Phillis cried as she packed up her great grandmothers things. She knew she shouldn’t be sad, as great-grandmother told her on her death-bed, she had lived a long and good life and it was time to move on now. Yet Phillis cried, in sadness that she wouldn’t be able to sit in the small parlor, sip tea, and learn from her wise great-grandmother Edith. She’ll miss those happy times. She’ll miss the warm hugs and sweet smiles. Phillis and Edith were all that was left of a once strong family. Now there was only Phillis left.
Accidents, illness, and now old age had left the family with only one member left. Phillis felt the sadness overwhelm her once more. Edith had left the family home and a comfortable fortune to Phillis. All Edith asked of Phillis is that when the time came, to give a few personal belongings to friends, then get rid of what ever Phillis didn’t need. Great Grandmother also gave Phillis a key. It was an old-fashioned skeleton key. She handed it to Phillis just before she died and whispered that the key was the path to the family’s true heritage. Then she breathed her last breath and passed gently on.
The key now lay between Phillis’s breasts. Hung by a red ribbon around her neck, she felt the cold metal against her skin. For the thousandth time she wondered what it would open. She curled her hand around it, and felt the metal heat up. She had been on the look out for anything it might fit into while packing up a few of Edith’s things. She knew it was too small for a door. And she had lived in this house for most of her 25 years and she had never seen a door that this key might fit. So she looked for a box of some sort, but so far had come up with nothing. She had no idea what Edith meant when she said “it was the path to the family’s true heritage.” What did that mean?
Biting her lip she gave the large bedroom another look. She knew in her heart she would never be able to completely change this room. To her it will always be her great-grandmother Edith’s room. She picked up the box full of the few things Edith wanted given to friends and walked out of the room. Edith was to be entombed today in the family cemetery. Afterwards there was to be an informal get together with friends, and then tomorrow morning there would be a meeting with the old family lawyer Benjamin Wilkins, in the library. The formality of the reading of the will would be done then.
Phillis walked downstairs and turned left into the library. She set the box on the large dark desk so the lawyer could have them tomorrow. Sighing she knew she was just putting off what had to be done today. She hated funerals. She had gone to so many family funerals the last 10 years that she was just sick of them. Smiling ironically, she thought that this was the last one she would have to go to. Since she was the last of the family, she only had one more left to attend, and since she would be the one dead it didn’t matter.
She gave a watery chuckle, and could almost hear the laugh that Edith would have given along with her. That was one of many traits that the two had shared, their dark humor. Along with the red hair and pale skin, they could have been twins. Many people commented on how much they were alike. In looks as well as in mannerisms. If they weren’t generations apart they could have been identical twins. But Phillis took this as a great compliment. Edith had been a very beautiful woman in her youth and even at the ripe old age of 95 when she died, she still retained the grace and dignity that she had carried all her life.
Maybe Mr. Wilkins knew what the key went to, thought Phillis as she gathered her coat and car keys from the small table in the front hall. She will have to remember to ask him. She put on the long black coat as she looked at herself in the mirror over the table. She reached up and adjusted the tiny black hat atop her red hair. Edith had always stated a lady never went to a funeral without a hat. Just as she always said a woman never left home without lipstick on, even if she was just going to the mailbox. Phillis sighed, as she looked at herself once more before leaving for the funeral. She could almost see her great-grandmother smile at her from behind the mirror. Turning, Phillis walked out the front door, locked it behind her and climbed into her car. It was time for her last funeral. She just hoped she could carry it through with the same dignity and grace that Edith would have shown.
