By Linda Ayers
I went to his apartment early that morning to say goodbye to a father I’d never really known. I walked through small rooms, stepping around moving boxes and stacks of papers. I don’t remember how I found it, only that I did. It was where it should have been all along: in a worn leather briefcase, uncharacteristically unlocked. The will. The one my aunt said didn’t exist. And because it didn’t exist, my father’s meager household would belong to me and my one surviving brother.
But it did exist. And it gave us nothing. Nothing but one dollar each, and that, I suspected, was to add insult to injury. Even his Yorkshire terrier, Bitsy, was provided for in his will, but not his children. As if to mock me, a framed photo of my father and Bitsy sat on the nearby bedside table. My father was ensconced in a plaid recliner, and balanced precariously on his meaty arm was tiny Bitsy, a pink bow in her hair. I slammed the photo face down on the table and returned my attention to the document in my lap. Through tears, I saw the word printed in block capitals across the top of the page. VOID. Written in black marker, it was bold and unwavering—like my father.
The simple two-page document looked like one of those freebie fill-in-the-blank wills you could print off the internet. Last Will and Testament flowed across the top of the first page in an ornate font. His equally ornate signature squeezed itself onto a blank at the bottom of the second page. So large it barely fit. The only identifiable letters were the initials of his first and last name, the D in Donald threatening to overtake the W in Wilson. The illegibility, I knew, was practiced. I had once found a page of signatures in various stages of design on a yellow legal pad in his home office.
So the fact that VOID was handwritten with a black marker at the top of the first page, with no accompanying signature or date, seemed suspicious. It was unlike my father to miss an opportunity to add his name, especially to such an official document. I blinked to clear the tears from my eyes and tried to peruse the document without emotion. Next to my father’s signature on the last page were the signatures of two witnesses. And one of those witnesses was my aunt. If she had tried to nullify the will to spare my brother and me, it hadn’t worked. Nothing could spare us from the familiar pain of a father who would forget his children sooner than he would forget to sign his name.
VOID. Empty. Without substance, just like my father. But not like me! After a loud and angry cry, I left to confront my aunt about my father’s last wishes. And to make plans to scatter his ashes as far from me as possible, leaving empty that small but heavy cardboard box that held the last of him.
Empty. VOID. Without substance. As if he had never existed. But I knew differently. I had only to look in the mirror.