“Dinner is ready.”
Emma called out. It was welcomed by everyone in the lounge. No one was enjoying themselves. The television’s noise helped to break the tension in the air.
Flynn knew very well why Ethan tried to keep the conversation going. Ethan’s girlfriend, Andrea, was wearing her brand new strapless top, trying to distract his thoughts. Emma’s husband, Tom, looked at him as Santa Claus, hoping with his generosity that he could get rid of the useless young couple for good.
Ethan had his doubts, not just about Uncle Flynn, but also about himself and that made it next to impossible to have a genuine and meaningful interaction with Uncle Flynn.
Mum insisted that he had to make some progress towards reaching fixed goals so he better do what he had been told. Mum said just a tad of diplomacy in his dealings with Flynn would do. He didn’t even like Flynn.
“Here, you love sausage, I remember well.” Emma scooped some greasy sausage casserole onto the plate in front of Flynn.
“That was when I was very young. The doctor told me to restrict my diet if I want to see Ethan and Andrea get married and have children.”
Emma quickly swapped Flynn’s plate with Ethan’s.
“So, Ethan did you ask your Uncle Flynn for some advice on real estate?” Emma asked.
“I haven’t got around to it.”
Tom opened a bottle of red. He knew that would please Flynn.
“Buying real estate is like this. You never pay the price they ask for. You’ve got to cut it down, as if you are buying a second hand car.”
Flynn was really pleased that Emma had brought up the subject. He was dying to say something to all of them around the table.
A year prior, he had visited his late brother’s family in Melbourne, just like now. They were having dinner when the subject came up. He could sense that Tom and Emma wished Ethan and Andrea could get a place of their own.
Ethan was a handyman. There were not many skilled people around so there was always plenty of work which meant his income was high. Andrea was a hairdresser so she should have had a steady income too.
They wanted to buy a house to live in but if they borrowed more than 80% of the house value from the bank, they would have to pay for mortgage insurance. The only way to avoid mortgage insurance was to have a 20% deposit ready.
Tom worked in a factory and Emma worked in a shop. Both didn’t earn much.
Flynn was different. He travelled around the world. He had money alright. Otherwise why would a much younger woman have wanted to marry him?
Flynn felt the pressure to say something. Ever since his second marriage had failed, he had been desperately seeking some company to fill the gap in his lonely life. That was why he contacted his late brother’s family after an absence of 17 years. He needed someone in his life. The family ties seemed to be his last resort.
He had to show some usefulness or be helpful in some way if he wanted their companionship to continue or for them to continue to play host to him when he visited Melbourne.
Ethan said he had $50,000 in savings in the bank. He worked for $40 per hour. He could easily save $1,500 per week. Flynn did a quick calculation. If Ethan worked eight hours a day, five days a week, he could earn $1,600 a week. If he worked six days a week, it would be $2,000. After tax, it would be $1,085 in the bank.
Andrea’s hourly rate was $20. Working normal hours, after tax, she would have $634 per week in the bank. They should have had no problem paying a housing loan on their combined incomes.
Flynn made a proposal to them. He would lend them $100,000 for their deposit on two conditions. One, they showed him both their bank statements, so he could see their income and saving patterns and, two, they signed a loan contract which would include a schedule of repayments, with interest.
A month later, Flynn received a call from Emma. She said that Ethan and Andrea had found a property they really liked so the deposit was urgently needed. If he transferred the money to her account, she’d make sure her son provided his bank statements.
Flynn transferred $100,000 to an account he set up for Emma which he could access as well.
Ethan forwarded him details of the house. The asking price was $590,000. He emailed Ethan and told him to cut the price down. Ethan replied that the agent said that was the price.
A week later, he found that $20,000 had been withdrawn from the account. Flynn called Emma and asked why the money had been withdrawn.
Emma said that Andrea needed to buy a car if the property sale went through as there was no public transport within walking distance from the property.
Flynn shot out loudly that, if they wanted to buy a car, they were to use their own money, not the deposit he had lent them. That $100,000 was for the property deposit. No one was allowed to withdraw it to buy anything else.
A few days later, Emma put back the money she had withdrawn. As soon as he saw the money was back in the account, Flynn transferred it all back to his own account.
