small boy of ten sweeping the steps below her. He had a long green scarf wrapped at least three times around his neck so he couldn't bend properly to watch what he was doing, which was probably why he kept staring at her.
The boy continued to stare back, but didn't reply all the while sweeping away. Nora sighed and looked around at the street, absently rolling around the pack of cigarettes in her coat pocket. Her heart began to pound at the thought of what a delicious pleasure it would be to slide one out of the pack here and now, right in front of kiddo here and huddle against the church door and watch as the tip glowed amber, inhaling slowly filling her mouth and lungs with fluffy smoke that today, tomorrow, another day would surely kill her. Her eyes burned, mostly from the long night before, but in spite of everything, she smiled.
"Do your parents go to this church?"
He stared, defiant towards her, as if he were reading her thoughts and was very unimpressed. He was wearing a toque plastered over his forehead so that his bangs were a thick black zigzag. She almost laughed at his judgment. She'd had worthier foes.
"I guess you're shy, then. Listen, go get the minister, ok? It's cold out here."
The boy dropped his broom with a thump on the stair and stomped up the steps and into the church. As the door opened, Nora felt a whoosh of warmth coming from inside and heard some faint strains of organ music until the door banged shut behind him. It was silent then, save for the twitching of old dried leaves until she could hear a bicycle being peddled slowly, squealing a bit as if in the need of a tune up. She leaned to look down the block and squinted into the distance then sighed.
"I guess its showtime."
A week ago, when Nora's phone rang, she was performing a Sunday morning ritual. The kitchen sink was filled with dishes, hot water and plenty of soap so that the suds were about three inches thick. On the counter, coffee was almost done brewing and between these two smells, Nora found a peacefulness as if small hands were laid on her shoulders to help them relax down and for the briefest time her life seemed very safe and stable and good.
The number displayed on her phone didn't come with a name, but it did have a distinct area code which made Nora's stomach clench a little in an acidic way and seemed to water down her blood so that it coursed faster.
A man named Thomas introduced himself heartily. She believed for a second that he was someone from a charity organization or some other type of telemarketer and relaxed enough to lean up against the counter, listening only for key words to give her an idea of when she could insert her exit from the call when he said some combination of words that didn't ring correctly.
Your father has died, he repeated.
Nora’s body began to produce rhythmic thumping, which she knew was her blood and only she could hear it. Thomas continued speaking. He was sorry, he said. He claimed to be a professional trustee of her father's estate. “Yes?”, was all that she could think to say. It seems so small and insignificant that her father was dead and history would write that this was all she could say.
He sounded youthful in that his voice didn't have the gravity is does with age. He didn't even seem very practiced at dulcet tones either because she shook her head trying to understand what he was saying in his very non-sympathetic, but professional tone. But he finally stopped and silence expanded between them.
She felt a longing, like a child might, that he was mistaken. She walked slowly down the hallway to her purse and rifled through it to get her cigarettes. She lit one, this man Thomas was patient and didn't speak until she'd had one long drag. She exhaled every last bit of smoke before he said, “Your mother will be planning the service.”
“What happened?” she asked.
“Oh.” He replied, slightly losing composure, which she realized that in contrast made her feel panicked for a moment. “Your mother said that all parties were aware,”
“I see.” She took another drag. ”And you say you're a lawyer?”
"Yes, that's right. I am a trustee in that I was trusted by your father to make decisions in his best interests." Nora's father was a career corporate lawyer, at the top of his game for the last few decades.
"Did you work with my father?"
"No actually, I only met with him once. About a month ago. He was, ah, a bit of a legend for me. In the law community, he is very well known."
She nodded her head, she knew the story. “Listen, Thomas. Does my mother know that you’re contacting me?”
“Ah, no, not specifically.“
“Look. I’ll be honest with you,”
He surprised her by interrupting. Again he was sorry he said and requested that they meet face to face.“There was a bit of a situation that I needed your help with, actually.”
Nora didn’t reply while her eyes took in the sink full of dishes and she looked down at her cigarette that was growing a long fragile ash.
“I will be available for you anytime, just say, but it should be soon-ish. Your father’s funeral is scheduled for Wednesday.”
Nora flicked the ash into the sink and it landed on top of a cluster of bubbles.
“I’ll come tomorrow. I can get the morning ferry.”
“Great. I will provide all the details."
