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The Beggars' Coppice Chapter 1

Chapter One

Edda Case stood in the snow-covered cemetery looking down into the three by eight foot hole at her feet. Today was not a day for joy, but for sorrow, and the falling snow reflected her tears.

 

“Ashes to ashes… dust to dust…” The priest’s low tone expressed the solemnity of the occasion and did little to comfort Edda’s broken heart.

 

She looked down at the single rose in her gloved hand and allowed it to slip from her fingers and onto the coffin. “Goodbye, Junee-moon.” The words tasted like dust on her tongue. She had months to prepare for this day, but it was still a day that had come too soon.

 

Edda walked away from the grave before anyone could approach her. June’s death was a wound too open to face mourners. They would all say how sorry they were, that June died too soon, and how she was holding up well after that insidious disease had taken her partner. She didn’t want to hear all that. She had told herself all this, and more, in the days leading up to, and after, June’s passing.

 

She left immediately after the burial and drove home. If she had stayed there would have been the curious and well-wishers among the mourners wanting to chat. Edda didn’t want to even try to socialize. She just wanted to be left alone in her sorrow.

 

The snow lay thick across the footpath leading to her apartment building, blocking her way until she kicked it aside. When she opened her apartment door there was a lone lamp inside to guide her way and she was content with its ambient glow. 

 

Edda slumped on the sofa and sat there, not even bothering to remove her snow-laden coat. The ticking of the wall clock roared in her ears as it broke the silence of the room. She could feel the loneliness already, crawling inside her and inhabiting her soul. This time she didn’t stop herself, and her grief overwhelmed her. Her sobbing became a howl, screaming at the injustice of death taking the one person who had ever truly meant something to her. Her fists pounded the cushions beside her and her body slumped further until she was lying down. She had no fight left to get up and go to bed.

 

She closed her eyes and tried to block out the world, even if it was only for a short while. For a fleeting second Edda considered joining June. Nothing appealed to her anymore, so why prolong the pain? But she knew better. June would slap her for even considering such a thing.

 

Something brushed her skin and she jumped. She heard a pitiful meow and she grabbed what she knew was sitting inches away from her face. “Jasper,” she whispered. Edda buried her face in his fur and cried, not caring in the least that she was using the cat as a tissue. The cat cried again and tried to escape, but Edda valiantly held on until the cat became belligerent.

 

Edda could feel the wisps of cat fur on her face, fluttering when she breathed. She giggled and sat up, but the pain in her heart destroyed whatever laughter she could muster. Her hand rose to her hair and combed through her short auburn locks, finally resting on the back of her neck. What was she going to do now?

 

Jasper sat at her feet and looked up expectantly. He meowed loudly. Suddenly she realized why he was there. “I forgot to feed you, didn’t I?” Normally that was June’s job. Now she had to pick up the slack on all the chores her partner shared with her.

 

Edda struggled to her feet and trudged to the kitchen. She didn’t even try to feign interest in what Jasper got to eat, blindly reaching into the cupboard and pulling out the first can she found. She opened the tin and unceremoniously dumped the contents into Jasper’s feed bowl. “There you go.”

 

She leaned against the bench and watched the cat eat. Her last meal had been hours ago, but food was the last thing on her mind.

 

“For God’s sake, woman, eat. You’re all skin and bones.” Edda swore she could hear June’s words. It all seemed like too much trouble, but she settled for an apple to appease June’s imagined disapproval. She sunk her teeth into the fruit, all the while studying Jasper as he ate his food with gusto. The cat probably hadn’t even realized June was gone.

 

Her next thought came five minutes later when she stared at an empty cat bowl and an apple core. She tossed the core into the bin and returned to the sofa. At that moment the bed held too many memories for her so she settled for the sofa in the living room. She pulled up a blanket and slid off into a fitful sleep.

 

 

Edda woke the next morning to the electronic shrill of her cell. She picked it up and looked at the displayed name. “Shit!” The ring persisted and reluctantly she answered. “Hello?”

 

“Where the hell were you yesterday? You left me in the lurch with your friends!”

 

“Hello, Gail,” Edda said flatly.

 

“It was your responsibility to be there!”

 

June’s sister was a real pain in the ass but Edda bit her tongue. She so wanted to argue that she had been the one responsible for organizing June’s funeral. All Gail had to do was be there. But she had no strength to fight.

 

“What do you want, Gail?”

 

“What do I want? I want an explanation!”

 

“I wasn’t well.”

 

“You should have stayed!”

 

“I didn’t have time. Did you want me to vomit all over June’s grave?” She wasn’t sick really, but she knew Gail wouldn’t accept anything less than death as an excuse.

 

“You should have sucked it up and stayed!”

 

“What is your problem?”

 

“My problem?” Gail started to yell, “She was your friend and you ran out on her!”

 

“She was my partner, Gail. I’m sure she would have understood.”

 

“Well, you didn’t know her very well.”

 

“I…” Edda stopped herself from getting dragged into an argument. “Is there anything else?”

 

“Your friends will be contacting you. Just thought you should know.” The phone went dead.

 

Edda lowered the cell from her ear. She looked at her hand and saw her fingers were white. “Shit! Shit! Shit!” She threw the phone on the sofa. “So it starts.”

 

June had already settled her estate with Edda when she was alive in an effort to avoid the stress of a contest over her will. June had meticulously organized the transfer of her half of the apartment to Edda, even going so far as to get two independent psychiatric reports on the state of her mental health. June had no qualms about the ruthlessness of her sister who had always refused to accept her sexuality. Gail had always blamed Edda as the constant source of her wayward behavior.