Emma was most apologetic, asking him for forgiveness. She invited him to stay with them again at Christmas time. She said they should get to know each other better. After all, that’s what a family was for, to support each other no matter what.
“Flynn, tell us what Cooper Pedy is like. You’ve been there, haven’t you? Chris, Tom’s boy, is going to go there next month.”
* * *
Andrea couldn’t bear to sit next to Flynn for too long. She wandered away from the dining room. She had been that close to getting a car. Who cared about the property? Living with Emma was fine. She loved the fact that Emma wanted to control her own kitchen. That was great from her point of view. Who wanted to cook anyway? She had plenty of better things to do. Cooking would never be one of them.
Whose idea was it to buy a property anyway? Ethan hated his job. He would not like to look after a property, just like she would not like to be in charge of the kitchen.
When Flynn gave them $100,000, she told her boss she was tired of being a hairdresser. She may become a nail technician if she wanted to go back to work. She had already resigned. How dare Flynn take the money back? She needed that money.
Why should she be nice to him? He had ruined her life and taken her dreams away. Ethan was planning to go to Bali with her. Now that dream was gone. She had to wait until he died. Ethan said, with some luck, he may not live very long. He had diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, skin cancer, gout, a hernia, arthritis, heartburn, varicose veins and who knew what else?
He had no wife and no children; the closest relative was Ethan. After he died, Ethan would be rich. Why should they work hard? They were going to get Flynn’s money anyway.
She couldn’t stand Flynn. She thought Flynn should give them the money when they really needed it. He was too old to enjoy the money anyway. What could he do? Travel? How many times can you travel to the same place? He was useless to himself and to everyone else. His used by date had passed a long time ago. She prayed for Flynn’s death, the sooner the better.
“There you are, Andrea.” Flynn found her. “Emma is serving cheesecake.”
“I don’t like the ones from the supermarket.”
“Me neither, that’s why I didn’t have any.” After a few awkward moments of silence, Flynn said, “You don’t like me much, do you?”
“I like you, really!” Andrea tried hard to find the right words. “As much as Ethan likes you.”
“After I took back my $100,000, I don’t think he likes me much either.”
“I thought you loved Ethan. You want him to be happy.”
“$100,000 won’t make him happy. It’s too small an amount to make him happy, it won’t last very long.”
“To you, maybe. To us, it’s a lot of money.”
“Every single dollar I have I earned myself. No one handed it down to me. I worked, saved and invested. If you really want money, you’ll get it. Sometimes you have to sacrifice to get what you want.”
Andrea thought Flynn was offering her a sign of his commitment. She wanted to respond carefully. She didn’t want him to feel rejected or he may pack his bags and leave.
She didn’t mind if he left, as long as he passed the money over before he disappeared again. Ethan never said the words out loud but she knew that he didn’t like Flynn either. He was a ‘know it all’ man, behaving like he was a professor or something. He talked about his travel experiences like he owned the world. He kept repeating the same old stories, like others really wanted to hear them.
He had been in the same train carriage as Princess Diana once when he was over in England. The guards only let him and another two American men stay in the same carriage as her. It was pretty cool but not when you heard the story thousands of times. If he had been sharing the carriage with the Duchess of Cambridge on the other hand, that would have been impressive indeed.
Flynn had only been a second hand car salesman before he retired, a job that everybody made fun of. If it was not for his money, Emma and Tom wouldn’t make him feel so welcome.
For money’s sake, Andrea figured it would be great to work on Flynn and to develop something to its full potential.
* * *
Emma cleaned up the kitchen and sat down beside Flynn, pouring the last drops of the second bottle of wine into Flynn’s glass.
“That was a very nice dinner.”
“Thank you. You can stay with us as long as you like. We are your family.”
“I’ll keep that in mind.”
“What’s your second wife like, if you don’t mind my asking? Otherwise, we can change the subject.”
“No, not at all. She’s young, not young like Andrea, but she is much younger compared to Judith. When did you last see Judith?”
“At Cooper’s funeral I guess.”
“Oh, that long ago! She has put on a lot of weight over the years. Especially around her thighs.”
With a greater motive in mind, Emma was able to force herself to smile. She could not stand that son of a bitch. They could never exchange more then a few sentences in the past. Even during Cooper’s funeral, he had been critical and pointed the finger at her, blaming her for his brother’s death.
