An Unwelcome Inheritance
Some Inheritances Come at a Cost
The day was filled with the usual supposedly comforting platitudes that are expected of such an occasion. A queue of mourners, few of whom were genuinely grieving, and then an array of people attending through obligation or curiosity.
Her father had been extraordinary in the business world but, regrettably, he’d taken some unfortunate turns. Marianne had chosen not to read into the headlines too much. Despite the odd teenage outburst, her relationship with her father was loving and fair. She didn’t even have an evil stepmother to complain about. Claire had never tried to replace her mother and had, if anything, acted like the sister that Marianne had longed for.
Her dad had made many well-publicised mistakes, but Marianne and Claire had decided to put on a united front and present themselves as unaffected by the speculation. They may be borderline destitute, but they had resolved not to bow down to the vultures coming to examine what was left of them. Whatever errors in judgement he made, they were never going to let the gossip-mongers and conspiracists win.
The service was underway before everyone could take to their seats, which felt rushed, but Marianne was grateful for anything that expedited the day. It was beginning to feel like performance art, as if acting anything other than a shell of herself would be disappointing to her audience. She couldn’t wait for the rambling eulogy to finish so she could get outside. Marianne and Claire had done their grieving in private.
Marianne stole herself away for a cigarette at the earliest opportunity. Claire appeared from nowhere and tutted at it, with a smirk on her face, before taking the cigarette from her fingers and having a drag herself.
‘I haven’t smoked in years,’ she said, breathing out a plume of smoke slowly, ‘don’t tell your father.’ Claire winked and straightened up her blazer with a wry smile. ‘Come on, you, back into the circus.’
As Marianne reluctantly meandered her way back to the crowd, she felt a cautious tap on her shoulder. Pausing for a second, inhaling a deep breath and resisting the urge to roll her eyes, she turned.
In front of her was a small spindly teenager, no older than sixteen, clasping onto a little black notebook. Marianne had no recollection of her, but then again, she could only name a handful of the attendees anyway.
‘Sorry to interrupt,’ the girl murmured, stumbling over her words, ‘but are you Marianne?’
‘Yes, and you are?’
‘Sorry, err, yes, I’m Kaya.’ The girl paused, looking up at Marianne as if hoping for acknowledgement, before fumbling through her book trying to find something.
Marianne heard a car horn and was grateful to see Claire waving for her attention. She swiftly excused herself, despite the girl’s meek protestations, and off they went to what promised to be an equally bleak reception.
Marianne’s father had been respected at one time, and it was reflected in the effort the staff at the golf club had put into his wake. It was heart-warming to see the efforts of people who actually cared, rather than the trail of ‘mourners’ already scoffing their way through half the buffet. She was under no illusion that their presence was money motivated.
‘Oh, my poor girls!’ came a squeal from the corner, ‘Come here, my lovelies!’ There, sat with what was most likely her third glass of wine, was Marianne’s aunt. Unsurprisingly, she had not made it to the funeral but had made it to the open bar, of course.
‘This one is yours.’ Claire muttered slyly under her breath as she smiled widely at Aunt Lorraine, before leaving Marianne to deal with her belligerent relative. Lorraine certainly chose her moments to reappear from nowhere, usually arguing with Marianne’s father about money.
Perching herself apprehensively on a nearby stool, Marianne vaguely listened to her aunt’s slurred wailing about the death of her dear departed brother, lapping up the attention from onlookers. She could hear the usual hypocritical nonsense about always being there for family, blood being thicker than water, and a reference to Marianne now being an ‘orphan’ stuck in there for good measure.
After feeling like she’d put the customary amount of effort into listening to the caterwauling of a relative that’d been absent most of her life, it felt like a suitable time to slide off and hide in the bathrooms. Resting her hands against the sink, staring at herself in the mirror, Marianne heard a muffled sound from one of the stalls.
‘Hello? Are you okay in there?’ she cautiously asked as she rapped lightly on the door.
‘Err.. yeah, I’m just… I’m fine!’ said a weak voice hurriedly.
The stall door opened abruptly to reveal the same wiry girl that had approached Marianne at the funeral. She was puffy-eyed and still clutching the same black notebook as before, stuffed with paper not befitting to the rest of it, with the spine barely containing the contents. She looked embarrassed to see Marianne standing before her and tried to slip her way out apologetically.
‘Sorry,’ Marianne interjected into the girl’s muttered excuses, ‘But who are you? Kayleigh? Kate..?’
‘It’s Kaya. Sorry, I shouldn’t be here, not today… it’s just…’ The girl grappled to hold out the notebook. Marianne snatched it from her, unfounded in her invasion of privacy, but increasingly impatient at this girl’s dithering in a time when she wanted to be alone.
The pages contained something Marianne never expected to see. A selection of photographs, some slightly faded and torn around the edges, of this unexpected girl and Marianne’s father. They looked happy on a beach somewhere, with Kaya being captured midway through being thrown into the air, ready to caught by the familiar face of her laughing father. There seemed to be a list of people on one of the pages, and Marianne’s name was among them.
‘I’m not going to say it again. Who are you?’ Marianne snapped, even surprising herself.
