Forest Hills Inheritance
Yolanda, CT, USA
Aida was a psychic who lived not far from me in New York City. She charged little for her readings, a great value considering how entertaining a reading could be. Her clients were amused and intrigued when the images she saw in the coffee grinds turned out to be true. They'd conveniently forget that just as much that she saw was also meaningless. Though I didn't have much respect for her trade we still became good friends over the years. Apparently there was a reason for this.
It was in the early 90s that things changed. Aida's readings became astonishingly accurate, even when reading my friends. I recall one evening when a group of us invited Aida over for a reading after dinner. We listened as she took turns with each guest. We were lighthearted having fun, taking none of it seriously. Some pallor and then silence came over our group when one of the ladies confirmed her husband was on a business trip. The coffee grinds, mek as it was called in Aida's Armenian language, showed her husband was engaged in a serious affair. He was deeply involved with his assistant. My guest was stunned and with some contempt doubted what Aida had said. The unpleasant revelation turned out to be true. Such insights continued to happen during her readings with others. Revelations such as this compelled me to admit that there are hidden things kept from us. That is, until an appropriate time of disclosure is determined. It is a mystery how the fates choose that appropriate time. But then philosophers have pondered this intriguing truth through the ages.
About this time my father was of very advanced age, and was doing poorly in the hospital. Anticipating his death I knew once he was gone I'd miss him terribly. I'd gone to Aida for a reading, mostly to talk to a sympathetic friend. She knew of his condition, along with the fact that my stepmother had always been highly antagonistic toward me. This was especially true of late I pointed out. Shed tried to steer my father against me during these last months of his life, this hurt me deeply and I couldn't fathom the reason for it. I'd been an only child and adored my father. Aida asked if my stepmother might not make efforts to steer my father against me in any inheritance. There was no reason to be concerned I explained. His will had been settled some time ago. Both my stepmother and I knew where each stood. My stepmother's recent hostility I reasoned was due mainly to a widow's anxiety over the prospect of being left alone.
"I see a cross and suffering over your father's house," Aida stated as she read the coffee residue. "That sign always signifies death" she pointed out. She predicted he'd be brought home, and would die within a month. I'd been pushing to bring him home wanting his last days to be in familiar surroundings. My stepmother wasn't eager for this; but then the toll of a sick individual at home would fall on her. We decided to hire a medical student from overseas, give him a salary and room. There would be someone there to change the IVs and take care of the drudge that comes with an invalid's care. It was a good arrangement.
What I didn't expect was for the remainder of my exchange with Aida to be as disturbing as it was. I was calm because I knew my father had made provision for both my stepmother and me. Aida abruptly turned my mind from a serene to deep concern with a strong, unexpected prediction.
"You're in for a terrific shock. You'll be deeply hurt. I see terrible trouble ahead for you" she forecast.
"What do you mean terrible trouble? If you mean financially, my father told me he'd left a life estate letting my stepmother stay in the house with enough income until she died. Thereafter, everything is to pass on to me. His lawyer is the son of a lifelong friend. He trusts the fellow completely. What trouble could you mean? Everything's arranged."
"I don't know exactly, but you'll be in great distress. You were close to your father so this news will be a trauma."
What could she be talking about? I put this disturbing prediction off with disbelief, and drove home trying to shake off what she said. The denial worked. When dad's death arrived, right on schedule as foretold, my mind was occupied with funeral arrangements. Her forecast didn't come up again until a week later.
The day after the funeral I stopped by to visit my stepmother. I was stunned when she abruptly turned on me, creating a scene and throwing me out of the house. It was ugly and I was unbelievably hurtful. Not just hurt, but traumatized. Nothing made sense until a day or two later. My father's lawyer stopped by my office and handed me a copy of his will. As I read it I was stunned to realize I had been written out of any inheritance totally; and this for no reason I could think of.
At first, not knowing to whom to turn, it took a few days before I found myself in the office of a female attorney. She'd just hung out her shingle in the neighborhood. Her small, modest office announced she was delighted for new business. She'd married a widower with children. This made her sensitive and well aware what the legal hazard of a stepmother can be. She was aware my salary at an insurance company would require her compensation come from any amount that could be obtained from my father's estate. Since I was an only child she explained she was confident some portion would come my way. However like many attorneys she didn't divulge completely how she intended to progress with the case.
