| LAVINIA'S LEGACY
This story although fictitious is set in the town of Guildford Western Australia
Alighting from the train at Guildford station at eight fifty five that Friday morning, Laura Loveday used the machine to tag off from her smart rider rail card at the base of the footbridge. She then climbed the zigzag slope of the ugly grey metal construction, to get her to the main road on the other side.
On the outskirts of the station car park, she turned left onto the main road, and hurried along the footpath towards the late night diner Alfred's Kitchen and then beyond to the traffic lights and crossroads, at the train level crossing.
Before going to work, she had an errand to run for her elderly client Lavinia Willcox. Laura was her Caregiver/Housekeeper, a job which she'd diligently performed for five years. She answered to her agency, 'ElderCare' for any out of hours services she executed, but they'd sanctioned some as being necessary, like this one. Lavinia had asked Laura to dispatch two letters for her at the local post office the previous evening, but as the Guildford branch was not on her normal route home, she'd left them in her shopping bag to deal with first thing today.
While patiently waiting to get the green pedestrian traffic light to cross safely, Laura glanced up at the square tower and facing clock above Guildford's century old post office building across the road which was never right. She hadn't wanted to be late for work, but on the front of one of the letters it clearly stated, to be sent 'certified mail'. At any other time this would mean waiting in a queue to get to the counter, but with few people in the main hall this early, the postal assistant dealt with Laura's mail quickly and efficiently.
On route again outside on the road, Laura made her way towards the train level crossing, and waited at the boom gates which were on their way down. A train was alighting passengers at the nearby station, and would soon be moving through, on its way to the terminal at Midland. But with traffic banked up on either side of the gates, she managed to weave her way between a number of impatient engine revving drivers, and made it in one piece across the normally busy road. She then entered Stirling Square Gardens opposite and followed the meandering path around St Matthews Church, then headed towards the tree lined street and River-view Lodge where she worked.
The beautiful old homestead, built by ancestral members of the Willcox family over a hundred years before, was in one of the older parts of Guildford. The two storied building, now dilapidated after being lived in for half of that time by Lavinia and her dearly departed husband, was in need of a total makeover, like its gardens had recently undergone. The shrubbery and lawns had become terribly overgrown over the years, but the rear section, totally transformed by her gardener Samuel Ridgeway, now allowed Lavinia glimpses of the Swan River, winding its way around the outer limits of the town.
Laura was glad she was on time, as Lavinia, in the latter stages of a debilitating illness, always looked forward to hearing the key in the lock as she entered the house. It had seemed unusually quiet today though, the radio was silent, and there was no good morning greeting from her when Laura set her shopping bag down on the hall table before hanging up her coat. Seeing her shadow through the frosted panels of the closed lounge room double doors, she then called out to Lavinia but she still hadn't uttered a word by the time Laura entered the room. Gasping in horror to then be confronted by a ghastly figure just staring at the typewriter in front of her, Laura flew to her side but it was too late, Lavinia Willcox was dead. She was still clutching a crumpled sheet of typewritten paper in her right hand and more were scattered on the floor around her.
While it was expected that Lavinia would die sooner rather than later, it still had a dramatic effect on Laura, finding her like that. And having seen to her needs for so long, she hadn't imagined not being there for her when she was needed most. Apart from that though, Laura hadn't been looking forward to this day. For one thing, everything in her life would now have to change. The kind of thoughts she'd so often pushed to the back of her mind, were now pounding around in her head; but the tears suddenly falling from her eyes were selfishly as much about feeling sorry for herself as feelings of pity for Lavinia. She then pulled a tissue out of her pocket, blew her nose and with another attempted to wipe her eyes dry. Losing her composure was something she rarely did, but due to the circumstances she'd found herself in, it wasn't surprising that her mind was in a muddle. Of course, what she should have done next was to ring the emergency number triple zero and await their instructions, but in a state of confusion, she began setting in motion her normal daily schedule instead. The first task of which was preparing Lavinia for the day ahead.
