by Dave Henson
Oldest sat quietly at the dining room table and watched her sister, Younger, open one of the glass doors of the antique, primitive blue chippy patina hutch.
“Mama wanted me to have it,” Younger said. “As you both know, I was her favorite.”
The third Delight sister, Youngest, who was seated across from Oldest, laughed. “You most certainly were not. Whereas I was. The hutch goes to me.” She tapped her chest with the stub of her right index finger.
The hutch nearly touched the ceiling in the dining room of the old Delight farmhouse. The upper portion of the piece had shelves behind beveled glass doors. There were three drawers in the middle and two cupboards at the bottom. The whole thing stood on four double-scrolled legs, stout to support its huge weight. The right front leg had begun to lean slightly over the years. The girls had dubbed it “the Pisa Tower leg” when they were children.
Mama Delight, who was made a widow by the aggressive hog “Big Bill” ten years ago, had recently succumbed to a rickety heart. She specified in a letter she had left in the center drawer of the hutch that her most precious possession was to go to “my favorite daughter.”
Younger turned toward Oldest. “I was Mama’s favorite, wasn’t I, Oldest? Oldest, do you hear me?... Are you off in your own world again?... Oh, I forgot. Angelica, do you hear me?”
“Don’t you know,” Youngest said, “she’s going by yet another name.” Youngest sat down beside the eldest sister. “I was Mama’s favorite, wasn’t I, Fantasia?”
Oldest looked at Youngest. “I really don’t know which of you was Mama’s favorite.”
Oldest, can’t you be more like your sisters? Oldest, I don’t know what I’m going to do with you. Oldest, I swear, sometimes I’m sorry I ever had you.
“I know it wasn’t me. The two of you need to work it out.”
Youngest brushed Younger aside and closed the glass door. “Whereas this belongs to me, I’ll thank you to keep your hands off of it.”
“Oh, no you don’t. You took my name, but you’re not getting this.” Younger grabbed Youngest’s arm. “And if you don’t stop saying ‘Whereas,’ I’m going to scream. Honestly, ever since you started at that office—”
Youngest jerked free of her sister’s grip. “Back, Back and BeDack is one of the best-known lawyer companies in the county. I learn a lot emptying their wastebaskets and... Rather I should say, whereas I empty their wastebaskets and overhear some of their conversations, I learn a lot.”
“Why would you even want it?” Younger said. “Your family eats off of paper plates with plastic forks.”
“Pete’s going to keep his rabbits in it, if you must know,” Youngest huffed.
Younger rolled her eyes. “It’s not that kind of hutch. Pete is such an idiot.”
“At least my husband only raises rabbits,” Youngest said. “Whereas, he doesn’t screw around like one.”
Younger’s face reddened. “I told you Fred and me was working things out. How could you be so cruel?”
Youngest started to speak, then sighed. “I shouldn’t have said that. I’m sorry.” She opened her arms to her sister.
Oldest felt her cheeks tingle as if they were going numb. She went to her sisters and stepped between them. Younger shrunk back and Youngest flinched. “Please, sisters,” Oldest said, “no more hurtful things, like, Youngest, you saying that you once overheard Mama and Papa talking about selling Younger to the carnival.”
“My gosh, that was years ago,” Youngest said. “I was just a stupid little kid. Younger, I swear—”
“I wouldn’t get in the car with Mama or Papa for a month. You were a cruel monster.” Younger twisted away from Oldest and pushed Youngest, who stumbled into the hutch. Oldest noticed that the right front leg Pisa-Towered a little more.
“Whereas your abnormal facial hair began at an early age, it’s no wonder I teased you about it,” Youngest said.
Younger felt her chin with her hand. “I can’t help that. I keep it shaved.”
Youngest frowned. “Sis, whereas the statue of imitation has transpired. Let’s not fight.”
Youngest opened the left drawer of the hutch. “What’s this in back?” She took out a photo of Mama Delight holding a yardstick to a pie. In the picture, Younger and Youngest grinned on either side of their mother while Oldest stood, arms crossed, in the corner of the room.
Younger took the photo from her sister. “Mama’s trusty yardstick. She always measured the slices to make sure the two of us got equal pieces.”
Oldest remembered the yardstick differently. It was something that stung her behind, shoulders or the back of her knees. And it wasn’t the worst instrument of pain. That was the razor strap, saved for when Oldest did something especially bad.
Blood on the grass. Lots of blood. On her hands, too. She vaguely remembers how it got there. Heads are strewn about the barnyard. One of the bodies still flops. Here comes Mama. “Oldest, what have you done? I said kill one chicken for dinner. Just one! Look at this mess.”
Mama Delight would march Oldest to the storm cellar and wale away with the strap. Oldest would imagine herself going numb and looking down as if someone else were feeling the blows.
Younger held out her pinkie. “You’re right, Youngest. Let’s not fight over this old piece of furniture.”
“Whereas blood is thicker than wood.” Youngest hooked her sister’s little finger in her own.
Oldest felt her arms and hands tingling and going numb. “That’s sweet,” she said. “Younger, aren’t you sorry about telling me only yesterday how you blame Youngest for Papa’s death?”
Youngest jerked her hand away from her sister’s. “Younger, how could you think that? Big Bill killed Papa!”
“I never said any such thing,” Younger protested. “Oldest ... Angelica .. Fantasia, what are you... Youngest, I swear, I—”
The tingling began to spread down Oldest’s chest and legs. “Younger said Papa never would’ve turned his back on Big Bill in the barn if he hadn’t heard Youngest in the kitchen squealing like a pig.”
Youngest held up her hand. “Whereas you’d scream, too, if you cut off half your finger.”
Oldest sees an arm nudge Youngest’s elbow just as the knife begins to slice the apple for Mama Delight’s Granny Smith pie.
“Plus,” Youngest said, “Mama said somebody made Big Bill extra mean by poking him through the fence.”
A hoe jabs Big Bill’s snout, ribs and balls. Oldest sees hands — are they hers? — holding the hoe.
“Take it back,” Youngest said.
Younger shook her head. “I’m not taking back what I never said.”
Youngest grabbed Younger by the collar. Younger pulled away, lost her balance and fell backward, grabbing Youngest by the hair as she did. Both women fell to the floor and crashed into the hutch, which groaned to the side, teetered, then stabilized.
“Oh my God!” Youngest stood and reached down to help Younger up. “I’m sorry, Sis. This thing could’ve been the death of us.”
Oldest was now numb all over. She watched as her foot rose slowly and kicked the Pisa Tower leg.
* * *
“Are they...? Are they...?” Oldest was unable to speak the word.
“I’m afraid so,” the paramedic replied.
“One of the drawers was stuck. We were pulling on it when... the hutch toppled over. I was lucky to get out of the way.”
“A horrible tragedy.”
Oldest knelt beside the hutch, which the paramedics had rolled onto its side to get to the sisters. Glass streaked with blood lay in shards. One of the curved shelves was broken. A jagged crack split one of the cupboard doors. Yes, a horrible tragedy, but nothing a good furniture restorer couldn’t make right. Oldest looked at the paramedic. Had she said that out loud?
The paramedic draped a shimmering Mylar blanket over her. “I think you’re going into shock, Ms—”
Oldest saw herself shiver under the blanket. “My name,” she heard her voice say, “is Delight. Favorite Delight.”
Copyright © 2020 by Dave Henson