The Inheritance

by Flick

In order of birth, the DuBoise siblings were Richard, Victoria, Diedre, Daniel and Roland. The five children all shared the fair hair as well as the gaunt, sad look of their mother’s cheekbones and sunken eyes. Fitting then, that they should already appear as sad spectres when they were faced with her early demise.

Their mother had a name, but the children only ever knew her as Mother and did not bother to reframe their referral in her absence. Mother was gone, but Mother was Mother and as such she should remain.

When Mother had died, Richard was at boarding school abroad and it was decided that he should endure the loss there, whilst the rest of the children moved in with their Decrepit Aunts. They should stay there until marriage prospects released them. Such prospects would not appear for nearly a decade. The children had, at first, soothed themselves with the thought that their father might miss them and rescue them. But their father, who they eventually refused to refer to at all – name or otherwise – could not bear to look at the miniature ghosts of his late wife. He had escaped abroad, much like Richard, the difference being a school was traded in for a mild-mannered office.

Victoria had taken it upon herself from just two and ten to become the Mother that she had lost, for the sake of her younger siblings. She had become so accustomed to wondering about their fears, needs, and hopes, that any hint of idleness or calm threatened to choke her bones. When the world called on her to relax she would grow worried, earnest and scattered. Nevermind that intensive compassion and girlish motherhood was suffocating her, the muscularity of her grief became firmly rooted before the birthday of thirteen. By this particular age, she had begun to remould herself into a gap that could not be filled. The grief was here to stay. She would never call it a possession, though she would never belong to herself again.

The other children were very young and soon forgot the smell and feel of Mother’s embrace, which Victoria deeply envied. She could not forget, only become. Diedre and Daniel, the twins, could barely read, and Roland was just a babe. They could still be forged into well adjusted people, should any adult make a real attempt at affection and guidance. The Decrepit Aunts had their cross stitching and church groups, which they refused to miss just because their much-younger sister in law had decided to die from pneumonia. It is a weakness of belief in His Glory to be scathed by something so base! one or both would cry when Victoria would bring up Mother. She did not understand the verb nor think it existed, but Victoria would pray that they were scathed by something even more base than pneumonia as punishment for their absent empathy.

In another life, Victoria would have been a performer. She loved to share stories with the young ones using funny voices and dramatic flourishes. Once one of the Decrepit Aunts had accidentally thrown away an embroidery hoop still lined with cloth; Victoria had rescued it for her own, cutting two eye holes out for a makeshift mask. She would use it to tell stories of villains and heroes, entertaining the young ones to great effect.

During the summer, Richard spent school holidays at the house. He was dismayed at having to share a bedroom with his four siblings. He had spent his time at school creating a fictional homelife in which Mother and his family lived in a large country mansion with servants abound. It seemed he had forgotten that the large country mansion was not real. That his living Mother was not real. This disappointment almost overshadowed the other loss. He delivered news of their fathers recent death to his Decrepit Aunts and siblings. This brought forth little reaction from the other children, for their father had been absent anyway and they had never felt the same tie to him as they had to Mother.

Richard’s mood dampened the warm days and the air was soured milk. He had grown to look much like his father and Victoria began to resent his paternal loyalty, his dismissiveness towards Mother’s memory. He cared just as little as their absent father. Richard’s humidity was catching, but the others resisted as best as possible. Victoria refused to forget Mother, searching for her wisdom in any reflective surface she came across. When she saw her mother in the mirror, her eyes would not leave themselves unless ripped away by some pressing matter. Richard accused Victoria of vanity and she felt a wickedness growing inside her. He did not understand that Victoria was not vain because Victoria did not actually exist in her reflection. She had swallowed herself whole and let Mother live there so that the children need not lose her.

Victoria was shrinking and sleeping inside herself. She did not feel an emerging personality, nor strong wants and needs. She meditated within living for the young ones. One night, when the aunts were out at a church fair, the summer heat melted niceties and made way for Richard to enlarge into a foul mood. Diedre and Daniel had hidden his compass as a prank and Richard was sweaty with threats of violence should they not return it. Victoria sensed his hunger for trouble may land fists on the twins, or even Roland, who was barely walking. She demanded the twins return it. She convinced them of good behaviour in return for her running a very secret and very special game. Intrigued by the prospect of mischief, the twins returned the brassy object and eagerly awaited instruction.

