The Balderson Legacy
by Rebecca Bennett
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3
The bathroom was a single, indoor porta-potty. My grandfather complained about the costs of maintaining a septic system; the chemical toilet was his “cost-effective” solution. I held my breath and waited, trying my best to ignore the bright blue stains in the basin of the toilet.
After an appropriate amount of time, I left, covertly sniffing my shirt to check if the smell lingered. To the right was a small staircase leading up to the second floor. A hand sanitizer was sitting on the third step, and a worn black velvet rope blocked the rest.
My grandfather would disappear up those stairs every Sunday. Sometimes I was able to sneak out beforehand and hide in the attic to watch his meetings. I craved knowledge, as though he was a relic I could never understand or an unsolved puzzle at the back of my mind. We looked so much alike, the same wide-set ears and black eyes.
My father lost his temper only once in all those Sundays, said it was an insult for my grandfather to disappear on his family during our visits. My mother pulled me out of the room before I saw the full extent of the fight. The next week, my father left us without a note or a word.
I could hear Donnelly wrapping up the auction through the thin walls of the Lodge, his booming voice speeding up incrementally. I slipped under the rope as he drew the attention of the hall, and I quickly moved upstairs. The auction was over: funds would be tallied, and a private memorial Lodge meeting would be held in the honour of the Most Worshipful Lawrence Balderson.
Upstairs was the same as it ever was. The same dust-covered pictures hung on the wood-panelled walls, fluffy orange insulation still shoved between the exposed gaps in the panels. The floor even creaked in the same way at the top of the stairs.
Large wax candles were placed along the north wall. The candle must have been replaced since I was a child, but the thick, yellowed wax that pooled on the hardwood floor must have been there for decades. An old clothes trunk sat underneath a square ceiling panel that was two shades darker than the rest of the ceiling.
The only female touch in the room was the table of food that had been set up next to the stairs. Most likely, Frederick Donnelly supervised the setup as well, making sure that any intrusion was as limited as possible.
I grabbed an old meter-stick — the same one I had used as a child — and pried the hidden latch in the panel. A rusted hinge audibly released and a staircase lowered. I eased up the narrow stairs, careful not to let my weight rest fully on any one step, close to the ceiling, I braced myself on either side of the panel and hoisted myself up the rest of the way; old traditions die hard.
The attic space was only four feet high, meant for storage of old Christmas decorations and parade paraphernalia. I kept myself crouched from the moment I pulled up the staircase. The floor was covered in squares of dusty navy carpeting. Under the floorboards, it was soft, bending with each step.
With every move, dust puffed into the air, my throat tickling with each release of particulates. I eased myself toward the centre of the room, pulling at the seams in the middle of the floor, I pulled the carpet back until I found the grate that gave me full view to the floor below.
* * *
I didn’t wait long before the first member of the Loyal Orange Lodge ventured upstairs. Frederick Donnelly carried up the black velvet rope and the white-painted jar, storing them carefully in the corner next to the stairs. He walked slowly around the floor, checking behind slipcovered chairs and under fold-out tables before looking up and studying the ceiling. I remembered this step from my grandfather’s meetings, and I was ready for it. I leaned back, holding the carpet out over the grate.
In preparation of the meeting, Donnelly lit the candles, flicking a pink dollar store lighter over the wicks until they caught fire. Afterwards, he pulled the banners from the chest and carelessly let them unfurl. The long fabric hit the floor as he tucked the wooden handles of the banners onto the nails in the wall.
One by one the men came upstairs. The last member, Mr. Gellar, an old man with an enthusiasm for menthols and rye, turned and closed the wooden doors hinged on either side of the staircase. Over the now closed door, Mr. Gellar dragged over a large square of hardwood, further sealing off the door and blocking the strains of fiddle music that floated from the first floor.
Donnelly stood in the centre of the group. Around him stood ten men, quickly pulling on orange robes. Their hoods were up, the soft glow of the candlelight made it impossible to see their faces clearly. Their voices rumbled together, rising until the din filled the room.
I shivered from my perch and scooted forward despite myself.
The words they repeated sounded like a nonsensical mixture of Gaelic, Latin, and something I couldn’t place but felt I knew. The words formed a chant. The chant formed a song. It repeated and repeated. Returned back to words, then back to song.
Though there weren’t many participants, the words echoed up to me with surprising fervor and strength until I couldn’t help repeating them. A strange sort of satisfaction burned through me as the meaning clarified the language twisted into English.
Donnelly broke from the circle, fetching the jar of my grandfather’s ashes. He murmured to it quietly and it glowed in his hands as he walked into the center of the circle. It was strange to watch Donnelly stand where my grandfather would have. Though Donnelly was large, he lacked my grandfather’s command of the space, the ability to turn all eyes through presence alone.
“The remains of our Brother Balderson, Grand Master of the Kitley Loyal Orange Lodge,” Donnelly intoned. “Let our brother return and bestow his wisdom on our new Grand Master.” He deftly twisted the lid off the jar and raised it to the ceiling. I squinted to see past the flickering light. It shone out of the jar, beaming up to the ceiling.
The light wasn’t bright but it was thick and heavy, clinging to every surface and shadow. Light rolled up through the grate beneath me, the cold white glow settling into my skin. The touch of it, quick but steadying, felt like my grandfather’s compulsory hugs. He handed them out like gold, rationing for holidays and birthdays.
A prickle started at the base of my spine, the same feeling had that spurred me to follow my grandfather’s steps up the stairs. It wasn’t just the fairy lights in the jar.
The beacon sputtered after a few moments and Donnelly reclosed the jar, placing it carefully at his feet. He took a small step back, bowing deeply, his hand pressed over his heart. “In lieu of an heir to take up the mantle of Grand Master, it is up to our fallen brother to choose our new leader.”
Mr. Gellar sneezed.
“Jesus!” Donnelly sniped. “Ray, this is serious.”
Mr. Gellar sniffled, wiping his nose on his sleeve. “We’ve lost seven members in three years. I don’t got time to hold in a sneeze. The next one could kill me.”
Another voice broke in. “He’s not wrong, this lodge is dying, Freddy. Our sons have either moved or refuse to join. We won’t be here in ten years, let alone fifty. We need a new Grand Master who will fix that. It ain’t any of us, and you know it.”
“The next Grand Master is Chosen.” Donnelly enunciated. “We. Do. Not. Choose. Him. He. Is. Chosen.”
Copyright © 2017 by Rebecca Bennett