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The Codicil
About the Author: Preston Lang's work has appeared in Queen's Quarterly, N + 1, Ellery Queen, and Best American Mystery Stories 2019 and 2021.

It was a fifty-minute ride on the GO train to see Grandma Bev. Amanda made the trip nearly every Friday. Sometimes she stayed until Monday. The week before finals, Amanda packed all her books and studied on the train. Bev teased her for being so damn studious. Then she taught her granddaughter how to make a Tom Collins.

“I’m going to die soon,” Bev said after her first sip.

“Don’t say that.”

“It’s true. I’ll say it.”

“Have you seen a doctor?”

“Do you want the house?”

“What? No.”

“It’s probably worth four hundred grand. Maybe more. I’m giving it to you.”

“No, they’ll all hate me.”

“They all hate me. It’s terrific.”

Bev had always been tiny but vital. Now watching her walk back to the kitchen, Amanda saw how frail she really was, holding onto counters and chairs, wheezing when she reached the gin.

“I told my lawyer to gather everyone here for a dramatic reading of my will after I’m dead. But she says she won’t do it that way.”

“You could hire an actor. A mysterious Danish gentleman with a limp.”

“Okay. I like that.”

“And you have to put something berserk in the will.”

“Like what?”

“I don’t know—something really wild.”

Amanda looked around the room at the lemon rinds, the clock that didn’t move, the old snowshoes.

“Say that you killed a guy in 1975.”

“Killed a guy?”

Bev didn’t seem satisfied. A small woman killing a man would always feel at least a little like self-defense.

“No, you killed a child,” Amanda said.

“Ah, yes.”

“We can’t be too specific though. Many years ago, while on a seaside vacation.”

Bev laughed.

“I can just imagine Bill, blowing a fuse.”

Bill, her oldest, worked for a noisy human rights organization in Hamilton. All three of Bev’s children were tightly wound and largely humorless.

Amanda wasn’t done.

“After you killed the boy, you drank his blood and burnt the body as an offering to—”

“No, that’s too much. I killed the child. No reason given. No drinking blood. More believable that way.”

Bev ran her finger around the rim of the glass. She was giving it serious thought.

“Bev, you can’t really do this.”

“Of course I can. It’s a great idea. You’re a brilliant woman.”

“No. Stop, no. Promise me you won’t do this.”

“Or what?”

Amanda went back to the city the next morning after Bev said she wouldn’t change the will—unless she got bored. She also swore she wouldn’t die that week either.

Finals started Monday with Christmas the week after. Christmas was always tricky. Sometimes Amanda went to her Uncle Bill’s place and spent the day with her cousins. But if Aunt Dinah was going to be there, then Amanda’s mom, Lydia would refuse to go, and mother and daughter would have a quiet day of Chinese food and boardgames instead.

The two sisters had always fought. Bev once joked that when things got slow, she’d goad them into combat for her own entertainment. They had a huge blowup when Lydia first got married. Then they reconciled when Amanda was born, but Amanda remembered a really ugly brawl in the kitchen when she was five. Hair-pulling and punches to the face. The sisters hadn’t shared a civil word since.

Lydia took Amanda out to a shawarma place on Wednesday night.

“Just one more final—organic chem tomorrow. I’ll probably go up to see Grandma after that.”

“How has she been?”

“Not great. You could go see her some time.”

“Don’t let her—influence you too much.”

“Influence me?”

“You spend all your weekends up there. Aren’t there things to do here?”

“Get drunk, throw up in the street with long-haired dudes?”

“What do you do at her place?”

“Talk. Eat.”

“She has an effect on you. I can see it.”

This story appears in our SEP 2023 Issue
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