If it weren’t for the angry cat sitting on top of the chest — currently in the form of a juvenile marmalade tom — the chest would not have stood out in the Aunt’s attic. This corner of the attic, furthest from windows, chimneys, and the two entrances, was stacked to the roof with such chests, leather-clad and metal-bound, each of them locked and the keys all hung on a ring downstairs. Aunt Eva had been cataloguing and numbering them, one giant chest of diaries at a time.
Beryl studied Radar. She’d started thinking of him as her cat, foolish as she knew that was. He was an Aunt cat, and she was not the aunt.
“Can I move the chest?” she offered. “By the handles, I mean. Or on a cart?”
Radar bristled again, and then settled down, grooming every bit of his fur straight, all without answering at all.
Beryl knew from experience that fur-smoothing could take hours if not the entire day, depending on exactly how ruffled Rader felt, so she headed to the far corner of the attic for a cart.
The Aunt-house attic was something to behold, even after Eva had been sorting through it for the last few months. There were boxes in here labelled in years that began with 18—, their contents not so much detailed as broadly described. “Vases, from church picnic,” one read. “Caution: May be cursed,” read another box. Beryl avoided that one; anything an Aunt thought deserved a caution was not something she wanted to mess with casually.
“This chest isn’t labelled ‘danger’,” she pointed out to the still-grooming Radar, as she dragged the cart over to the chest. She’d grabbed a pair of silk gloves from the open box by the near stairway, and pulled those up to her elbows while she waited for an answer.
None appeared forthcoming. Radar was working on a tricky bit by his tail and didn’t even glance at her.
Beryl touched the handle of the chest; nothing changed in neither chest nor cat. “How do you know, then? g’Aunt Sarah’s been gone for, um, a while.”
Once again, Radar ignored her. Beryl picked up the chest carefully, both because you never knew how the trap-charms might be lain and because Radar was not moving from his perch, and moved it onto the hand-cart. “This is going to be a bumpy ride,” she warned him. “Um.. Hold on?”
Getting the chest to the stairs was the easy part, and Radar rode along, giving off the air that he meant to never speak again, just an ordinary cat, look, another bit of fur loose. The bumpy part came when Beryl carefully let the hand-cart down the stairs; Radar slid towards the back, shifted position without looking at Beryl, and kept grooming himself. He did the same thing as they went down the back stairs into the kitchen, where he leapt off onto the table.
Aunt Eva looked up. “Beryl, honey, I told you to bring those down a handful at a time, not a handcart at a time.”
“I know, Aunt Eva, but Radar, here, is bound and determined that nobody except you should handle these diaries. He nearly took some flesh off.”
“I barely tapped you,” Radar answered primly. “Evangeline, these books are not for childish consumption.”
“Who are you calling a child?” Beryl glared at him, no longer feeling like indulging his little tantrum. “Besides, you said only Aunt Eva should touch them!”
Radar groomed his face for a moment. “Nobody should read them. But, since the diaries of each Aunt should be read by the new Aunt, Eva must.” He looked out the window. “Bad things happen when the diaries are not read. They exist for a purpose.”
“I know that, Radar.” Eva gestured at the piles of diaries that they’d been cataloguing for months. “That’s why I asked Beryl to go get Aunt Sarah’s books.”
Radar’s tail swished angrily. “Beryl should not read these.”
“All right, all right. I tell you what. I’ll start on these while Beryl finishes up on Aunt Asta’s stuff. But if I decide she can read it, Radar, then she’ll read it.” She picked up the cat, who seemed to be getting larger the more uncomfortable he got, and held him up until she was looking him in the face. “Do you understand?”
Radar tried to stare her down, the more fool he. Finally he glanced away, as if looking out the window. “You won’t. But you’re the Aunt.” Suddenly, he was twisting and squirming. “Put me down, woman. I’m not some kitten you can manhandle like a toy!”
Eva was laughing as she set him down but when her eyes met Beryl’s, she’d gone solemn again. “You heard the cat. You get working on Asta’s early journals, and I’ll see what’s so exciting about Aunt Sarah’s stuff. All right?”
Beryl wasn’t going to win this argument. “All right, Aunt Evangeline.” She drew her aunt’s full name out like some sort of formal title, as if Aunt Eva wouldn’t have known she was sulking without some obvious cue like that.
As was probably completely fair, Eva ignored her to turn her focus on the chest. Beryl, a little embarrassed by her sulking, tried to focus on Aunt Asta’s journals, but she kept peeking up at Eva’s progress.
Aunt Asta as a young woman — pre-Aunthood by quite a while, and should Beryl be keeping a journal, too? Eva was deep in concentration over the chest, a crystal floating over the lock and one more held over each front corner. If the chest was booby-trapped, now was not the time to ask her about — well, anything.
She had gone to fight in the war! Well, to “support the war effort,” but the women of their family were fighters rather than supporters. The family had been against it. Of course. Beryl made a face at the pages and the grannies-who-had-come-before. Even Chalce was having trouble with that. Family stayed close, until it was time to split. Never mind that Berkeley had the program she wanted and wanted her in return.
Aunt Eva had the chest open, the crystals put away. You never knew when a nosy neighbor might stop by. But she hadn’t moved from her seat on the floor; she was holding the old book carefully, squinting at the handwriting.
“Aunt Boo’s journal has a cantrip for reading better,” Beryl offered. “Journal three, the blue one… what?” Eva had glanced up at her, not quite meeting her eyes. “You’re blushing.” Aunts didn’t blush! …did they?
Eva cleared her throat. She looked away, took a sip of tea, and cleared her throat again. Even old Aunt Sarah’s books couldn’t have been that dusty. There were cantrips and embedded charms for that, easy ones.
“Ah. Well… it appears…” She looked around the room, so Beryl looked as well. Radar was nowhere to be seen, and no grannies or cousins had snuck in. They were alone in the kitchen.
Eva took another sip of her tea. “It appears that Aunt Sarah has a very active life. And she was, um, quite detailed in her descriptions.” She glanced down at the page, her blush darkening. “I wonder how Radar knew.”
“I was there when Asta opened them.” Radar strolled in, tail high and looked as if he’d never had his little freak-out. “And Elenora. So you see?”
Beryl held her breath. She didn’t even know if she wanted to read Aunt Sarah’s dirty diaries, but complaining that she was old enough to would just prove that she wasn’t.
Eva glanced down at the diary and sipped her tea again. “I do see,” she agreed slowly. She looked up at Beryl and winked. “Annd… once she’s done properly cataloguing Asta’s journals… Beryl should read them as well. There are preconceptions about Aunts that I think it’s best she lose early on.
Radar’s tail fluffed up and his back started to arch. He shook himself, although his tail stayed puffed out like a chimney brush. “As… you… say,” he grated out.
It probably wasn’t kind to laugh at him, but Beryl’s hand was still stinging from where he’d smacked her.
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