For JanetMiles‘s commissioned prompt.
It took Evangaline’s family less than a week after her yard sale to start coming to her with complaints.
She had been expecting the nosy visits, wanting to see what she was doing with the old house, now that she had managed to clear out some of the clutter (or throw away priceless family heirlooms, depending on who you asked).
She had anticipated the complaints about her color choices, the inappropriate gifts of things to make the house the way her cousins, sisters, aunts, and grandmother thought it ought to be; she had come armed with several stock phrases to fend off opinionated relatives, the chief among them being, “If you’d like to live here instead of me, I’m sure you could paint it however you wanted.”
She had three unmarried nieces on whom she refused that line, however, and she paid close attention to the opinions of the youngest, Beryl. Their tastes weren’t identical, but there were enough similarities that she could allow Beryl to design a guest room to her own tastes – with the added benefit that such annoyed, distressed, and confused Beryl’s mother without in anyway giving her ground to stand on. There were benefits to being the maiden aunt.
She was still stripping out old molding and repainting the walls, taking every spare moment of time between work and other commitments to work on the house before inertia could catch up with her and resign her to chintz and floral patterns, and so she was in her oldest clothes and up on a stepladder in the living room when the first of the complainers came stomping in.
Her Aunt Antonia hammered a cursory knock at the door and let herself in, the way she probably had when the house was owned by her sister Asta. “Eva,” she snapped, “this rose you sold me is trash.”
“Hello, Aunt Tony. There’s tea in the kettle and cookies in the jar. I’ll be just a moment.” She didn’t bother turning to look. If she turned to look, she might make eye contact.
“Did you hear what I said? The rose is broken.”
“I’ll be right with you. I just need to finish the crown moulding or I’ll get lines.”
“Strip it and do it again. It’s a horrible color anyway. Asta never would have used something like that.”
“But she willed me the house, Antonia. I’d pass it to you, if you wanted it…?” It was a safe offer, after all.
“Tea in the kettle, you said?” Her mother’s oldest sister huffed into the kitchen, giving Evangaline time to finish painting the lovely plum shade onto the elaborate crown moldings. She wondered, in passing, if anyone else had ever noticed the sigils and signs painted tone-on-tone in the shadowed portions of the trim. She wondered if that’s why they were so worried about her redecorating.
She picked up her tools quickly, rinsed the brush in the laundry-room sink and then, having kept her aunt waiting long enough, headed into the kitchen. There, Aunt Antonia was perched uncomfortably on the narrow chair Eva kept bare of books or paperwork for just that reason, eating a cookie and drinking heavily creamed and sugared tea.
“Finally,” she huffed. “This place is a wreck, Evangaline.”
“I’m still moving in,” she answered placidly. “There’s a lot to be done, and a lot of moving about, and-” she brought it up even though she knew better “-I’m working it all around my job.”
“You don’t need to work now, you know. The family trust fund will take care of you.”
The trust fund had been left over from an era when women did not, as a general rule, work outside the house. Eva shook her head. “I like working. The house will take as long as it takes.”
“But you can’t properly host company until it’s done.”
“Well then, I will improperly host company until then,” she answered tiredly, clearing off the comfy seat and taking two cookies for herself. “Now. The rose?” Maybe then she could get her out of here.
“The rose is broken! When Asta was a little girl, it used to smell like flowers all year round.” She waved the glass sculpture indignantly at Eva. “Now it smells like stinkberries.”
Eva took it from her Aunt carefully. It hadn’t smelled like either flowers or stinkberries to her – and now that she sniffed it again, it seemed to small faintly of rosemary and sage. “Mmm. Perhaps it is.” Safer to agree than to suggest that her Aunt’s personality stank. “I’ll refund you the twenty-five cents you paid for it.”
“But it’s a treasure! It’s worth hundreds of dollars! The craftsman who made those was a friend of Aunt Ruan’s; he only made a hundred.”
“Mm, but you paid twenty-five cents.” She pulled a quarter out of her pocket and passed it over. “If that’s all…”
Aunt Antonia was only the first of the visits Eva received as a result of her yard sale. Some admitted quietly that the item they had gotten was a family treasure, charmed or enchanted or cursed in some useful manner, and worth far more than they paid. To them, Eva said “Keep it. It’s still in the family, after all, and I don’t need it.”
Some complained that the item they had thought was a steal turned out to be trash; Eva refunded their money if they were willing, or sent them on their way if they couldn’t let go of the thing. Some wanted to know what she’d sold and to whom; she did her best to ignore the ones that made that question sound like a demand. She had an inventory, of course, but it was none of their business.
She didn’t want to admit, either, that she hadn’t known about all the enchanted items she’d sold, some of them to complete strangers. She was fairly certain she’d kept the nastiest ones in the house, and the most powerful in the family, but the more complaints she got, the more stories of “Aunt Asta’s friend” or “Aunt Ruan’s associate” she heard, the less certain she was.
The complaints about the yard sale trinkets, like the complaints about the house, surged and trickled off, until she allowed herself to believe, two months later, that she was done with family meddling for a while. She had her music blasting, all the window open to the unseasonably warm autumn day, and her skimpiest, oldest tank top on over a neon-pink bra when her Great-Aunt Rosaria knocked on her door.
Eva tried not to squirm with embarrassment as she poured her grandmother’s sister a mug of fresh tea, having cleared off the most comfortable chair in the living room for her.
“The place is coming along well,” Rosaria murmured. “I see you re-did the protections – but, interesting, you got rid of the evil eye, there. I always thought that leant a certain urgency to door-to-door salesmen’s visits for Ruan.”
“I didn’t like the FedEx guy dumping and running quite so much,” she admitted nervously. “You don’t mind the plum?”
“I think it makes it look like a French Whorehouse in here, but if you want that look, it’s your house. That’s how the thing is set up, after all.”
“Thank you.” She wracked her brain, trying to remember what her oldest surviving relative had bought at the yard sale. “No problem with the doilies or the ash tray then?”
“Aah, the tatting whines sometimes on a cold night, but it’s always done that. Surprised Asta kept it around. And the ash tray – well, when you want that back, dear, come and get it. I came to bring you these.” She pulled an ancient-looking ledger book and a slightly-more-modern spiral-bound notebook from her bag. “I can’t find Elenora’s or Zenobia’s, and neither could Asta – you might try between the walls.”
Not wanting to look greedy, Eva leaned forward carefully towards the books. “I’m sorry…?”
“Their catalogs. Asta gave me these before her death, to keep them out of her sisters’ hands. I wanted to see how you handled the hodgepodge on your own before I gave you her notes.”
Eva’s heart skipped a beat. “And…?”
“I’ve been watching you since you moved in here, dear. I’d say you’ve been showing very discerning eye.”
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