Chapter 4 - Thomas
The next morning, before her coffee and any awareness she packed a few things into a small duffel bag and caught the short ferry back to the mainland, where her father and mother had lived their whole lives and where she'd grown up and lived until five years ago before relocated to a small town on Hamish Island. She drove downtown, noticing how many more condo buildings there were and turned towards to Thomas' office which was situated in an old brick building, probably an old garment factory now converted into several lofts as was the trend in this area. His firm was housed on the same street as urban cutting-edge looking restaurants, cafes and boutiques.
In his stark and modern office, sitting on a minimalistic orange plastic chair, Thomas smiled at her from behind his glass topped desk, which looked more like a dining room table to Nora. In person he was young and attractive, dynamic in that way of men who want to be something in this life. She tried imagining her father, in one of his stodgy but well-tailored suits sliding literally into the slippery chair, his double tasseled dress shoes settled with some dignity on top of the sexy shag area carpet and was unable to see it.
"How did my father find your firm?" She said as he paged through a pile of paper. He didn't reply right away so she continued, "You seem pretty young."
"I'm not as young as you'd think." He looked up for a moment and winked at her.
They sat quietly while he read something then he looked up at her. He put his pen down and studied study Nora for a moment. "Well, let me get down to business, then." He opened a file. "I don't want to take up too much of your time."
"That's fine." She said and leaned back into her chair.
Then, very informed and exact, he explained that in order for her to achieve the right to be recipient of significant items in her father's will that she was to do one
last thing for him. She was not allowed free-license he said. Her father left a list of tasks that had to be carried out to the letter and not one could be missed. He passed a piece of paper on to her.
Nora read the list. When she was done, she told herself that she always felt close to her father. She’d felt that he believe that she understood him, was always on his side. It was only in the last few years that she lost touch, but that couldn’t have been helped. She couldn’t go back now anyway. Is it possible that at some point, while she was not in contact that he got lost in a way, too?
Thomas watched her with his hands folded together over his mouth, but she could see by his eyes that he was feeling sympathetic. She slid the paper back towards him across the glass and it gained traction such that he had to grab at it to keep it from floating away.
"I guess you have no idea why he’s set this up.” Thomas spread out his hands as if saying he had nothing to hide. “It doesn’t seem very much like him. He wasn’t a very dramatic person.”
"I've seen worse." He leaned over and took a sip of his latte. He asked her again if he could get her one but she declined. "One client of mine wanted her house blown up after she died."
Nora laughed. Perhaps this Thomas wasn't as green as she'd thought it was. "What happened?”
Thomas leaned back in his chair, he was wearing a light blue dress shirt with a red tie that had a pattern of thin white swirls on it. Corporate, but not. She could see that he was fit when he leaned back or at least thin, which means that he's probably still hungry enough, still in the game. She remembered all her father's old friends with their perfect lives except for their paunches which they seemed proud of, not like a woman would. It was like a genetically deep-seated idea for a man, that fat equaled wealth and comfort.
"Well, it's actually not legal to blow up anyone’s house." He stopped abruptly and stared up at the ceiling, holding up one index finger. "Well, not in the area her house was zoned in." He smiled. "I asked her if she was interested in a small fire instead." They both laughed. She could see all of his teeth, which were small and perfectly aligned.
When the laughter faded and Nora felt Thomas waiting on her, she said, "And I get nothing if I don't agree to do this?"
"That's correct." He nodded and spread his hands out in front of him as if showing her how that might look or claiming to have nothing to hide, she wasn't sure.
Thomas had the presence of mind, whether in wisdom or indifference to keep quiet while she ruminated and weighed the odds. Finally she shrugged. “It doesn’t make sense.”
Thomas nodded in a fairly neutral way.
“My father was actual a very gentle man.” She pointed at the folder in front of Thomas. “This isn’t his style.”
Thomas pressed his mouth so that his lips were barely showing. “I guess I’m sorry for that. But perhaps I can suggest that everything will go as planned?” He then mobilized, likely having done this many time before, having her sign a few papers and explained that as trustee, he would be responsible for ensuring that she carried out her tasks so that they'd be seeing each other again soon. Then he swivelled his chair, got up and walked towards her. Nora, by reflex also got out of her chair.
"And you've already spoken with my mother?"
"Ah, yes." "Your mother. She knows. In fact, I think its fine to tell you that she has her own list of tasks."
Nora tried not to show a reaction, but Thomas added,"You might want to speak with her." and he lightly place his hand on her shoulder as he opened the door for her to exit.