Megan parks her Taurus behind the line of BMWs and Porches, neatly waxed. She doesn’t bother locking the car. She’s not even sure the locks work anymore. Her trips to this house have always been infrequent. This would be her last. She pauses at the end of the brick sidewalk to stare at the house, big and imposing. Perhaps she should have changed from her jeans into something more appropriate. Too late now.
She approaches the front door, flanked on either side by marble lions frozen in snarling anger and time. Why had she been invited to this? She was only a distant relative. Perhaps the invitation was merely a duty paid to family obligations; a recognition of a connection, however tenuous.
“Megan.” Her mother’s cousin Sophie is framed by the open door. Her arms are crossed. “Everyone has been waiting.”
Megan continues up the sidewalk reluctantly. She wants no part of this dividing. How to split up a life?
“She’s in the parlor.” Sophie greets her with a whisper of a kiss; dry lips scratching air. “Go and pay your respects.”
Megan does as she is told. She sits on a red velvet chair beside the bed where her dead aunt lay. She takes one of her hands into her own. The skin is dry and leathery and painfully thin. She studies the lines in her aunt’s face, wishing she had taken the time to get to know her better. “Regrets,” she says to Cousin William, who has just entered the room. “Do we feed upon them or do they feed upon us?”
William gives her a strange look.
She’s always been considered the family crackpot; the oddball who doesn’t fit in anywhere. “Do you think Great Aunt Eloise is looking down on us right now?”
“I don’t know why I come to these things,” William says.
“Don’t you ever feel that?” she persists. “After someone dies?”
William loosens his tie. “No.”
“I’ll feel her looking down on me for weeks. When I’m in the shower. When I’m at work.” Megan laughs. “When I’m sitting on the couch wasting time watching TV.” She studies her cousin. “I’ll feel the presence of her more in death than in life.”
“Don’t that bother you?”
“Don’t beat yourself up. She wasn’t the kindest of women.”
“She was kind enough.”
“Kept a tight grip on her change purse, didn’t she?”
“Don’t speak ill of her.”
“Why?” William grins. “Is she looking down on us right now? Afraid she’s listening?”
“You wouldn’t understand.”
“The newly dead connect us to God.”
“Connect us to God?” William laughs. “How can you be so forgiving to a woman who left you nothing?”
So William knew as well. The relatives must have figured Megan would contest the will; demand a portion of the fortune. That was why they’d invited her today.
William rolls his eyes. “I’m going to get something to eat. Coming?”
“In a moment.” Megan stares at her aunt, trying to get some clue about the mysterious letter she’d received three weeks ago:
Some will say I cheated you, by leaving you nothing at all.
But by leaving you nothing, I have left you everything.
Your relatives will fritter away their inheritance, putting on additions to their homes, buying jewelry, getting plastic surgery. They have bought into the illusory daydream, painted and decorated by the marketers: Pretty baubles and trendy boutiques and fancy coffee shops. But coffee is still coffee, regardless of the cup. And coffee will still grow bitter.
Their dreams will fade away. Their bitterness will grow. But you, Megan, who feel you fit nowhere, fit everywhere. Know that by being invisible, one can see all.
Find one thing, Megan, to remember me by.
Choose well, my dear.
Megan shakes her head. What did her aunt mean by those words?
She wanders into the kitchen where harried caterers load hors d’oeuvres upon trays. “Can I help?” Megan has always felt more at home serving than being served.
“Why?” One of the waiters says. “You afraid we’re going to steal your inheritance? Make off with the silverware?”
Megan shakes her head. “No, I…”
“You want to help, take this to the dining room.” A woman presses a tray into Megan’s hands.
She deposits the tray on the dining room table. Her relatives mill about snacking from pretty glass plates. Megan studies their mouths, chewing and talking and chewing some more; crumbs clinging to their lips. No one acknowledges her.
She goes to the living room and walks to the shelves; studies the trappings of a life trapped by fortune: Candlesticks of gold. A bronze sculpture. Rare first editions, all of them unread. Treasures from every corner of the globe decorate the shelves. Only one thing does not fit in. It’s as out of place as Megan is. A rabbit. Ears flopped over. Eyes closed, as if sleeping on a bed of clover. God it’s ugly.
Why had her aunt kept it?
Megan considers for a moment. No one would miss the rabbit. Certainly no one would want it. She picks it up, weighs it in the palm of her hand. It’s surprisingly heavy. Iron? She makes a mental note to ask Robert, as she slips the rabbit into her purse and heads back to the dining room.
“Listen,” she tells her aunt Sophie. “I’m beat. I think I’ll head out.”
“But…” Sophie’s protest is weak.
“Really,” Megan says. “I don’t want anything anyway.”
“Oh.” Sophie brightens a bit. “If you really mean that.”
“I do,” Megan says. “I’ll see you soon.” She heads for the door. No one says goodbye.
She dumps her new running shoes from their box and tucks the rabbit inside, pulling a bit of tissue from the shoes up alongside to tuck it in place. She pulls away from the curb, certain she can hear the collective sigh of relief from the relatives inside. She has no business being on this side of the city. She belongs on the South Side. The gritty side. The poor side.
She cuts through the city. Traffic is light at this hour. Close to home, Megan stops to let a jaywalker pass. An elderly woman, moving slowly behind a walker. Directly in front of Megan’s car, she stops. She looks Megan in the eye. Raises her hand and points. A chill runs up Megan’s spine.
A rustling in the car reminds her of the McDonald’s bag she’d stuffed beneath her seat after lunch. She reaches under and pulls it out.
The street is clear. A car behind her honks. She continues driving.
Again, the rustling.
Was it coming from the box? She pulls down a one way street and parks in front of a Laundromat. She opens the box. The tissue paper is torn to shreds. Megan stares inside of the box, trying to make sense of it. The rabbit’s eyes fly open, staring. She feels her stomach drop as she watches the rabbit’s hind leg twitch. Megan gets out of the car, takes the box inside the Laundromat, intending to throw it in the garbage.
“Oh, look,” a woman says staring inside the box. “That’s just beautiful. Where did you find it?” She rubs a finger along the rabbit, who arches its back in response.
“Did you see that?” Megan breathes.
The woman stares. “See what?”
“The rabbit. It…”
The woman frowns. “You want me to call a hospital, honey?”
Megan shakes her head; returns to her car. She pulls out her cell and dials. “Robert,” she says, when he picks up. “Could I be crazy?” Perhaps she needed a vacation.
“That’s why I love you, Megan.”
“No. Really. I…” She stares at the rabbit in the box. “Does seeing things other people don’t make me mad or a visionary?”
“You have the rabbit, don’t you?”
“How do you know about the rabbit?”
“I’ll meet you at your place. And Megan?”
“Whatever you do, don’t tell William.”