John grabbed most of the smallest pile of junk and carried it downstairs. Still holding the ‘treasure’ in his arms he asked, “Now what? Living room? Dining table? TV room?” He walked the items back to the TV room, noting the thirty-six-inch television and commenting, “Well, at least something in this house is from the Twenty-first Century.”
The TV was bolted to the wall and beneath it a dresser held dozens of sympathy cards. He laid the items on the old, convertible, sleeper-bed couch and fingered through the cards. There were many from folks he didn’t know, friends of the Hagans he assumed, as well as from family and mutual acquaintances. One was from his brother Justin, though the lovely handwriting betrayed the fact that his wife Heather had been the one who had taken pen in hand. Hallmark had provided a message of condolence and on the facing page Heather had written, ‘Thinking of you in your time of sorrow. Love Justin, Heather and Isabella.’
He smiled at the card and wondered what Izzie was like. He had met her in 2014 when his brother et al had flown to New Orleans for Mardi Gras but she was nearly three times as old now as she had been then. He smiled at the thought of the cherubic one-year-old, replaced the card to its spot and went back to the couch, having decided that the TV room was more likely to be used than Lottie’s bedroom.
Sweeping up the items he crossed the hall to the master bedroom, saying, “Well, Lottie won’t be needing this room, might as well put some stuff in here,” before gracelessly allowing his double armload of items to drop to the floor next to Lottie’s old double bed. He opened and closed his dry mouth a few times, realized that the immediate impetus for his trip downstairs had been a desire for water and walked down the hall to the kitchen.
“Crap,” he uttered without inflection. “Never did do those dishes.” He smiled when he remembered why the plates and silverware sat under two inches of cold water and was grateful that Joni had thought to put them to soak before taking him upstairs for their own enjoyable soaking. “At least the egg isn’t dried on,” he said as he washed the plates, glasses, cups and silverware. “Now, I think, I can drink some water,” which, after selecting a 32-ounce plastic cup from the cupboard next to the refrigerator and filling it from the faucet, he did.
He drained the cup in one, long, breath challenging gulp, sighed heavily and said, “Back to work, sissy-boy,” and set the cup by the sink. “What am I doing?” he asked, picking up the cup and carrying it with him back upstairs. “You’re going to love your new home,” he told the glass as he set it down on the tiny bathroom vanity. “Great view from the second story,” and then diligently returned to work.
An item in the spare upstairs bedroom that had been accessible but which John had so far chosen to ignore was an old chiffarobe. He smiled at it as he walked in and asked, “Any treasure in there, Miss Mayella?”
The wardrobe section held half-a-dozen men’s suits that stretched back to the pre-World War One, Victorian Era. The suits ran in a variety of sizes, colors and materials and featured vastly differing lapel widths, decorative accoutrement including button size and colors. John pulled out the one he thought was likely the oldest and took the jacket from the hanger. It smelled of mothballs and there were at least three places where the naphthalene had proven ineffective defense against the voracious appetite of moth larvae. Despite the smell he tried it on and was pleased with the fit. The heavy wool weighed him down in a pleasant manner and he wondered if perhaps he could keep this suit for himself. Replacing the jacket on the hanger he made a mental note to ask Joni to lobby on his behalf with her siblings concerning permission to retain the regal array.
Opening the top dresser drawer, he was surprised to find a tidy space that held three boxes; a white, cardboard Muriel cigar box as well as two wooden jewelry boxes. The jewelry boxes were both small but of unequal size, the larger one proved to be stuffed chockfull with women’s jewelry while the smaller held men’s. John whistled and said aloud, “Wow, this could be worth some real money.” He set the two jewelry boxes back in the drawer and flipped the lid on the cigar box; what he saw left him speechless. The cigar box was full of cash. Lots of cash. Of its own volition his head swiveled over his shoulder to ensure that no one else was in the room watching him.
Convinced that he was indeed alone he took the cigar box back to the bedroom and sat on his bed and began to count. The box held more money than he had ever seen in his life, as much as he’d ever earned from an entire year of labor. John counted exactly twenty-four-thousand-six-hundred dollars which, all by itself, was both breathtaking and a bit disconcerting but it was the note at the bottom of the cigar box that made him blink in wondrous surprise. In Lottie’s flowing script it simply stated, “Joni’s rent money. Return to her,” and was signed Lottie Hagans. John’s trembling left hand went to his lips where it sat for ten seconds as he came to grips with what he had found.