Some people may be offended by certain concepts in this short story.
A TEST OF WILLS
The kids found out that Wills was having an affair quite a while before his wife did.
But Jessica gradually worked it out for herself. Even blind Freddy would have picked it up. What was going on between her husband and Amber eventually became obvious to everyone. A debilitating shock spread slowly through her body.
Then, just when she was about to confront Wills with his infidelity, news of the cancer arrived. Having started in her right breast, it too was spreading through her body, but quite quickly they said.
There was some good news, however, if good is ever the right word to use with cancer. It was only type one, if only is ever the right word to use with cancer. And at this stage Jessica didn’t yet know all the tacky details about Wills and Amber. If not knowing all the tacky details about your husband’s affair with and your best friend is a helpful position to be in when you’ve just been diagnosed with a life threatening disease. Perhaps an even terminal one.
The timing of these events could not have been bleaker. News of both bobbed up just before Jessica’s fortieth birthday. They quickly put an end to any plans anyone may have had for a celebration.
‘Some present,’ she said to herself about the cancer, ‘Talk about a double whammy. Who the hell needs a breast operation at my age?’
To be fair, Wills’s affair with Amber went on the back burner straight away when he found out that Jessica was sick. After all, twenty-five years of married life did mean … well, something. So his relationship with Amber was sidelined. For a while anyway. But not for very long as it happened.
‘How on earth can you miss a hard lump in the armpit?’ they asked. ‘She must have felt it when she showered,’ was what one young mother said at the tennis club. ‘Surely you notice it when your skin takes on the rough, mottled surface of an orange?’ But in those days, screening was not yet routine, and many women avoided getting involved.
So it was easy to miss. Or to avoid recognizing because of fear of the truth.
When she first noticed the slight swelling, Jessica told herself it would go away. That it was nothing to worry about. It was simply a symptom of getting on in life, a little older, along with stiffness in the joints and the constant fight against those extra pounds around the waist. And thank God, it didn’t hurt. How could a thing that wasn’t painful be a symptom of something so terrible? Jessica convinced herself that it was nothing and it would soon be gone.
But then one of her nipples started to discharge a sticky, greenish fluid. It looked like pus, and she was so frightened that she stayed in bed all day. Without even phoning the office. Wills found her still in her nightdress when he got home. From seeing his new friend Amber. At a hotel with a rather dubious reputation. Because it hired out rooms by the hour. And they’d met there mid afternoon. Then they’d had a few drinks in the bar, before wending their respective ways home.
Although the diagnosis was positive, when one wanted it to be negative, the prognosis was, apparently, good.
In the short term that was all true. Because of huge strides in the treatment of breast cancer, surgery and postoperative chemotherapy soon returned Jessica to a relatively normal and healthy lifestyle. For a while anyway. Because, once it has paid a visit, cancer never likes to be shown the door.
Wills was very supportive during the recovery period. So were the children who provided as much support as he did. And Wills gave up seeing Amber altogether. For a while, anyway. Because once he had established that kind of relationship, it was very difficult to find the door.
But beware. Cancer is never to be taken lightly. Jessica’s reasonably aggressive procedure should have been the giveaway. Patients with a good prognosis are usually offered a less invasive treatment. So despite the prayers of her parents and children, and most of her friends and neighbors, and Wills’s positive thinking it must be said, because he did not believe in the power of prayer, the cancer turned to be much more tenacious than had first been expected. It refused to be beaten. It came back quite soon. And with a vengeance.
Once again, Wills put his assignation with Amber on the back burner for … well, for quite a while this time. But as the days dragged by, and the ambience in the home deteriorated, getting more depressing and debilitating, they started meeting again. It was Wills who initiated it and Amber didn’t need much convincing. But who can blame him? A man has his needs doesn’t he? And if he can’t get it at home, what else is he supposed to do?
Arranging the funeral was trying. It was very difficult for all concerned. The discussions were testy throughout the meeting with the undertaker. And deciding on the music, dress, coffin, makeup and flowers caused lots of arguments. What would Jessica have wanted? Well, no one knew. Because she’d never discussed it with anyone. And she’d never written anything down. Not even a will. Which meant, as they would all find out later, that all of the considerable investments that she’d inherited from her very wealthy grandfather, would automatically go to Wills.
The more family orientated arrangements were even more difficult. Wills was determined that Amber should attend the funeral. All three of the kids were vehemently pitched against this. He pointed out that Jessica had once been quite friendly with his new friend. Matty’s reply was somewhat outspoken. Without actually looking at Wills he said, ‘Yes, but that was before mum realized that you were fucking her best friend.’ The comment set the tenor for the rest of the discussion. Eventually Wills gave up and left in a huff. It was left to Russell, Karen and Matty to settle on the venue. They chose Jessica’s parent’s house, and all the other difficult details were eventually handled by Jessica’s mother.
On the day of the service, family ties exploded completely. Wills hated going into churches at the best of times, and he hung about outside talking to the few friends who had not totally ostracized him. And Amber hung around with him. So, when it was time to stop hanging around any more, and ignoring completely what was obviously the choice of his children, Wills eventually marched boldly into the church with his girlfriend. They went in to attend his dead wife’s funeral.
Wills sensed that everyone already inside was waiting for a dramatic entrance. As if expecting thunder and lightening to announce that Wills and his painted strumpet, the sinners behind this event, had arrived. Heads all over the assembled congregation moved together to mutter and whisper. And the muttering and whispering echoed high up in the arches of the nave on their way to heaven.
