Carolyn’s Attic

Matilda walked through her grandmother’s home, gazing at all the furniture, the decor, the photographs. Everything that had defined the home she’d grown up in.

She shuffled through the pile of magazines on the pinewood coffee-table. A mixture of Ladies Home Journal, Time, and Fly Fishing magazine. She smiled. Carolyn, her grandmother and primary caregiver since she was 11, still kept a subscription to Time even though Matilda was the only one who read it, and Fly Fishing even though Carolyn’s husband had been dead several years.

Matilda stared past her reflection in the glass doors of the cabinet that held several dozen miniature ceramic animals, a plate Matilda had painted at a birthday party when she was 8, and a few other trinkets she’d collected over the years.

Of course she knew this day would come. She knew Carolyn had been sicker than she’d let on. That’s why Matilda had started visiting twice a week instead of twice a month. And when she’d gotten the call that Carolyn had passed, she’d known that it would be her who would have to go through this house – only her. She was the only surviving family member, and Carolyn had made it clear long ago that almost everything would be left to Matilda.

Walking past the mantle over the fireplace, Matilda traced a line in the dust. She hadn’t noticed that Carolyn wasn’t cleaning often. But Carolyn had known. Carolyn had wanted to focus on her last days, not on obsessively cleaning. A tear rolled down Matilda’s cheek.

She was startled by a knock at the door. She wiped the tear away and went to open the door.

“Charlie! What are you doing here?”

Charlie walked in and Matilda shut the door behind him. As he spoke, he walked purposefully through the first floor, opening curtains and covering Carolyn’s home with light, “Oh Mattie, I could hear it in your voice. You can’t do this completely by yourself. I’m here to help, and Dean is going to come by after work with dinner. Probably Chinese takeout. By the way? Your grandmother’s home is fantastic. What are you going to do?”

“I’m going to move in. I mean, after I go through her stuff. I already told my landlord. She said if I’m out by the first, we can forgo the whole 30-day notice requirement.” Matilda glanced around the kitchen they were now standing in, “So I’ve got six days.”

“We can do this. How much attic space is there?”

“The attic is pretty big, but I don’t know how much she has up there.”

“Let’s go check it out.”

Charlie followed Matilda into the upstairs hallway. She pulled the retractable ladder down and stared up into the attic for a moment.

“What’s up, Mat?”

“This attic made me nervous as a kid. My dad had a small space up there set up as an office. Carolyn would give me snacks to take to him while he was working, but I always made him come down the ladder. It always seemed unstable, and it was so dark up there. So grandpa installed this.” She reached toward the hallway wall and flipped a switch. The attic filled with light and Charlie smiled, “He also promised me that he’d always keep the ladder in great condition.”

Matilda climbed up the stairs without fear and Charlie followed her.

Charlie’s eyes widened when he entered the attic. Matilda moved to the side and smiled.

“This is the most organized attic I’ve ever seen.”

Matilda nodded, “I knew it would be.” She watched Charlie wander about the attic, admiring the dressmaker’s mannequin, the sewing machine, the typewriter, and the boxes all neatly stacked and labeled in Carolyn’s meticulous handwriting.

She turned around and started digging through a box labeled COOKBOOKS AND WEDDING CHINA.

“Who is Agnes?”

Matilda froze for a moment, “Why?”

“There’s a box over here that just says AGNES. Everything else has descriptions of what’s inside, but there is just this one box. And the handwriting doesn’t match.”

She went over to the corner Charlie was standing in. There, behind a stack of boxes marked DAVID-CLOTHES, DAVID-BOOKS, DAVID-IMPORTANT DOCUMENTS, was a microwave-sized box. Charlie was right, the handwriting didn’t match. The letters were scribbled and faded from time. A cobweb stretched from the top of the box to the floor.

“Agnes is – was – my mom. She left. A long time ago.” Matilda’s voice lowered to a whisper, “Carolyn told me once that she got rid of everything. Years ago.”

“You never told me about your mom. I can’t believe I never realized that until now.”

“She left when I was 3. Nobody really talked about her after that. My dad talked about her once, said she had emotional issues. I think she might have been bipolar or something.”

“And you never knew this box was up here?” Matilda shook her head and stared at the scribbled name, “So open it.”

“I don’t know…”

“Think of what might in there. Maybe you’ll find out more about your mom. Or what happened to her. It’s like a fun little mystery. Like Nancy Drew! Or, maybe it’s just a box of old clothes.”

Matilda sighed, “Let’s get this over with.” She brushed away the cobwebs and ripped the old packing tape off easily.

The first thing she saw when she opened the flaps was a framed photograph. She picked it up and immediately recognized her dad. He was standing in front of Carolyn’s house, holding a toddler-sized Matilda. She was wearing a party dress that Matilda recognized from other family photos she’d seen. They were both smiling at the camera, eyes squinting in the sun. Then, she noticed a young woman standing off to the side, only the left side of her face toward the camera.

Agnes.

“Holy crap, Mat. She looks just like you. Like, that could be a picture of you. If you grew your hair out. How old was she here?”

Matilda peeled the picture out of the frame and flipped it over. Carolyn’s script gave the date.

“Twenty-four. This was taken a few months before she left.”

“She was twenty-four when she left?”

Matilda nodded, “Yeah. Same age I am now.”

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If you’re new to the story, you can find the other sections over on my Fiction page. Constructive criticism is welcome, and greatly appreciated. Thanks for reading!

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