Short story collection- 2.
By Leila Baez / Matthew staff
None of us wanted to be there. I sat in the overused grayed office chair while Lucy tried to shrink into the dingy used-to-be creme sofa chair pressed against the other corner of the room. She stared at her nails the entire time we waited, fidgeting around and picking at the French-style manicure she had gotten a couple weeks ago. She texted me a week before we flew down to Panama that she wanted to look good for the trip, but she only left her room for the continental breakfast and the “meetings”. As always, I was left being the voice of reason, taking care of everything. As Lucy and I sat in Karen’s room waiting for Karen to come out of the bathroom, I forced myself to remember why I was putting myself through all of this crap in the first place: so we could finally settle what we each paid out to complete the process of our father’s estate. So I could be done with all of this and get on with my life with as few lingering memories of that man as possible. I had a folder filled with documents like a boulder on my lap. I intended to show my sisters everything, even a short presentation if necessary since I had handled the distribution of a Money Market account that our father had left without a beneficiary. Since I was the only one of us that had any real knowledge of how to balance an account or anything of the sort, I also got that pushed onto my shoulders.
I glanced at the large window to my right. The glass nearly took up the entire wall, but the only view was that of the new highway exit the city was taking nearly two years to build. My room had a view of the Cessna airport, so I didn’t mind seeing the cars and Diablos Rojos race down the roads. Once Karen came out of the bathroom, I wouldn’t be paying any attention to anything happening outside the room. I waited patiently, taking the overfilled folder and placing it as gently as I could onto the desk table, not wanting to sound rough. The placement sounded like a slam anyway. The folder didn’t feel that heavy to me, but with the stack of papers that flew out, I was reminded of how great of a workout my job was. I had barely finished reorganizing the pages and files when Karen threw open the bathroom door and stepped out towards Lucy and I, grabbing a notepad out of her khaki Coach saddlebag. The stench of just sprayed air freshener was giving me a migraine. It was not the lemon-lavender scent the bottle promoted, instead it smelled like a lab room in the summer: muggy, mossy, and the slightest hint of bleach. I turned my head in a weak attempt to not inhale the fumes.
My attention was brought back to the situation at hand as the sound of Karen tearing page after page out of her notepad echoed through the room. I glanced at her, hoping those pages weren’t what I thought they were, what I knew they were. I bit back a nauseated groan, glancing at Lucy whose gaze was still downcast. She was almost flinching with each rip. My only thought as my gaze shifted back at Karen being: “She better not try to give me this as proof of her expenditures.”
I am never that lucky. The next thing that came out of Karen’s mouth was a firm, defensive tone, “Here is what I spent.”
I looked her in the eyes, refusing to play that game, and simply asked for the receipts. Karen’s face turned so red it looked like she was holding her breath. Now, even more defensive, she yelled.
“Do you think I had the time to keep the receipts after everything I had to do for dad?”
I could not help the clear tone of exhausted annoyance as I answered her question with one of my own.
“How did you come up with these numbers then?”
Before I could ask or say anything else, Karen took the papers back, still yelling.
“Do not bother to give me a thing if you both think I would dare to take your money!”
I swiveled in the office chair, turning to Lucy and asking her for her thoughts. Lucy looked at both of us to say what I had already expected.
“I do not want to be a part of this. I didn’t come to Panama when Dad was in the hospital or when he died. I just want to get this over with and pay what I must.”
I then found myself alone and having to face Karen alone, a sister that I had not had any form of relationship with for the last almost ten years. I refused to buy into the emotions and manipulative little game Karen was playing. I was not getting played that easily, I wasn’t our father. I asked for her papers and saw columns with dates, numbers, more numbers, the housekeeper’s name.
“Why are you listing planes tickets for yourself and your husband, hotel expenses, and even food?”
Karen stared at me with a glare I was sure my daughter could feel from our hotel room across the hall, a growl in her throat as she spoke even more defensively, then more accusingly.
“I could not afford to stay all the time with dad and Mike had to fly down to help since none of you would do it.”
I was done with the games. Gaslighting and weakly attempting to manipulate me hadn’t worked since we were children, much less would it work now that I, the youngest of the sisters, was fifty-five. I told both of them I would request to be paid for handling Dad’s probate in South Carolina, since I was the Personal Representative. I reminded them that it would cost about five percent of the whole estate. Karen immediately calmed down.
“Never mind, I will cross my expenses off.” She took the papers again and fished a ballpoint pen out of the saddlebag, scribbling some things out, writing others back in. I left her be and looked to Lucy, forcing back a sigh as she sat in a chair, still picking at her manicure, trying to make herself seem oblivious to what was going on.
As things progressed and escalated, all I thought about was how glad I was that I told my daughter to stay in the hotel room. She was just a teenager, but she had already been forced to know and deal with enough family drama to last her a lifetime. She’s been a prime witness of everything over the course of her life and, even if I never told her the exact details of it all, she was a smart girl. She knew. I didn’t mind paying the extra money for an overweight suitcase. If an extra ten pounds worth of sketchbooks, novels, packs of markers and colored pencils, and her favorite stuffed animals made her feel secure in this situation she had never wanted let alone chose to be a part of, then so be it. An extra fifty dollars didn’t break the bank like being without security objects would have broken her mental wellbeing. She was strong when she needed to be, she had learned to do so from me. But even our combined strength was beginning to strain.
I was snapped out of my thoughts when Karen slid over the damned torn and now wrinkled sheets of notepad paper, the old sides scribbled out, the backsides holding new sets of numbers. Her expenses remained stupidly high. I did not try to hide my exhausted sigh this time.
“Karen, it appears that you spent over $13,000.”
Her eyes lit up, ready to retort when I put my left hand up to stop her, shuffling between my own files, prepared to produce my expenses and distribution of funds. She mockingly put up her right hand to stop me. I glanced up at her as she spoke.
“Mercedes, there is no need for receipts or documents, I recall you texting that your expenses had been covered by dad’s income tax refund, and you still had about $2,000 left?”
I agreed with a nod before placing the money on the table, counting it and deducting Karen’s expenses. I let Karen know what her total was, calmly, though I could not recall the last time I had wanted to drag someone onto the floor and punch them in the face so badly. I kept calm, there was no way I would give her that satisfaction… or something to take a picture of and “document”. Lucy and I paid Karen what we had too and I left that room immediately afterward, leaving Lucy and Karen to their devices, plots, whatever those two were up to.
I didn’t have the strength to knock on the door when it opened before I was even in front of it yet. My daughter was standing there with an equally tired look on her face and her room key in her hand. Fantastic. I felt like I had just gone through twelve rounds in the ring. I noticed her outfit. Jeans, a cotton top, walking sandals, her bag. She knew how to dress to make it seem like she was supposed to be waiting outside a hotel room for over an hour. A daughter or sister waiting for their travel companion to finish getting ready so they could hit the mall or grab a churro manejar and fresh naranja at Monolo’s. Her gaze met mine for a long minute and she hugged me close. The last thing I wanted was any kid of physical touch or comfort, not even a hug from her. Karen had turned her air conditioning unit off. Everything felt muggy and humid. I still hugged her and held her close, knowing that, in bringing her here to this damned country, damned hotel, around this damned family, I had tapped her into a fight she didn’t deserve to endure. Whatever happens will last long after Lucy, Karen, or even I am around. My daughter will have no choice but to fight for her dysfunctional family and wrestle back into relationships my sisters and I made estranged. As I felt her silent tears on my back and knew she felt mine, it was made clear that, while blood is thicker than water, that only means it is that much heavier of a burden.