Soon after our initial conversation my attorney went to the Queens Courthouse to obtain a copy of my father's will. She was surprised it wasn't there. It turned out to be filed in another jurisdiction, Westchester, where my father's attorney lived. This was not customary protocol. First my father's attorney hand delivered the will to me at my place of work, which was considered odd. Then he'd filed the document in his own jurisdiction; even odder. All her legal antennae were now on alert and pointed in a single direction. She advised me she'd requested the document be transferred to the Queens Surrogate Court immediately. This however this would take some time.
The serenity I'd been privileged to enjoy for years had been displaced by an overwhelming anxiety brought on by my new situation. I'd never felt like an outcast before. I arranged for a meeting with Aida. If nothing else at least she was a caring friend.
When she heard I'd been passed over in my father's will she was stunned. Then she remarked she didn't think it was possible by law to bypass a child. I was hoping for that to help me out, but I was more emotionally shaken by what had been my father's rejection.
Once she started the reading some unexpectedly strange news was brought forward. Something neither of us expected.
"You know" she began, "there's a man wearing a black robe. I assume it's a judge" she said as she read my cup. "He's got that stern look that judges have. He and another man, a blonde man with a large forehead, decide to help you out."
"Aida, I can see where there will be a judge involved in all this, but the only blonde man with a large forehead that I can think of is my stepmother's attorney. Why would he help me?" I asked. "He seems to want control of the whole estate along with my stepmother."
Aida continued looking at the images "it's possible neither one have a choice" she observed.
"That's awfully odd; and hardly likely." I said. Abandoned, exhausted and disbelieving I was surprised how shock and discouragement manifest themselves on the human body. I was only fifty years old but still considered a healthy, strong person. It startled me how my father's rejection affected me physically. I'd never doubted his love. He'd also understood that being single I depended on some inheritance to help me in my later years. Aida is now telling me that something will depend on a judge, but she can't read clearly what that is. Whatever it turns out to be it appears to translate as some sort of help for me.
As Daphne suspected, my father's lawyer dragged his heals. Meantime Daphne wasn't going to waste time. She prepared to get statements from the witnesses. Most lawyers understand this process is threatening and intimidating, especially for the elderly. I had no idea how much a lawyer can depend on this very fact.
On consideration I decided I cared little how much my stepmother would be intimidated. Looking back at her cruel behavior towards me after my father's funeral there was no doubt she'd been fully aware of my omission in any inheritance. Offensive as the thought was, it was her influence that had created this outcome. I hoped with an introduction of an aggressive lawyer into the picture my stepmother's view might be altered. Perhaps she would come around and agree to some acceptable division of assets instead of charging up attorney hours. As things stood the will was now completely in her favor. Though a case would be easy enough to bring against the estate, as the weeks wore on it was evident my stepmother wasn't going to yield one bit.
Attorney Daphne advised she would go forward with getting witness statements, but for the rest of it she preferred to wait a few months. I sat back and wondered what the rest of it was exactly. Dejected and upset I spent my days wondering how I'd come to alienate my father so much. I did more than take this personally. I'd been rejected as an offspring. This was the father who had risked his life to get me and my mother out from the behind the iron curtain in 1950. He'd devised an elaborate scheme to hijack a passenger aircraft and ask for political asylum in Denmark. It was days before the family knew whether they'd be allowed to remain or be returned to the Soviet Union to face the Gulag and death. If lucky I'd end up in a Soviet orphanage. Now I'd been written out of his will. Still stunned I had no choice but to wait for the process to move forward. And so it would.
Two weeks went by and my father's will still hadn't been received at the Queens Surrogate Court. His attorney was dragging his feet. I wasn't sure what all this meant; in fact I wasn't sure what anything meant and wondered if any of this would do any good. It was time again for a visit to Aida. Even if she didn't see anything she would brace me up.
Aida's husband would not allow her to do her readings at home, and readings could readily be done in a customers car. She carried her clairvoyant paraphernalia in a shopping bag; a white porcelain dish and a small container of water along with an extra white cup. The client would bring their coffee residue from home. Masking tape usually held it all together without spilling till I'd get to Aida's appointed rendezvous spot. This was often the local diner just around the corner from where she lived. She'd swirl the mek around in the cup. Water would be added if necessary to make images on the bottom and sides. An important tradition was to turn the cup over and spill the contents onto a white porcelain dish. The images thus produced would verify the initial ones in the cup. She alone could see the images and interpret them.
"You know, there's a cross above your father's house showing suffering," she stated.
"Doesn't that mean death?" I asked. "It did last time you saw it."
"Yes, it does," replied Aida.
"That must be my father's death that you see. It's only been six weeks since he died."