Needless to say, they were not invited to Jessica’s parent’s house afterwards. Russell had telephoned Wills to say he would not be welcome. So Wills had booked a large double room in an up market hotel, and they went there straight after his wife’s funeral for Champaign. And other things.
‘Perhaps we were a little hard on him,’ Russell said to Matty and Karen afterwards. ‘He was with her for twenty five years, and, after all, he is our father.’
The last straw, as far as the kids were concerned, was when Amber moved in with Wills. ‘That’s it,’ said Matty. ‘It’s the end of the ride as far as I’m concerned. I’ll never go there again.’
His brother and sister agreed. ‘You’re right Matty. It’s all over now.’
So that’s how Amber’s relocation broke the camel’s back, and the kids broke off all contact with their father. Karen used her answer machine to monitor all calls as she always had, and she never called Wills back when he left a message. Russell’s partner invariably answered their telephone phone, and although she gave Russell Wills’s messages, he never phoned his father back. And Matty didn’t have a phone in the flat he shared, so he was very difficult to get hold of.
When Wills tried writing, his letters and post cards were simply and studiously ignored.
‘Got something from dad the other day,’ Karen told Russell, but I tore the envelope up without even opening it.’ All communication between the notional head of the household and his children had come to a dead stop. A cul de sac. And nothing, it seemed, would reinstate their family relationships.
‘Look,’ Wills said to Amber before they got up one morning, but after their almost daily romp, ‘I’ve made up my mind about my kids. So this is the bottom line as far as they’re are concerned. I’m prepared to give it a year. And I’ll work hard for a rapprochement. But, if after 365 days they’re not prepared to treat me as a human being, there will be consequences. And they’ll regret how they’ve treated me.’
As usual Amber agreed with everything he said. She always did, including whenever he suggested, well… everyone knows what. Even if she didn’t feel like it. And when she could have used the perennial cliché, that she ‘had a headache’. Because she, at least, knew which side her bread was buttered on.
About six months later Wills spoke to Amber about the next move. ‘Look, I’ve tried hard to contact them, but they’re being pig headed. All three of them. As if they’re colluding against me. It appears they’re determined to be bloody-minded. So I’ve decided that a warning should be issued.’
He picked up the phone and dialed Barclay, Berber and Jordan’s number. He asked to speak to Jordan, the senior partner.
A few days later Matty phoned Russell. ‘Fucking hell, have you got the lawyer’s letter? What’s a stipend, by the way?’
‘Yes mate, just opened it. And I’ve spoken to Karen. She’s got one too. And a stipend is the cheque you get every month. Well, used to get, is probably more accurate now.’
‘Hang on mate. That was mum’s money. She inherited it from her father. And she was the one who decided that we should all have a regular income from his investments. Dad had better not be able to stop it now, because I couldn’t live without it.’
‘Frade he can mate. She left everything to him. And she never had time to change her will. Or she was too sick to do so. When she heard about his girlfriend and all that.’
There was a pause as the brothers thought about their situation.
‘Well, what are we going to do?’ asked Russell. ‘Should we speak to him. See if we can get him to change his mind?’
‘No mate, not me. Fuck him. I’d rather starve than grovel.’
Another six months went by with no sign of a thaw. Wills dialed Barclay, Berber and Jordan again and asked for Jordan. After a few pleasantries, he said, ‘Look, this is not a joke, and I’m not drunk or on drugs. I’ll come into your office to sign the papers when you’ve carried out these instructions I’m about to give you. I want to change my will. I want all my assets to go to a cat’s home. Is that clear? I’ll say it again just so there’s no misunderstanding. A cat’s home. I don’t care which one, You choose. So long as it’s definitely a bone fide cat’s home. Because I want to disinherit my kids. All of them. Utterly and completely. I never want them to get any of my money. I couldn’t care less if they live in penury for the rest of their lives and die paupers.’
As the eldest, it was Russell’s responsibility to phone his siblings when he heard from Mr Jordan.
He spoke to his sister first. She burst into tears, and hung up.
He dialed his brother’s new cellphone number. ‘Hello, Matty, I’ve just heard from dad’s solicitor again.’
‘Oh yes? He’s giving us a hand out to salve his conscience, is he?’
‘Frade not, mate. Worse than that. He phoned to say that dad has completely changed his will.’
‘Whaddaya mean, completely?’
‘Well, I hope you’re sitting down mate. You see everything goes to a fucking cat’s home.’
There was a long pause.
‘You there, Matty?’
‘Yes, but I don’t know what to say. First mum. Now this.’ Another pause. Then, ‘I hope he burns in hell. And sooner rather than later.’
‘Whoa. Don’t say that Matty. He’s still our dad. And you never know. Time heals everything. He may change his mind one day. And reinstate us all as beneficiaries. Perhaps we should start working on it. Right away. Eat some humble pie if necessary. Suck up to him a bit. Because there’s a lot of money riding on it.’
A short while later the chairman and sole principal of ‘Our Feline Friends’ got a letter from Mr Jordan.
Dear Mr Champion,
THE ESTATE OF WILLIAM “WILLS” XAVIER HODGKINS
I am writing to you as the executor of Mr Wills Hodgkin’s estate (a person who is probably quite unknown to you). Mr Hodgkins recently nominated your trust, viz, “Our Feline Friends”, also known as “Champion’s Cats Home”, as the sole beneficiary of his estate, and in his will dated 6th June, he bequeathed one hundred percent of his total assets to your trust.
As Mr Hodgkins and his partner of several years were both tragically killed in a motor accident a week ago, an amount of 1.69 million dollars has been credited to your organization’s bank account.
Please contact me directly if you have any queries.
J J Jordan.
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