Stephanie carried in two large envelopes from the mailbox. She opened the first one. The blood rushed from her cheeks, her eyes fluttered and tears spilled down her cheeks. She squeezed her eyes tight to keep her composure.
“Anything wrong?” Jarred asked.
She didn't say anything but opened the second envelope before she spoke, “Talk about coincidence. This letter is from my mom. Uncle Mort died and I’ve inherited his store in Arizona. Here is the deed and the keys to his place.”
“ What are you going to do with it?”
“I think I’m going to move to Arizona.”
“Just like that?”
“I’ll quit my job, trade my BMW in for a pick-up truck and sell this place.”
“Are you leaving me?”
“Yeah.” She tossed the first package at him. “You didn’t think I"d find out?”
“What is this?”
“Pictures of you. My friends thought I should know. They downloaded them from the internet.”
“ I expect you out of here tonight.” Stephanie said. “Anything you don’t take I’ll toss.”
“Don’t you want to hear my side of the story?”
“No. I want you out."
... and just like that he was gone. Getting rid of Jarred was easier than Stephanie expected. She had the facts and there was no way he could defend or excuse himself so he was out of there by night fall. She was on the road by the next weekend.
The six-hour trip was uneventful but hot. She spread the map out on her legs to keep the sun from burning her thighs through the windshield. She had to drive another five miles after exiting the freeway and then she saw it, a dilapidated artifact from the 1940’s with a tall sign out in front. “Mort's General Store,” was written in large block red letters.
"What have I done?" she said to herself as she drove up to the front porch.
An old woman came out of the front door and watched as Stephanie parked the car.
“You must be Mort’s niece,” she said. “ I’ve been running the place since he died. Didn’t seem right to close it up since folks around here need supplies and such. I hope you don’t mind. My name is Ellen Haywood.” She moved out on to the porch with her hand extended to greet Stepahanie. “Mort and I have been friends for years.”
“Hello, I’m Stephanie Evans. Mort’s my mother’s brother. Glad to meet you,” Stephanie said walking up the steps on to the porch and shaking Ellen’s arthritic hand.
“The living quarters are attached to the store. Walk in and you’ll see the blue door towards the back. That’s where you’ll live,” Ellen said pointing through the open door of the store. “I can go on taking care of things while you settle, or leave if you want me out of here. It’s your call.”
“No, that’s fine. You can stay. I need time to catch my breath. I think I’ll get by bags and unpack a few things,” Stephanie said, turning back to the car. She gathered up her purse and her duffle bag. “I wasn’t expecting to find the place so easily,” she said crossing the threshold and stepping into the musty cool darkness of the store.
“Year’s ago it was busy enough from tourist traffic but with the new highway it was left for the locals but Mort always seem to make enough money to stay in business,” she said following Stephanie close behind. “You can see he beat his costs by keeping only the essential inventory.”
Stephanie looked around. The bulk of the inventory consisted of beer, candy and cigarettes. There were a few soft drinks, some milk and eggs and a rack full of magazines. When her eyes adjusted she was able to make out Ellen’s features which resembled a dried up apple doll with a little scruff of hair peeking out from under her kerchief. Stephanie noticed the sound of Ellen’s breathing and worried the wizen old woman would soon be joining Uncle Mort in the great beyond.
She was grateful Ellen prepared lunch and stayed long enough for her to shower before heading out to the neighboring lot. Stephanie watched her new acquaintance make her way across the dusty pathway to her small rusted blue and white trailer. It was after 1:00 P.M. and the interior of her Uncle Mort’s General store had gotten hotter. No customers had come since she had been there. She looked into the cash register and counted out $84.00 in cash and $10.00 worth of change. “Doesn’t look like there were too many customers here before I arrived either… that’s not good.”
Maybe she wouldn’t have loads of business but she would have the cleanest business in the area and without further hesitation Stephanie found the cleaning supplies and started scrubbing. She washed the counter tops, refrigerator doors, the windowsills, windows and doors. She swept the floor, dusted everything and stopped only long enough to have dinner and then she continued cleaning until past midnight.
When she woke in the morning there were a handful of people waiting at the door. Bill Cranston, Laurie Lawson, her sister Lucy and George Fillmore and his dog Drake. They were chatty enough and seemed more interested in getting acquainted than buying anything although a few purchased some scratch off lottery tickets and cigarettes. The conversation centered around Uncle Mort and what a good guy he was and how much they would miss him and then one by one they went on home.
The day ahead seemed to be an oasis of solitude something Stephanie was not too familiar with so she got busy looking at the accounting books, inventory lists and vendors. Her Uncle Mort was an aerospace engineer before he retired to the desert and his meticulous habits were evident in the almost computer like lettering and numbers and careful filing of all his paperwork. Everything was easy to find and easy to understand. She was done in less than an hour.
The expanse of time before nightfall began to feel like a bottomless pit. She wanted to avoid falling into the darkness so looked around for something else to do. The interior was done maybe there was something to do on the outside.