Wild Ice(8)

By: Rachelle Vaughn

Lauren jingled the keys in her hand. Wow, Aunt Cora’s cottage was really hers. It was hard to believe. In all the years of visiting Aunt Cora, Lauren had never given any thought to what would happen to the little house when Cora died. I mean, who sat around thinking about what would happen to people’s stuff once they were gone?

Despite the early hour, the sun was already blisteringly hot and Lauren squinted at the little cottage. The shutters were painted green to blend in with the cottage’s surroundings and the sun glared off of the plate glass windows.

Lauren had so many good memories of this place. Once again, she was reminded that Aunt Cora wouldn’t be inside to greet her with an enthusiastic hug or a bowl of her famous blackberry cobbler. She wouldn’t be there to point out bird species—even though Lauren already knew them all—and she wouldn’t be there to tell Lauren and her brother bedtime stories as they drifted off to sleep in front of the fireplace.

“You can be anything you want to be, Lauren.” Aunt Cora’s voice echoed through the savannah sparrow’s song and bounced off the sycamore trees.

Lauren swiped at the tears that threatened to fall. “Thank you, Aunt Cora,” she whispered. “I love you a world-full.”

I love you a world-full. It was what Aunt Cora always said and how she signed every birthday and Christmas card.

Lauren swallowed down the lump in her throat and hauled the pet carrier to the door. Marsh growled at the movement and his weight shifted the carrier off balance. She set the carrier down on the front porch so she could unlock the door. After pushing the key into the lock, she had to jiggle the key until it finally turned in the lock.

Inside, the cottage smelled slightly musty from months of sitting empty while the estate paperwork was processed and assets divided among what little family Cora had. An afternoon with the windows open would have it smelling as fresh as the wildflowers growing outside.

The one room cottage hadn’t changed a bit. The furniture was arranged the exact same way as Lauren remembered. The floral loveseat was still pushed up against the window so Marsh could sit and look out at the birds. Two worn end tables painted with the leftover green paint from the shutters sat on either side of the loveseat. In the dining area, there were mismatched chairs pushed under a small, sturdy oak dining table. In the corner was a wrought-iron bed covered with a faded calico quilt. The bookshelf by the bed was crammed with field guides and art books. Around the corner, a small bathroom had a pedestal sink and claw foot tub. In the sunny kitchen, floral curtains framed the window. An ancient stove and refrigerator were flanked by a small square of a countertop. The cupboards were filled with mismatched china, cups and saucers. Even though everything was mismatched, it all fit together to make the cottage cute and homey.

Aunt Cora had been a conservationist who was intent on saving the wetlands, as well as an amateur photographer and a talented artist. Her photographs and sketches hung in mismatched frames all over the cottage. The mismatched frames only added to the quaintness and charm of the room. Unfortunately, Lauren hadn’t inherited her aunt’s artistic genes. She couldn’t sketch a bird any better than she could snap a photo of one without it turning out blurry and off-center. As much as Lauren wanted to capture them in photographs through the lens of a camera, nothing beat seeing birds with her own eyes. They always moved too quickly for her to get them on film and her photos didn’t do justice to their beauty. Whatever her calling in life might be, it wasn’t a photographer—that much was for sure.

Everything inside the cottage looked the same as it always had. The only difference was how empty it was without Aunt Cora. It looked like she had just stepped out for a moment and would return as soon as she captured a white-faced ibis on film. Her reading glasses still sat on the beat-up coffee table next to a dainty floral teacup. Her old slippers, so worn they had a hole in one toe, lay on the floor next to the sofa.

Lauren wished with all her heart that Aunt Cora could be here. She wanted to tell her about what happened with Daniel and to listen to her aunt’s trusted advice and words of wisdom. No one else understood her like Cora. Regret welled up and twisted its cold fingers around Lauren’s heart. She had plenty of excuses but no one was around to hear them.

She sighed and set the cat carrier down in the middle of the room. “You can come on out now, Marsh,” she said as she opened the metal door. “We’re home.”

She made soothing sounds and tried to coax him out, but no matter what she said, the cat wasn’t having any of it. Only after Lauren stepped aside did Marsh finally scurry out like his tail was on fire. All she saw of him was a flash of mottled fur before he disappeared under the bed. For as old as he was, Marsh was surprisingly fast and agile. Aunt Cora had had the moody old cat for as long as Lauren could remember. In fact, she didn’t remember him ever being a kitten.