In the year Joyce died, the year I was twenty five, there were no mobiles, no internet, no wifi, nothing. So on the morning of Joyce’s funeral, I wondered at just how many of her old clients knew to turn up at the church to say goodbye.
Martin and Greta followed Joyce through the wide double doors. Although in her final years I was the closest to her, I merged into the throngs of women dressed in black to become just another face in the pews.
When the Priest (who Joyce never met) stood to deliver the eulogy, I wondered what this cold draughty building and this fat red-faced man dressed in White had to do with Joyce and her life.
He droned on about God’s comforting arms and paused more than once before saying her name to look down at a card. As the service drew to a close I realised that no one was going to speak about this remarkable old woman. I wanted to stand up and announce that she had duped everyone sat there in the church and they had all been fools for believing her. And that what she had given me was more real than any tarot card rubbish. That she had freed me from bullies and given me the confidence to live my own life. But I didn’t. I bowed my head to pray to the fat priest’s imaginary god and kept my mouth shut.
As we all trooped out to shake the priest’s clammy hand and make our way to the crematorium, I spotted Frank amongst the mourners, he didn’t say hello, he just stared.
One week later, I received a letter in the post from a firm of solicitors. There was to be a reading of Joyce’s will and I was to make my way down to Water Street in Liverpool on Monday morning at ten am sharp.
From the town hall, Water street drops down to the Liver Buildings that stand next to the Mersey. Full of beautiful grade I listed banking halls and solicitors chambers, it is the heart of Liverpool’s commercial district. The offices of Goldsmith and Kettle were in a building called West Africa House, no doubt named after Liverpool’s dubious links to the slave trade.
Clutching my letter, I sat in reception and was soon joined by Martin and Greta. They glared at me as they muttered to themselves socco voce. Just before the awkward silence became unbearable, a tall middle aged man with curly grey receding hair and glasses perched on his forehead appeared and led us to a side room.
We sat awkwardly on mismatched chairs as the gangly man folded himself behind his desk and produced a thin buff file wrapped in purple ribbon.
“Now, I am Mr Goldstein and we are here to witness the reading of the last will and testament of Joyce. Your mother I believe?”
I shook my head. Mr Goldsmith ignored me and looked down to begin the reading. As he did so his glasses swung forwards from the top of his forehead to land perfectly on the bridge of his nose.
Greta and Martin leaned forward together, their eyes locked on Goldsmith. This is what he read.
“This is the last will and testament of me Joyce Katrina Millicent Joan Pryce. I direct my executors to dispose of my estate in the following way. Any money in any bank accounts held by me at the time of my death I leave to the North Wales wildlife trust charity number 334433.”
I leave my cottage, The Windy Gables, old colliery road Colwyn Bay to…..”
At this point, I thought the twins were about to faint with expectation.
Mr Goldsmith paused. He looked up at the twins. Steeling himself, he pressed on.
“To….the Welsh National Trust, charity number 3445-
Martin jumped up. “Come with me Greta. We must listen to no more of this tomfoolery! And as for you Goldsmith , you can swing for your bill!”
“But what is this idiot going to get off her?” Greta pointed at me.
“What the hell do we care?”
Mr Goldsmith held up his hands. “Please, Mr Pryce. I have not finished.
To my children I leave – “
The twins paused. They leaned forward. Maybe mother had left them something really good –
“…My collection of pipes”
I tried to hide my sniggers. I looked at Mr Goldsmith. His deadpan expression was unchanged.
The twins fumed in silence. Linking arms, they stormed out. I never saw them again. Mr Goldsmith waited until he was sure the twins were out of the building. Only then did he turn his attention to me.
“Now, Mr Hughes. Joyce didn’t mention you in her will I’m afraid. But she did ask me to give you this.”
The solicitor leant forward and handed me a sealed buff envelope. “I have no idea what it contains, but she said you would understand.”
I looked at the envelope. On the front it just said ‘To My Tom.’
“Is that it ?”
“Yes that is it. ”
I shook his hand and made my way back out to Water Street.
Outside the Grey Mersey moved swiftly past behind the imposing Liver Buildings.
What was in this envelope ? Wary of onlookers, I secreted it in a secret pocket inside the lining of my jacket.
Just then I heard a screech of tyres, I turned round. It was Frank.