To the steadfast Laura, presenting her employer in a well groomed and dignified manner had always been important, so with this foremost in her disorderly mind, she gently closed Lavinia's eyes, and then began sponging her delicate facial skin with cool water, and afterwards gently blotted it dry. Next some powder was applied, and then rouge to brighten her cheeks and lips. Finally, her silver hair was brushed and swept up into a chignon, just as Laura always did. She would have normally used the hand mirror to show Lavinia the results, but today Laura stood back to take a good look herself and was pleased with her efforts. She then smoothed out the shawl around her shoulders, and released the crumpled paper from the gnarled hand. After flattening it out, it was neatly placed with the rest inside a purple folder sitting on the desk, the same folder which had recently been kept under lock and key in the left drawer.
Intrigue sorely tempted her to take a look through the elusive paperwork, but a sudden undercurrent of chilly air pervading the room, stopped her in her tracks and brought her back to reality. A sharp shiver then surged up her spine and goosebumps appearing on her arms, hastened her to call the emergency numbers without delay. She was now more in tune with the fact that Lavinia, her employer, companion and confidante, had departed this world. However, her passing had left her feeling vulnerable and afraid.
Having never married,Laura had become a bit of a loner over the years. She had little in common with other women, nor did she have other family members to turn to in times of crisis such as this. She wasn't that far away from being a senior citizen herself and had often worried how she would cope if she were not able to work and care for herself anymore. Confined to her pokey little one bedroom flat in Bayswater, didn't bear thinking about, compared to the comforts of River-view Lodge, where she'd enjoyed spending so much time of late.
Laura didn't like the way she now felt, especially for envying the life Lavinia had led. There had been a tinge of jealousy that she'd had a devoted husband by her side for so long and then soon after he died, Laura had come along to ease her loss. Obviously new challenges were then faced by the women, but at that time it hadn't mattered that they had had been used to different living standards. Friendship, loyalty and mutual respect developed and often, extra remuneration came Laura's way.
Neither women embraced modern technology, but unlike the underprivileged middle aged Laura, the older and wiser Lavinia had been able to keep abreast of the times. She'd been an accomplished writer before her illness and having spent many hours tapping away on her ancient typewriter, she'd written many notable items. Some of them Laura had been allowed to peruse, but Lavinia turned to secrecy about her last piece of writing and then locked it away in her desk drawer when it was finished.
Laura had also rung 'Elder Care' while waiting for the authorities to arrive and then sighed deeply, as she wistfully cast her eyes around the living room, perhaps for the last time. She had just come to realize just how much she was going to miss the place. She'd enjoyed everything about her job, caring for Lavinia, cooking, cleaning and even pottering about in her delightful garden, which was brought back to life by her gardener Sam Ridgeway.
He and Lavinia worked well together on the garden she designed, although near the end, she could only watch its development from the arm chair in the living room. New vista's had opened up beyond the garden, which then exposed the river again, where flotilla's of watercraft drifted by each day. It included the Captain Cook winery cruises, on route to a vineyard restaurant further up stream.
Laura stared at the neatly arranged photographs in pretty frames dotted around this room. The faces in them had been studied by her many times before when dusting, although she was never able to find out who they were, or how they fitted into Lavinia's life. Whenever Laura had asked about them, Lavinia's face and disposition quickly changed. She then looked sad and ill at ease. Laura eventually learned not to pursue this line of inquiry and could only assume that they were unpopular members of her family.
Spotting a further sheet of paper lying on the floor near Lavinia's feet, Laura sat down on the settee and then had to stretch to retrieve it. But as she did, some of the typewritten words caught her attention. Like the rest, it must have come out of the purple folder, at the time of Lavinia's death.
Betraying Lavinia's privacy, was not something Laura ever did during her lifetime, but she was now intrigued as to what the other pages contained. It tweaked her conscience to look, but it hadn't appeared to have been addressed to anyone, so she thought it would do no harm.
But unfortunately, the wailing sound of an approaching ambulance siren distracted and stopped her from reading on. It immediately drew her back to the task at hand and a few moments later, a medical practitioner, two ambulance officers and Laura's team leader from 'Elder Care', were at the front door.