Had he really cared for Cooper? No such thing. Cooper said Flynn was ashamed of his poor background. He was like a bird. As soon as he thought his feathers were fully grown, he had flown away from the nest, never wanting to go back.
Flynn was a man who lied truthfully, taking everything he could. He had no principles, believed in no one, cared for nobody.
He had a few acquaintances but no friends. If a person thinks he is better than others, that person usually ends up friendless.
Before he reached 41 years of age, his life was filled with sex and alcohol. He didn’t need anything else. He had got what he wanted. Other men who reach their forties may have an affair or buy a sports car to handle their mid life crisis. Flynn was different. He chose one of his sexual partners and married her.
Marriage didn’t change his lifestyle however. It didn’t change hers either which was fine for both of them.
Cooper hadn’t liked his brother’s lifestyle. To him, having so many sexual partners was like playing Russian roulette. One doesn’t know when one will get hit.
Flynn thought his younger brother was a bit simple. Anyone who willingly settled down to be a family man was a bit simple to him. Marriage was a piece of paper to him. One got it just to show others that one was able to get it.
Cooper was not a saint but he had his good points. Every now and then, Emma still missed him. She wondered if Judith, Irene or any of Flynn’s sexual partners ever missed Flynn.
Two or three years ago, out of the blue, Emma had received a call from Flynn. He had just been dumped by his new young wife, Irene. He was just a lonely old man desperately reaching out for family ties. She hadn’t been so keen to hear from him at first but after hearing him talk about his divorce settlement with Judith, a light in her brain lit up and she invited him over for their Christmas family dinner.
“Irene is not from my generation. Her fancy ideas were different from mine. We had no common ground to stand on together. I made the wrong decision, so be it.”
“You have a very healthy attitude.”
“It would be the only thing that’s healthy in me.”
* * *
Emma gave Flynn the biggest welcome and warm hospitality. Underneath she wished Cooper would give a helping hand to call his brother to join him earlier.
Ethan was not rushing into anything. He was quite happy to stay with his mum and stepfather. When Emma died, everything would be his anyway. He would have no worries for the rest of his life. Buying a property was Emma’s idea, not his. He would not have worried about it if he didn’t have to.
Emma said that this time Ethan and Andrea had really found a good property to buy. She hoped he was kind enough to give the young couple a helping hand so they could start to save seriously.
“We started to discuss this topic two years ago. I still haven’t seen any bank statements from either Ethan or Andrea.”
“Why do you insist on seeing them? It won’t make any difference.”
“Emma, you don’t seem to understand the reason that I asked for the bank statements. I want them to prove to me that they are serious about what they are doing. There is no point in me helping people who don’t even help themselves.”
“Ethan has been working very hard to save money.”
“The bank statements would show that. Why don’t they want me to see them?”
“It’s not they don’t want you to see them. You know young people, they have different things on their minds.”
“Until they focus their minds on it, there’s no point in us discussing it.”
“Property prices are going up all the time. If he doesn’t buy one now, soon he won’t be able to buy anything. When Cooper and I bought our house all those years ago, it only cost us $165,000. Now it’s worth at least $550,000.”
“Currently, there are 55,000 houses on the Victorian market for sale. 23% of properties which are auctioned aren’t sold. Ethan and Andrea have a good chance to find a bargain if they really spend their time studying the property market.”
“How I wish Cooper was still here.”
“Emma, you can wish, it just won’t happen.”
“You don’t know children because you never had any.”
“I don’t need children to see how people behave. Ethan and Andrea won’t get up before 9 o’clock. Most handymen would have finished a third of their day’s work by then. Both Ethan and Andrea did not even work on Christmas Eve, the busiest day of the year. Do they really have jobs?”
“Ethan is trying to start his own business. It’s not easy for him. Andrea plans to do some course. That all needs money. You see it’s all in a circle, without money they’re both stuck.”
“Let’s be honest. A bank would not lend money to people who can’t produce regular income. Even if I gave them the deposit, they would not be able to get a housing loan from any bank. Without a bank loan, they would not be able to buy a house.”
“So you won’t help them then?”
“You are not listening to what I am saying.”
Emma was furious. Cooper had been right. Flynn was a selfish, mean, miserable man. Why did he need so much money? How much did an old man need? What a waste of time to be nice to him. He had no heart. He could not feel the warmth that relatives showered on him. May he go to hell and stay there.