A few short hours later, Phillis was glad the funeral was over. Now she was making sure all her guests, her great-grandmother’s friends, had something to eat and drink. She stopped here and there, giving a hug, a small kiss, or a kind word to all of Edith’s many friends and neighbors. She was so tired, but didn’t let it show. Soon she would have the house to herself once again. Except for a dear friend of Edith’s who was staying the night in a guest bedroom. Malcolm Gerroud was a very close friend of Edith’s . They had known each other for years. Malcolm was an elderly gentleman, handsome and intelligent. He had silvery hair, blue eyes and a mischievous smile. Phillis loved Malcolm, she always thought him and Edith had a ‘thing’ going on, but never asked. He was probably a good 20 years younger than Edith was. But Phillis knew that with Edith one never thought in years, because Edith was beautiful up to the day she died.
Phillis walked up to Malcolm and gave him a kiss on the cheek. “I will be so glad when it is all over with Malcolm”.
“I know my sweet, but soon the people will be gone and you can rest for a while” Malcolm said.
Malcolm gave the key that was laying on her chest a glance. “Have you found out yet what that opened?” he asked nodding towards the key.
“No” she sighed. “Are you sure Edith never told you about the key?”
“Not a word, I’m afraid dear girl” he stated.
“Here I thought you knew each other’s deepest, darkest secrets!” teased Phillis.
“Oh we did! So I’m surprised about the key” he said.
Phillis sighed, and watched her guests talking and remembering Edith in each their own way. Malcolm’s voice interrupted her thoughts as she heard him say, “Maybe I should stay and help you search dear.”
Surprised she glanced up at his handsome face. “I thought you had to fly to Europe tomorrow for business?”
“I can put that off for a while. It’s nothing that can’t wait.” Malcolm says.
One of the guests came up to say their goodbyes, so Phillis never had a chance to answer Malcolm. As she accepted condolences once more as each guest left, she thought maybe it would be a good idea if Malcolm did stay. It was a big house, and no one knew Edith better than Malcolm did. Together, they should be able to figure out what the key opened. As the last guest left Edith went to find Malcolm and accept his offer to stay. As she neared his bedroom she noticed the door was not quite closed. She walked up and was just about to knock and open it when she heard her name. Malcolm was talking on the phone. She could just see his reflection in the dresser’s mirror through the slight door opening.
She never knew why she hesitated and listened. She was not by nature an eavesdropper. This one time she was. She heard her name again as Malcolm’s voice raised. “I’m telling you the truth! Phillis does NOT know what the key opens!”
“No! I’ve told you before, Edith never told anyone what the key was for!”
Phillis held her breath as she watched Malcolm pace the bedroom floor. Who ever he was talking to obviously didn’t believe Malcolm. “I offered to stay and help find what the key opened.”
“No, I don’t know yet, we got interrupted before she said anything more.”
“Yes, yes. I will call you as soon as I know something.”
“I will make sure I’m here. I can convince her I’m sure. She loves me like a father.”
Phillis silently walked back downstairs. Her mind was in a whirl. Who was Malcolm talking to? Why was the key so important? Could she trust him? What should she do? She grabbed the key in her hand as she walked into the parlor. She sat down in Edith’s favorite chair and wished she had her great-grandmother back to talk to. Phillis heard Malcolm come into the room. She dropped the hand that was holding onto the key into her lap and waited for Malcolm to speak.
“Well, my dear, I am offering my services as a blood hound if you want the help.” he kidded with her.
Phillis looked up into that dear old face and all she saw was kindness and that wonderful smile of his. She drew in a breath and gave a slightly trembling smile back. “I would be grateful if you would stay and help Malcolm.” She wasn’t sure, but she thought she saw relief in his face just as he turned to pour himself another drink.
“Then I am at your service dear girl” he stated quietly.
Phillis stood up and walked towards the stairs. “Thank you Malcolm, and with that I bid you good night. It’s been a very long day and I’m tired.”
“Good night sweetheart, see you bright and early in the morning and we shall start to look for what that key opens.” he smiled at her.
“Okay, see you in the morning” she said.
Phillis walked quickly to her bedroom and shut the door. Her hand found the lock and turned it. It would be the first time that she knew of that her door would be locked, and she sighed deeply. She sat at the edge of her bed and once again held the key in her hand.
“What do you open?” she whispered.