This is chapter 57 of The Inheritance, a serial fiction novel on FITK
Thursday Afternoon, December 31, 2020, Seattle
Sean was building a fireplace in the backyard. He pried up flagstones from the path that led to Jo’s apartment and stacked them in a crude semi-circle against the massive boulder that defined the property line. A light rain had been falling off and on all day making it sloppy work but the cool temperature was a good match for his hard labor.
Sean was numb in the days that followed the Christmas night disasters. He had burned through the seven stages of grief in minutes after the earthquake and tsunami. Shock was followed by acceptance, bypassing denial, anger, bargaining, guilt and depression. Strangely, however, he was still functional. He managed the necessities: identifying the bodies of Mary and Jo, arranging their funerals, dealing with legal details concerning his son Villí’s drowning in Reykjavík, and dealing with lawyers for the family’s LLC. He had one small window of hope—Mareka’s body had not yet been found—but the discovery of her slippers in the muck at the bottom of the pit where Mary died effectively broke that straw. His days seemed to be on repeat—dealing with these affairs in the morning and then just sitting, phone off, looking out onto the patio where Mareka had held her ‘flying lessons’ with the crows. The crows hadn’t returned, he thought that they were aware of her absence. He had also wondered if they had been trying to warn them in the square, just before the earthquake.
Sean was laying the last of the stones when he heard a woman’s voice:
“Molly,” Sean said, without turning his head. A statement of fact, rather that a greeting. Molly Berenson had been Sean’s lover during the ‘Billygate’ affair, when Sean was working for Mary. Molly had left Sean because of the duress she experienced during that investigation. She had gone into insurance and had some success. She had also dealt extensively with Jo, supplying the Carroll-Robinson family LLC’s insurance needs.
“Is this a good time?” asked Molly.
“Yes. I’m glad to see you,” said Sean, putting down the last bit of stonework and looking at Molly, “I’m just finishing up here.”
“What are you making, besides a muddy mess?”
Sean was silent for a minute and then spoke: “A clean break with the past.”
“You want to talk?” said Molly, “I could come back later if it’s too much, or if it’s too soon.”
“It’s OK, I can use a friendly face,” said Sean, ”Let’s go into the garage where it isn’t so damp. I’ve got a ventilation system there, and a heater, we can talk without masks.”
They went into the garage, the space where Jo had conducted her home school with Mareka and the neighborhood children. The walls still held drawings done by the children. Molly noticed a large pile of broken stretcher bars by the door—some with scraps of canvas attached—and a pile of unframed canvases next to them, canvases that had been roughly cut from their frames. On one of the desks lay several notebooks, letters, and a pile of drawings.
“This is the artwork and ephemera from my grandmother,” said Sean, “The past. Fuel for that fireplace I built.”
“Oh, no,” said Molly, “Are you really going to burn everything?”
“The way I see it,” began Sean, “Either I destroy this stuff, or it will destroy me. You and I, when we first got together, we had none of this baggage. I’m not being sentimental about that time, but even though we were both working too much we had something good between us, something that we had built. Then my family ghosts appeared: Billy, my father, the witchcraft that came from my grandmother. It infected Mary first and then my son Vilhjalmur, then Mareka. It was exciting, thrilling even, but not human. And it all came through me, but I didn’t stand up to it, I just let its consequences sweep over everything.”
“How will burning all this help? Won’t Emily’s legacy live on despite of its destruction?”
“I’ve thought about that. There is something that exists in the world, call it magic, or spirit, or whatever you want. It is real, and it is embodied in these objects. With them gone, so goes the magic. There will be pictures of the paintings in books, yes, but a reproduction is just a reflection—without a physical existence they are merely footnotes to a short-lived art movement. These books and spells will lose their power as well; I’ve already told Hilmar in Iceland to shutdown the spells app.“
“And then what?” asked Molly, “You have to do something with your life.”
“I’ll deal with that the way I’m dealing with my life now—a day at a time. I’m in a position to help a lot of people—nuts-and-bolts kind of help—but not with failed charms and dodgy incantations.”
“But Mary affected a lot of people in positive ways.”
“And where is she now? In a makeshift morgue, summarily dumped by a capricious god,” said Sean, biting his lip to keep it from quivering, “I’m sorry. I went too far.”
“Sean, it was just one of those things,” said Molly, “A fluke.”
“No, Mary’s death was no fluke, not coupled with the deaths of Villí and Jo and Mareka. I got the message, loud and clear. When the loves of my life are taken away, when this empty house is what I’ve got for a life, well, I guess it’s time to try something else. Even if what I do here today is the wrong thing, it can’t be any worse that what happened on Christmas. It started with me and continues through me. I bring death to all that I touch. I am the corrupted seed, the root of all this evil.”
There was an awkward pause.
“I hope that you’re making the right choice, Sean.” said Molly.
“The rain has let up, let’s do this thing,” said Sean.
They began hauling out the ‘fuel.’ Sean collected with the stretcher bars first and arranged them in a lattice to provide a base to allow air to reach the fire from below. Then they brought out the artwork on paper, the canvases, Emily’s letters and, finally, capped it with the books of spells. Sean doused the pile with lighter fluid and set it ablaze. The two of them watched in silence as the pyre’s contents became a roaring fire. In minutes everything was reduced to ashes. They watched the residue smoldering for a while and then Sean spoke:
“Molly, I want you to know that I never held what happened between us against you. You got a raw deal, if I had been more decisive, if I had stood up for myself, I could have saved you a world of trouble.”
“You did the best you could, you went far beyond what any normal person would have done.” There was another pause before Molly continued: “I was happy when you and Mary got together, and I was thrilled that you two had a child together.”
“I let you down.”
“Sean, it’s all right, listen to me,” said Molly, “I know that you are suffering, more than I can comprehend. But remember this: I never stopped loving you. You aren’t alone. You are loved.”
“Thank you… I won’t forget.”
“I’ve got to go now, Sean, Mom’s pretty much house-bound now and she gets upset when I’m not there at right at dinnertime. Are you sure you’re going to be all right?”
“I’m hanging in there,” Sean said, managing a wan smile, “Say hi to your mother from me. She was always supportive of us.”
Sean let Molly out the garage front door.
“Call me… anytime… I mean it,” Molly said as she got into her car.
Sean returned to the backyard. He sat down at the patio table and closed his eyes, putting his head in his hands. He was still numb; the exorcism of Emily’s ghost hadn’t changed his mental state. He sat this way for several minutes, it was easier with eyes closed, he didn’t want to look at the place where his daughter had been cavorting with the crows a week ago.
A peck on his hand broke Sean’s reverie. He opened his eyes.
A magnificent crow was perched on the table, not more than a foot away, looking Sean right in the eyes.
“Æ, auks,” said the bird, extending a claw. A ring made of braided thread with a red bead woven into it dangled from it.
Sean put out his hand and the bird dropped the ring onto his palm.
“Æ, auks,” repeated the crow. Sean understood what the bird was trying to say.
“Hey, Pops, yourself, Kiddo… ” said Sean.
The bird nodded and, after looking at Sean one more time, flew off.
“You take care of yourself… Kiddo,” Sean shouted to the crow.
The precipitation began again, this time in earnest.
Sean remained seated, raindrops washed his tears away.