Chapter 1 – Weeping Water Sample Chapter
Everything about the day was solemn. The feeling permeated everything around the cottage. It was in the whispered hush of the conversations in the kitchen, and in the muted sound of oblivious children playing by the dock. It disturbed the crisp air and frosty breeze that blew over the lake. A pad of paper by the phone listed the number of the funeral home first and the hospital second. Extra cars in the driveway and parked along the hardened muddy roads alerted the neighbours it was happening. It could not be ignored.
Anastasia wore a simple navy blue dress with a white blouse. It felt out of fashion for a sixteen-year-old girl. Her mother bought it for special family occasions, but there never were any, so she wore it today. She sat at the kitchen table with the adults, but their conversation was awkward and strained, so she stood in the doorway between the kitchen and the hallway to Nana’s room.
Everyone else in the house congregated in the kitchen while her sister and her younger cousins played outside. Annie was encouraged to join them, but she wanted to see Nana.
Nana’s room was down a long beige hallway, dusty orange and brown carpet leading the way. Annie had asked several times to visit with her Grandmother, but Aunts, Uncles, and even her parents discouraged the idea, not that it could make her condition worse. The adults chatted amongst themselves quietly, mundane discussions about the weather and how the chairs were remarkably comfortable for their age and condition. Anything to avoid talking about what was happening down the hall. Anastasia was uncomfortable with it as well; she was barely sixteen, she didn’t know how to deal with death, especially not someone so close to her. She continued glancing at the closed door. She wanted to go inside but felt she needed permission, why was no one else in there with Nana? Annie looked back at the kitchen and watched as they sipped their coffee and checked their watches as if waiting for the train.
It was inevitable that the conversation turned to the division of Nana’s assets. In an instant, the whispering elevated to raised voices about how the cottage and the antique car would be divided. Annie couldn’t believe they would bicker about such a thing while their mother lay dying a few feet away. What if she can hear you? she thought. The adults were distracted, Annie walked over and put her ear to the door, but there was no sound. Annie touched her sweaty hand to the door knob and turned it slowly. She slipped inside the dark room, closing the door behind her. Annie took several light steps toward the bed, the creaking of the floor muted by the thin, musty carpet. Nana was in bed, still and appeared to be sleeping. Her eyes were closed, and the blankets were bunched up around her neck. Her face was gray and she was breathing heavy, her chest moving up and down.
“Hi Nana,” she said. Nana’s eyes opened, looked up at Annie and then half closed. Nana tried to lift her head up; her lips were moving, but nothing came out. Annie forced a smile and moved closer. “It’s ok, just rest,” She pulled a chair over beside the bed and took Nana’s left hand and cradled it. The faintest smile burst through the top corner of her lip as if she was being let in on a joke. Annie felt validated; she made the right choice to visit. The sound of strained breathing filled the room while Annie looked at the dozen of bottles of medication on the table. She didn’t know what any of pills were for, but at this point in the disease it probably just pain medication.
Annie noticed a patch of cold sweat forming on Nana’s forehead; she dabbed it with a cloth, but even that made Nana wince. There was a loud click and the door burst open behind her as Annie’s Aunts and Uncles rushed into the room. The women tried to get Annie from the room while the men focused on their mother’s well being.
“Annie, what are you doing? You must let Nana rest, ok? She’s tired. Come on Annie.” Polly said, her clumsy husband Raymond pushing both of them aside trying to get closer.
Nana was now awake and agitated. She frowned at Polly and stuttered to form a sentence. “W-w-what do I c-care?”
Uncle Benny followed, “Mom, can I get you anything? Do you want some soup?”
His wife Frida glared as if he was the village idiot. Now everyone wanted to spend time with Nana. They were jealous of the extra attention that Annie was getting. They attempted to cater to her every need, as if she had any. Nana had updated her will over ten years earlier after her husband had died. She hadn’t given it a second thought since then, though if she could have changed it, she would have left everything to her grandkids. She couldn’t change it anymore, but that didn’t stop her kids from sucking up. Nana was smart and observant, even in her final days she knew what was going on. She resented having to use what little energy she had to get her family to leave her alone. Katarina snuck into the room and watched from the doorway. Even though Katarina was Annie’s older sister, she had preferred the less responsible role of playing with the cousins outside. Once she heard the commotion from outside the bedroom window, she ran into the house.
Uncle Raymond leaned in, “Mom, where are the keys for the car? I was going to have it cleaned for you.”