* * *
It was Christmas Eve. Emma wouldn’t be back until late. It was the most important day of the year for the shop. Some last minute shoppers would rush into the shop shortly before it closed, trying their best to delay while making a decision, as if they had been born to test the shopkeeper’s patience and waste her/his time.
She had plenty of leftovers in the fridge to feed everyone. All they had to do was scoop out what they wanted and heat it up in the microwave oven or eat it cold. In the 32 degree heat, a cold meal was not a bad idea.
Tom would finish work early and spend the entire afternoon drinking with workmates. It was a traditional Christmas break up. No one would leave until he couldn’t walk in a straight line. Since the company was paying for the hard stuff, one could not stop the booze.
Flynn was surprised to see Ethan and Andrea get into the car that Tom had left behind that morning.
“What are you two up to?” Flynn asked.
Ethan popped his head in the doorway.
“Mount Dandenong. Andrea wants to have some Devonshire Tea.”
“Do you want someone to pay for it? I haven’t had Devonshire Tea since I was your age.”
“Why not! Pop in.”
It was busy on the road. Food shoppers, present buyers, party goers, pick up and drop off drivers, home comers and visitors, all travelling from A to B.
It was 24 or 25 kilometres from Mitcham to the foot of Mount Dandenong. Normally it would have been a half hour drive but it took them 45 minutes to reach the Mount Dandenong Tourist Road, at the foot of the mountain.
As soon as they were on the winding mountain road, the back seat driver Flynn warned Ethan, “Slow down now, we are not in a rush.”
Ethan was already sick and tired of hearing Flynn telling him to watch out, be careful, slow down, don’t speed, brake gently, take the foot off the accelerator….
“Are you scared of death Uncle Flynn?” Ethan teased Flynn.
“I don’t want to go before my time’s up.”
“I am a good driver. I’ve never had an accident that was my fault.”
“How many car accidents have you had?”
“This year he had three, last year four.” Andrea turned towards the back and said she knew Ethan was not going to tell Flynn the truth.
Ethan was unhappy with Andrea’s big mouth. Before Flynn knew it, Ethan and Andrea were fighting like cat and dog.
Flynn was worried. Ethan was behaving rather erratically, shouting with a red face, his mind more in tune with the fight than on the road.
“Ethan, try your best to concentrate on the road and get a grip on yourself.” Flynn’s words didn’t work.
“Stop the car by the roadside!” Flynn shouted.
Ethan ignored him. His focus was on shouting back at Andrea.
With lots of sharp turns and the sheer drop beside the road, Flynn was a nervous wreck. “I have to pee. Stop the car before I wet Tom’s car.”
It worked. Before Flynn actually lost his temper, Ethan found a place to stop. Flynn got out of the car.
Although the car was stopped, Ethan and Andrea still kept shouting at each other.
Flynn couldn’t handle any kind of dispute, the angry faces, twisted expressions, harsh words, hostile voices and all the negative feelings connected to them. He had had enough of those when he was growing up, thanks to his parents. He didn’t want to relive it again. He wanted to run as far away as he could.
Right beside the roadside where the car had stopped, there was a sheer drop to the forest. On the opposite side was a rocky mountain range.
Flynn remembered that, with Mount Dandenong being the closest major mountain range to Melbourne, it was well known for offering a vast network of walking tracks through native Australian bush. If he could carefully get down to the forest below, he might find a path to walk on.
“Youngsters have too much unwanted energy stored in their body. Let them vent their anger. When they’re finished they’ll come and look for me. They won’t miss the chance of me paying for Devonshire Tea.” He talked to himself while trying to find a steady place to put his feet on.
* * *
Ethan and Andrea hadn’t taken much notice of where Flynn had gone. Had he gone down the side below the road to pee? Or had he walked ahead and tried to hitchhike?
Flynn didn’t answer his mobile phone or was the reception no good in the area?
They called out towards the forest beside the road. There was no answer.
“Maybe he fell to the bottom when he peed.”
“We didn’t hear anything.”
“What should we do?”
“Go down and check if he’s there.”
“I am not going down there for that selfish man.”
“He’s going to pay for the Devonshire Tea.”
