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Not many people come into Main Street Jazz Bar at 9pm on a Tuesday night. (Not many people come on Saturday nights, either.) Right now it’s just the bartender, Sybil nursing a Sex on the Beach in the corner (the bartender had cocked his eyebrow when she ordered it. “Interesting choice for January. Sure you don’t want your scotch?”), and a trio on the far side. Drums, bass, and piano. Something spacious and rhythmic.
Sybil is waiting for someone. It’s a nice place to wait. The booth is a tad cramped, and her hip aches, but the music’s nice and the drinks are good. She’d made up some excuse as to why she couldn’t do a luncheon; it’s a business meeting after all, though not for her. She wanted to throw him a little off guard. Besides, best to be in one of her favorite places for such an unpleasant meeting.
The man walks in at 9:07. Sybil has never seen this man before, though she can tell that it’s him by the suit. Expensive. He glances around, and, seeing only the five people presently in the room, goes and asks a question to the bartender, who gestures towards Sybil. The man is not amused. The bartender says a last word to him, though he’s not listening as he strides over to the booth.
“I go by Sybil now.” She smiles prettily, not standing up. “Please, sit down.”
“If it’s all the same to you, for legal discussions such as this I prefer to use people’s legal names.”
“It’s not. But don’t worry, I’ve legally changed it.” Her voice is molasses. He sits.
He’s not an ugly man. Sharp jaw, clean shaven, a thick head of hair and deep brown eyes. He sits with perfect posture. Maybe 10 years younger than her. Probably went to an Ivy.
“Rod Gerrault. Pleasure to make your acquaintance.”
“I suppose we’d best get right down to business.”
“You’re not going to get a drink?” She hasn’t stopped smiling.
“I don’t drink.”
“I’m here on behalf of the deceased, your sister Marissa Redington. As you know, you have been named the executor of her estate.” A pause. “I’m sorry for your loss, by the way.” Her smile dies.
“We weren’t close.”
“I didn’t know I was invited.”
“She asked me to make sure of that, too.”
This was unexpected. Sybil nods and stares down at her drink, which is on its last legs. He’s waiting for her to respond. In response, she finishes it. “One moment.”
She stands up. She walks over to the bar, where the bartender has been doing his best not to stare at them as he meticulously wipes some very clean glasses.
“I’ll take that scotch now.”
“I hope he’s not giving you too much trouble. Couldn’t even get your name right.” Another reason why she picked this place.
“Well congratulations, I know you’ve always wondered.” She smiles, genuinely this time. “I appreciate it. I think it will be okay. He’s friendlier than I expected.”
“Not much of a bar to clear.” They both chuckle, deep and throaty. (She’d been here late the night before.) He pours her scotch, and adds “Do tell me if that changes though.”
Sybil’s words linger in the air for a moment. He’s a little taken aback. (She’s used to such things. Comes with the territory.)
“Yes. Well, I, uh, I suppose that will make this easier for you. Have you been through this process before? I understand that your parents have been deceased for a few years.”
“They cut me out of their will.” Again a pause; he’s having trouble with this. “Did you know Marissa at all?”
“Yes. She was a good friend. She asked me personally to do this for her. To help you through the process.”
“Because I’d be difficult.”
“No, actually. She spoke quite highly of you.”
“Using the wrong name, of course.”
“Well, yes. But she said you were very capable.” Now it’s Sybil’s turn to be a little taken aback.
“I suppose I am.”
“Then let’s get to business. Did you read the will? It was attached in the last email I sent you.”
“Excellent. A small portion of money and associated memorabilia for you and your cousin, everything else split evenly between her two sons, with college funds set aside for her grandchildren. She told me her sons get along well, so it should be relatively painless to sort out. They will be handling the funeral. She asked me to make sure you come.”
The door opens and two women walk in. Regulars, though Sybil has never asked their names. They take seats near the music, and the bartender goes out to attend them. Sybil carefully investigates her scotch before returning to the table. What had that man said about Marissa? That she said Sybil was “very capable”? She is, though she had not expected to hear those words from Marissa. Would’ve been nice to hear them while Marissa was still alive.
When she gets back, he offers his hand.
“I feel as though we started off on the wrong foot. I want to make it clear that I am here to assist you in making this difficult time as easy as possible for you,” he says.
“Much appreciated.” She shakes it. His handshake is firm, a little too stiff.
She sits down and they begin to discuss logistics: the handling of the estate, payment for the funeral, bank accounts and outstanding bills, lawyers if a cousin or two decide they want more than they’re getting. The part of Sybil that Marissa knew was there takes over: measured, emotionless, a façade she’d picked up long ago. She still hates that part of her, not for a logical reason. It’s terrifying how easily she slips into it. It gets this over quicker, though.
It’s not too bad. Rod is still a little stiff, but he’s easing up now that he’s more in his element. There’s a part of Sybil that wants to like him. She was never very good at not liking people. This is tempered, though, by his frequent reminiscing about Marissa (“She was one of the best people I ever met,” he says), his frequent referral to Marissa as “middle class” (she was not), and his use of the term “transsexual” (the first time, she corrects him gently; the second, less so―there isn’t a third).
They’re beginning to wrap up now. A small handful of people have been in and out of the bar. The band has stopped and is packing up. He’s reminiscing about Marissa again. She tries to steer him away, unsuccessfully. Eventually he gets to the one topic she will not tolerate.
“I do miss the holidays. Her father was a truly charming man. It was nice to feel like I was part of the family, a good family, for once.”
“It’s nice that you kept in touch with Marissa, at least a little. She really loved you.”
“Not enough to stand up for me to my parents. Or call me by my real name.”
He considers for a second whether or not to take issue with that phrasing. He elects not to. She continues:
“Why are you insistent on defending my family to me? They’re dead. It’s no longer important.”