"Oh yeah, but maybe; I don't know. It's coming up very strong. And look; here's something else. This I didn't expect. It says you inherit everything."
"Aida, don't be silly. I can't inherit everything; there's my stepmother to contend with. She's my father's widow. By law I can't inherit everything. Besides she'd got family, two brothers overseas. You're completely wrong."
"Maybe so, but when I turned the cup over it was verified. It clearly says you get everything." When Aida saw an image very clearly she never changed her mind about what she saw. She was unyielding.
Thinking on this over and over, it was impossible. With exasperation I retort with "all right, okay, whatever. You can't imagine how dejected and hurt I am. Whether I inherit anything or not this was still the last thing I expected my father to do to me. You can't imagine how hurt I am."
As I drove away, I didn't feel reassured. What Aida predicted was impossible. She'd gotten her signals all mixed up. I was sure of that. As for the cross over the house, well that had to have been a remnant of the old reading from a few weeks ago. My stepmother was in good health and clearly ready for a fight.
A week later my father's will arrived at the court in Queens, where it was promptly tossed out as a fallacious document. My attorney called me to advise of what had happened. The will was rejected because its staples had been clearly removed, and replaced. On close examination to anyone familiar with legal language the reason for tampering with the document was to alter the last paragraph of the second page. The entire page had been discarded and a new one had replaced it. The last paragraph of that page had been altered from its original intention. The wording of a "life estate" can be easily altered to read that all assets are to be left to a specific party. This change can be made with a simple alteration of two sentences. The use of the same font and grade of paper could easily create a new page. However insertion of a new page required removal of original staples. In any event, whatever the will said no longer applied. It had been thrown out of court. This obvious alteration and deliberate filing in another jurisdiction, where my father's attorney had many friends, explained his reluctance to transfer the document. In virtually every court in the world, original staples, ribbon or material used to bind a document considered worthy of being presented in court cannot appear to have been tampered with. This immediately makes the document unsuitable for presentation to a judge.
Had my stepmother received this news? If so, I wondered what her reaction had been? My father's estate was now "intrastate", this means he died without a will. I would now be part of my father's estate settlement; though I was appalled by the way this had come about. Where I felt vindication that my father had intended to remember his child; his loving widow had chosen a criminal act to circumvent me. I was very saddened and sickened by this. My stepmother and her lawyer had been greedy. This resulted in a large additional expense in settling the estate.
Wanting to share the amazing news I visited Aida. Instead of a reading I decided on some celebration and took her for lunch the local diner. As we pulled up to the parking lot and got out of the car she looked at the back seat and said "you know, there's an angel in the back seat". As we closed the doors we both looked again. How silly I was, I can't see angels, but evidently Aida did. She'd never seen one before she said. This was a first. She was looking at me funny as we went in to find a booth.
To put her at east I said "well, maybe the spirits are looking out for me? Isn't it incredible how things have turned out?" I pointed out between bites of my cheeseburger that I was delighted to share a meal with someone who'd seen me through such a difficult period.
Then I decided to ask the obvious question that I'd avoided. Maybe I shouldn't assume what kind of an angel it was. "Aida, was the angel you saw in the back seat a good, or evil one"?
"You must remember, you're not at the end of the story yet" she reminded me not answering the question directly. Then deliberately threw me off with "did I mention you'll get a visitor?"
"No, I don't recall anything about a visitor" I responded. Then I distracted myself changing the subject back to the inheritance. "How is it possible anyway for me to inherit everything? The will's been thrown out of court. My father has died without one. If nothing else by State Law I'm now an offspring, but my stepmother still existed, and she must be taken into consideration." I retorted.
"Yolande, you will inherit everything" she reminded me. "That's what I saw, and what I believe; but it may be more expensive than you thought." The lunch was more interesting than any reading.
"You'll get a visitor," she continued while we ate. "That visitor will stay around for some time and will make a difference in your life."
I couldn't think what she was talking about and with exasperation went back to enjoying the meal. I wanted to break from this topic. As far as I was concerned the split among the beneficiaries and the attorneys was what lay ahead. It was a needless waste of money since my father had prearranged everything. Greed makes everyone pay.
Six weeks after that on Valentine's Day I recall my phone rang at work. It was three months to the day that my father had died. My sister in law was calling asking if I'd heard the news?
"What news?" I asked wondering what she was talking about. My lawyer hadnt called me. Anything significant would be coming from her I reasoned.
"Your stepmother passed away during the night" she said.
"Really? I didn't know. She wasn't talking to me, you know."