“I can pay for that, it’s not a big deal.”
“If he is dead, you are rich.”
“Let’s go and find his body.”
“I am not going. I get nothing from him regardless of whether he’s dead or alive.”
“If I inherit his money, you can enjoy it with me. We’ll go travelling, just like him. I’ll buy you a brand new car and designer clothing and shoes. That is what you want, isn’t it?”
“Really? I don’t have to work ever again?”
“We’ll be rich. Rich people don’t work.”
“I really hope he died.”
They held onto each other’s hand, carefully descending from the roadside. Although it was 32 degrees in the city, the mountain range was much cooler. With the recent unusually heavy rain, the ground was soft and wet. The density of the forest kept out the sunlight. The fallen leaves made the ground slippery.
“I want to go back up. I can’t do it.”
“Think of the brand new car you are going to drive. I’ve never driven a brand new car in my whole life.”
It was not easy to climb down the slippery surface. Ethan found a couple of thick tree branches. They used them to poke around and to support their weight.
“Shut up. If he’s still alive, I am going up now.”
The search became impossible after Andrea spotted a snake.
“I am not going to risk my life to search for Flynn’s dead body. You can keep the car for yourself. I am going up.”
Ethan followed Andrea slowly back up to the road. By the time they reached the roadside again, both of them had cuts on their arms and legs.
Andrea started to cry. Ethan didn’t feel too good either. They were both frustrated.
When they approached the car, they saw Flynn sitting peacefully against the car on the ground.
What a disappointment. The last thing they wanted to see was a breathing Uncle Flynn.
“Were you looking for me? How nice, I didn’t know you cared much for me Ethan. All the way down there just to look for me?”
Ethan rubbed his nose and said, “You are my uncle after all.”
“I really appreciate your effort.”
“Don’t mention it.”
“I almost got killed by a snake,” Andrea complained.
“I won’t forget that. You’ll get your reward in the end, Andrea.”
* * *
Emma got up early. There was so much to do and so little time to do it all.
Tom had a hangover. He was lying on the couch with an ice pack on his forehead, like every other Christmas morning.
As soon as Ethan and Andrea were up, Emma asked Ethan to check on Flynn. He was an early bird. He should have been up a few hours ago.
“Maybe he’s dead,” Ethan mumbled.
“Go and see if he’s ok.”
Ethan went and checked on Flynn. He came back to Emma and said, “I think Uncle Flynn is dead.”
Emma gave Ethan a dirty look. “Watch your mouth, young man!”
“Fine, don’t believe me. Go and check yourself.”
“Can’t you see I am busy? Be a good boy, go and ask him if he’s alright. He never sleeps this late.”
“I told you, he is dead.”
Emma dropped everything and rushed to the room that Flynn was sleeping in. She saw Flynn’s eyes and mouth were wide open, his right hand was half resting on his neck, the index finger was half in his mouth. His left hand was on his chest.
Flynn had died.
“Did you have anything to do with his death?” Emma asked.
“That’s just great. He picked Christmas Day to die.”
“Did you see him last night after you came home? Emma?”
“I didn’t do anything.”
“What? I didn’t kill him.”
“Did you see him yesterday? Tom?”
Suspicious? They had all wished for Flynn’s death. When it finally happened, they were all stressed and could not even enjoy the fact that their wish had come true.
“You always wanted him dead.”
“So did you.”
“I only wished, I never really planned anything.”
“What did you do to him?”
“Nothing, I am innocent. You are the one who said he didn’t deserve to live.”
“That was a figure of speech. I was not going to end his life.”
“What happened yesterday? What did he do? Do you know?”
“Maybe he forgot to take his medicine.”
“Maybe he got food poisoning up on the mountain.”
“What mountain? How did he get there? Why didn’t you mention this before?”
“Calm down. He’s already dead. Nothing will make any difference.”
“He looks awful.”
“He was old, what did you expect?”
“Did any of you have anything to do with his death?”
“I didn’t like him but it didn’t mean I would kill him.”
“I didn’t want to be near him so I would not have been close enough to him to kill him. It’s not like I would get rich from his death.”
“Are you pointing the finger at me? I was with you the whole day.”
“Not every single minute. You should have seen your face when you found him still alive yesterday.”
