“Oh, hello, dear. And you brought a… a cat. Oh, you brought That Cat.” Aunt Beatrix was attempting to sound friendly. Mostly she sounded that she was terrified and stressed.
Beryl smiled as nicely as she could manage. She’d wanted to bring Chalce or Stone along, or, better yet, Mom, but Chalce had been busy, Radar was getting weird about Stone, and Mom sometimes forgot she wasn’t a Grandmother yet, so she might not endorse Beryl learning verboten information.
“I’m sorry, Aunt Beatrix. But Radar gets up to trouble if I leave him alone, and I heard that you might have some family records in your attic.”
“Aah, Evangaline finally noticed things were missing, did the girl? Come in, I suppose, as long as your cat there doesn’t get up to any trouble.”
“You hear that, Radar?” Beryl stared at the cat for a moment. “No trouble. You be nice to Aunt Beatrix.”
“Oh, no, not you, too, sweetie.” Beatrix tch’d. “Well, come in. The papers are up in the attic, like you said. They’re all boxed up. Carron and Katherine boxed everything up, before… Before.”
Before before? Beryl would have to ask Radar or Mom when she was alone. “Thank you, Aunt Beatrix. How have the cats… been?”
“Well, with That One out of the way, they’ve been… better. They’re still Family cats, and why I ended up with them this time around, I really don’t know. But they like the park you built them.”
“The park? Ah, the cat run.” That had been quite a bit of work, half of it Beryl and half of it Stone. “I’m glad they like it.”
“It does keep them quiet. Well, come on, you and That Cat. The attic is this way. Although I’ve managed to keep the cats out of there, up ‘till now.”
The noise was stifled, a little snort of dry amusement, but Beatrix still heard it. She stared at Radar for a moment, then shook her head as if clearing it. “I never should have – well, that’s for another time. Come on, girl. ‘twere well it were done quickly.”
“Coming.” Aunt Bea was… different. Clearer-headed, and yet somehow she sounded even more insane. Well, she was family, after all.
Aunt Bea’s house was almost as old as Aunt Evangaline’s. The family liked to hold on to property. The family liked to hold on to everything, to be fair. The stairs were tight and narrow, old wooden stairs covered with at least three archival layers of carpeting. (Beryl and Chalce had vacuumed and washed those carpets, back before Thanksgiving. The stained floral pattern of the bottom layer still haunted her.) But Aunt Bea hopped up them as quickly as Beryl did. Age – age, in the family, seemed like it had more to do with getting stronger than with getting frail.
“I moved these boxes up here when Asta – when she had her little spell, although I figure you probably don’t remember that. It just seemed like some things ought to stay safe. And then That Cat moved in, and I forgot right about the papers, you know? Everything got a little fuzzy, if you’ll pardon me saying so.”
A little fuzzy would explain a lot. Beryl shot Radar a glare; he endeavored to look completely innocent, going so far as to start grooming himself.
“I, ah, I can understand that. Is that,” Beryl gambled a bit, “the spot in the guest room at Aunt Eva’s That We Don’t Talk About Period?” The spot was black with char, and the rug did not like to stay over it.
Aunt Beatrix snorted out a laugh. “That’s not your Aunt Eva. Is that your mother, then, Hadelai?”
“You were, I think, just a small baby, although that might have been your sister, one of your sisters. We never did figure out what happened, but we think it has something to do with Asta being a weak vessel.”
Beryl had already learned the trick with the grannies: keep listening & you learn a lot more than if you ask questions. She made a noise that she’d learned sounded like she agreed – she’d picked it up from Aunt Rosaria – while making a mental note to ask Radar about weak vessels when they were alone.
“And well, she decided that the family had, I suppose, too much power, as if such a thing was possible, and she started… trying to eliminate it. But you know as well as I do, child, that power does not like to be threatened.”
The same could be said for the family. “No, it doesn’t.”
“Well, it was quite a mess, and I’m rather surprised the backlash didn’t kill Asta.”
“That… that sounds like quite a mess.” And quite a backlash, if it had left a spot so tainted that no rug would cover it.
“Well, Asta was always a bit daft. I told Rosaria and Margaret, I did, that – well, here are the boxes.” Aunt Beatrix looked a bit guilty as she gave Beryl a little push. “And don’t worry your head about that stuff about Asta. She’s gone now, and can’t do any harm to anyone, not even herself.”
“Thank you, Aunt Beatrix.” Aunt Bea might be a little silly, but she was still a Grannie, and there was no going around her once she’d decided Beryl didn’t need to know something. “Are they safe to move, or should I look over them here and-” at the last minute Beryl remembered that she was supposed to be getting these boxes for Aunt Eva – “take notes for Aunt Evangaline?”
“Oh, they should be inert by now. And if not, I trust that you’re a clever girl. Just be careful of dust. They’ve been sitting here quite a while, and they were sitting there even longer.”
“Thanks, Aunt Bea.” Beryl studied the pile of boxes – three deep, three tall, three wide. The one in the center would probably be the proper one, if family tradition held. “I think I’ll move them a bit at a time, if you don’t mind the intrusion?”
“Oh, I don’t mind at all, dear, don’t mind at all. But I wouldn’t mind some of Hadelai’s lemon bars, either.”
Beryl smiled. “Thanks again.” Looked like she was reading old papers and making lemon bars this weekend. Having a normal dating life had never really been in her cards, she supposed. “I’ll get started right away.”
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