Nana glared at him with frustrated disgust. For years, all of her kids had positioned themselves to get a hold of their father’s classic 1961 Ferrari California Spyder. It was immaculately preserved, had won several awards at various car shows, and was worth enough money to change her children’s lives. It was her husband’s prized possession. After his death, Nana stored the vintage automobile under a blanket in the garage and over the years it grew in value.
Raymond waited for an answer, but Nana only turned away. “What? I was just trying to help.” He complained. Even Benny was annoyed at Raymond’s blatant positioning.
Nana motioned the women to come closer. Aunt Polly stepped forward while Annie moved away.
“What is it Nana?” Polly asked.
“G-g-g,” Nana tried to speak.
Everyone leaned in, anticipating a decision about the car. “G-g-o away,” she whispered. Polly’s eyes darted back at Raymond in blame. If he was a better son, they might already own the car.
Polly pulled away, grateful she could get away from the smell of a dying, old person. Annie followed the group to the door, but Nana weakly grasped her wrist, “St-stay.”
Raymond whispered to Polly on the way out of the room, “I can’t find the keys anywhere.”
“We’ll just buy a new set in a couple days,” Polly said out of the side of her mouth. Katarina resented that Annie was asked to stay, as she was ushered away with the others.
Nana couldn’t read lips, but she knew what they were talking about. It was an empty feeling having loved ones show more interest in a car than your life. It was indescribable, strange, and she resented them for it.
Nana’s eyes fixated on Annie as she slid her chair closer.
“You’re th-the only one I can t-t-talk to.”
Annie loved that. Even growing up, Nana and Annie always had a special relationship. Annie would visit Nana every summer, and in many ways she felt most at home at the cottage. It became a permanent home after her husband died; even in the frigid Vermont winters, she managed to survive comfortably.
Annie’s favourite memories were from the cottage. She spent her days swimming in the lake and talking with her Grandmother on the porch at night with the light from the kitchen pouring onto the patio as the crickets buzzed in the woods surrounding them. Annie imagined the cottage without Nana, and it made her sick.
“I sh-sh-should have b-buried the car with your gr-grandf-f-father.”
“Nana, it’s so expensive.”
“Just m-m-money. For p-p-people to keep score. Don’t. Just b-be h-happy.”
Annie was trying to understand.
Nana was enjoying a moment of self-satisfaction with a crooked smile, “I h-hid the keys. It’ll drive them m-m-mad looking. The best l-l-lesson I c-could teach them is get rid of that c-c-car.”
“K-k-keys are in the sugar b-b-owl,” she pointed to the kitchen. “H-h-hide them in a b-b-better spot.” Nana laughed, and it caused a small coughing attack. Annie relished the idea of being in charge of something.
“T-t-ell m-me about y-you.” Nana did her best to smile.
“What do you want to know? I’m just a boring teenager.”
“Well, there is a boy,” Annie blushed.
“T-t-tell m-me.” Nana closed her eyes and reflected on her days as a carefree teenager.
“Uh,” Annie felt selfish to be talking about herself, but could see Nana smiling with her eyes close. “His name is Travis.”
“G-g-good n-name.” She nodded.
“We’re in the same Math class. I think he likes me.”
“T-t-t-think? M-men, n-never d-do anything. You l-like him? You d-do the w-work. W-women should have b-been b-born with the balls!”
Annie was shocked at her Grandmother’s language. “You g-gotta be tough. Understand?”
Annie nodded. Nana took a deep breath, but her lungs couldn’t keep up.
For hours, they reminisced and cried. Half a box of rolled-up Kleenex littered the floor. Nana had fallen asleep while Annie had been explaining a problem with her History teacher; apparently Nana had found it boring as well. Annie laid her head down on the bed and closed her eyes. It was calm. Annie was grateful that she had this time and was about to fall asleep when Nana made an uncomfortable gurgling sound. Annie snapped forward and looked to help, she anticipated the rest of the family would come running, but no one did. She helped Nana lean forward and patted her back.
“Everyone loves you here,” Annie said as Nana was awake again.
“I’m an in-con-veeen-ience,” she coughed and then steadied her breathing. “I’ll be gone s-s-oon. Ev-every-one c-can get on with it.”
“You want me to read to you?”
Nana shook her head, as much as she was capable. Annie thought Nana looked like a petulant child.
“A nice d-day with you. So n-nice.”
Annie began to tear up knowing that it was probably their last together.
“Th-th-at,” Nana pointed a bottle of pills on the table.
“Your medicine?” Annie reached for the bottle.
