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A Family Tradition
Everything about it terrified me. The way the thunder seemed to shake the room. The way the lightning bolt seemed to pierce through the gray curtains. With each crack of thunder, I felt my body tense. I thought I was beginning to get used to my new home, but this miserable night showed me otherwise. The unfamiliar creak of the stairs and the foreign shadows of the antique furniture lingering on the walls sent shivers down my spine. I only moved into this home because of my wife, my one true love. This house had been in her family for years and since her mother had recently passed, it is now hers. This is all I really know about my wife’s family. She tends to keep quiet about her past, quickly brushing me off with a quick mumble of discomfort when I ask.
My wife left to go to the market about an hour ago. I am alone in our dilapidated bedroom. The aged paint is chipping off of the walls, falling onto the worn-out carpet. I get up off the old-fashioned bed and into what appears to be an endless hallway. The walls of the hallway stretch out into what seems like pure nothingness, with paintings of saints and Christian martyrs lining the walls.
I hesitantly creep down the hallway, careful to avoid the creaky floorboards, but yet hopelessly failing. I continue until I reach the entrance of the attic. I yank down the tattered cord that controls the opening of the attic on the ceiling. The attic’s entrance makes a piercing groan as I pull down the ladder. I climb up until I find myself in the attic.
I am immediately hit with a very musky scent. It lingers in the air and it is clear it has embedded itself into all of the objects cluttering the attic. The shape of the ceiling causes much of the attic’s contents to be obscured, making me unable to find the blankets I am looking for. I venture deeper into the attic, trying to avoid the cobwebs that block my way. As I make my way further into the attic, the thunderstorm outside continues to cause an uneasy feeling to be cast over me. With each step I take, the thunder rumbles, acting almost as a warning to not go any further.
Finally, deep in the far corner of the attic, I find the tattered blankets I am searching for. I grasp the blankets and pull them towards me which releases a cloud of smoke resembling the storm clouds outside. Just as the cloud of dust clears, a lightning bolt pierces through the sole window in the attic. With the sudden flash of light, it illuminates the once obscure corner of the attic. My eyes fall on another set of eyes. Terrified, I lose my footing and begin to stumble to exit the attic. Just as I am about to climb down the ladder, I glance once more to the corner where I saw the eyes. Yet again, a lightning bolt lights up the corner. This time, I notice the eyes are on canvas. I cautiously go up to the canvas, thinking maybe it is one of the portraits of saints that are found on the walls of the hallway. Upon closer inspection, I realize that this cannot be a person who once dedicated their life to God.
The portrait is of a middle-aged woman. Her pale face is framed by wavy locks of shoulder-length brown hair. Her neck is partially covered by a mesh piece of fabric. Her lips are pursed in a sinister smirk as if she knows a secret that you don’t. The woman’s large dark eyes are set deeply in her face, almost sunken in. Her eyebrows are raised slightly, making me ponder what it is she herself seems to be questioning. I know that she is not one of the many saints or religious figures because the portrait instantly gives me a feeling of dread. I sense that this woman was once powerful and had superiority simply because her head is held high. Her self-confidence seeps through the canvas.
Though this portrait is remarkably done, I don’t understand why what seems to be a sinister woman’s portrait is in a house full of portraits of saints. I pick up the portrait by its wooden frame, revealing the antique black chest it was resting on. Under one of the legs of the chest, I notice an envelope, evidently yellowed by time. I crouch down to carefully pick it up. I open the envelope and pull out an equally yellowed piece of paper. I begin to read:
“Dear My Descendants,
I am Maria Renton. I am the daughter of the woman in the portrait. I have gifted you this portrait of my mother to remind you of the family legacy. I am going to give my daughter this letter once she is of age and she will pass it down to her daughter. Renton women are women of power. Since all of history, the Renton women have not been pushed around by our husbands. We control their every move, their every decision, their every desire. Through this, we have gained much success.
The most successful Renton woman of all, however, was my mother, Valencia. Despite the social standing of women during her time, she dominated her life and her marriage. When her husband questioned her ability to control the relationship, Valencia took matters into her own hands. She hit her husband over the head with a shovel and tied him up. She kept him in the cellar under this very house.
Valencia had a painter come visit the house. She dressed in a black outfit and prepared to be painted in the main room of the house. She sat on a stool while the painter began to paint. Throughout the painting session, faint tapping could be heard coming from downstairs. After the painter had questioned it, Valencia blamed it on scurrying rats. Despite covering up the fact that her husband was locked downstairs, she could not suppress the smirk that naturally fell upon her face.
Her husband was starved to death in that basement and it customary to follow her example if your husband is misbehaving. So I tell you, my descendants, to view this portrait with pride of the power your ancestor exhibited. Do not waver in the face of danger and always make sure to have control over your husband. If this control is threatened, replicate the actions of Valencia to ensure a prosperous life.
The paper falls out of my hands. My body carries me down the stairs and into the common room. I feel trapped by the feeling of the walls closing in on me. I go to the main room of the house and recognize it as the scenery of the portrait. I am unable to completely fathom what I just read as my head is reeling. My trust and faith in my relationship with my wife begins to crumble. I start to focus on all of the bad in our relationship and wonder if she would ever do such a thing to me. I once felt completely secure in our relationship, but now I am not so sure. I panic and run to the door in an attempt to escape the history of the house. Just as I reach for the doorknob, my wife enters the door. Instead of my usual love, I feel nothing but fear.