There were five Schlegel sisters and they all grew up and moved away, two to Europe, one to Texas, another to California and the last one across town, to a condo on Roswell Road. Two of them had graduate degrees. One was a CPA, another a PhD. Three of them were married: the CPA, the PhD and the one who read magazines, dog-earing the pages, so she knew where to come back. Two of them had never been asked, one because she was a nun, an actual nun, another because she was crazy, actually crazy, though only part of the time. She was the one who lived across town.
Four of the Schlegels were obsessed with their mother’s furniture—polished Regency showpieces and old southern curiosities; in the sideboard there was a hefty collection of early silver. For years, these four sisters had been quietly pulling their mother aside and putting in dibs that their mother, who enjoyed their bickering, well, she enjoyed the way it put her in the center of things, promptly forgot.
There were three pieces of furniture from an old plantation passed down like blue eyes through the family. These pieces—a hunt board, a primitive secretary with acorn finials, and a sugar chest—were only attractive to two of the sisters, the CPA and the magazine reader, and for this reason, they never spoke. Each believed the other had some secret plan to make off with the goods.
The other two were just as vicious. They were just drawn to other things, the dining room table and certain chests of drawers, the gloss and marquetry that said “taste” and “high class.” The problem with the Schlegel girls was that none of them made any money.
The nun of course didn’t care about any of this, so she got emails (yes they have email in abbeys, even the fine old abbeys of Europe) asking her to intervene. She didn’t though, mostly because the magazine reader and the crazy one had skulls like Stone Mountain.
Of the five girls, the nun and the CPA were the closest. They were the eldest, and they both had mathematical minds. The magazine reader and the crazy one looked the most alike. They both lived in condos and cooked grudges like pot roasts. These things take time. They were also, arguably, the most attractive, though the crazy one was putting on weight.
The CPA and the PhD had always resented each other. Growing up, they traded the nastiest barbs, but over the years, battling the magazine reader, not to mention the crazy one, had brought them closer. Then the PhD died, suddenly, in a car crash, and the CPA, who was married, who had kids, told her shrink that she didn’t know who she was anymore.
Worse still, the power was unbalanced. The magazine reader and the crazy were on one side, the CPA on the other. Did the furniture even matter, the CPA sometimes wondered. She had a full house, hell, her kids had full houses, but they wanted more, the old things, their birthright. They didn’t have their mother’s blue eyes.
So the CPA fought on. She had the furniture appraised and inputted it into a spreadsheet. Then she convened her sisters, and they picked one by one: the sugar chest and the sideboard, the colonial silver.
And everyone was happy.
For about five minutes.
Then the crazy sister complained that actually, the breakfront had been hers all along, ditto the girandoles that hung in the dining room. They’d been promised to her, she said, because she never married. The magazine reader announced that the Robert Adams mirror was missing, also a reticulated punch bowl, also a group of silver goblets that were worth about eight grand.
So they should pick again, she said. The hunt board and the sugar chest were not enough.
So the mother decided to start the whole process over. She’d give away her possessions herself, thank you very much, so each of the sisters called her and reminded her what they’d been promised, and the mother, who was becoming better and better at hiding the fact that she had no memory whatsoever, assured each of them that she should have exactly as she wanted.
And all three Schlegel sisters believed.
Until the stroke.
Which left her right side limp.
And forced out strings of nonsense and sputtery breath.
And required that she move into an assisted-living facility.
And made her sad, agitated, until she heard them fighting over the furniture, and then she was calm.
Her nurses administered Seroquel, and she started getting out of bed. She laughed when they wheeled her out for balloon volleyball. Her blue within blue eyes caught the light, and the balloon landed by her hands, and she swatted it back up again, laughing the whole time.
Watching from the doorway, the CPA wondered if this was her birthright, to hold tight to moments like this. And so she kept visiting, even after she drove over to the old house, and opened the door, and saw that nothing was left.
DAN KELLUM grew up in the south and graduated from Yale University. He received his MFA from NYU, where he now teaches writing. He is currently at work on a novel.