"She was found dead in her room this morning by the tenant who wondered why she hadn't come downstairs. The house was totally silent. A heart attack apparently. I wanted to let you know as soon as possible" she continued.
I thanked her for calling then let my attorney know who would have no idea what had just happened. What was the legal significance of this for me? My stepmother had two brothers overseas. This would mean a more complex situation, with more lawyers. Instead of being relieved, I cringed.
Knowing nothing of the law I didn't know the next logical step for my attorney to take is to plead the "widow's right to elect" in court. This New York State statue could be used to argue that my stepmother's death had occurred before she'd had the opportunity to within three months of my father's meant she'd claimed his estate and would not due to being dead. I didn't know what that statue meant. The judge decided that my stepmother, being dead, had not and could not, take advantage of the "widow's right to elect". My father's will had never been admitted to court, in fact it had been thrown out of court altogether. Her death thus removed her from consideration in any inheritance. This left me the sole inheritor to his estate.
It took a number of months but I finally settled into my father's house. Renovations were desperately needed and in view of these expenses I kept on a tenant who'd been in the house for years. Talking and making arrangements with contractors made me forget Aida's prophetic words that "this inheritance would be expensive". I'd assumed she meant emotionally, and that turned out to be true. Very true.
It was the end of July, five months since my stepmother's death. The day had been exceptionally hot. The heat wave didn't ease up even at night time. I'd gone to bed about ten o'clock. The bedroom air conditioner made a soft droning sound. The room was comfortable, but the rest of the house was stifling. My head had been on the pillow for a while when for some reason Aida's prophecy came back to me.
"This visitor has been sent. It will stay around and influence your life."
I wondered what that meant. Perhaps she meant another boarder? I could use the extra cash. Rooms were renting for a premium. The renovations were going to cost a fortune. In fact, downstairs was already being prepared for the noise that would seriously start when the rest of the materials were delivered. Cable, plaster, buckets and tools were already strewn about. The complete silence for tonight was interrupted only by my thoughts. That bedroom would be my one source of retreat for months. A whimsical wrought iron daybed that I'd brought from my old apartment was serving in that bedroom. The wooden floor had been freshly polished. Some cozy rugs, an old rustic dresser with mirror, a table and armchairs gave the room a country style. Fresh pastel walls and floral chintz pillows finished up the look. I lay there pondering how bizarre it was the way my inheritance had come about. Just before I drifted off I wondered to what extent life in the next world influences ours.
I woke for no reason just past midnight. Not fully awake I sluggishly realize I'd woken up and wondered why. I carefully listened for noises in the house. A few seconds later I felt a shock of frigid air make contact with my head. What was about to become a mass of frigid air initiated itself. It started to make an entrance through the outer wall sustaining movement through the wall then gradually drifting downwards along my body. I noticed immediately that it affected only my left side. With methodical precision it continued lengthwise along my body towards my feet. The accuracy of its transition was astounding. It was obviously premeditated and deliberate. The coldness of the temperature was so intense there was no doubt it was supernatural. In a mild shock I sat up and considered the event. I was not aware that intense cold is a signature of the devil. The fellow had arrived, and as required, had let me know. If I didn't know how to interpret the signal this wasn't his problem; he'd followed the rules. Outside the air was still over eighty degrees. Only the pious accept the supernatural willingly in their lives. Everyone else falls back on their pride, an emotion many of us interpret as reason.
Stepping out into the hallway I was surprised how sweltering it was even with the windows open at both ends of the house. Walking down the hall I expected to feel at least some cross breeze, instead the night air was completely still. What was obvious however was the missing feeling of dread. Relieved by this I retreated back to my cooler bedroom. Before closing the door behind me I inexplicably listened one more time for sounds in the house. Reason made me suspect there was something there, but I heard only the hush of a summer night. I'd always wondered what a supernatural encounter would feel like. Well, here it was. It felt like nothing had ever happened. It only left me with questions. Why would a spirit have suddenly come into this house, and why as a movement of freezing air? Just then I remembered today would have been my stepmother's birthday. That might be her. But then why was she so cold? "A liar from the beginning and a murderer." Once their presence has been demonstrated evil spirits will submit any lie to enable them to stay about while they add data to the dossier of each occupant on the premises, but especially that of the target victim. Perplexed, I knew that this incident harbored a menacing element that I didn't want to admit to. Jumping to the conclusion that the spirit was my stepmother I decided not to query the incident further. It had been established she was greedy, but would she have meant me harm? Well, that comes later in the story.