Victoria opened all the windows to allow a breeze to enter the house, enlisting the twins to help her light candles as the sun faded into faraway hills. The cruelty of nighttime’s darkness felt all at once calm and tranquil to Victoria. She began to let herself drift off into the night. Her body, performing a version of herself and Mother and neither, could take over.

Once Victoria presented her makeshift mask by candlelight, even Richard was intrigued enough to set aside his resentment and join the table. Victoria explained that her mask was no ordinary mask, but rather a portal to another world. Richard gave her a look that would have usually shrunk her into nothingness, but she was protected and floating outside her body. She looked at herself from afar, her cheeks filling with blood and smile stretched fake, and let herself be numb to his prickly shaming. She meant for the wickedness to fill her in defence and resolved herself to justly force him into an admission of sorrow. He had disrespected the absence of Mother, and Mother would not like that. Grief had insinuated itself in the air that Victoria breathed, poisoned her lungs, and stolen her reflection. She explained to her siblings that to wear the mask was to wear the face of a wandering spirit. You may ask three questions before the spirit finally disappears to the other side, never to return. Here or there forever, that was the fate of a soul. Of course, for this to work you had to attune to the portal and only Victoria had done that, so she would be the only one to wear the disguise. Death was not what they thought and its mysteries were to be accepted as instructions rather than interrogated.

Victoria placed the canvas to her face, fastening the mask by tying string around the back of her head and threading it through each side of the wooden ring. As she did, she became afraid of hell, but not more afraid than of the fists of Richard. She relaxed further into her unself as the first sibling asked. Who is it, then? Come on spirit! The twins giggled, and the baby gargled somewhere off to the side. Richard chided the young ones, instructing them to ask something of the spirit, but his growing trepidation was infectious and they dared not if he dared not. Victoria’s mouth did not move. She was not there, no one was. Her head drooped and the silence persisted pervasively until Richard became so annoyed that he overcame worry and demanded the spirit to announce itself. Who are you, spirit? Slowly, slowly, Victoria’s head rose and the mask spoke.

My darling boy, you do not recognise me?

Richard became a child as he recognised a voice he had not noticed before in his sister. He wanted to be old again but he–

Mother?

The twins froze with hope and horror as Richard shrank before their eyes into a boy who wanted the safety of Mother’s embrace.

Oh Richard, my darling boy. My first boy, my first baby!

Victoria watched from far away, breathing in the moment before it was never hers again. Richard cried out –

Mother! Mother! Please Mother! Is it really you?

He held the hands of his sister’s body which fed it his love and sadness and desperation. The window covers flapped and danced without the prompt of wind. The twins called out in terror, begging for the return of Victoria.

It is my darling boy, it is!

With the third question answered, Victoria’s body collapsed and the candles were snuffed. Something innocent, its final dregs, had ballooned and burst. The room was filled with a sad ringing.

Mother! Mother!

The siblings all grabbed at Victoria’s body, coaxing the return of the ghost or their sister. No one was sure. The missing feeling became larger than their bodies, distress filling their lungs. Desperation coated and cracked their cries. Mother was not there anymore, and she never would be again. Not in the way they wished. The mask fell to reveal a Victoria instead, face blank and confused.

What have you done?! Richard was now a man, unable to stop the slipping of sadness into fury. He shook Victoria but she remained dazed. It was unclear as to whether she had been aware of the ungodly events. She’s gone! You got rid of her! She’s gone! If only Richard had been clear on whether that accusation suited better his late Mother or his poor sister, perhaps he would have shaken her free. Victoria’s body slowly rose and the children silently, filled with dread, put back together the house until no clue remained of their dance with purgatory.

The Decrepit Aunts would return and no word of the events would be spoken, indeed the children would be too frightened to commune about it ever again for fear of spiritual wrath. Victoria had not found a cure in her brother’s dismay and she continued to float through her days as before. It struck her siblings all at separate private moments, how much more ghost she was than even their Mother. They would avoid calling her by name, lest they be caught mistaking Mother for Victoria or Victoria for Mother. The years would pass unremarkably and Victoria would die alone, never to marry or have children of her own. Her fate had been to live to care for the DeBoise siblings, inheriting the Decrepit Aunts’ house and Mother’s duty to the children so that they may never really be orphans after all.

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