Aunt Guinevere Grace Mason’s three-story house is situated at the end of Brook Lane. It’s a cheerful white dwelling with pale rose trimming. There are trellises all around the house with climbing roses and morning glories and a grape vine. It’s set far away from the street with a circular driveway. On either side of the house are two cypress trees, one on either side. Behind the house are several gardens and a pond. In one corner is the herb garden, in another is the rose garden, in the third is the wildflower garden, and in the last are the perennials surrounding the pond. In the center is a fountain with two angels pouring out water surrounded by marigolds and Shasta daisies and Calla lilies.
Inside is just as cheery as the outside. The first floor rooms are cluttered with Victorian furniture and antiques from around the world. Aunt Guinevere’s deceased husband used to travel a lot and always brought something back for his wife. In the south wing is a long corridor with eight doors, three on one side and five on the other. The door at the end leads outside directly into the wildflowers. The door on the right of the backdoor has always been kept locked and Aunt Guinevere keeps the key on a rose colored strip of ribbon around her neck. The second floor has only bedrooms and one or two storage rooms. The third floor is the attic and is full of trunks with Aunt Guinevere and Uncle Geoffrey’s things from early in their marriage.
My mother, Alice Porter Grace, my brother Jules, and I have lived there with Aunt Guinevere since my father and Uncle Geoffrey died in a plane crash on their way home from Russia, when I was ten. Uncle Geoffrey was bringing back a Russian doll for Aunt Guinevere.
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Aunt Guinevere died last week at St. Peter’s Hospital. She had only been a year from seventy.
Jules called me just hours before she died. I was at my own house. I had been living there for three years now.
I had been at home, getting my dinner together, when the phone rang.
“Miriam!” Jules cried out in panic.
“It’s Aunt Guinevere.”
I froze. “What about her, Jules?” I asked tensely.
“She-she’s in the hospital. Dr. Ryan isn’t sure if she’ll live.”
“Which hospital, Jules?”
“I’ll be there in half an hour.”
I hung up and realized my hands were shaking. But I didn’t worry about them. I grabbed my car keys and practically ran out of the house to my car. I was at the hospital twenty minutes later. Jules and Mother were waiting for me.
Mother’s brown eyes were red and her blond hair was a mess (I look like a mirror image as her). I knew how she felt. Aunt Guinevere had been her favorite relative and Dad’s only sister.
“Mom?” I whispered as I hugged her.
“I’m scared, Miriam.”
“I know, Mom. I am, too.”
Aunt Guinevere died at twelve past nine. The three of us went to Aunt Guinevere’s house, where Mother was still living.
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Today is Saturday. Aunt Guinevere’s funeral is at eleven, in two hours.
Mother and Jules were sitting in the breakfast nook the last I saw. I was walking along the corridor in the south wing. I wore the black dress I had worn for Grandmother’s funeral two years ago and the strand of pearls Aunt Guinevere had given me for my twenty-first birthday six years ago.
That’s when I saw it.
The door on the right of the back door was ajar. I knew because I saw a faint shaft of light around the edge of the slightly opened door.
I cautiously walked towards it and rested my hand on the doorknob. Then I jerked my hand back and stepped away. I sank down onto a chair with deep rose cushions embroidered with pale pink roses across from the door.
I stared at the door. When had it been opened? Not anytime recently, I was sure. I had spent most of the week before Aunt Guinevere’s death with her and Mother and sometimes Jules.