“Of course.” Annie opened the bottle.
Annie examined the label, Morphine.
“Are you in pain?”
“Th-they give me p-pain.” She lifted her hand and pointed to the door.
Annie opened the bottle and took out one of the pills.
Annie read the bottle. “You’re allowed one pill every eight hours.”
“I w-w-want,” Nana held up four fingers, and a tear gathered in her eye.
It was a gentle nod, and she stared into Annie’s eyes as if speaking to her in a way that she couldn’t anymore with words. Annie felt sick as she considered what Nana was asking. For months, Nana had been in bed. For months, a series of nurses came to her house,changing her diaper, bathing her. For months, she was without dignity. Today was her best day in weeks. She hadn’t been thinking so clearly in a long time, and she was grateful that could have some control over the end. She was happy to have Annie so close. Annie held the bottle tightly in her hand, afraid to lose sight of it.
“Nana, I can’t do that. I love you too much.”
“If you l-love me, h-help me.”
Annie held the bottle tight. She thought about the consequences. Could she live with the thought that she killed her grandmother? What if everyone found out? Could she go to jail?
Nana could see the conflict in Annie’s face. “You s-s-set me free.” Annie could hear arguing from the kitchen as she walked closer to the door. She locked it and then went back to her bedside.
“I don’t think I can do this.”
“So s-s-strong, in h-here,” Nana pointed to Annie’s chest and then looked at the bottle and held up four feeble fingers. Within seconds, they folded back down into her hand. Annie uncapped the bottle and placed four capsules in her hand. Nana smiled, pressed the caps into her mouth. Annie held a glass of water up to her lips. She sipped it and smiled. She took Annie’s hand, closed her eyes. Nana raised her arm one final time and touched Annie’s chest.
“S-s-strong heart,” her eyes closed. Annie fought crying out loud as Nana’s breathing grew heavier and then stopped. Annie said goodbye, absorbed every subtle expression on Nana’s face as the colour drained away, and her last breath escaped. Annie waited for a moment as if the process could somehow reverse itself, and then rose and walked to the door. The creak of the door opening grabbed everyone’s attention. They watched as Annie stood in the doorway sobbing. Annie’s Mother embraced her as everyone else ran into the room to confirm that it was finally over. Everyone stopped in the doorway and saw Nana on the bed, in a peaceful pose. No one was crying but Annie.
“I’ll make the call.” Raymond said without missing a beat, walking back down the hall. Annie sat back down and was holding Nana’s hand as everyone left. Now she wondered if there would be any evidence of foul play? Would they do an autopsy?
“Did she say anything?” Polly asked.
Annie turned around, “Me?”
“You were here when she died right? Did she say anything? Last words?”
Annie swallowed, “No, nothing.”
Polly seemed to be judging Annie. She only nodded and left the room.
Annie’s mother Helen sat down on the bed facing Annie. “You ok?”
Annie just nodded. Katarina stood in the corner of the room and watched as her mother focused her attention on Annie.
“Nana loved you very much.”
“Am I the only one around here who cares?”
“It’s not that they don’t care, but people have different ways of mourning.”
“Mourning? They’re not mourning. All they care about is who gets the cottage, who gets that car.” There was a knock at the door, Annie looked out the window and saw a hearse backed into the driveway. “Was it parked around the corner waiting? Seriously!” Now Annie was angry. She took a deep breath.
Annie stood in the corner of the room as Nana was rolled out on a gurney. Annie stood in the corner fighting back tears, staring at the empty bed. In the background and the hallway, Annie could hear relatives arguing and bickering about who was responsible for what at the funeral as it if was a checklist for a Sunday picnic.
Annie was dazed. She thought about her grandmother and about what she had done. Was it the right thing to do? Was Nana in her right mind? A million guilty thoughts raced through her mind. She walked out among the dozen adults milling like ants around the house. She walked into the kitchen where her three Uncles were arguing about the car.
“It’s vintage. It’s only fair to sell it at auction – then we split it amongst the four of us. If it gets a half million, that’s over a hundred grand each.”
“It’ll get at least that much!” Raymond insisted.
The fighting continued about who had spent out of pocket expenses on keeping Nana alive, who had spent the most time visiting and going to her Doctor’s appointments. Then the discussion came up about selling the cottage. It was a cottage by definition but after a few upgrades it became a year-round home. For six months a year Nana was the only one living within five miles. An entire municipal maintenance team was plowing dirt roads in the winter to keep a path for her to the nearest grocery store.