After all the protocols were completed at Lavinia's home by the appropriate personnel, she was then placed on a stretcher ready to be taken away to the morgue. Laura was also informed by her team leader, what would be happening next.
"A group of solicitor's representing Lavinia Willcox, have been notified" she then told her. "Delegates from this firm will shortly be calling at River-view Lodge to begin the task of sorting out Lavinia's estate". Laura was then asked if she would continue to perform her duties at the house for the time being and be prepared to help them if it was required.
It was pure coincidence, but the point was also raised, that until those delegates arrive, no personal items of Lavinia's were to be removed. Unfortunately, it was a poignant reminder of something Laura had already done, but it was too late for feelings of regret. As luck would have it though, the subject was then diverted to Lavinia's beautiful grey Persian cat named Rumpole, who'd disappeared that morning and hadn't yet returned.
Naturally Laura said she would look out for him, after all she was the one who three years earlier, had chosen him from the Cat Haven in Shenton Park, where numerous strays waited patiently for loving homes to go to. Laura had then presented him to Lavinia as a cuddly companion, but from that day he was loved and spoiled by both of them.
It'd been a tiring day and it was late in the afternoon before Laura got back to her little flat in Bayswater. The weight in her shopping bag was minimal, but the purple folder she'd inadvertently placed inside, now weighed heavily on her heart. She'd already regretted her foolish action, but having had to lock up and leave Riverview Lodge at the same time as Lavinia and the other officials, she hadn't been able to put it back. Nevertheless, she had every intention of returning it intact, to its rightful place early the next morning.
In the meantime however, thoughts of taking a peek were still hard to resist and in a quiet moment that evening, she opened the bag and pulled out the file. Again her eyes were drawn to the typewritten piece of paper she'd picked up at Lavinia's feet and the crumpled page she'd taken from between Lavinia's fingers. Together, they made up a statement that appeared to be about changing her will. Lavinia was making known her reasons why she had taken such an action and once Laura started reading it, she couldn't put it down.
Lavinia's letter began with br />
There are many reasons why I have changed my will at this late stage of my life, but the decision to do so, was not as sudden as you might think. I had thought it over for a long time and this notation will explain it all.
I had not envisaged spending the final years of my life without my son and daughter around to offer me at least some support. As they have remained noticeably absent, which I so often found hard to bear and accept, I eventually came to the conclusion that they had chosen not to remain part of the Willcox family. It is the reason that I have forfeited their rights as my heirs.
Laura swayed a little at that point and had to sit down to read on. She took the judgmental paperwork over to a comfortable armchair beneath her reading lamp which she then switched on. Except for the few photo's she'd seen, Laura had no idea that Lavinia had any close family, let alone ill feelings within it. Her eyes had now adhered to the paper and the deeper she delved the more unpleasant it was to read.
For want of a better word, Lavinia was damning both her son James and daughter Katherine, although she appeared to have a very good reason for doing so. The daughter Katherine sounded the most fiendish to Laura, who could not understand how she could have treated her mother so badly over the years.
Lavinia seemed less critical of James the younger sibling, even though he'd got himself mixed up with a bad crowd when he was in his late teens. It'd led him to the magistrate's court on a number of occasions before he turned eighteen, mainly for minor drug offences and underage drinking. Reading further, he appeared to have weathered that part of his life and was more productive by his twenties. At least Lavinia hadn't condemned him for those times, but she did condemn him for events further years down the track.
Both of them had never married it appeared and only ever had themselves to care for, but all of James's assets accumulated during his twenties and thirties slipped through his fingers from his own bad management. It was then he sometimes came to his parents for loans apparently, some of which he never re-paid. But adding to this, no gratitude was ever shown to them for lending it in the first place. That was bad on his part, Laura thought to herself.
He'd had problems with his sister too, which ended up with no interaction between them. Then Lavinia too had less contact with him, until it stopped altogether, although Lavinia hadn't really explained fully why that was.
Perhaps she did not know why, Laura thought to herself. As Lavinia grew older, she'd had very little to do with the younger set to know how they ticked.