‘Your dad, well, our dad…’ she blundered. Marianne was silent. This didn’t make sense.
‘I know this can’t be easy to hear, but your dad is my dad…’ Kaya continued, ‘I know this isn’t the best time to reach you. I know that. I just couldn’t not –‘
‘That’s just… It’s not true.’ Marianne murmured, unable to think straight. ‘I don’t know who you are, but there are enough people here today trying to grab money from us.’
‘I’m not here for money, I need to give you something.’ The girl, clearly panicked by the interaction, shakily thrust a piece of paper into Marianne’s hands. A cheque. Made out to Marianne. £20,000.
‘It’s yours, he wanted you to have it. I have another for your mum… or your stepmum? Sorry, I don’t know much about you guys‘
‘You don’t know much about us? That’s rich! You need to leave. Now.’ Marianne’s voice was now menacingly low.
The girl scurried from the bathroom and Marianne’s eyes filled with tears. It was the first time she’d cried since her dad passed, given that she’d had so much time to prepare. Blinking away angry tears, she decided to pursue the girl, unfairly furious that she had followed instructions and left without further explanation. Luckily, Kaya had tried to make a speedy exit through the nearest fire escape, sounding the blaring safety alarm. The entire room was looking at them, and Aunt Lorraine had her head in her hands.
Marianne was beyond breaking point and abandoned her usual stoicism.
‘Who do you think you are? Coming in here… Saying those things about my dad!’ Marianne shouted, stomping her way across the room.
‘Stop!” yelled Lorraine, stumbling as she stood up to protest. ‘Please, girls, let’s take this elsewhere.’
As Lorraine rushed to Kaya with a sense of familiarity, Claire ran over, gobsmacked at Marianne’s uncharacteristic outburst. She looked to Lorraine for explanation, but nothing was volunteered.
‘All three of you, go outside, you need to talk.’ Lorraine said morosely.
For once, Lorraine was the voice of reason. Far removed from being the lovelorn spinster drunkenly sprawled on the doorstep from time to time, she was now orchestrating a chaotic situation with skill. She ushered Marianne, Claire and Kaya out in the courtyard, letting the fire door close shut, and could be heard soothing the curious crowd inside.
Marianne’s blood was boiling. She had heard people talking badly of her father professionally, but never had anyone questioned his personal morals. Yet here was a teenager in front of her, bravely in hindsight, telling them the most unexpected revelation. Marianne noticed Claire stepping back and crouching to the floor, looking small and childlike in her form, rocking back and forth slightly.
‘He swore. He swore to me it wasn’t true,’ her voice was breaking, ‘what people said… he promised me that she didn’t exist.’
Kaya was hurt by Claire’s reference to her as ‘she’ despite introducing herself, but what more could she expect from showing up at the funeral of her late father, unbeknownst to his wife and daughter? But she had to be there, she knew that he left them with nothing, and he’d entrusted her with their money.
Marianne made eye contact with Claire. They were both thinking the same thing: This could be their saving grace right now. Some money to pull them from the despairs of social and financial ruin. But at what cost? Another humiliation to add to the list? Public acknowledgement that Marianne’s father was a philanderer as well as a fraudster?
The three of them fell into silence for a few moments before the door was flung open, the alarm sounding once again, and Lorraine bundled through unceremoniously.
‘Oh, my lovelies. The three of you… together!’
‘You knew? You knew it wasn’t a rumour?’ Claire exclaimed, standing up and gesturing towards Kaya.
‘Of course I knew, Claire, why do you think I argued with my brother so often? I couldn’t let him ignore her again, leaving my niece, my flesh and blood, out there in the world!’
‘The times you reappeared for money, that was for –‘ Claire paused, not wanting to validate Kaya’s presence by saying her name.
‘Yes! Claire, I swear, if it was up to me then you wouldn’t have found out like this. You and Marianne are so important, so precious… but this money, this could help you both!’
Marianne didn’t know where to look. Lorraine was looking pleadingly at Claire, shaking her by the wrist in an attempt to stop her scowling threateningly at Kaya.
‘This does not mean I’m okay with this.” Claire muttered darkly, as she pushed past Marianne and Lorraine, grabbing her cheque from Kaya’s hand and storming away.
They could hear a car door slamming shut, an engine revving, then the sound of gravel as Claire drove away at speed. Lorraine took Kaya’s hand softly and motioned her inside, giving Marianne a brief squeeze on the shoulder as she left. Marianne felt a pang of resentment, knowing that the two of them shared a separate bond, and regretted that she’d been so sceptical about Lorraine’s character.
She played with her crumpled cheque, contemplating the difference it would make to her life. She lit a cigarette and fought the impulse to set the cheque alight too, as if that would erase the last hour of her life.
There was a certain irony in Marianne always wishing she had siblings, replacing that figure with Claire, only to now have a real sister changing that. The £20,000 felt like the universe’s strange consolation prize for an otherwise soul-crushing situation, as if to compensate for the impending trauma.
There was no right answer. No guidebook on how to handle it. Without even contemplating going back inside, Marianne put the cheque in her blazer pocket and lit another cigarette, with no intention of speaking to another person until the pack was finished.
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