“Annie, can you please get me my purse? I’m getting a headache.” Helen asked.
Annie walked back through the kitchen to her mother’s purse in the hallway and saw the sugar bowl sitting on the shelf. She pulled it down from the shelf. Annie expected that maybe Nana was hallucinating but she reached inside anyway; from the bottom of the bowl, under a small mound of sugar, she fished out a set of keys. Annie stuffed them into her pocket as her mother came into the kitchen.
“Did you get my purse?” Annie motioned to the table. Her mother took the bag and hurried out of the kitchen. Katarina was standing behind her.
“What are you doing Annie?” she asked with angry curiosity.
“I saw you take something out of the sugar bowl.”
“What?” Annie was caught red-handed, and she didn’t know what to say.
“What did you take out of the sugar bowl?”
Annie never got along with her sister. They were completely different people, and more than once Annie thought that she was adopted. She never seemed to fit in with anyone else in the family. “Kat, come with me.”
Annie took Katarina by the hand and led her to the garage. The garage door was open, and her Uncle Mel stood in front of it smoking.
“What are we doing?” Kat whispered.
Uncle Mel dropped his butt and walked back towards the house. “Hey girls, if you find Nana’s keys I’ll give you each five dollars!” Not only did Uncle Mel not realize that five dollars was not very much money for a teenager, but he also talked to them like they were five years old. Annie waited until he went into the house and then took the keys, opened the door to the car and then climbed inside.
“What are you doing?” Katarina asked as she climbed into the passenger seat.
“What does it look like?”
“You can’t drive!”
“It can’t be that hard!”
“Where did you find the keys?”
“Nana told me where to find them.” Annie pushed the clutch, tried to change gears, and it made a metallic grinding sound.
“If you damage this car…”
Annie just smiled. She started the engine. It was loud and echoed through the house.
Aunt Polly screamed from the kitchen, “Someone found the keys! Who is it?”
“No one better be touching that car, until we decide what to do with it.” Raymond said.
“I saw Mel outside. Get out there!” Polly squealed.
Annie put it into first gear, and it hopped out of the driveway.
“Annie take us back!” Katarina screamed.
“Put on your seatbelt.” Katarina obliged.
Annie sped up in first gear while ripping around the corner, to the top of the road leading back down to the lake. Tires squealed as she tore around the winding roads around the cottage. She stopped the car at the top of the hill and looked down at the road leading straight to the lake. She put it into neutral, pulled up the parking brake and jumped out of the car.
“Get out.” Annie said.
“Just get out.”
Katarina could see the craziness in Annie’s eyes. She got out of the car, and then Annie pushed down the parking brake. The car began to roll down the hill past a short wooden boardwalk into the lake with a big splash. Within seconds, the car was bubbling and sinking below the water. With a loud thud, the front of the car hit the rocks at the bottom of the lake with the trunk still sticking out of the water.
Annie screamed, “Yes! Wasn’t that the most amazing thing you have ever seen?!”
Katarina was angry, “What is wrong with you?”
Annie smiled to herself. Nana would have loved it.
The rest of the family came running to see Annie and Kat standing at the top of the road. They looked back down the road and saw the car sticking out of the water. Katarina stepped away from Annie and joined the others. Annie was on her own.
“What the fuck happened?” Uncle Raymond yelled.
“The car went into the lake.” Annie said plainly, trying to catch her breath.
“Ya, no shit Annie!” Uncle Mel said.
Annie’s Father Gordon stepped forward, “Don’t talk to my daughter like that Mel!”
“I’m just trying to find out what happened. That’s a six hundred thousand dollar car floating in the water. I think I deserve a Goddamn answer!”
“Annie,” Gordon asked. “What happened to the car?”
“Nana would have done it if she could, but she couldn’t. She hated your fighting over it. It’s all you cared about!” Annie looked around at her Aunts and Uncles; no one seemed to sympathize.
“My mother was not thinking straight Annie. She was on medication and delirious.” Raymond began yelling at Helen, “What is wrong with your daughter? We’re going to sue you!”
“Sue us for what?” Helen asked, “We have even less than you do.”
Annie and Kat said nothing. Raymond got angrier, “Helen, you and your kids owe us!”
“You can have my share!” Helen said as she took Annie by the shoulder and walked back towards the cottage. Everyone continued yelling at each other and directing insults at Annie.
Annie and Helen walked back to the cottage as the hearse drove away. At that moment, Helen looked at Annie, and in her face saw the same spark that Nana used to have.
Check out J.T’s interview on the Space Channel here.