Once Ethan and Andrea started a quarrel, it wouldn’t be a short contest. That gave Tom a chance to think what to do the next. As the man of the house, he made a call to 000.
* * *
Flynn had died of a heart attack.
That was wonderfully good news to everyone. Once the suspicions had lifted, celebration kicked in.
Tom believed that Emma’s efforts would be rewarded. She had really put up with a lot with Flynn because she had wanted to do the right thing. Ethan had lost his father at a very young age. Flynn was his father’s brother so she thought the family connection would be good for Ethan.
As for himself, he had had no time for the guy. They had had nothing in common whatsoever. If Cooper was anything like Flynn, he felt sorry for Emma. How had she coped living with a man like that?
Flynn was the kind of person that made you grateful for your own life once you knew him. Thank God he had only had to put up with him for three Christmases. Hopefully what Flynn left behind would make up for what he had put him through. Maybe Emma would agree to go to some exotic place for a holiday.
Emma couldn’t have been more pleased. Once Ethan moved out, she wanted to do some renovations, if Flynn had been good enough to leave something for her. He should have. After all, she was the one who had invited him back into Ethan’s life.
The joy that Ethan provided him was priceless. Lots of lonely old people had nobody in their life. How sad that would be. If not for her kindness, Flynn would have been one of them for the last few years of his life. Flynn was not a stupid man. He would have realised it was she who had given him happiness during his last few years.
She was not greedy. She knew Ethan would be the one who would inherit his uncle’s fortune. He could have his property, shares, car and the contents of the house. Just some cash for her would make her very happy.
Her house had been through 35 winters. It definitely needed some work done, surely Flynn had seen that.
She would have a Caesar stone bench top in the kitchen and one of those quiet dishwashers that were often advertised on the television.
The bathroom needed updating too. The mirror that Cooper had stuck on the wall had to go. No one could see themselves clearly in it anymore. A brand new bathroom would make Emma the happiest woman in Melbourne.
Andrea had already gone through all the designer shops looking for the clothes that she had always longed for. She knew what to buy. She had already tried on the right size and picked the colours. Once Ethan got the money, she would go on a shopping spree, the hard decisions already made.
Her cousin Liz was going to get married next year. She was the one who had a rich boyfriend. Andrea had a headache every time she saw Liz wearing a label. Not anymore. Liz, eat your heart out, Andrea thought. I too can dress up like a film star. You are not the only one who is able to show off. Look at me. I would look much better than you ever could.
Her mum would be so proud of her. She wouldn’t say “Why can’t you learn some tricks from Liz?” anymore.
Nan would say “My princess Andrea” when she saw her. “How beautiful you look.”
She would be the best looking lady at Liz’s wedding. “Too bad Liz, I’ll take the spotlight from you. Every dog has its day, your day is over.”
Ethan’s dream was pure and simple. Now he had money, he could have any chick he wanted. He didn’t have to put up with Andrea any longer. He had had enough of her bad temper and attitude. Once he met the right girl, he would drop Andrea like a hot potato. Beautiful women love money, don’t they? He would have the money. He would get a beautiful woman.
He would travel around the world with a beautiful woman next to him. With any luck, he might meet a supermodel. With her money and his money, they would live together happily ever after.
No more hammers and nails, paint and brushes, dirt and mud, drop sheets and toolboxes, complaints and late hours, greasy hands and sore knees.
He would throw the overalls away and let Tom keep the tools. Mum said that without Tom’s contribution, they would have lost the house a long ago to the bank. The least he could do was give Tom his unwanted tools.
* * *
Flynn’s property was situated a 30 minute drive away, east of Perth, at Midland, in the heart of Swan Valley. Although it was a three bedroom house, the condition was worse than Emma’s house in Melbourne. It was sold at a mortgagee’s auction for a price which was less than what he had paid four years prior.
He had bought it when the property market was booming. Three years down the track, the property’s value had decreased. It was fully paid for when he bought it. Later he had borrowed against the equity, with a reverse mortgage loan from the bank.
A 19 year old car was not worth the trouble to sell. Not one piece of furniture was worth anything.
After the bank, real estate agent and funeral parlour had been paid and all the necessary legal procedures had been gone through, two years later, Ethan received a letter in the mail enclosing a cheque for $132.85, informing him that this was the amount of his inheritance from his late Uncle Flynn.