An Excerpt from Rain Lashed
a novella of the Kyndred
by Lynn Viehl
As I lay on my couch in the muffled night, and the rain lashed my window,
And my forsaken heart would give me no rest, no pause and no peace,
Thought I turned my face far from the wailing of my bereavement….
Then I said: I will eat of this sorrow to its last shred,
I will take it unto me utterly,
I will see if I be not strong enough to contain it…
—Tasting the Earth
, James Oppenheim
September 29, 2004
After the funeral Angela Witt drove back to the house to change out of her black dress. Fred Morgan, her mother’s attorney, followed her from the cemetery, and parked his SUV at the curb before he walked up to the porch. The real estate agent, a blowsy blond with the improbable name of Sugar Wilcox, was already waiting there with a sheriff’s deputy, the attorney for the archdiocese, and a briefcase filled with legal documents.
Behind the house, the rain clouds that had threatened to ruin Ruth Witt’s funeral hovered, swollen and gray-black, popping with white veins of lightning. Whenever the skies turned dark Ruth would order her to close the blinds and draw the curtains. There was no question of Angela going out into the rain, of course. According to her mother, only fools and beggars chanced God’s wrath.
Angela loved storms, which made her a fool. And now, a beggar.
Sugar tried to speak to her as she passed, but the woman’s voice made as much sense as the gravely-intoned prayers the priest had recited over Ruth Witt’s coffin.
“She’s going to be trouble,” Angela heard Sugar prophesize to Fred Morgan. “You should have taken her to a motel.”
“She can’t afford one,” Morgan replied.
Angela went back to the bedroom that was no longer hers, and after locking the door stripped out of her black dress. She left it where it dropped on the floor and went to the closet to take out her favorite jeans and a dark blue T-shirt. Mother had insisted she always wear dresses or a skirt and blouse at home, but Mother was in Heaven now and couldn’t say anything about how she dressed.
“Angela.” Fred’s low voice, just outside her door, sounded strained. “Angela, we need to talk.”
She ignored him as she dressed, wondering if he or Sugar or the church’s attorney would have the deputy break down the door and drag her out half-naked to throw her into the street. She was – technically speaking – trespassing. But she only had one thing left to do after this, and she’d rather risk being hauled out like the trash than have to wear that awful, hot black dress for the rest of the day.
Thunder rumbled, close enough to rattle the window panes.
“If you’d like some time alone I can speak to Ms. Wilcox—“ Fred stopped and shuffled back as Angela opened the door. “I’m sure she wouldn’t mind.”
“She’d mind.” Angela passed him to go into the living room where she didn’t live, where Sugar and the attorney were waiting for her.
“Miss Witt.” Sugar had her syrupy smile and a handful of court papers ready. “As I tried to tell you on the phone, you can’t stay here.”
“We’re very sorry for your loss, Ms. Witt,” the church’s attorney said. “But the disposition of your mother’s estate—”
Why did they keep talking to her, these people? Angela brushed past them both and came up to the deputy barring the front door. He had an impressive-looking gun buckled to his left hip, and for a moment she saw herself snatching it out of its holster. That would shut up Sugar and her mouthpiece for sure.
“Excuse me,” she said politely.
The deputy studied her face and then stepped out of her way. Angela walked outside, climbed down the steps and went to her car.
“You can’t take the Olds, Miss Witt.” Sugar followed, the high heels of her pumps forcing her to trot like a small dog on a short leash. When Angela didn’t stop, she grew shrill. “You best hand those keys over, girl, or I’ll have you arrested for grand theft auto!”
The church attorney shushed her. “Miss Witt, as Mr. Morgan has doubtless explained, the car is part of the estate, and as such, now belongs to the archdiocese.”
Angela opened the door, reached in, and took out her purse. She pulled out her keys as Sugar reached her.
“You give me those keys.” She tried to grab them, and then made a squeaky sound as Angela held them out of reach. “Right this minute.”
Lightning flashed, striking a block away and making Sugar shriek and cower.
“You want them?” Angela turned and threw them over the fence into the next yard, where her neighbor’s two pit bulls began barking. “Go get them.”
Sugar began demanding the deputy arrest her. Angela walked down the drive to the sidewalk, where a small group of her mother’s neighbors had gathered to watch the festivities. Mrs. Hadrian, an ancient old lady who liked to play bingo and power-walk, gave Angela a painful smile.
“You want to come over my place and wait out this storm, honey?” she asked. “I got some coffee and Danish left over from breakfast.”
“No, thank you, ma’am.” Angela nodded politely to the rest of the wide-eyed neighbors before she moved on.
Fred Morgan caught up with her at the corner, where he stopped his SUV and rolled down the passenger window to speak with her. “Angela, please. Get in and I’ll give you a ride.”
“No, thank you, sir.” Angela wished the traffic would ease up so she could cross and get to the bus stop before the rain came down.
Fred didn’t give up. “Your mother wouldn’t have wanted it to be like this.”
“I can’t agree. This is exactly what she wanted.” Angela crossed the street just as the skies opened up and the first big, cool drops pelted her. She would have danced in the street under the grim clouds, her arms out, inviting God to smite her with one of his terrible bolts and save her a trip, but she was pretty sure all that would do was soak her clothes and get her hit by a car.