“I’m not defending your family. I am simply suggesting that your perspective of them may be skewed.”
“And yours somehow isn’t, even though you were sleeping with my sister?”
“Now that was uncalled for, you need to recognize that your parents and sister were good people.”
“You think because my parents invited you to Christmas once or twice that they’re good people?”
“You’re making assumptions about our relationship that I believe are unwarranted.”
“Then please, tell me why you are convinced of this picture of my family as these saints.”
“Because your family is the only one I’ve ever had.”
“Yes, it does sound nice to have my parents actually accept you.” She must’ve sounded more bitter than she intended. Suddenly, they’re back to square one.
“Yes, I understand you had a fraught relationship with them. I’m sorry. I was just speaking from my experience.”
“Fraught? I haven’t spoken to them in 40 years. They kicked me out of the house.”
“Again, I’m sorry that that happened. It wasn’t fair to you. But it was a long time ago, and you understand how difficult it would be to lose your child like that.”
“They never lost me. They left me. Besides, that was later. When I was sixteen, it was because Marissa told them about a boy I was seeing.” He pauses, understands, frowns.
“I see.” Another pause. When he sees that she has nothing else to say, he continues. “I’m sorry that happened to you. If it helps, I think they had...softened a bit. Before they passed.”
“Not enough to call me.”
“Maybe they thought you didn’t want to see them. Did you ever reach out to them?”
“Does that excuse anything? No, I didn’t reach out to them. They made their thoughts on me pretty clear.”
“I think if you had called them in the last few years, it might’ve worked.”
“Unfortunately, they’re dead. So we’ll never know.”
The bartender would’ve closed up shop a while ago, but he doesn’t want to disturb the two. He can only hear snippets of their conversation, but Sybil told him enough for him to fill in the gaps. She promised him she’d make it through without snapping, but this lawyer seems adept at pushing her buttons. It’s remarkable she’s made it this far. He’ll wait them out and be there for her when it’s over.
Since the bar is empty, the silence between Rod and Sybil sits heavy between them. What is she even supposed to say in response to something like that? A genuine pain has overtaken Rod’s face.
He contemplates for a moment. Marissa did warn him that her sister could be intense, but he still hadn’t expected to open himself up like this. He did not savor the idea of opening up any further.
“It’s not important. I just found that they were very kind to me.”
“Clearly it is important.”
He’s backed himself into a corner here. Might as well play her game.
“My family was not particularly loving. I won’t go into details. Marissa and your parents welcomed me with an openness that I had never experienced before, when I was a boy, or even when I was married. It’s not so easy for me to write them off as despicable in the way you do.”
“Do you think I’m writing them off?” Her voice is icy.
“Your sister made you the executor of her estate. She made sure you would be invited to the funeral. She wrote you into her will.”
“All timed for when she wouldn’t be around to deal with the consequences.”
“Do you blame her?”
“I’ve had to deal with the consequences my entire life. I didn’t get that choice.”
“Don’t you wish you did?” The Marissa that he knew, that he loved, was not selfish, or afraid. She was kind, generous, caring. How can Sybil not see that?
“And now she reaches out to me, from the grave, to get me to fulfill obligations for her. Not to tell me she loved me, but to entrust me with responsibilities that benefit her. And then to go to her funeral. All of this is about her. She never lifted a finger for me, and now she is invoking the familial duty for herself.”
Then both of them realize at the same time.
“So why are you doing this for her?” Rod asks.
“I would like to officially yield my power as executor of Marissa Redington’s estate.” Formal. The words feel burly on her tongue. Rod is regretting his choices.
“Now Sybil, I don’t think you should jump to such a hasty conclusion here. You are clearly the best equipped–”
“My decision is final.” It doesn’t feel final. But saying it makes her believe it a little more.
“I think you should take some time to–”
“I’ve made my choice. Now if you would please leave, I believe this bar has closed for the night.”
Rod sits for a moment, then rises slowly. She stands too, and shakes his hand. She’s a few inches taller than him. Without another word, he leaves. Sybil slumps back into the booth and looks out the window. The moon is full. The bartender comes over and sits with her, and together they silently stare into the night.
Sybil is a little surprised and not a little angry that she hasn’t thought of this question before. Rod doesn’t look smug. He looks genuinely curious.
“Because I feel like there’s no other option.”
Rod actually kind of agrees there. Marissa’s sons are both upstanding fellows, but neither of them is equipped to handle something like this. And everyone else in Marissa’s life would try to get themselves a bigger piece of the pie.
“Well, on her behalf I appreciate your willingness to do this for her.”
There is an extended silence as Sybil contemplates. It can’t be a sense of duty for Marissa. Maybe it’s for the grandchildren. Perhaps it’s because she wants to make sure she gets the money; she certainly could use it. Maybe she’s worried about the legal fallout if she declines. She’s barely touched her scotch.
“Maybe I shouldn’t do this.”
“Marissa would be very happy to know you agreed to it.”
“Why do I want to make Marissa happy?”
“And you are, I think, one of the only people she―or I―would trust to handle this large an estate.”
“Think of it not for her, but for her grandchildren.”
It’s not fair to the kids. After all, what have they done to her?
But...that’s not enough.
Julian Schauffler (@the.civil.orange, they/them) is a performance and film artist from upstate New York. Their work has been heavily influenced by growing up with their dad’s winding piano improvisations echoing in the house, and they hope this piece pays homage to the aesthetic of committing to a task without being sure where you’re going to end up. Thanks to Audrey, Caroline, Luke, and Mase!
Audrey Rosevear (@audreyrosevear) is a junior at Amherst College from central Massachusetts. While she has written plenty of poetry and a few plays, this is her first time tackling prose fiction since high school. She is excited to get a little creative work in before imminently drowning in her math thesis.