In retrospect, Laura hadn't either, but from what she had gathered over the years, they were all self centered anyway.
She then contemplated her five years with Lavinia and could honestly say that in all that time, she had certainly never set eyes on James.
The part about Katherine Willcox's alcoholic episodes saddened Laura the most though, but not just for Lavinia's sake, but for her daughter too. Something must have set her on this path in life. But even so, there could be no excuses for such appalling behaviour towards her mother.
Lavinia had said in the letter, that the family's problems with her daughter, only started when she moved to Melbourne and then it all went down hill fast. The daughter too, was always short of money and borrowed from her parents. Lavinia thought it was her dependence on alcohol that had caused her downfall, but the abusive phone calls at all hours, even in the middle of the night, the bad language and even threats went on for years it stated.
The letter was damning all right, but who it was meant for, was what Laura wanted to know. It wasn't addressed to anyone except 'To Whom it may Concern'. Lavinia hadn't signed it either, but the message was loud and clear, she didn't want her children to benefit from her demise.
Laura then wondered if it was meant to go with Lavinia's new will. But she knew nothing about that. Lavinia had never disclosed or discussed anything financial with her in all the years she had known her.
She then placed the paperwork back in the purple folder, wondering what to do with it next. Lavinia's most private thoughts had touched Laura's heart. But not knowing anything about her son and daughter, she had no right to judge them.
Even so, it made more sense now, why Lavinia had declined to talk about her dysfunctional family and why she had no one to trust or depend on in her hour of need.
Furthermore, it had to be the reason the Perth solicitors had been engaged to handle her estate.
The poor woman, Laura reflected. Her physical health often showed, but mentally who knows. Lavinia had to be admired for keeping it inside for so long, but in the end, it had all spilled forth in the only way she knew.
After spending a sleepless night worrying about having the purple folder in her possession, Laura hadn't been able to eat any breakfast the next morning. She just wanted to get to Riverview Lodge as quickly as possible, to offload her burden before anyone else arrived.
When Laura stepped of the train at Guildford station, it would have been noticeable that she was gripping her shopping bag extra firmly. She also kept it close to her chest, as she cut across the railway lines at the designated area, on her way to work.
She'd deliberately chosen not to enter the property through the main wrought iron gates, but instead slipped through the side entry via the sunken garden. She was hoping to get to the front door of River-view Lodge, without attracting the attention of Mr Barnsley, a rather nosy neighbour and supposed friend of Lavinia, who lived opposite. It was likely that he could be watering his garden at this time of the day and Laura hadn't wanted to stop and have to explain the circumstances of her death at that moment, because she had an overriding agenda to attend to.
After letting herself in, she made straight forthe living room where everything was just as it was the day before, except for where the folder had been left sitting. After taking it from the bag, her next dilemma was deciding whether to restore it to where she found it on the desk, or where most of Lavinia's other paperwork was usually kept, in the left drawer. As it was open, Laura chose the drawer, placed the folder inside and then left it the same way.
Taking her shopping bag and the remainder of its contents into the kitchen, she dumped it all on the heavy rectangular oak table. Strangely enough, there was still no sign of Rumpole the cat. He hadn't been at the front door waiting to be let in as he usually was, but nor had he used his cat flap attached to the back door of the house. His wicker gondola basket lined with its crimson velvet cushion in the corner, still lay empty.
Laura opened the bag again, then unwrapped and removed the treats she'd brought for him, but before grabbing his earthenware bowl from the side oak dresser to dish it out, she went to unlock and open the back door, in the hope that he might be enticed in. She then spooned in some chicken leftovers and called his name a few times just as she always did when she wanted him to come to her. Perplexed as to why he hadn't responded, she then whacked the side of the bowl a few times with the heavy metal spoon. The next step would have been to look for him further afield, but then the front doorbell rang.
Presuming it was one or more of the delegates from the mentioned group of solicitors, Laura let out a sigh of relief that she'd been able to restore the file of papers in the nick of time. Quickly placing the bowl of food down on the floor, she then walked briskly back through the house to answer the front door.