Fred found somewhere to park and came at her again as she waited under the Plexiglas roof covering the bus stop. “At least let me give a loan.”
She eyed the wallet he’d taken out and then looked up at his face. He was rain-splattered, sweating, desperate to be gone. As much as she disliked him, he was trying to be kind in his own fashion. “I won’t need your money, sir, but thank you.”
“You’re homeless. You don’t have a job. Your mother was your only living relative.” Fred tried to thrust some damp bills into her hand. “For God’ sake, Angela. Take it.”
The bus was coming, Angela saw, and stood, stepping out to the curb so that the driver saw her. The big vehicle’s breaks squealed a little as it came to a stop.
She glanced back at Fred and the money she'd dropped; he was crouched over picking it out of a puddle. She would always remember him like that. “Good-bye, Mr. Morgan.”
She had just enough change in her pocket to pay the fare downtown. On the ride there, she sat next to an old white lady in a sweater that smelled like a wet dog, and across from a black teenager with a wilted Mohawk dyed hot pink. Both paid no mind to her, so she was able to think.
Mother had been terribly worried about dying. For a lifelong Catholic who had gone to mass three times a week, the old woman and her rock-solid faith had started crumbling from the day she’d been diagnosed with cancer. A year of suffering with daily, ever-increasing pain had not destroyed her mother’s beliefs, but it had altered her opinion of herself. She developed a notion that she was being punished, and now Angela knew what she had done to make her penance. Leaving her entire estate to the church was Ruth Witt’s way of asking for forgiveness. Or perhaps offering the Lord a final bribe to let her past the pearly gates.
Ruth had never mentioned a word about her intentions to her daughter, who had spent the last seven years taking care of her. Even the letter she had left with Fred Morgan for Angela had avoided the subject entirely.When I’m gone, I want you to see to the house. All of my clothes should be put in those plastic bins I have stored in the attic. My jewelry is in the safety deposit box. Be sure when you’re cleaning the house that you throw away all the food in the refrigerator. I expect they will shut off the power soon enough and no one should have to abide that smell.
You’ve been a good girl, Angela Marie. Don’t forget to go to mass and say your prayers.
~Your Loving Mother, Ruth
It had been a shock to discover that just before her death her mother had actually sold the house and liquidated most of her assets in order for the money to be held in trust for the archdiocese. The church attorney had politely informed Angela of this over the telephone before he extended what he felt was a gracious invitation for Angela to stay in the house until her mother’s funeral, seeing as the archdiocese had no legal obligation to permit her to remain on the premises. “And please don’t remove anything from the home, Ms. Witt. The property and its contents are now church property.”
If slavery were still legal, Angela thought, her mother probably would have sold her into it to add a little more to the pot.
The bus reached the downtown area before the thunderstorm did, and Angela got off at Peachtree Street, where the tall building of her mother’s bank loomed. She’d gone there the day she’d discovered she was homeless and penniless, to see if she could arrange a loan until she found a job and another place to live. Ruth Witt had been one of the bank’s most important clients, but that hadn’t helped her. The bank officer had been sympathetic but adamant: without steady employment or some sort of collateral to insure the loan, the bank couldn’t lend Angela a dime.
She smiled a little as she remembered his final suggestion. Perhaps you could go to your church for help.
That night as she lay in the bed that was scheduled to be sold at auction in a week, Angela decided there was one way the bank could help her. Ruth had raised her to be Catholic, so what she contemplated doing made her feel terribly guilty, but she had to be practical. She had no money, no family, no friends, no home, no job, and no real education other than high school. She’d devoted her life to caring for her mother, and now that life was over. Under the circumstances, all she would be doing would be taking the next logical step. And in a dark, mean corner of her heart, she knew it would embarrass the bank as well as the church, something she wouldn’t mind doing at all.
Carl, the tall black man who was the nicest of the bank’s security guards, came over to Angela when she walked into the lobby.
“Afternoon, Ms. Witt.”
“Hey, Carl.” She made her mouth into a smile. “My mother asked me to bring by some papers for Mr. Robart. Is he here today?”
The guard sighed. “That man lives here, Ms. Witt. But why didn’t you come by later on in the week? Now that your mama is . . . “ he winced. “I never did have the chance to say how sorry I am that she passed. I been keeping you and that poor sweet lady in my prayers.”
“I do appreciate that, and I know Mother would, too.” She looked down at the shoes her mother had had dyed to match her dress. “I’m going away, so I should really go up to see Mr. Robart now.”
Most people at the bank had only been nice to her because of her mother’s money, but Carl always seemed sincere. As Angela walked back to the elevators, she wondered if the security guard would be upset after she did this. She knew how to do it so that no one else would see or get hurt, but it was still going to be an awful thing.
It wouldn’t hurt – the web site she’d found had promised her that if she did it properly that she wouldn’t feel a thing – but Angela hated the thought that Carl might be made to clean up the mess she was going to make.He'll be careful with me. Real careful.
She got into the elevator, and shivered with nerves as she looked at the panel of buttons. She knew there was a rooftop access door on the top floor; she’d heard two air conditioning mechanics talking about it on an earlier visit. All she had to do was ride up, go through the access door, and walk to the edge of the roof.
Then she would solve all her problems with one final step.
Labels: excerpt, Kyndred, Rain Lashed