Ruth Goldberg stood at the window and watched as the pale Winter sun dipped below the hills behind the house she had grown up in. She was dimly aware of the comings and goings as the others gathered.
“Dad,” she whispered, “I don’t know if I can do this. I really don’t.”
She closed her eyes a moment as she heard the familiar footsteps of Jenna, her assistant, coming up behind her.
“Ruth,” said Jenna, her voice hushed. “They’re waiting for you.”
Ruth took a deep breath and ran her hands down over her black suit, smoothing perfectly smooth fabric. She opened her eyes again, took a last look at the darkening hills, and turned to face Jenna.
She nodded. “I’ll be there in a moment,” she said. “Tell them…” she paused to gather herself, “tell them I’ll be there.”
“In a moment,” Jenna said, and nodded. “I’ll tell them.” She turned and left Ruth standing by the window.
The reading of the will. “Why did you go and make me executor, Dad?” Ruth asked. “Why not Cohen? Or someone else. Anyone else?”
No answer came and Ruth straightened, swept her dark hair back off her face and secured it, almost savagely, with an ornate comb. Thus held back severely, her hair served to accentuate her high cheekbones, sharp features and dark eyebrows over darker eyes. Her mouth had a determined set to it and she shook her head once before striding to the library.
“Let’s get this over with,” she said under her breath.
The library was uncharacteristically well-lit. Chairs were arranged in an arc in front of her father’s heavy oak writing desk. Jenna sat apart, off to the side. The other chairs were occupied by cousins, a few family friends, Cohen the family lawyer, and Anna. Ruth looked at her mother. Anna, her eyes the same dark as Ruth’s, looked back. Neither said a word.
Ruth took her place behind the desk and opened the document folder containing her father’s will.
The business was swiftly completed, the bulk of the estate going to charity, bequests large and small bestowed on this or that relative, this or that friend. The house was hers.
When she closed the document folder at the end, Ruth stood. The others stood and, one by one, bid her farewell, murmuring quiet words of praise for her father and sympathy for her. Jenna looked at her but Ruth nodded that she should go.
Anna remained seated.
Ruth, still standing, waited until Jenna had closed the door behind her. Then she turned to her mother.
“Generous,” Anna said, the word barely audible in the quiet of the room.
“He was a generous man,” Ruth said.
“I know,” said Anna, “I lived with him for fourteen years.”
“And I lived with him for nineteen years,” Ruth said, bright spots of color visible on pale cheeks. “And when I came back from college, and nursed him for the last years of his life.”
Anna raised her hand, warding off the anger. “A comfort to him, I’m sure.”
“You emptied him,” Ruth said, her voice low now. “You left him, left him empty, broke him.” She stifled a sob and clenched her fists, struggling to master herself.
“And I couldn’t heal him,” she said finally, quietly.
Anna was silent for a while, and then spoke again. “But you tried,” she said, “didn’t you?” She looked at her daughter. “We look alike, you and I. But you were always special to him.”
Ruth shook her head fiercely and her voice was ragged with emotion. “We are nothing alike. I cared for him. I was there when he needed me.” She paused before continuing. “You weren’t there when he needed you, when anybody needed you.”
Anna stood. She shook her head. “No, I wasn’t. And no, we aren’t very alike. I didn’t…I don’t… have your strength. I couldn’t deal with…so, yes, I left.”
Ruth drew herself up to her full height. “Well, you may leave again. This is my home now. There is nothing here for you.”
“What will you do?” Anna asked.
Ruth’s calm shook a little. “What can I do?” she asked. “The only man I’ve loved, the only man I’ve shared my life with, is gone.”
Anna raised her hand but Ruth stepped back. “There is still time for you,” Anna said. She glanced around the room. “Leave here, get out of this place. Leave behind its memories.”
Ruth shook her head. “We make our bed.” She was silent for a while. Then, “We lie in it.”
“That choice wasn’t yours, Ruth,” Anna said, “it wasn’t yours.”
“Not at first, no, I suppose not,” Ruth said, her voice flat and emotionless now. “But it became mine. It was mine.” She fixed her mother with a bleak stare. “But, in the end, it wasn’t enough. I wasn’t enough.”
Anna reached out but Ruth stepped back again. Anna let her hand fall.
“I…” said Anna.
“Go,” said Ruth. After a while Anna nodded and let herself out of the library, carefully closing the door behind her.
Ruth stood there a long time, her father’s stamp visible on the desk, the chair behind it, the selection of books on the shelves. On everything, and everyone, in the entire house.