Just as she opened it, she was surprised that a key was about to be placed into the key hole by a handsome middle aged man. Neither he nor the woman by his side looked like officials, but there was something about them she recognized, which caused an apprehensive feeling to overwhelm her.
Smart in appearance, they were judged by Laura to be in their mid forties. Lavinia had described her offspring similarly in her telling letter, but apart from that, Laura hadn't yet had time to form an opinion of who they were and why they were at the door, but this was very soon to be established.
If they had introduced themselves properly, Laura would have invited them into Lavinia's home willingly, but they hadn't done that. Instead they just barged in; well the woman did and then the man followed. Laura was left speechless for a moment or two, but there'd been been no time to ask for credentials as the woman got in first and asked Laura for hers.
"Exuse me" a stunned Laura then replied curtly in the hallway, "but I have been Lavinia's housekeeper and caregiver for five years and I have every right to be here. So what about you two."
Ignoring her, the woman brushed past and knowing exactly where she was going, walked straight into Lavinia's living room. The man was familiar with the layout of the house too and headed off in the opposite direction, which infuriated Laura, because she could only manage to keep an eye on one of them. Utterly unfazed by Laura hanging on her tail, the woman then went over to Lavinia's armchair to stroke a purring Rumpole, who lo and behold, was now settled there snugly. While Laura was pleased to see him back, a demonstrative greeting was out of the question at that moment, as she was far more concerned about getting to the bottom of what the trespassers wanted from the visit to River-view.
After the woman had taken a good look round the room, she then walked back into the hall to look for the man. By this time, Laura had done with pussing footing around them and had saved her remaining energy to execute a sarcastic remark. "Pardon me for asking" she bellowed, "but who are you and has anyone given you permission to be here?"
At least that got a reaction, because it stopped the woman in her tracks. She then turned to face Laura and with a condescending air replied, "Not that it's any of your god damned business dear, but being family we have every right, Lavinia was our dear mother."
Laura had half worked that out already, but was now fully aware of who she was dealing with. Laura knew her type well, after all she'd put up with more than her fair share of upper class distinction in her working life. Nonetheless, it was time to yield yet again, as now felt unsure of her position in the scheme of things. With hackles raised and blood pressure rising, Laura backed off and then headed back into the living room to welcome back the moggy. Naturally he couldn't tell her where he'd been, but after stroking his soft coat, his rumbling purrs vibrating through her hand, drove her blood pressure down again. Her reply to him, "well sir, it's very nice to back, but I can't molly-coddle you all day". With that she left him in the chair, while she returned to the kitchen to make a soothing cup of tea to fortify her for the next round.
Laura hadn't seen them return to the living room, but after hearing cupboards and drawers opening and closing, she advanced there again in haste. This time though she armed herself with a feather duster, a ploy to make her presence look less obvious.
They had taken no notice when she mentioned to them that Lavinia's personal things should not be touched. They continued poking around in the filing cabinet on the right side of Lavinia's desk and then sat down on the settee to look more closely at some folders containing a number of articles they'd removed. Now unsure how to handle the situation, Laura pretended to be dusting around, but in reality was watching anxiously as each one was quickly flicked through and then shoved to one side. They'd obviously found little to capture their imagination, but a nervous reaction about what they might find next, caused Laura to wave the feathers around erratically. They'd got too close to the purple folder in the left desk drawer nearby, the very place she didn't want them to look.
At that point, the sound of a vehicle engine and tyres on gravel, could be heard on the driveway. She hadn't wanted to leave the two of them to their own devices, but had no choice. Having a good idea who it would be, Laura marched swiftly to the front door and after opening it, saw two formal looking men in dark suits alighting from a large and shiny black car. Armed with clipboards then then crunched their way to the front porch.
Introducing themselves as representatives of Perth solicitors Jones Fisher and Claxon, they both shook hands with Laura and she followed with her own introduction and why she was there. They'd suggested taking a quick tour of the house before conducting a preliminary audit,, so eager for the unpopular pair in the living to be caught in the act, a relieved Laura led them there first. But what a blow. the living room was now empty. The trespassers had exited through the french doors,and so had the cat...