Reuben had not sent Uncle Harry a thank-you note because he alone of his cousins had not gotten an envelope with $500. If he had, he would have sent one; he was a thoughtful boy, and deserving. That he received nothing struck his mother Anne as particularly unjust. She understood that Harry was taking out his longstanding anger with her upon her son. She was the oldest of the 6 siblings, the only one who consistently “called him on his shit.” She began considering means of retaliation.
The other siblings remained unconvinced it was Uncle Harry doling out the cash, expecting the jokester would soon take credit. Aunt Grace had a theory that Reuben was involved, perhaps a conduit in a scheme hatched by Grandma Sarah while she was alive. Reuben, of the grandchildren, was closest to Grandma Sarah, and at twenty was still in his dungeons and dragons phase. The problem with the theory was that Reuben was clever and would have covered his tracks, unless the point was to throw people off the scent. Very devious.
“You read too many mysteries,” said Anne.
Given the lack of plausible alternatives, the family reverted to the view that Uncle Harry had done it, and that for whatever reason he could not own up to it. (Shame was the field in which she would take her revenge, Anne decided.) Was it possible he had a soul beneath all that cologne, taking baby steps into expression? Maybe he’s schizophrenic, one of the nieces piped in. That was greeted with silence; nobody wanted to start feeling sorry for him.
In spring, most improbably, another 10 plum-colored envelopes arrived. Again Reuben was not included. Block letters read HAPPY EASTER UNCLE HARRY. Upon finding only 2 fifty-dollar bills, the initial response of the recipients was deep disappointment, but soon, aided by unrealistic shopping fantasies, the reaction changed into something mildly pleasant, or at least neutral. All of them meant to send thank-you notes, and 3 did. Two more would have sent an email if they had had an address.
With this repeated snub to her son, Anne’s irritation veered into moments of rage. Harry was going to learn his lesson. There were several promising areas to investigate: his endless battles with neighbors, his quarrels with the IRS, the mysteriously hushed marriage to Linda. She just had to find a way to get at what he was hiding and how to use it effectively. She decided to pay a visit to their cousin in Denver who saw more of Harry than anyone else.
So it happened she was in Colorado when she heard the news, two days after the event, that Uncle Harry had suffered a massive stroke and was on life support. Overcome with guilt, she hurried down I-25 to the hospital in Colorado Springs. The receptionist said he was in intensive care on the 7th floor, but when she got there the room was empty, the bed stripped. Uncle Harry had died that morning.
The body was cremated. A memorial service was pending so long it seemed to have happened. That it didn’t was mostly met with sighs of relief. Upon the urging of their parents, 2 of the nieces and nephews sent condolence cards. They didn’t know Aunt Linda at all.
At Christmas, no plum-colored envelopes came for anyone.
Six months after Uncle Harry’s death, the family heard that Aunt Linda sold the big house on the hill. A rumor surfaced that the asking price was 23 million dollars. Nobody knew if she got that much. That she moved to Pasadena was all anyone heard. Anne sent a Christmas card to the old address, thinking it might get forwarded. Aunt Linda fell completely off the radar until one evening, watching “CSI Miami,” Suzanne shouted, “There’s Aunt Linda.” Sure enough, there she was, hustling after a gurney into a hospital, the distraught wife of a wounded politician. It was not a big role, but she was good in it, and good enough to land minor roles in several movies, remarkable for a woman her age starting out. The family took an unwarranted pride in her proximity to stardom.
The fact was, she didn’t land enough roles to make a decent living, but she didn’t need to worry about that. She was just happy to be in front of the camera, happy for the first time in her life. She deserved it. If ever a doubt crept in, it was easy to dismiss. Harry was the one who had said, “It would kill me to throw away a thousand bucks.”
It was a practical joke, and she had every intention to confess until he came on so strong. The second time? Who wouldn’t be bored in that cavernous house without family or friends and want to stir up a little drama. The third time? Harry called it, down to the penny. It really did kill him.