 

 

Edda was right to be fearful of the next few weeks. The cell constantly rang with friends and family asking about her welfare. She knew their concern was genuine but after the first thirty calls she had grown weary of answering the same questions. Edda had a fairly good idea who Gail had talked to in order. Those later down the list reported Gail’s vitriol had become more animated. It galled Edda to have to apologize for Gail’s complete lack of propriety on such a solemn occasion.

 

June certainly knew her family. Edda was tempted to not attend the reading of the will at all because June had already shown it to her. Besides the apartment, everything went to June’s parents to disperse as they saw fit. They had discussed about leaving the task to them because it was going to be messy. But Edda had to go to the reading if, for nothing else, than to support June’s parents. They were a kind couple who had welcomed her into their family. Unlike Gail. Mike and Jenny had been mildly interested in their sister’s life, but Gail lived in a world where only heterosexuals existed.

 

Edda braced herself for the ensuing battle as she sat on one of the chairs at the solicitor’s office. She remained silent as the will was read, her gaze firmly set on Gail. Gail’s jaw twitched as the words spilled from the solicitor’s mouth. She was not happy.

 

“What about the apartment?” Gail turned her gaze on Edda.

 

“The apartment is not part of the will,” Mr. Regis replied.

 

“What? She owns half of that!”

 

“June had already disposed of the property.”

 

“Where’s the money?”

 

“Her half of the property was signed over to Ms. Case.”

 

“She doesn’t deserve any part of the will. After all, it wasn’t as if she was married to my sister.”

 

“There is more to this will that hasn’t been read. Now, if I may… ‘My share in an apartment at 81 Union Street goes to Ms. Edda Case. I have signed over this property to her before my death.’.”

 

“That’s not fair!”

 

“’This exchange has been duly notarized and I have sought the opinion of two independent psychiatrists as to the state of my mind. This transaction is iron-clad, Gail, and cannot be contested.’” Mr. Regis looked up from the paper and stared at Gail, who snorted her disgust.

 

Mr. Regis looked at the paper once more. “’Should any part of this will be challenged, that person will no longer be a beneficiary.’ I think that says it all.”

 

Gail sat there fuming, while her husband, Graham, sat by her side squirming in his seat.

 

“My condolences to you all,” Mr. Regis said. He rose from his seat and left the room to the family.

 

“How dare she–”

 

“Gail!” June’s father stood and glared at her. “Shut up!” He moved the few steps to Edda and looked down. “Edda, I’m sorry for your loss. If you need anything, please don’t hesitate to call.”

 

Edda took the words as a chance to escape. She stood, nodded to June’s mother and left without saying another word. Staying was not an option and she could hear Gail’s voice even as she closed the door.

 

When she reached her apartment she poured herself a drink. Gail’s ranting had been the final straw. She had to get out of the city. But where? She could just pack a bag and go then see where the road took her, but that went against her need for some organization in her life.

 

June had gotten a note from a mutual friend a while back about a respite at her house. Edda went to June’s bedside table and opened the drawer. There were a mass of ‘get well’ cards and letters stuffed into it and Edda was forced to empty the lot onto the bed. She sorted through the paper until she found what she was looking for.

 

Edda held the note in her hand and studied the words. When the invitation had first arrived, she had dismissed it. June was too ill to travel and she didn’t want to be too far from the specialist. Now Edda needed to get away and the thought was appealing. Would the invitation still be open now that June had passed away? Edda reached for the phone.

 

“Hello?” Leslie’s voice was bright and cheerful. It was not exactly what she wanted to hear but she couldn’t begrudge the woman a life.

 

“Leslie? It’s Edda.”

 

“Edda? Oh God, Edda. How are you? When I heard the news…”

 

“Yeah, even when you know it’s coming, it still kicks you in the gut.”

 

“What do you need,” Leslie said even without the question.

 

“I was wondering if the offer of the house swap was still valid.”

 

“Sure. In fact, it would help me a lot. My boss just opened up a new area office where you are and I have to go set it up. How long did you want?”

 

“I don’t know. How long do you need?”

 

“It’s probably a six month project initially, but don’t you worry about that. Take as long as you need. I can always find accommodation elsewhere.”

 

Edda couldn’t complain. Leslie was going out of her way to be accommodating. “Can we start with a couple of weeks?”

 

“Sure can. That will give me a bit of time to check out apartments for rent.”

 

“You can always–”

 

No,” Leslie said firmly, “you’re not ready for that, but thanks for the offer.”

 

“I’m a big girl, Leslie–”

 

“Edda, stop it! If you need to get away from your apartment then you’re not going to cope with someone else there.”

 

Leslie was right. She wanted to escape from all the bereavement and constant phone calls. Having someone in the apartment with her was not a good idea. “When does your new post start?”

 

“Monday next week, but I can wait until you’re ready–”

 

“Next Monday’s fine. Can I bring Jasper?” Not that she would go without him, but she asked anyway.

 

“Not a problem.”

 

Edda knew Leslie was pandering to her request because Leslie didn’t have pets. “Thanks, Leslie. You’re a life saver.”

 

“I hope not literally, hon.”

 

Edda could hear the concern in Leslie’s voice. “No! Good Lord, no! I just need some time by myself for a while. Don’t worry, I’ll be sniffing around work soon enough.”

 

“What about work?”

 

“I can just as easily do it at your place as mine. It just means they have to travel a bit further to pick it up.”

 

“They won’t like that.”

 

“If they don’t like it, then tough shit!” Edda grumbled.

 

“That’s my girl,” Leslie said then chuckled.

 

After she had hung up Edda suddenly realized what she had agreed to. By next Monday she was leaving the apartment behind for a while. Everything that was June was in that apartment. Had her impulsive decision been right or wrong? Only time would tell.

 

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